About the value of Grand Hotels

If one didn’t know what grand hotels are and what decadence means, it would be very easy and very wrong to describe a grand hotel as being something decadent.
byKonstantin Arnold

There are as many luxurious hotels in the world, all different to each other, as there are ways to interpret that word. All interpretations, regardless of one’s prejudices and in whatever version, have one thing in common, and that is that decadence is linked to demise. It is the harbinger of the end of something. Always. An apocalyptic mood. A means to combat the emptiness of our existence which, aware of our own mortality, we must somehow get through in a frenzy of hedonism. The fin de siècle, the fall of the Roman Empire and other empires and at some time, us too, in this rapturous world just before the climax. We no longer build any edifices that will last for a thousand years, such is the nature of democracies, and democrats do not indulge in orgies where champagne flows in torrents like in Thomas Couture’s Les Romains de la décadence, without any penalty. Our decadence consists of things that can be bought and decoration that turns things into something they are not. Bookshelf wallpaper, advertising mock-ups, shop window mannequins, barn eggs, holding patterns, telephoning in general, or what today still remains of telephoning: people who take, upload and download photographs, shop online, hardly any antique shops anymore, just shops where one can purchase cell phones, short pants and doner kebabs. We are a throwaway generation who will go to demonstrations any time but would still prefer to buy five pairs of cheap shoes instead of one good quality pair that will last a long time. It is easily said, without much thought, that this is because it is expensive, and anything expensive is only for rich people, and whatever one might think of rich people, they are not all arms dealers.

Something is falling badly into decay here and that's why grand hotels are wonderful places that are timeless and therefore without end. The world could end and the first you would know about it would be a week later via the concierge’s calm information. Concierges are wonderful people who have traveled the world, know many countries and speak their languages and do not trouble themselves with simple truths. They are discreet, unobtrusive and speak in simple, eloquent forms. They have young faces, spared from the hardships of life, and for a fleeting moment they make you feel like the most important person in the world, whether you are asking for bath salts, postage stamps or helicopters. They, like no other, help to bring about that balance that is generated in a person by the architecture of a grand hotel.

This is good for people whose lives are noisy by nature. Grand hotels are retreats for brain workers, a cosmos at work, the clockwork of timelessness, run by the great people of their age. They are free passage for all those who feel trapped between ages, and there is no need to even ask about time because everything is so old it's almost eternal. The chairs have been sat on, the carpets walked on, the paintings looked at, the wood used. But the beauty of it is not what is used, but the time that does something with it. Everything that is true improves with age. Love, wine, leather, problems. It is easier of course to imitate age than to preserve the old, but if you preserve it, something intangible emerges, an aura, attention to detail, the spirit of these buildings, time that has become space. My girlfriend always liked places like this, and when I explained the way I see it to her, she realized what it was she liked about them. It was the same thing that we liked about a cheap inn or a gloomy pub in the most out of the way part of town: truth.

I understand that some will not understand, but I also understand that people want something for themselves and only rarely want it for others too. Few people today wish to read about good times, and certainly not of possible better times if they are not living them themselves. That has nothing to do with the buildings though. They gleam innocently white, like ambassadors of civilization on the coasts of the world. They stand in cities like museums in cities that one can use and touch and make dirty, or steam like great ships in the mountains, travelling through time, coming from another century to pass on to the next, so that the world of yesterday can still be here tomorrow. Like an ark, they preserve long-forgotten courtesies, lovingly maintain the traditions of extinct professions, keeping on board something that has been lost. They are based on the same truth that underlies the corner pub that has been steered through time by an honest couple for decades. They offer a home to the homeless for a few hours. The most beautiful of them look like vanilla ice-cream with a roof on top. The bar is made of dark wood, the waiters wear cufflinks and pass round aperitifs. The bar has cushions to rest your elbows on while you are talking or just saying nothing and sitting quietly and looking through the room out to the sea, the square or the mountains. You sit there, having freed yourself from a certain feeling, waiting, contemplating the sea or writing a letter about mountains with a pen on high-quality paper, a letter that is particularly pleasant to write. Sometimes you find out from the barman all that there is to know about this place or that, the best restaurants, the latest gossip. No, you don't have time, you take it all in until your loved one comes down the lobby steps in an evening gown. Wonderful.

There is a world of difference between classic houses like these and nouveau riche carbuncles that people go to in order to be rich, in the form of a truth that everyone must discover for themselves by finding out what truth is even meant at all. It is certainly not the same as money, except for people who do not know the value of something, or only know it if they know what something weighs, what it measures, or how much it costs.

What these buildings mean only becomes clear in an emergency. They survive world wars and visits from Dieter Bohlen. They are laboratories of modernity, bulwarks against the century in which they stand. In the event of war, they form fortresses that hold out the longest. The Suvretta House in St. Moritz between the wars, the Excelsior in Rome during the Abadan crisis, the dining room of the Hotel Palace in Madrid as a military hospital, in the Spanish Civil War. The Grand Hotel du Cap-Ferrat as the vault of a way of life, the Bristol Palace in Vienna. In the weighing scales of nations, hospitality is sacred. They concentrate current eternal values from a primeval right to shelter and luxurious development, form the locus of a deep longing and act like an institutional reassurance, like a child's faith: no enemies near, death circumventable, light on, the certainty that someone is still awake. This is the message of the grand hotels, the sleeping cars, the coffee houses, the tables for the regular clients, a temporal boundlessness, always being ready, dawn, return, every day a new day.

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