Monday, November 15, 2010

Beauty & Three Hotels

Much of the time I mumble along in my life with a numb-da-numb-da-numb sort of rhythm, but then unexpectedly, I get catapulted into a place that is fully out of this world and at the same time so much more fully in it than usual. Time expands exponentially. In the right light, even the beauty of the common dandelion can accomplish this trick of transcendence.

Sprung time is what Gerard Manly Hopkins called this and I realize that this may seem like a strange jumping off point to talk about the three hotels that I have stayed in recently, but bear with me. All will be revealed.

Last spring, I was a guest of a friend at the Fairmont Pacific Rim, a high end hotel overlooking Coal Harbour in downtown Vancouver. You can read all about our stay in her blog -

Every detail had been thought of, right down to the pleats in the backs of the vests of the reception staff. Très chic. Up in our room, I drew a hot bath, eased into it and – because I could - I pointed a remote control in the general direction of the mirror over the sink. Click - the mirror became a television, I kid you not. If you stay there, you too can lie in your bath and watch Pastor Manbridge. Which is how I retain my nerd status - watching the news in a high end hotel.

It amuses me that the place where I actually encountered my one moment of transcendent beauty was in the women’s washroom. The patterns in the marble walls captivated me so totally that you might have thought I had already had three cocktails. I hadn’t. I had to lay my palm flat against the wall to more fully absorb the patterns. They would have been laid down in the stone long before Stockwall Day’s ancestors cavorted with the dinosaurs.

Okay, so that last bit was a lame Canadian joke. I can’t help myself.

Just before I left for this research trip in Ireland, Andreas and I booked ourselves into the Granville Island Hotel for five days while we hovered up all the delights of the Vancouver Writers and Reader’s Festival. See:  If you have never done this before, it is a totally must-do kind of thing. Five days spent with some of the finest minds in the world gathering to strut their stuff.

The Granville Island Hotel is one of those upper-mid-range hotels where the achievment of style exceeds what I have at home and the level of comfort is totally in the perfection zone. Where it really excels, however, is in its location. It is on the waterfront and smack dab in the middle of one of the most brilliant urban development schemes ever, thanks to the vision of Ron Basford in the early 1970s. It is also within spitting distance of a range of fine restaurants and theatres, and close to dozens of artisans’ shops as well as a fresh food market that will exceed your every need. Also, real people work and make things on Granville Island, from the most delicate ear rings to industrial concrete. 

Yes, there is even a concrete factory whose trucks are cunningly turned into bunches of asparagus or splashes of strawberries. They have to be seen to be believed. Not that I needed any concrete when I was there.

Unlike the previous two hotels, the attraction of The Fleet Street Hotel in the Temple Bar District of Dublin is not style, but price. Since I planned to work in Dublin for three weeks, there was a definite ceiling on how much styling I could handle cost-wise and the rate of €43 a night – when booked on line - struck me as the cat’s pyjamas.

I had stayed here three times before and I knew that my room would have everything I might need. The bathroom is clean and refurbished, there is a desk and good reading lights and there are also enough outlets to recharge all the peripherals that come with the research life. Okay, so there are no wine glasses in the room, but 50p spent at a nearby Charity Shop takes care of that. Most mornings, I download my emails at the free internet access in the lobby and then pad back to my room for my morning coffee and wheaten bread and ready myself for the day.

Now, I am by nature not much of an extrovert. On a scale of one to ten, I am about a four, although I can fake it up to about an eight. I am clearly not the kind of person who will chat up the front desk staff and know everything about them including the name of their recently deceased cat within the first two minutes. That being said, as soon as I was greeted by the young woman at reception, I realized that I was in the presence of the kind of beauty that no hotel company can buy.

David Milne, a Canadian painter, once said that every great painting had to have what he called, the dazzle spot – that spot that the eye cannot help but return to. For me, the dazzle spot of The Fleet Street Hotel is the authentic kindness of the staff, the friendliness when I hand over my key to go out and when I return at the end of the day. It is this unaffected warmth of welcome that makes me feel so at home here. I am transported daily and Gerard Manly Hopkins would know exactly what I mean.

THE world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

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