- Words by Mr John Ortved
"In unfrequented places, amid strange peoples, where life was led in strange ways... He had a feeling that he would learn something new about life and gain some clue to the mystery that he had solved only to find more mysterious." Of Human Bondage, Mr William Somerset Maugham
If we wish to solve this next mystery, the long, torrid affair between hotels and literature (and booze, their matchmaker, lubricant and divorce lawyers), a look at the infamous bolt holes favoured by some of our most important writers is a good place to start playing detective. Hotels are places for writers; homes away from homes. They are places where you can dream the day away uninterrupted, or dig deep into the social ant farm with the smallest amount of exertion. They are places to be recognised, to go AWOL, to get kicks and to observe - places to weave the narrow thread between the fantasy life and the real one. They are where the action is, and the magic happens - spaces such as the Ritz in Paris, The Plaza in New York, or the Chateau Marmont, that debauched Gothic simulacrum in West Hollywood; the host of a million legendary parties, players and secrets - whether we read of it later or it stays between the walls, or sheets. Artists feel as if they can be themselves in these places, because they are places made to feel like home, which is an interesting concept given that, by definition, a hotel is not that.
What are they then? And what about them has drawn so many writers for so many generations, as a place not only to stay but also to create and inspire? There is a long history after all, and not just of Messrs Christopher Marlowe, Arthur Rimbaud and Hunter S Thompson wreaking havoc at their local inns. From Cyclops' cave and Calypso's island to Shakespeare to The Shining, hospitality and intoxication have mixed conspicuously on many a page.
Part of it is inevitable: bards have always travelled for stories; they need places to stay, to meet people to get loose. But it can't be just that. Perhaps it is the "like" in "like home" that is the key. Home is where the heart is - the wife, the husband, the kids, the bills - those things writers are not known for dealing well with. Hotels are places where we can be left to think and work, but where sociality and reliable comforts - new people every day, but the same staff: "Good to see you again, Mr Ortved" - are never far off. They are spaces where one feels special, without having to be "on", places where there are rules but no pressure to put on pretensions, or trousers for that matter.
Between the hotel's two contradictory states we find its raison d'etre: travel. And here we may understand what it is that draws the poet to the inn. For every story is a metaphorical journey, and to create them writers need to be both home, and not home, to embrace knowledge and mystery - to have one foot on terra firma and the other stepping towards the void.