Hotel Melancholia
June 24, 2015 5:48 AM   Subscribe

Related: The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton

Based on his book.
posted by Fizz at 6:07 AM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Depressing hotel rooms always make me think of Fol Chen's Cable TV
posted by JDHarper at 6:15 AM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ever since I spent a mind-melting six weeks in a comfortable but nearly-deserted four-star hotel in the far outer suburbs of Rome, the thought of spending more than a few days in a hotel room has given me the shivers. I’m nothing like as well-travelled as Ms. Joinson, but parts of her article resonated with my own experiences, and I very much enjoyed reading it. Thanks, ellieBOA, for the post.
posted by misteraitch at 6:17 AM on June 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

I suppose if your life consists of travel, the hotel room becomes your personal hell.
But when your home life is hell, the hotel room becomes a place of anonymous escape from the shithole that is your life.
posted by charred husk at 6:20 AM on June 24, 2015 [26 favorites]

Having spent 25 years on basically non-stop touring, I've probably lived in hotel rooms more than my home. I love hotel rooms. A base to set out from if something cool is around; a refuge if not. Customizable ambience, and room service for the occasional touch of decadence. My ac is broken: I wish I were in one now.
posted by umberto at 6:26 AM on June 24, 2015 [15 favorites]

So if you're depressed, your hotel seems depressing?

If you're lonely and desperate, your room seems like a place of loneliness and despair?
posted by Bruce H. at 6:32 AM on June 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

I kind of like hotel rooms, sometimes.
posted by jonmc at 6:37 AM on June 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

She should try getting a room with two queen sized beds, turning the tv on, and hopping from one to the other until she gets tired.
posted by discopolo at 6:37 AM on June 24, 2015 [13 favorites]

I lived in hotels 4-5 nights a week for nearly two years for work.

It got old very very fast and took me years to recover my sense of 'ooo, I'm on an adventure' when checking into a hotel.

That said, I'm still a pro at settling rapidly into a hotel room and making it a bit more liveable. Developing a routine of packing and unpacking was critical, both to not feel like a completely rootless functional cog in the company machine and to make sure I didn't leave shit behind all the time. It's served me well on my almost entirely leisure travel since then.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:46 AM on June 24, 2015

"Hotel rooms are a naturally creepy place, don't you think? I mean, how many people have slept in that bed before you? How many of them were sick? How many of them lost their minds? How many of them... died?" - Mike Enslin (via John Cusack and Stephen King), 1408


What she says about trying to "redecorate" or adapt a hotel room to suit you, or to bring some kind of comfort object from home, is something I've adopted; if you wanna move the furniture, or you have a favorite throw blanket or pillow, bring it. I've made up a small go-bag of "portable luxury" that I take with me on trips - travel candle, travel size spa-quality bath salts and lotion, travel tin of fancy tea, and a small indulgent chocolate. I also unpack everything into the closet and dresser and bathroom and desk and such so it feels more like "my turf".

Granted, it also helps that I tend to mostly stay in AirBnB places these days, which by nature are a little more unique and distinctive than the anonymous chain hotels. Or if I do stay in a hotel, I go for the mom-and-pop places which are slightly seedy, so they either have "character" or they let me pretend I'm living in a Tom Waits song or something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:48 AM on June 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

Hotel rooms without a comfy chair are the worst, because I always feel like I'm home sick when I have to do everything sitting on a bed. I like hotels that have rooms split into sleeping and resting, where you can sprawl out like you're at home on a couch. I don't know why lying down on a couch is preferable to lying down on a bed, but it is.

Also, bring a pillow with you if you can. Your own pillows are excellent ways of feeling grounded.
posted by xingcat at 6:52 AM on June 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

A lot of her problems in the article seem related to sleep deprivation, which will absolutely drive you into a depressive state. If you're constantly changing time zones and have an irregular, stressful schedule, plus are isolated in a strange, impersonal, place, it can do a number on you. She doesn't seem to have had an actual home at this point in her life either. Who wouldn't be depressed under those circumstances?

