Friday, July 07, 2006

Sunday Scribblings #15: Hotel Stories

1. The year I was nine we lived in the Hotel Flamingo for more than a month: two parents, three kids, and one very large Alaskan Malamute who would become known in this Italian town as “cane lupo.” Dog wolf. We weren’t the only Americans in residence at the Flamingo, there were a number of other Navy families in our same situation: just arrived from the States, househunting. The school bus picked us up there, and the hotel kitchen made us bag lunches. We did our homework in the Mediterranean heat, poolside. There were skirmishes with Italian kids in the side alleys. We had assigned tables in the dining room, and regular waitors. Ours, Bruno, was a darling with curly hair and was surely one of my earliest crushes. We moved into an apartment nearby and didn’t return to the Flamingo, but many Americans did, spending summer days beside a very ordinary hotel pool when a gem of a beach was just a short walk away! The Flamingo was one of the centers of Americans-pretending-to-be-in-America; it was safe. But my family was different: my mom spoke fluent Italian and had lived in Rome for a year in the ‘60s, when she was a beautiful girl with green eyeshadow. In Gaeta she recruited Italian boys to coach our soccer teams, and became the only Navy wife whose best friend was Italian. But those weeks in the hotel were a treat for a nine year old, like a long vacation!

2. When I was eleven we all piled into our beat-up green Volkswagon bus and drove up through Italy to Nice, France, for Mardi Gras. We checked into our modest little pensione and went out to explore the city; while out and about, my father ran into a woman he knew, the woman who happened to be in charge of the city’s carnival parades. My father was at that time responsible for making the schedules of ports of call for every US Navy vessel in the Mediterranean, and I have a vague impression he knew her somehow through his work duties. In any case, she was busy and gave him the brush off. Fine. But when we returned to our little pensione later that day we were told men had come to take our luggage away! We pictured thugs, thieves! But in fact this woman, regretting her rudeness, had found out where we were staying and moved us to the official hotel of the Carnival: the Negresco.

The Negresco is a 5-star hotel. It remains the only 5-star hotel I have ever set foot in. When we pulled up to the valet in our ratty VW with gouge marks on both sides from getting wedged in an alley in Naples, we felt... out of our element. We pretended to belong there. I can just picture my brother and I in our ski parkas (it was the Riviera, yes, but February, and raining), noses snootily in the air as if we did this every day! Our room, compliments of, I suppose, the City of Nice, was an eleven-room suite overlooking the beach and the parade route. It was HEAVEN!! And the room-service breakfast cart, piled with delectable things... Like a dream. Paloma Picasso was a guest while we were there, and at one point a Saudi man in full sheik attire took a liking to my white-blonde five-year-old sister and told my mother he would buy Emily anything she wanted in the hotel gift gallery. To my mother’s mortification, he was pointing out diamonds, but my sister saved the day as only a five-year-old can, by desiring only chocolate, an acceptable gift from a strange rich sheik!

3. I have slept in a fairy chimney, and in a treehouse by the sea! Both, in Turkey. Jim and I went to Turkey six years ago, in between visiting Alexandra in Bulgaria and going on to Italy, where Jim proposed to me! And we LOVED Turkey. Go there, everyone! And if you go, go to Cappadoccia. It is the most otherworldly landscape I have ever explored, a sandcastle of a land, barren and bizarre and so outrageously beautiful. “Fairy chimneys” are the name for the dwellings hollowed out of the strange rock formations, and in Goreme, all the hotels are carved into the rock. They’re not fussy, but have rough-hewn windows and lots of Turkish carpets, and patios overlooking the most amazing cityscapes.

The treehouse was set in a lemon grove at Olympos, by the sea. A rickety bus carried us down into a forested ravine and back along a single road lined with clusters of treehouses. A short ramble through thick forest, past Byzantine ruins, leads to a secluded beach. And at night there are hikes up the mountain to see a naturally occuring eternal flame, flickering right out of the rock now for hundreds of years. If you go, bring marshmallows. We didn’t, but thought it would have been fun!

I love travel, and I love hotels and youth hostels in old strange buildings. In Spain I stayed in a former prison, in Vietnam in a room in the belly of a giant giraffe sculpture! I have never yet slept in a hammock slung in a beach shack in Mexico, but I would like to, someday! And as fun as that stay at the Negresco was when I was eleven, I would take the fairy chimney or the treehouse, or the modest little pensione by the cathedral in Amalfi, any day, and spend the difference buying puppets and blown-glass perfume bottles and sandals!

for more "hotel stories" go here.

31 comments:

Alexandra S said...

You need to take this post down! It makes me want to throw everything on the curb and scram away to the airport and cross oceans and never again sleep in the same place more than once, darting about from hammock to treehouse to Gypsy caravan to magic carpet and plenty of swanky hotels inbetween. Actually, I saw my old colleague this morning who is sleeping in a tent in her friend's backyard until she moves overseas next month and again I was reminded that as much as I am sure I would thoroughly enjoy a fancy hotel I just as much if not much more will always love sleeping under a gaping sky full of stars- and thankfully thats free and is much more in myh dwindling budget! Wonderful post! And I second that to anyone who is wanting to travel somewhere new- Cappadocia is so magical and miraculous.

Amber said...

Yay! What a fun read. What wonderful, romantic adventures you have had! That's great. And Turkey looks fabulous. Wow.

