I'm staying in one of the most luxurious hotels in Paris. It's a long story.
I can only say that this hotel is sooo luxurious that it's impossible to describe without swearing a lot to express dismay/emphasis.
"It's ****ing big! It's sooo ****y luxurious! It must be soooo ****ing expensive!"
It's not necessarily a hotel you would have heard of. It's hidden in an unexpectedly leafy corner of Paris, down an enchanted alley. Almost no-one knows it's there - except those who can pay. Needless to say, I'm not paying.
My bedroom is bigger than my apartment. The bathroom actually has a bath. I lie in it's white enormity like a specimen on a marble slab, looking up at the black slate tiles. This is the first bath I have taken in Paris. I can hardly believe it. I want to take photographs. I want to invite my friends.
The bed is six feet across. I have to lie down on it to check. It is wider than I am tall.
A gilt serpent, hand-stencilled by a well-known graphic designer, snakes across the walls. There are buttons on the wall next to the its eyes. I push them and, leaning toward the head of the snake, I hear a faint hiss. I stroke the surface of the wall which is, perhaps unitentionally, scaly with the texture of crackled laquer.
I go down to the lobby and find the hotel manager taking calls from one of the three squares of tastefully mismatched modernist and Louis XV gilt chairs.
There's a fat man sitting across several of the far chairs in the rear formation. I don't know whether he's a guest or someone somehow associated in some other way with the hotel. He looks pugnacious; balding with a small, square beard. He could be a catering supplier or a movie director. He's wearing a loud, striped shirt and a leather jacket. It could be from the local street market or a version exquisitely aged by stylists from the Avenue Montaigne. He looks as though he could be very rich. Rich enough not to care.
He takes some phone calls. Is he rich? Like many rich people, he seems mildly but constantly irritated.
The manager is also nervy and edgy. She has none of the self-satisfaction of proprietors of cheap restaurants or flyblown pensions. They know what they are selling. Their menus are out on the pavement; their tariff is displayed in the window for the hotel-guest on a budget to tot up. If the customer doesn't like it, it's his fault. He knew what he was getting.
"No," she says, "There aren't many boutique hotels in Paris; any small hotels. Well, there have always been small hotels, cheap hotels - and that is good too. But the boutique hotel is just not a French concept."
"We didn't want to be like the big hotels in Paris. We have only seven suites. In the space, we could have had fifteen. Big hotels are sometimes a bit... impersonal. We wanted to do something more personal. We want the guests to feel at home... But not like in a guesthouse. It is not somebody's home. We want ghosts" (she switches to this pronunciation) "to be left alone if they want - or to have conversations with other ghosts if they want to too."
She shows me the garden.
"The designer did not want flowers. Flowers are a little... vulgar. We want the garden to be like the hotel. There are lots of places which are secret, where you can be private. That's why we don't have a name on the door. You have to find the hotel. It's like a secret."
She breaks off, still not sure on which side of her "private" fence she wants to come down.
While speaking, she looks into the air beside me - not at me. The phone rings inside the hotel. She leaps up. She has been waiting for another ghost to call on her attention.
On the terrace is a group of girls from a fashion magazine, shooting a model against the lush bamboo wall. They hang expensive dresses on the expensive doorframes. We have to duck under them to get back inside. They sit at a garden table in a mess of coloured pots of eye shadow, discarded hats and shoes. Like me they are dressed informally: jeans, converse trainers, army surplus jackets. They are familiar with luxury; intimately connected with it. They promote it, sell it, but they do not necessarily participate in it.
I find myself longing for the cheap trashiness of Paris, elsewhere. I know that, outside, there are streets where they sell I heart Paris t-shirts. I need to go out and have a coffee in a cafe in Montmartre from which I can watch tour groups with big butts searching endlessly for the Butte.
I go back into the lobby. I notice a notice inside the front door. The designer chairs in the lobby are only temporary. They are for sale. As is the art on the walls.
As I dawdle to flick through the telephone-directory-thick architectural magazines, the rich, fat man take delivery of a Japanese takeaway. He returns to his table in the corner and unpacks two large trays of gleaming pink sushi, three of glutinous, transparent rice, two closed brown paper bags and a cardboard takeaway box. He has everything he could wish for, everything he could imagine, and more. In the privacy of the secret hotel, he arranges his trays on the low table before him and, bending uncomfortably at the waist, he takes his chopsticks and begins to eat through them, one by one, with dogged, unpleasured stolidity.