I mean, yeah, hotel beds are weirdly hard and high off the ground and never quite right, and the chairs always suck and they can make you feel claustrophobic if you stay too long. But all that's a lot easier to deal with when you're not jetlagged and completely cut off in your personal life.
posted by emjaybee at 6:57 AM on June 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

Wherever you go, there you are. I don't have this problem with hotels at all. Granted, I spend less of my life on the road, but even when I'm traveling constantly, a decent hotel room, with clean white sheets, the possibility of room service, and no chores, is the best. My bed at home sucks. My apartment is grubby, despite my best efforts. Give me a white-tea-scented room at a Westin any day of the week. I like the solitude and adjustable lighting after a long, long, long day of working. I always tell Mr. bowtiesarecool that if I could just make enough money for him to not need to work full time and tag along with me on these jaunts, life would be perfect.

Pretty much the only thing I don't like about hotels is the feeling that I must be fully polished just to go down the hall to the ice machine, on the off chance that I run into a client during a conference. I have no problem looking scruffy in my own building at home.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 7:00 AM on June 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

"In Austin Powers, The Spy Who Shagged Me, Felicity and Austin say "No matter where we go, there we are."
posted by rmmcclay at 7:21 AM on June 24, 2015

Highly standardized design of commercial spaces has a strange, slightly uncomfortable side effect. I speak of the way in which you can travel across the country, walk into a Target store, and feel like you're walking into the same store you just left behind. Not "I'm in a Target, so I know the rough layout of the place" but the way in which it feels like the exact same store, as if there is only one Target that, vaguely Tardis like, exists in multiple locations simultaneously.

Chain hotels can cause that same effect in very powerful ways, as if there is only one Courtyard by Marriott and you keep going back to it. I find myself obsessing over tiny differences to help maintain a sense of place. Maybe some people find that comforting but I like a bit of variety.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 7:28 AM on June 24, 2015 [8 favorites]

Now imagine going from the suburbs to a hotel and then back.
posted by srboisvert at 7:54 AM on June 24, 2015

The Room
by Vladimir Nabokov

The room a dying poet took
at nightfall in a dead hotel
had both directories -- the Book
of Heaven and the Book of Bell.

It had a mirror and a chair,
it had a window and a bed,
its ribs let in the darkness where
rain glistened and a shopsign bled.

Not tears, not terror, but a blend
of anonymity and doom,
it seemed, that room, to condescend
to imitate a normal room.

Whenever some automobile
subliminally slit the night,
the walls and ceiling would reveal
a wheeling skeleton of light.

Soon afterwards the room was mine.
A similar striped cageling, I
groped for the lamp and found the line
"Alone, unknown, unloved, I die"

in pencil, just above the bed.
It had a false quotation air.
Was it a she, wild-eyed, well-read,
or a fat man with thinning hair?

I asked a gentle Negro maid,
I asked a captain and his crew,
I asked the night clerk. Undismayed,
I asked a drunk. Nobody knew.

Perhaps when he had found the switch
he saw the picture on the wall
and cursed the red eruption which
tried to be maples in the fall?

Artistically in the style
of Mr. Churchill at his best,
those maples marched in double file
from Glen Lake to Restricted Rest.

Perhaps my text is incomplete.
A poet's death is, after all,
a question of technique, a neat
enjambment, a melodic fall.

And here a life had come apart
in darkness, and the room had grown
a ghostly thorax, with a heart
unknown, unloved -- but not alone.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:00 AM on June 24, 2015 [11 favorites]

I have to switch on some significant magical thinking when I settle into a hotel room in order to believe that this is a clean space where nobody has done anything nasty, ever.

Besides all those 60 Minutes episodes I watched growing up where they take a blacklight and show all the semen on basically every surface (the coffeemaker!!), I can't un-see the bloody sheets I almost slept on in upstate New York or the used Band-Aid on the kitchenette counter in South Carolina. Or un-hear the absurdly loud vomiting next door in Statesville, NC. And then there are the everyday hairs in drains and boogers on doorknobs that are just kind of unavoidable.

