The Hotel Capital
is only for the rich. For them there are porters in uniforms, long-legged, tailcoated waiters with Spanish accents; for them the silent lifts with mirrors on all sides; for them the brass door handles which must never be allowed to show any fingerprints, the door handles which are for this reason polished twice a day by the petite Yugoslav woman; for them the carpeted stairs to be used only in case they should be assailed by the claustrophobia of the lift; for them huge sofas, heavy quilted bedspreads, breakfasts in bed, air conditioning, towels whiter than snow, soaps and beautifully scented shampoos, toilet seats of real oak, new magazines every morning. It is for them that God created Angelo of Soiled Linen and Zapata of Special Orders, for them the chambermaids in white and pink uniforms, scurrying along the corridors, myself among them. But perhaps to say ‘myself’ is already to say too much; not much of myself is left when, in the little service room at the end of the corridor, I put on a striped apron while, at the same time, taking off my own colours, my body smell, my favourite earrings, my warpaint make-up and high-heeled shoes. At the same time I take off my exotic language, my strange name, my sense of humour, my face lines, my taste for food not appreciated here, my memory of small events—and I stand naked in this pink and white uniform as if emerging from the sea mist. And, from this moment on,
The whole of the second floor of the hotel is mine
every weekend, that is. I start here at eight o’clock and I don’t have to hurry since, at eight o’clock, all the rich people are still asleep. The hotel snuggles them inside, rocking them gently, as if it were a big seashell in the world’s depths and they the precious pearls inside it. In the distance the traffic awakens and the underground train makes the grass tremble gently at its tips. A cool shadow lingers in the hotel’s yard.
I come in through the back door and immediately I become aware of strange intermingled smells of cleaning materials, freshly laundered linen and the walls sweating with the excessive turnover of people. The poky little lift stops in front of me, ready for service. I press the button for the fourth floor and proceed to my supervisor, Miss Lang, to collect my orders for the day. Every time, somewhere halfway between the second and third floors, I am touched by a panicky sensation lest the lift should stop and I should stay here forever, enclosed like a bacterium inside the body of the Hotel Capital. And once the hotel awakens, it will set to work, unhurriedly digesting me, it will even get at my thoughts and absorb all that is left of me, it will feed on me before I noiselessly disappear. But the lift mercifully lets me out.
Miss Lang sits behind her desk, with her spectacles balancing on the tip of her nose. She looks just like what the queen of all chambermaids, the resident of all eight floors, the dispenser of hundreds of bed sheets and pillowcases, the chamberlain of carpets and lifts, the equerry of brushes and vacuum cleaners, should look like. She eyes me from behind her spectacles and takes out a card prepared especially for me, on which, laid out neatly in rows and columns, a plan of the whole second floor is drawn, indicating the status of each room. Miss Lang does not notice guests in the hotel. Perhaps she considers them to be the concern of the higher management, difficult as it is to imagine someone higher, more distinguished than Miss Lang.
For her, the hotel is probably a perfect structure, a living, if inert, being which we have to take care of. Sure enough, people flow and fly through it, warm its beds, drink water from its brass nipples. But they pass on, go away. We and the hotel remain. That is why Miss Lang describes the rooms to me as if they were haunted places—always in the passive tense, as being occupied or dirty or free for the last few days. As she does this, she looks resentfully at my own clothing, at the traces of my too hurriedly applied make-up. And almost straight away I am walking along the corridor with a note in Miss Lang’s beautiful, slightly Victorian handwriting, planning the strategy of how best to use my strength.
It is then that, unconsciously, I cross from the domestic part of the building to the Guests’ Quarters. I can tell this by the smell—I only have to lift my head to recognize it. Sometimes I score ten out of ten: the scent is that of Armani, or Lagerfeld for Men, or of the seductively elegant Boucheron. I recognize these scents from the free samples in Vogue magazine. I am familiar with the look of their containers. I also catch the scent of powder, of anti-wrinkle cream, of silk, of crocodile skin, of Campari spilled over the bedding, of Caprice cigarettes for subtle brunettes. This, to me, is the specific smell of the second floor. Or rather, not the complete smell, but only the first layer of that special smell of the second floor which I recognize instantly the way one recognizes an old friend, while on my way to the changing room where
takes place. Clad in the pink and white uniform, I find myself viewing the corridor with different eyes. I no longer trace the scents, I cease to be drawn by my own reflection in the brass door handles, nor do I listen for the sound of my own steps. What I am singularly interested in now are the numbered rectangles of doors in the corridor’s vista. Behind each of these eight rectangles there is a room—the four-cornered, prostituted space which every few days gives itself to someone else. The windows of four of the rooms look on to the street where a bearded fellow in Scottish attire stands playing his bagpipes.