“Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves.” ― Dorothy Parker
Last weekend I shut myself in a hotel room. I went there to write but I may just as well have gone for a breather.
In the film Date Night, Tiny Fey’s overworked wife and mother character describes her fantasy to her husband: getting a big, gorgeous hotel room… and being in it all by herself.
I started staying in hotel rooms on my first film, nearly twenty years ago. I was an assistant then and assistants normally shared rooms. My boss, the director, put in a word to the producer for me to get a single, as it became imperative (especially with having a boss like her) to be able to shut the door to the world for even a few hours each night.
Because we lived for months at a time in hotels, my fellow crew members often personalised their space to make it feel more like home. But I’ve always preferred the impersonal anonymity; the lack of objects shouting for my attention, the blank canvas allowing my mind to both relax and roam.
Moreover, the blank-slate nature of it lets me reassess my life with ease and clarity; staying in a hotel is a chance to begin anew.
On the road
Hotel rooms are synonymous to me with film life. I worked on several shoots in the UK, trying to get my foot in the film door there when I first moved to London. It felt discombobulating to work all day and then come home to piles of laundry, to dinner that needed to be cooked, to household chores. It felt like a regular job, only we were doing the requisite minimum 12 hours a day, often much longer.
Then I got a call from a big production house wanting advice on filming in India, where I had worked previously for several years. At the end of our meeting, they asked me to line produce the Indian segment of their film and, against prior conviction, I agreed. I dropped all pretences of looking for work in London thereafter (though I kept it as my base) and I returned to India again and again for film projects, back to my tribe, back to staying in hotel rooms, back to the life I loved.
Hotels were often one of the biggest below-the-line components of my film budget. The hefty numbers (of days, of rooms) allowed me to negotiate some of my best deals – one of the challenging aspects of my job.
One of my first chats upon arrival would be with the hotel chef; if I didn’t want us to waddle out at the end of our stay, we required lighter versions of their standard fare.
I liked having the production office in the hotel as well. As we often worked odd hours, it meant we could be safely in bed within minutes, and it saved us from keeping cars and drivers late.
Working in production meant we decided who was given what room. It was not a coincidence that annoying crew and cast members found themselves in the worst rooms.
Staying in a hotel with a film unit would inevitably lead to wild amounts of romance (so much so there’s an acronym for it – DCOL – Doesn’t Count on Location). The third AD would be one of the first to get up early, and he would later tell me whom he had seen sneaking out of whose room. The various pairings – especially as the shoot progressed – never failed to make us gasp in surprise.
Perks of life
The hotels were usually plush. On one film for five months in Goa the hotel upgraded me to a suite that had a terrace the size of my London flat. The main unit were in Berlin over that winter and they would grumble about their grim views of snow and car parks, while our offices overlooked swaying palm trees and the Arabian Sea.
All the tedious elements of daily living – cooking, laundry, cleaning, tidying, airing, sweeping, repairing, mending – were taken care of by the good people of the hotel. Oh, the bliss of coming back after an 18-hour day and finding everything in its place; the extravagance of clean, pressed sheets and towels; the soothing silence where I could decompress and gather myself.
This is not to say that I haven’t had my share of grotty rooms that reeked of monsoon mould and itchy damp, of old-fashioned lumpy beds and low-voltage lighting; the kind of place desperate people go to commit suicide. But thankfully these were only for short spells.
Not surprisingly, I came to a point in my life where I wanted to stay still. Following my divorce and all the upheaval that came with it, I wanted to create my own little corner of the world. Not as a guest, not in limbo until the job finished and I checked out, but all mine forever and ever. I moved into the tiniest one-bedroom in London, and after years of the tranquil white of deluxe five-star hotel rooms, I went baroque. I put in silk drapes, chandeliers, rich colours, wood-framed oversized mirrors and antique Indian furniture. I bought a handmade bed and the kind of mattress used by Ritz hotels. I was no longer going to keep moving. I was coming home.
Soon enough, I got a call for a job in India. I went, locking up my flat for many months to stay in a hotel room, first in Chennai and then Bombay. I ended the job with a discussion from the company to hire me full-time for their Indian office. I returned to my flat in London, feeling torn.
I loved the idea of living in Bombay but I couldn’t stomach the thought of someone renting my London flat and sleeping on my grand mattress. It made me squeamish. I seriously considered turning down Disney for that reason. Then I came to my senses: what was my very favourite kind of space in the world? Hotel rooms! And how many people slept on those beds?
The Zen of it all
If the definition of an introvert is someone who needs to recharge alone, then I am most definitely an introvert. But I am an extrovert in that I am easily influenced by my environment. “I vant to be left alone” periodically, but in a comfortable space.
For the ten years I lived out of a suitcase, I often thought that the place where I could gather and display all my books would be considered home. Over the last few years this definition is no longer relevant. I’m still an intense book lover, only now my library is between a cloud and my Kindle. I haven’t worked out what really constitutes “home” any more.
Hotels remind me how little I need to feel happy, calm and contained. I was in a hotel room one time where there was a fire in the building; I surprised myself when all I took with me when I was evacuated was my mobile phone, not even my beloved laptop that carries my world.
Maybe what I find ultimately reassuring about hotel life is the reminder of the impermanence of everything. We arrive, we love, we create, we move on. Life carries on without us. But how lovely to be able to pause periodically and put our feet up somewhere that’s restful to the soul.
“Ten men waiting for me at the door? Send one of them home, I’m tired.” ― Mae West
When Swiss-born photographer Robert Frank travelled across the United States, he took tens of thousands of images, 83 of which made it into this landmark collection. View the book The Americans, with a brilliant foreword by Jack Kerouac about not only being on the road, but how we see when we really look.
Watch The Motorcycle Diaries directed by Walter Salles, where Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevera and his buddy travel down Latin America. Based on Guevera’s travelogue, it shows how a simple yearning to see the world changes and forms his understanding of it, its many social injustices as well as its humanity.