It takes a lot of willpower to believe that a hotel room is a clean space where I can be comfortable. And if there's any bit of drudgery or depression going on besides? Well.
posted by witchen at 8:20 AM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've been traveling with my wife on research hiatus in Southeast Asia since last December. We've slept in 75 different hotel rooms at last count. The beds are hard. Sometimes the mothballs smell is fierce. The bathroom is generally a tiled closet with a shower head nearly over the commode and a sliver of pink soap. None has made me feel as exhausted as reading this person's oh-so-erudite essay.
posted by Mapes at 8:30 AM on June 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

This is reminding me I need to make hotel reservations for my next work trip.
posted by gingerbeer at 8:35 AM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am hoping that even the dumpiest hotels will always retain the glamour of Adventure to me.

I stayed in an unheated hotel room in China in February where the indoor temperature was about 50 degrees, maybe. I slept in all my clothes, coat, hat, scarf, 2 scratchy blankets and was still freezing. It was MISERABLE but at least it's a fun story.

One of the coziest feelings in the world is when my wife and I get off the road for the day and are tucked in for the night, somewhere only we know. We don't have cable at home so we enjoy watching infomercials and whatever other junky TV we find.

When we were scouting apartments in our current city, we stayed for 3 nights in a dumpy Motel 6 off the freeway. It's one of my favorite memories of moving. One night we were so tired we got Italian food to go and ate it right out of the containers, in the bed.

Sometimes we even like to stay in 2 different hotels in the same city, just to get a different experience! We've been known to pick 2 nights in a "budget" hotel and 2 in a nicer one, for a 4-day trip. It's always fun to upgrade halfway through, and sometimes the budget one is charming in its own ways.
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:28 AM on June 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

My own (limited) experience with hotels has always been when traveling for work, and - with one single exception - they've always been located in an isolated, highway-adjacent cultural wasteland. Nothing interesting to do, nowhere interesting to hang out, bland chain-restaurant food to eat, just the standard crap on TV to watch. At least recently Wi-Fi connections have become more widespread so I could entertain myself online as I sit holed up in my Nowheresville cubby. Before that I had to make sure to bring music and headphones, and a good book.

So yeah, all that experience has set up a depressing association when I think of hotels.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:40 AM on June 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

Travel can be inherently anxiety-triggering and depressing -- although, on the flip side, we all create our own hells. Sartre or somebody said that.
posted by blucevalo at 9:48 AM on June 24, 2015

It sounds like the author's real problem wasn't hotels, it was placelessness and disconnection. If she traveled around the world and lived in hotels with a partner or a family it would have been a totally different experience.

That said, I sometimes get a weird sense of briefly inhabiting another reality in hotel rooms, especially around sunset.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:03 AM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

And if you actively dig the melancholy of uninhabited rooms, the art of Claude Lazar is a treasure.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:08 AM on June 24, 2015

I am hoping that even the dumpiest hotels will always retain the glamour of Adventure to me.

I stayed in an unheated hotel room in China in February where the indoor temperature was about 50 degrees, maybe. I slept in all my clothes, coat, hat, scarf, 2 scratchy blankets and was still freezing. It was MISERABLE but at least it's a fun story.

Yeah, see, even the shit-holes have some sense of variety to them rather than being a whole chain of nondescript nothings. Like - there was one hotel I stayed in in San Francisco which had all the furniture crowded close to the front door; I think I noted in my journal that it looked like the furniture was "trying to escape". Or the hotel in Rome that a friend of mine raved about, but I was a little put off by the proprietor's snooty and snobby tone and so I was tempted to go Keith Moon on the place; or the room I stayed in at Circus Circus as a teenager on a family trip, which was the single ugliest hotel room I've ever seen:
* The bedspreads, curtains, and two of the walls were all done in a matching red, black, and brown stripe pattern;
* The rug had a pattern in a similar color scheme, but a completely different sort of diamond/paisley pattern;
* The other two walls were in white with a bubblegum-pink trim; and
* The only piece of art in the room was a watercolor painting of a clown.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:10 AM on June 24, 2015

I don't think it's the hotel room that's the problem- it's the author's endless stream of different-but-the-same hotel rooms that's the problem.

When I'm traveling and everything else is weird and confusing and difficult and lonely and changing, only the hotel room stays the same. In effect it becomes the closest thing I have to home.

That's why I don't like turndown service because it takes away any semblance of home, which for me is an unmade bed and clothes strewn about.
posted by meowzilla at 10:12 AM on June 24, 2015

Oh my god, Circus Circus. Mrs Molerats and I just recently went to Vegas and went into all the Strip hotels just for touristy fun, and ... Circus Circus. It was like... like if Chuck E Cheese and a 1982 mall had a hotel baby.

