The Hotel Lobby

For some years, when visiting Rhodes, Greece, I would stay at the same small hotel in the Old Town. I never failed to meet interesting people there, and other guests never failed to interest me. Here’s a snapshot from July 2009…

My first night on this visit – surreal. The noise from the bar below the hotel – deafening, and it worsened after 1a.m. Seriously. Ear plugs, double glazing and closed shutters, with air-con on full blast do little to mitigate a bass line hard enough to vibrate the bed. I have the vain hope that I can leave the bedroom window open to the cool night breeze. Fat chance. And there’s no lie-in, either. At 7a.m., the deranged bar owner, completely drunk, starts shouting and throwing glass ashtrays down into the street. He hides behind a wooden slatted fence (through which, of course, he is clearly visible) before falling over and going to sleep on the spot.

No-one else sleeps, except T and her mother, who manage (miraculously) to get about 12 hours straight out cold. How, I never discover. T is cuddly and super-cute. She chuckles constantly. She’s six months old and from Mali. Her mother is from Spain. They currently live in Tokyo where, her mother informs me, they will stay for another two years before moving who-knows-where. T’s mum waited six years to adopt a baby via an international adoption agency until, four months ago, along came the gorgeousness that is T. The mother smiles wanly and seems constantly anxious. Scared it’s all too good to be true and she’ll have to wake up?

Then there’s S. A 76-year old woman of whom I know too much. She’s needy and all too ready to talk. She did, however, make my day when she asked from where in France I came. ‘ J’ai peur de tout!’ she exclaims before showing me her souvenir shopping and telling me ‘Je ne reviendrai jamais!’ when I question the wisdom of carrying so many kitsch gifts home. Her heart! Her ears! Her feet! Her legs! She suffers, you see. I find myself mildly disappointed that ‘mal de foie’ doesn’t make it onto the list of maladies – my mother always told me this mystery was the must-have French ailment. She does have claustrophobia, though. Her anorexic daughter died aged 36; suicide. Her husband died aged 50; brain tumor. That was 37 years ago, and they’d been married 20 years. She cries and hugs a lot. I think to myself she really needed that daughter – but maybe too much.

There’s a woman from New Zealand, here for only 24 hours before joining a yacht as crew. She’s notable for her Apple note-taking and Skype-ing. Meanwhile, room 112 accommodates a Finnish couple, permanently trapped in the drunk-hungover cycle. They stink, so does their room. When they emerge for coffee they remain silent, while others recoil from the stench grateful that they don’t need to make conversation. Then, because there is always a token piece of shit somewhere, there’s D. D and his three very young children and his one very self-obsessed story.

The palpable neglect of the children is tragic. They have only the clothes they stand up in. He buys them some tourist clothing, totally inappropriate for their imminent trip ‘home’, then buys himself designer clothing as he’s expecting press on the tarmac when the plane lands. Vomiting his rambling story over everyone, a great incoherent mess; his version of events is, of course, entirely self-pitying and self-serving. Somewhere in there are Turkish DJs, blackmail, drugs, addled brains, misery, neglect, jail and spaghetti in his daughter’s hair. He seems to be there forever, waiting for passports, waiting for money, waiting for airline tickets. I am waiting for compassion and common-sense to hit him with that knockout blow. Sadly, I leave before it arrives…

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