Apr 30, 2014
"How does one come by front-row aisle seats for a first night at the Opera Toscana with one day's notice? How does one arrange a private viewing of the tapestry collection at the Royal Saxon Gallery? How does one secure a corner table at Chez Dominique on a Thursday?"
-- M. Gustave in Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel about The Society of the Crossed Keys
During Ramsey County Library's recent Facebook Movie Advisory Day, MPR's Cube Critic Stephanie Curtis called The Grand Budapest Hotel "a film that you see and immediately want to see again." Ralph Fiennes plays Gustave H., a legendary concierge in a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. Although The Grand Budapest Hotel is not based on a novel (though inspired by the writing of Stefan Zweig), Fiennes's amazing and hilarious performance started me thinking about the fascinating profession of concierge--one that's been explored in fascinating fiction and non-fiction alike.
True Stories: Behind the Hotel Doors
Concierge Confidential by Michael Fazio with Michael Malice - New York City's top concierge reveals the behind-the-scenes madness that goes into getting the rich and famous what they want, and shares some great insider knowledge on how to get access to the unattainable without making the concierge, waiters and other service people crazy. Interesting, customer service-oriented look at the industry.
In Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-called Hospitality, Jacob Tomsky spills the unwritten code of the bellhops, the antics that go on in the valet parking garage, the housekeeping department's dirty little secrets--not to mention the shameless activities of the guests, who are rarely on their best behavior. He also reveals the secrets of the industry, offering easy ways to get what you need from your hotel without any hassle. This book (and a timely proffered twenty-dollar bill) will help you score late checkouts and upgrades, get free stuff galore, and make that pay-per-view charge magically disappear.
Another dishy look at the steamy world of the hotel industry is the BBC's television series Hotel Babylon - Based on a non-fiction tell-all book by Imogen Edwards-Jones and 'Anonymous', the series centers around the five-star Hotel Babylon, a place where money not only talks, it buys you just about anything you desire. Delve deep into the frenetic, non-stop hidden culture of the hotel staff. From the discreet concierge to the flamboyant bar managers, everyone has a story.
For a more genteel, historical exploration of the hotel industry, try When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age by Justin Kaplan. In New York during the 1890s and after, the two feuding heirs to John Jacob Astor built monumental grand hotels, chief among them the original Waldorf-Astoria on lower Fifth Avenue. The Astor hotels transformed social behavior. Home of the chafing dish and the velvet rope, the Waldorf-Astoria drew the rich, famous, and fashionable.
Life at the Marmont, by Raymond Sarlot and Fred E. Basten, originally published in 1987, is the inside story of the Chateau Marmont, the legendary hotel of the stars. Sarlot and Basten share a wealth of scandalous and intriguing tales about them all, from the stars of Hollywood’s Golden Era like Jean Harlow and Grace Kelly to idols of the sixties and seventies like Jim Morrison and John Belushi (who tragically died there in 1982). Greta Garbo herself starred in the 1932 classic Grand Hotel, wherein the glitz and glitter of Berlin's Grand Hotel comes alive with this story of love and betrayal.
A Handful of Novels Set In Hotels
Of course, The Shining, Stephen King's classic horror novel about a troubled man hired to care for a remote mountain resort over the winter, his loyal wife, and their uniquely gifted son slowly but steadily unfolds as secrets from the Overlook Hotel's past are revealed, and the hotel itself attempts to claim the very souls of the Torrence family. Also made into a chilling film by Stanley Kubrick, which was followed by a documentary called Room 237 about conspiracy theories associated with the film. Whew!
Nods to The Shining turn up In Kate Racculia's Bellweather Rhapsody. Fifteen years ago, a murder/suicide in room 712 rocked the grand old Bellweather Hotel and the young bridesmaid who witnessed it. Now hundreds of high school musicians have gathered in its cavernous, crumbling halls for the annual Statewide festival; the grown-up bridesmaid has returned to face her demons; and a snowstorm is forecast that will trap everyone on the grounds. Then one of the orchestra's stars disappears--from room 712. Is it a prank, or has murder struck the Bellweather once again?
For a bit cozier reading, try At Bertram's Hotel: A Miss Marple Mystery by Agatha Christie - When Miss Marple comes up from the country for a holiday in London, she finds what she's looking for at Bertram's Hotel: traditional decor, impeccable service, and an unmistakable atmosphere of danger behind the highly polished veneer. Yet, not eve nMiss Marple can foresee the violent chain of events set in motion when an eccentric guest makes his way to the airport on the wrong day....
Or you may enjoy A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy, also wonderfully cozy, follows the efforts of Chicky who, with the help of Rigger (a bad boy turned good who is handy around the place) and her niece Orla (a whiz at business), turns a coastal Ireland mansion into a holiday resort and receives an assortment of first guests who throughout the course of a week share laughter and the heartache of respective challenges.
One of the great classics of hotel literature is Anita Brookner's Hotel du Lac, which tells the story of Edith Hope, who writes romance novels under a pseudonym. When her life begins to resemble the plots of her own novels, however, Edith flees to Switzerland, where the quiet luxury of the Hotel du Lac promises to restore her to her senses. But instead of peace and rest, Edith finds herself sequestered at the hotel with an assortment of love's casualties and exiles. She also attracts the attention of a worldly man determined to release her unused capacity for mischief and pleasure.
And of course, what better place to end than that seminal work of literature involving life in a hotel: Kay Thompson's Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown ups with drawings by Hilary Knight. "Eloise is a little girl who lives at The Plaza Hotel in New York. She is not yet pretty but she is already a Person." No book has ever made living in a hotel look like more fun.
So ... "check in" to one of these titles today!