By: Andrea Mulder-Slater
The Junior Suite in the Hotel Napoleon was like nothing either of us had ever seen before. Well, not in real life anyway. The bed was piled high with pillows, the heavy velvet curtains reached clear up to the 14-foot ceilings, and the marble bathroom was large enough to house three small families. It was twenty minutes before we were able to locate the toilet, which was tucked neatly away between the gold plated shower and the walk-in closest, which, we later discovered, was just off the sitting room.
How my husband Geoff and I (artists accustomed to sleeping in budget motels with the numbers 6 or 8 in their name) ended up in a luxury suite in the hotel Errol Flynn once referred to as, “The Place,” was thanks, in part, to nicotine.
We were on a European art vacation, involving visits to four thousand museums, in three countries, over a period of ten days. After a memorable train ride from London to Paris, we checked into our main floor, standard, non-smoking room at the Hotel Napoleon. As I soaked in the elegance of our art deco surroundings, Geoff, within seconds, unpacked his bag, stuffed his underwear into a drawer and placed his razor carefully on the marble vanity. “This,” he beamed, “is living.” He was about to try on one of the two monogrammed hotel robes when… I smelled it. It was subtle at first, but after a few minutes, not even Geoff (now wearing nothing but a terry cloth robe and socks) could ignore its presence.
We stepped outside our room into the lavish hallway. It was there we discovered a group of young men, talking, laughing and smoking up a storm. Geoff instantly recognized the look on my face. “No!” He begged me not to make a fuss; concerned that we would be kicked out of the only place we had ever stayed where the bed had its own halo with yards of fabric spilling out of it like syrup around the headboard. “Don’t do it,” he cautioned, as he ran his fingers over the gold embroidery on his robe. I couldn’t help myself. We may have been in a fancy Paris hotel, but I was ticked off.
I stomped to the front desk, running the only French phrases I knew through my head. “Bonjour, je m'appel Andrea.” “Quel temps fait-il?” “Parlez vous Francais?” These expressions along with dozens of French ingredients I remembered seeing on cereal boxes, (none of which were particularly relevant to my situation), all came to mind. In the end, I politely spoke to the bilingual young man behind the counter, “There are people smoking,” I whispered, “in the hallway.” He stared at me expressionless. “Over there…” I gestured delicately. He did not appear shocked. I thought this was a bad sign. I explained that we were supposed to be in a non-smoking room. He scratched his ear. I thought this too, was a bad sign. He pushed a few random keys on his computer and said, finally, “You are in a non-smoking room.”
Before I had a chance to interrupt, he finished, “On a smoking floor.”
Huh? What kind of logic was this? Putting guests in a non-smoking room on a smoking floor was like offering someone a sugar-free soda served in a glass full of sugar.
I must have appeared sufficiently puzzled because then, it happened. The manager was called in.
When I saw him, I experienced first hope, then panic. What if, I wondered, involving this stranger in my conflict was in fact, not a good thing? I thought about how Geoff would react when I went back to the room to explain how I had, in a few short minutes, succeeded in having us moved from our posh quarters to the rat infested hostel down the street. “Ditch the robe honey,” I would say, “pack your things. We have to go.”
Discussions with the manager typically take place well out of earshot of the griping customer, but in this case that wasn’t at all necessary, as I couldn’t understand a word the two men in charge of my immediate fate, were saying. Several lyrical phrases and a few quick glances later, the manager walked over to me with a look that brought back memories of my childhood doctor’s face right before he stabbed me with a needle. “This will feel like a little pinch,” he would say, while pursing his lips and sucking in his breath.
The manager held out his hand, and asked for my room key. I knew it was too good to be true. Geoff and I really didn’t belong in “The Place” and really, who needed it? Who needed the chocolates on the pillows, the tiny French soaps, the moisturizing hand cream, and the 4000 thread count sheets? I felt a tear come to my eye. I needed it - all of it!
The manager spoke. “Please, do accept our apologies,” he said with a smile. Then, he handed me another key. “We are moving you upstairs.” Upstairs seemed like a good thing. Either that or it was hotel code for, “We are sticking you next to the maintenance room.” I decided to take my chances, thanked the manager and headed back to our now smoke-filled room, with the new key.
Geoff was not happy to hear the news that he was about to become uprooted, but that was mostly due to the fact that during the time I was away, he had become somewhat engrossed in a rather open-minded European television program. Even so, he packed his things, uttered a few well-chosen expletives and headed with me, upstairs, to... the Junior Suite at the Hotel Napoleon.
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