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Hotel El Vapor

October 13, 2010

Here at the hotel they serve fish el vapor. The hotel is 14 stories tall and chalky green.  We are suspicious as soon as we see it, but who can complain?  The food is decent and we become acutely fond of the waiter, who seems never to stop smiling at us.  How could we not love him?

We are captivated by the misfortune of being sent to the wrong hotel, so much so that we talk about it every day.  Some vacation this is, we say.  Our voices are drowned by the sound of drills boring into concrete. We christen it the Hotel El Vapor because it is, to us, a taunting mirage of luxury.

My brother is not so happy about the hotel.  It is not the one we requested; we would have preferred smaller, more intimate quarters and given that we were paying third world five star prices (five star divided by three), we expected more.  He is not happy because his wife and I are not happy.  We hated it from the outset.

We are shocked by the hotel’s grotesque height and muted green color; a shade chosen, we imagine, to blend into the landscape it has cut apart.

We can hardly bear to list its features, so great is our scorn. It is an aspirational place, a cartoon of a fine hotel.

The place we covet is next door and acts as a foil for the one we are stuck in.  It torments us to contemplate the differences.  We go over them one by one, like beads on a rosary, as we are sitting by the pool. Here: poured cement construction, ceiling tiles, plastic keychain; cheap giant curtains and stuffed valences out of a soap opera set.

There: terra cotta and wood construction, ceramic tile roof, two stories, wooden stairs, no elevators, hand-woven curtains, wax imprinted brass keychain, acres of gardens and live birds in cages.  A tiled pool seeming to spill into the lake, twin helicopter pads edged with bougainvillea.

The manager of the green hotel is blind to the difference. “What can we do to improve your stay?”  he asks us eagerly. We begin to feel ashamed.

“He wants to keep our money,” says my brother.

“You have humiliated me in front of the women of my family,” my brother tells him.  This the manager understands.

“If you do not figure it out, I will fuck all of you,” my brother says in a choked shout, slamming his hand down on the hotel desk. It is a negotiating technique, he tells us later, over a drink, to show a flash of anger.

I think he is losing his mind. Privately, he tells us it is for effect.

The hotel where we find ourselves has a communal heart like that of a small city.  There are people on every floor engaged in the various types of work you would find in a city. What amazes us, gradually, is the sincerity with which they do it.

By the fifth day our loathing of the green hotel has been replaced by an almost bleary affection. We can hardly walk by the front desk without tears gathering in our eyes.  “These people!” we cry. “We don’t deserve them!”  We have fallen under the spell of their ingenuousness. And they seem to have fallen in love with us. They tell us it has been a PLEASURE to serve us.  We are too kind; no, they are too kind.

Nearby, in the courtyard of a church, the heart of a murdered priest rests in a small white monument.  It is hard to know what to do when passing by the heart of a priest even when it rests under layers of cement.  It seems one should make a gesture.  I pause slightly, apologetically — as if I have forgotten something, as if I have an audience – the way I do when passing the front desk of the green hotel and there is the face of the clerk framed behind the desk as lovely and open as a saint pierced with arrows, waiting for us to leave.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. shirah bell permalink
    October 13, 2010 3:03 pm

    Wow, this is quite a vignette into your life and reminds me of so many trips i took. What country are you talking about? thank you for sharing.

  2. marco polo permalink
    October 15, 2010 5:03 pm

    is this what i think it is? if it is, it is fantastic. if it isn’ t, it’ s also fantastic.
    ” a shade chosen, we imagine, to blend into the landscape it has cut apart.” – how do you come up with such well crafted formulations? I can just see it, the image, the genuine intent, the miserable outcome.

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