Darling! Here I am to help! You are stuck at home, wishing you could travel and here is dearest auntie, such a useful and effective auntie!, to remind you of why travel is a dreadful. No, no, no need to thank me, but if you insist, Burdick’s chocolates are still delivering.
You remember Sleeping Beauty – some nitwit flunkey forgets to put the extra postage charge on the invite and the dear innocent princess gets whomped with a curse. Same with me, but mine is much worse than taking a 200-year snooze. Someone did something wrong when I was born and I got slapped with a terrible blight of epic proportions. 5-star hotels wilt in my presence. In comparison to me, Tantalus is grateful for his meager punishment. Sisyphus sends me sympathy cards. Prometheus would gladly have his liver, eyes, heart, toes and ear hair plucked out rather than suffer as I do.
I get anywhere near a five-star hotel and the service disintegrates into slum hovel – assistant managers get the mange, service personal develop rabies, cockroaches find out where I am staying and decide to hold their annual conventions there, salmonella perks ups its ears and moves in. I make a reservation for a five-star hotel and rouge waves line up in happy anticipation; volcanoes get ready to erupt; red tides, black death and dandruff rub their hands in gleeful anticipation.
I go to Bora Bora. People (that would mean people other than me) go there for their honeymoon or for sun-drenched decadent holidays. I go for the typhoid, the beriberi, the malaria and the sun stroke.
This tendency for everything to fall apart when I came in the door used to frighten and upset me, but now I am resigned. At some point a maitre’d in a crisp uniform will give me a perfect bellini and the curse will be broken, but in the mean time – I expect a Bora Bora vacation will result in lost luggage, my hair falling out, dengue fever, public humiliation of some sort and warts. The pool will be dry, there will be no fresh fruit because of a rare killing frost, the maids will be on strike and the towels will give me a rash.
Comic hyperbole you say? Slight exaggeration you say? Hah. I first realized the extent of the curse when a friend and I both went on weekend vacations to different tropical islands. She checked into her hotel and discovered that the only other occupants were a professional European soccer team. Yee-hah! She spent the whole time drinking and dancing and never paid a cent for anything. I checked into my hotel, got shown to my room and got trapped inside the bathroom because the lock was broken. I had to call for help through the tiny air vent window. Typical.
When I went to Australia on vacation there were no bananas. No bananas in the whole country and the film developing place lost all my rolls of films, including shots of me with kangaroos, me and koalas, me with kookaburras, me with quokkas, me with numbats and me with wombats. In Bali, the only inhabitants of the hotel were older Russian-speaking men with very young, beautiful, and unhappy women. I got a special ‘beauty package’ at the hotel spa and ended up with terminally frizzy hair and a bath full of twigs. My camera was stolen, the guided tour leader kept fondling my knee, the bed was infested with biting insects, and my room was next to an exit so drunk people were coming and going, shouting and screaming all night.
Move rooms you say? Hah! You have no idea of the extent of this curse. I check into a 5-star hotel in Chicago and ask for a quiet room and get one behind the elevator: electronic ping accompanying the opening doors every 3 minutes. I go back down to get a new room – this one is next to the ice maker: crash, boom of falling ice and the chatter of drunken guests all night.
I check into a 5-star hotel in Abu Dhabi, ask for a quiet room and get one with a connecting door (i.e. less sound-proof) to a room with 4 men who are playing Arabic music and talking until 2am. I call the front desk seething and they kindly move to me: to another room with a connecting door with a family on the other side. And the management kept putting more pieces of fresh fruit in my room – after a three night stay I had 27 pieces of fresh fruit. Did they think I was traveling with a swarm of hungry fruit bats?
In Oslo the hotel advertised as “in the center of downtown” was 12 blocks from the action. In Edinburgh, the hotel looked perfect online – great location, great lobby…. Turns out that the hotel’s great lobby was one floor above ground floor – you were expected to haul your luggage up a long flight of stairs before you checked in and the front staff and concierge had never heard of St. Andrews, the historically famous university town right outside Edinburgh, and had no idea how to get there. In Capri, the hotel was under-going renovations, so my room smelled of fresh paint and when I got a “relaxing spa-massage,” workers were drilling though concrete on the other side of the wall.