(Of all the shady vendors selling sketchy things on the Strip, the sketchiest was the guy in CC selling novelty contact lenses. Mrs Molerats wanted to buy "wolf eye" ones. I told her absolutely not, we did not have room in the Vegas budget for emergency eye removal due to contacts that were probably made of asbestos or something)
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:18 AM on June 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh man, I love hotels. Well, I love good boutique type hotels. With room service, and expensive sheets, and spa products in the bathroom. My girlfriends and I all try to do a girls weekend a couple times a year where we pick a really good hotel and just kids, no spouses, no worries...just sybaritic indulgence.

Our family is taking a vacation to dc this summer, and I decided that even though we were going for a week, it was worth the up charge to stay at a really nice historic hotel, rather than saving a few hundred dollars and staying at a "family" tourist hotel, just because I know I'll be happier, and a happier me means a happier everyone else within 20 miles of me. Heh. Also, a garden suite overlooking the observatory sounds much more pleasant than listening to thousands of kids tromping up and down the halls of a place with paper thin walls and no room service.
posted by dejah420 at 10:41 AM on June 24, 2015

Oh my god, Circus Circus. Mrs Molerats and I just recently went to Vegas and went into all the Strip hotels just for touristy fun, and ... Circus Circus. It was like... like if Chuck E Cheese and a 1982 mall had a hotel baby.

I'm partial to Hunter S Thompson: "The Circus-Circus is what the whole hep world would be doing Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war."

On another trip I stayed in the Paris hotel, and - the casino felt like I'd somehow wandered onto a stage set for Gigi, but the hotel room itself was comparatively modest and nondescript.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:42 AM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I spent a fair amount of time in hotels, mostly for work (~70 nights/year the last few years) and actually enjoy it most of the time. I agree with xingcat that the worst hotels are the ones without any sort of couch/comfy chair (or at least a lounge area with sofas, Marriott ftw!) - I find it really hard to relax in a room if I have to sit on the bed all the time. Not a big deal for a couple of nights, but it gets old pretty quick.

That being said, I'm lucky in that most of my work trips are to large international cities (or at least cities with compact, walkable centers) that have plenty to do after work hours. I've done a handful of trips to places that had literally nothing to do nearby, no way I could do trips like that week in week out.
posted by photo guy at 10:43 AM on June 24, 2015

Empress, the Luxor is like that too. The hotel is all tourist glitz downstairs, but the rooms look like a Marriott anywhere in the world.
posted by dejah420 at 11:25 AM on June 24, 2015

I don't understand this. I would move into a hotel tomorrow and plan to retire into one. As long as they are clean and the bed is good, I love hotel all hotel rooms from the bland to the insane, modest to opulent.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:29 AM on June 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

This past winter, the winter that would not end, I was staying in a hotel room in a New England town. My job is often repetitive, involving saying the same things to different sets of people. I stayed in a chain hotel, with everything just so. Slightly higher than low budget, vastly lower than luxe. Across the street, visible from my window, was a graveyard. It had the appearance typical to New England graveyards: organized, mildly historical, the older markers blending neatly with the snow on the ground.

Towards the end of the week, I sort of forgot why I was there. I wasn't sure if I was on the last visit, the current visit, or a future visit. I fell asleep, looking at the graveyard outside my window. Then I woke, and I stared at that same graveyard. I reflected that I had done this before, and that I would probably do this again. I wondered, for a long time, if I wasn't actually in purgatory. If I would stare at that graveyard for the rest of my existence.

I don't really like hotel rooms.
posted by aureliobuendia at 11:44 AM on June 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm paranoid about bed bugs now so I'm not comfortable in hotels. I used to love them, though. They have room service! They usually have pamphlets in the lobby for local attractions! It's an adventure! Is that a red dot?!
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 12:52 PM on June 24, 2015

I once stayed in Dylan Thomas' coma room at the Chelsea (he didn't die in the hotel; he was carried out, comatose, to St. Vincent's Hospital) without knowing it at the time. There was a writing desk at a window overlooking the courtyard. I washed my hair in the kitchenette sink because the shared shower room was a little too sketchy for my tastes. Late one night I walked up 23rd to a nearby liquor store, bought a bottle of bourbon, went upstairs and wrote what was probably a bunch of bullshit on a yellow legal pad. I left 1/3 of the bottle on a high shelf in the kitchenette as an offering to whoever found it next. I was young and thought I was living it up.

