April 02, 2012
Straddling the extremes of staid elegance, the Grand Hotel Europe in St. Petersburg is yet largely unaltered, meaning it has been refurbished without being destroyed. My personal preference has always been St. Petersburg’s Hotel Astoria, pristine with perilous beauty. I managed to get there on my own and shared an otherwise solitary candlelit dinner late one evening during the winter. And while it may have been better for all Russians had the country been taken as a whole, it was better for me that a single Siberian was taken individually.
In London they supposedly brought The Savoy into the 21st century. What’s so wonderful about the 21st century? Whatever it was they did to it, it isn”t The Savoy anymore. They kept the deco sign, but the shabby sophistication is gone. It has new “art” and new “dÃ©cor” but no character.
The Ritz in Paris is being shuttered in an effort to do whatever it is that makes once-grand destinations into everyplace else. Those who decide these things will be determining how best to demystify something that took multiple generations to evoke.
It would be masterful to redesign everything inside to accord with interior scenes from Love in the Afternoon. Except they won”t do that. Who knows why? I can”t think of anyone who wouldn”t rather live in that film for a few days than in whatever garish neo-punk-Goth-modern-post-post-modern monstrosity they always manage to foist on everyone. It’s all one more reason to choose The Crillon.
There is a special symmetry with hotels, a seeming sanctity of past mixing with the present’s insecurity. In a handful of habitats anyone can live in the very space once occupied by Rockefeller, Proust, Buddy Holly, Tchaikovsky, or Princess Diana. It may be for only a night, but that is a few moments more than can be said for most of our darker hours.
Yet it only works to the extent we use continuity as a transport to other times. Fine garments with lifetimes left to wear ought not be discarded simply due to age. Anyone can make a new hotel; it takes generations to make history. Stripping bare the few sticks of period furniture, choosing modish carpeting, and whitewashing the gilt off the rails not only leaves our experiences empty, it erases that tenuous link to the past. It leaves a glimmering but gutted building in its stead.