Must I go on? Can you stand more? I saved pennies for a year to have a splurge vacation in Hong Kong with a one-night stay in Singapore because I wanted to see Raffles. Raffles! The Long Bar! You can’t say the name without fission of excitement – except there was no turn-down service, dirty dishes were just left to collect flies, and it seemed all the service personal sat in corners and talked to each other. When the bedside alarm clock didn’t work and I missed breakfast, I called for the ‘room butler.’ She showed up about ten minutes later and when I burst into tears telling her about missing breakfast (Darling, your dearest aunt read a description of breakfast at Raffles when I was a wee tot – it seemed to me the ne plus ultra of elegance and I had been dreaming of it for years, let this be a lesson to you about the dangers of reading). The ‘butler’ gave me a hug but neglected to tell me that I had mis-read the information and that breakfast was still being served.
Now, darling, you might think that I am being a mite picky, as if that was even possible, but remember I live overseas. My daily life is, to say the least, uneven if not downright rocky. I love living here but when I go on vacation, especially if I am paying $200 a night, I want things to work. I asked for ice once and it took 1 hour and 15 minutes to arrive. Did they have to find the recipe for ice?
What did you say, I should just stay in a normal hotel? Hah! Normal hotel rooms are such horrors: the ghastly pictures, plastic comforters, color-coordinated blandness that depresses, bad lighting in the bathroom so your make-up looks all wrong, heaters and air-conditioners that sound like jets landing, the chemical attempt to eliminate the grey wash of stale smoke, hair dryers that frizz your hair, discolored stationary, lights which buzz and hum, shades thwacking against the peeling woodwork. I want crisp clean sheets, silent air conditioning, hangers that aren’t attached to the closest rod, sweet-smelling soap and a view. Is this too much to ask? No. Am I an unreasonable woman? No, most decidedly not.
The memories unspool: the 5-star hotel in Dubai where I tried to sleep in but was interrupted every half-an hour by someone form house-keeping (and yes, I did have the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door). The times I have asked for turn-down service or more towels to no avail. Ordering taxis for a specific time that never arrived, the TVs that did not work, the waiters who took twenty minutes to bring a cup of coffee at breakfast, the people in the next room screaming, the tepid water and the poorly placed mirrors.
The question is, of course, why do I continue – why do I persist? Why don’t I just stay home? Two reasons. 1) “A man’s got to a place a bet every day, otherwise he might be walking around lucky and never know it” – since I don’t know how I got the curse, I don’t know what possible alignment of stars, tides, planets and astral auras will align to remove it – so I need to throw myself into the vortex once a year or so to see if the curse is finally lifted.
Second, for my dear friends. I am a perfect martyr for my dear friends. I have the best friends on earth and they are such good people that they spend their money and time on children/ home repairs and other worth-while projects like volunteering for adult literacy non-profit organizations and running girl-scout troops. They have no time to be jetting off for self-indulgent vacations. How can I help them? I can show them that self-indulgent vacations in 5-star spa resorts are train-wrecks.
As they scoop Cheerios off the floor, make cupcakes for a child’s party at 2am or spend their weekend cleaning gutters, they say to themselves, “Thank heaven I am not in a five-star hotel on a Caribbean island right now! I am so happy to be perched precariously on a ladder up to my elbows in rotting leaves! So much better than to be laying in the shade of a palm tree with cabana boys to bring me cocktails, what with the tarantula infestation, the outbreak of bubonic plague, the kitchen staff on strike, the island on the brink of political revolution, the bedbugs, fleas, rats, lizards, frogs and vipers.” My misery spreads happiness. This is my fate.
If I ever had a great vacation, it might lead to wide-spread consternation: divorce, children being left alone with the TV remote, the number for pizza delivery and overflowing gutters. I know my place in the universe. But once, just once, could my vacation not be a roaring disaster? Would it truly upset some necessary cosmic balance if I could get a Mai-tai that did not taste like cleaning fluid, a quiet room, impeccable room service and a knowledgeable concierge?
We shall see.