I once stayed at a no-name motel off of I-81 (or 76, I can't remember) near Hershey, Pennsylvania. The sign from the highway said "LODGING" or something and underneath that "$40/ni". Good enough. The place was run by an old lady to told me to watch out for the cats. There was a severe amount of taxidermy (non-cat) in the lobby. The old lady woke me up the next morning banging on my door at 6:30 looking for one of the cats. "He's the sneaky one who likes company," she said. There were no cats in my room and I saw none in the parking lot.

I once stayed at the only place I could find southwest of Jackson, New Jersey. The clerk gave me a clock/radio to bring to the room and gave ominous warnings regarding credit card deposits if I didn't return it upon check-out. The thing began to smoke when I plugged it in. Didn't need to know what time it was that badly. Upon waking at whatever-o'clock I threw the bedclothes back and found a large black bug of some sort happily crawling along the sheet towards me. I swatted it off the bed and it hit the wall with a metallic clang. I dropped the clock/radio off in the lobby and drove fourteen hours home and took a shower.

I have also stayed at numerous Red Quinta Days Motel Super 6es where the only things that differed were the phone number on the information binder, the restaurant in the parking lot and sometimes the hard/soft quality of water in the shower. It was all a part of being on the road, which I loved. Things were even better when the restaurant nearby was either a Perkins or a Waffle House depending on the latitude. Identical-looking hotel rooms depress me only if I don't get a story out of staying there. The worst place I ever stayed was a Marriott in a sea of office parks which sought to cater to the discriminating business traveler and ended up just being alienating and pretentious; the "do not disturb" sign read "Not now--I'm dreaming up new ideas" or something equally bile-raising.
posted by Spatch at 1:39 PM on June 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

I knew this would be a good thread for the stories.
posted by jepler at 2:00 PM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Fullerton Marriott has the same awful art on the wall in every room we'd stay in, and we started calling the rooms the "Steve Holt!" Suite due to the pose of the football dude.

I've been there too many times.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 5:53 PM on June 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Worst Hotel Ever: Motel Skookum, Butte Montana
Best Hotel Ever: Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo

"In Austin Powers, The Spy Who Shagged Me, Felicity and Austin say "No matter where we go, there we are."

No no. The real quote is from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension: "No matter where you go, there you are."

Hotels are wonderful. I love them, especially for a night of unbridled sexual activities.

My strategy: if you're just sleeping or using it as a staging ground, get the cheapest or best located hotel. If you want to enjoy it, spend more for the nifty place. I don't indulge much, but some hotels are just wonderful.

The hotel experience boils down to the room: the confinement of the space that is at once personally yours and not yours, cell-like, an entrapment.

It's not really that different from renting an apartment, tho, is it (with much less at stake)? I like to take the HST approach to renting hotel rooms. During my time, until I check out, it's MINE to do as I please.

As others have suggested, I don't think hotels are the author's real problem.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:39 PM on June 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

The general sentiment expressed in the article is why I try to use VRBO/Flipkey/Airbnb as much as possible. I'm currently sitting in a flat along a canal in Amsterdam. It has huge windows that I can throw open, I can can air dry my laundry on the balcony, I can cook in the kitchen. The bed stays the way I want it; there have been countless times I've had the DND tag on a hotel door, only for it to be ignored -- I REALLY DON'T WANT YOU TO MAKE THE BED IN THE STANDARD WAY YOU'VE BEEN TRAINED TO, I REALLY DO WANT IT WITH HALF THE BED UNCOVERED.

That being said, a few nights ago, I had to get a late, last-minute room at an expensive hotel. It had a bed, a bathroom, and no windows. That's all I want from a hotel room and I kinda appreciated it.
posted by bonje at 2:26 AM on June 26, 2015

louis ck on traveling to moscow in the early-90s :P (after soviet dissolution!)
posted by kliuless at 3:27 PM on June 29, 2015

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