More tobacco than Chanel

There should be an international court to penalize hotels that offer on the Internet what they are not, with spectacular photographs and convincing prices. I could do a Guide to Tacky Hotels, but I won’t mention them because they probably still exist, and I must give them the benefit of being improved. Accustomed to buying plane tickets and hotel reservations on the Internet, I have been more than surprised.

The prize list goes to a hotel in Rio de Janeiro, which appears on the screen as an idyllic place, where the macaws come to have breakfast with you and give them bits of papaya. The rooms look like George V in Paris and the fruit buffet is unlimited in this ‘bed and breakfast’. The price couldn’t be better.

The taxi that goes from the airport to there cannot leave you at the door. After skirting Avenida Atlántica, it goes further and leaves you in a mud bend with the recommendation to be careful on the way to the hotel. The point is that to get there you must go up the Botafogo hill with your suitcase and cross a favela. I who had always cited these places as streams of the world, without knowing them, was finally here, in a real favela. Naked children came out of the houses, mothers shouting, old women in robes with a potty in hand, people snooping from the windows. Upon arrival, I thanked myself for leaving unharmed and a couple greeted me with a wide smile: “How was the trip, a lot of turbulence from New York?”.

Turbulence was what was going to live that night. Early on, macumba drums began to sound all over the hill and mosquitoes that looked like vampire bats entered through the windows. They wanted my blood and I think my soul too. I armed myself with a pillow and woke up like this, hitting them against the walls. In the morning a table with fruit – no macaws nearby – partly compensated for the horrible night. Upon returning to NY, the hotel owner refused to take me to the airport, something agreed in the contract. I had bought a four-meter-long bamboo pole in Rio, one of those used by fishermen on Ipanema beach, and I thought, perhaps, his refusal had to do with the pole, which was difficult to carry even when folded. a Land Rover. I finally made it on time for my flight with a promise never to visit that place again.

On another occasion I had to go to Paris with my daughter to enroll her in the Sorbonne. I opened the computer in my house in the United States, looking for a good, beautiful and affordable place. I had never been in that city divided into ‘arrondissement’ (districts), perfectly stratified. I chose a hotel that was not Vallejo’s when he put his humerus to dry in winter, nor was it the Plaza Athénée, with its liveried admirals. It looked comfortable, with fireplaces and flowers on the mantels.

We got there at that moment when the sun runs through the roofs and hides behind the domes of the churches. A helpful young man took the suitcases and quickly went up with them to a third floor. Opening the door, the atmosphere was like tobacco and Chanel, but more tobacco than Chanel.
The toilets had a chain that had to be pulled from the top and the beds had not been made. It was as if Baudelaire had just rolled there with his evil flower. The floor revealed a carpet between vinous and dusty with holes, traces of cigarette butts; perhaps ‘Gitanes’, the French equivalent of Pielroja.

My daughter took a breath from a half-open window and told me: “Dad, I don’t know if you’re thinking the same thing as me, but we must run away from this place as soon as possible.” The concierge had stayed at the door, as if he knew our decision, and he came down quickly, perhaps accustomed to this routine. At the reception they returned to my card what I had paid and we took a taxi to the Latin Quarter where, thanks to Saint Joan of Arc, we were greeted one splendid morning with a croissant, eggs en cocotte and jam on the table.

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More tobacco than Chanel