Friday, October 1, 2010

The Forbidden City

When in Venice, you might go to the Cipriani. In London, the Connaught. In Paris, the George V or the Ritz. And on the Cote d’Azur, the Hotel du Cap. These are the old fashioned Grand Hotels, with quiet corridors, doting concierges, and soft, elegant sheets that were turned down by the night maid. When it was a seller’s market, you had to be landed aristocracy or at least know a landed aristocrat to make a reservation in some of these dignified redoubts. They were a far cry from the Holiday Inn, the Marriott or even the Meridien. These hotels were more like clubs and had a certain cachet. The closest most travelers would come to one of these pleasure domes came from reading about them in the pages of a novel. Writers like Evelyn Waugh, Hemingway and Graham Greene might have been found at their bars, documenting the foibles of the upper crust as they recorded the cultural history of the age. However, let’s say one wins the lottery or has the uncanny good fortune to invest in Apple at the right time and, for a moment at least, becomes the kind of cash cow that needs to be milked. There generally is no more reliable place to empty one’s pockets than a grand old establishment like the Cipriani, facing the Lido, the beach where Ashenbach confronted his homosexual longings in the Mann novella. But, will the uprooted cosmopolitan of the 21st Century really find respite in these museums, in which the aristocracy of Europe, probably including several itinerant Romanov’s, experienced its death rattles? Indeed, these anachronisms have a clientele that differs greatly from the world they entertained in the past. It’s a little like entering the Forbidden City in Peking. The experience of the tourist is nothing like what it was like when the inner sanctum was really off limits to anyone but emperors.

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