:)

alyndabear said...

All of those amazing places... and amazing memories they evoke!

Thankyou for sharing!

-Aly

Jessie said...

Well, the Hotel Flamingo sounds like a story in itself, but an 11 room suite, a fairy chimney, and a tree house!!! France, Italy, Turkey! Ah boy! I agree with alexandra g. This is a VERY dangerous post!!! (which, of course, is why I love it so much!)
:)

twitches said...

I really enjoyed this. Your writing is musical; the words flow together so well, which is what always draws me in. Just the write amount of detail, the mother who used to wear green eyeshadow; the "sandcastle of land." Reminds me of Barbara Kingsolver, in a way.

twitches said...

Um, that's the "right" amount of detail - I really should proofread before I post my comments.

rdl said...

Nice post! I especially enjoyed #1, it really drew you in, made me want to hear more.

Chelle Y. said...

Wow, you have an exciting life, and at such a young age. I enjoyed reading your post!

DuhhhBlond said...

an eleven room suite, I cannot fathom..
a fairy chimney..
I grow more and more envious with each post I read from all you well-seasoned traveling writers!

Kamsin said...

The fairy chimney and treehouse both sound delightful. My feet are getting so itchy right now! Italy and Turkey are both on my list to do in the next year or so, not sure I can wait though, I want to go now!

Verity said...

Hi Laini. I've travelled a lot, but your posts are giving me itchy feet again! I adore tree houses and I've always wanted to sleep in one! That's it, I'm packing my bags...

paris parfait said...

Laini, I love your hotel stories and the photos! You really had some fascinating experiences. And how terrific that your mom was speaking fluent Italian and her best friend was Italian! Terrific post.

b/sistersshoes said...

So adventurous! How do you stand being in one place for any length of time after a childhood like that?

Oh, to have been your sister of five...I would have gone for the diamonds! :)....and ran!

Just delightful reading!

xo~ Darlene

Michelle said...

I hope that someday my older son writes of our lengthy sojourn in a Mexican hotel. How wonderful that you have these memories. I really enjoyed this read.

Marilyn said...

Great stories!

anahata katkin said...

Looooooooooooong moments of deep breaths and silent pause over here. Just basking in your stories for a minute. Can we get it all done? I want to visit every place on the planet in my time and somehow know them all. Thank you for sharing your fabulous stories. I love the Sheik in the hotel store. I wanted to clap spastically!
Those crazy castle palces are so strange. I have never even heard of them before. How beautiful! How easy it is in the midst of looking for a new home to forget about all the worlds out there just calling my name. It's nice when I can visit them through someone elses tales when I cannot get away. Thank you Laini.

GoGo said...

Yeah, I have one comment...

I am so jealous. I'll get over it, but wow what an experience.

;o).

samantha said...

How fun! Lately I'm feeling my feet get a little twitchy, so it's fun to take this trips with others' stories. I really do love the story of the Flamingo, and the Negresco - oh, that one just does it for me. The Sheik is the best part, and I am imagining the breakfast trays...

And fairy chimneys! They must be full of magic...

Michelle Fry said...

Wow, you have been lucky. Nice post for Sunday Scribblings.

Tammy said...

How fun you are! You made me want to read more of these places you have been. Terrific adventures!

Going For Greatness said...

I enjoyed SO much traveling with you here on your fantastic voyages! The hotels in which you slept sound SO awesome! I can only dream about travel like that now, since I have 2 kids and my 20-something years have now ended! I hope to return to spontaneous travel when my girls are older!
What fabulous times you had and your words describe things so vividly!
Gabi

Kerstin said...

Magical, I loved these stories!

susanna said...

I sooo enjoyed reading your hotel/chimney/treehouse stories. In fact, I'm going to look up Cappadoccia online and bookmark it under future vacation possibilities. What a fabulous experience!

deirdre said...

What adventures you've had! I suspect there are dozens of small travel journals elbowing each other out of the way in your mind.

NuttersNotes said...

I want to sleep in a treehouse and in a cave now. Just when I thought my life was complete.....now I have to go to Turkey!!!

Great post and super pics

Colorsonmymind said...

Funny how hotels realy do seem to provide that home away from home feeling.

The hotel in Nice sounds amazing-

and what a great tree house.

I hope I can travel more...my husband is more of a home body, not much of an adventurer.

Kim G. said...

What a variety! How fun that you have stayed in so many different types of places. And the fairy chimney hotels? Who else would I ever know that had stayed there - probably no one! Your lovely imagination and creativity must help you find those kinds of places that most of us would miss or pass on by without a thought. Thanks so much for sharing this!

(PS - I just posted my SS - an old college paper I wrote about the old Multnomah Hotel in Portland. It used to be my dad's office building when I was growing up.)

sundaycynce said...

Laini, your adventures are so fantastic and so varied! I was ready to write a comment after the Negresco--I didn't know there were 11 room suites. Then you got to the fairy chimney and the tree house--wow, what fun! Thanks for sharing stories and pictures.

Thank you also (and Megg) for creating this fantastic forum for us all to share our writing and our memories. I know I need the focus of a prompt to get started, so that's great too. And thank you, Laini, for taking the time to read and comment kindly on my first effort last week. It helped insure that I was brave enough to continue.

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