Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Here's Johnny!

We arrived in Tangier on New Year's Day after a long train ride from Marrakesh, hungry and exhausted. So much so that we didn't even bother to haggle with the taxi driver who probably charged us quadruple the normal amount for the short trip from the railway station to our hotel.

It had been so long since I went to a hotel with a doorman, and this one had two. We thought that after 2 sleepless night in nomad tents in a freezing desert, we could use a little comfort. On the internet site where we made our reservation, the hotel definitely looked a lot fancier than the dodgy back alley European hostels I usually frequent, and it cost less because we were in Morocco after all, where luxury comes cheap.

The moment I stepped into the lobby, I felt goosebumps on my back. The place was fancy all right, and it could've passed for a 5-star hotel... if we were in 1950. The utilitarian furniture reminded me of Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye. The sitting area looked like it was inspired by the hotel where Humphrey Bogart ran around in Charade, minus the telephone booths. People were smoking in the lobby, exactly the way it used to be in the olden days. The suspended luminaries were outdated in design, and the table lamps had caps in the shape of tubes. The reception counter was wooden, painted in mahogany. In keeping with the ambiance of days gone by, there was a clerk behind the counter typing furiously on a typewriter. A typewriter!

The place was very clean and well kept, but something about the frozen-in-time look made me uncomfortable. Like I'd seen it all in a horror movie before, and something terrible was about to befall upon me. The doorman was a pleasant guy with a permanent smile on his face, but he terrified me the most. His uniform was a faded orange Nehru jacket and a matching sarouel, with long white socks that went all the way to the knees and a bright red tarbush nested on top of his head, very reminiscent of the creepy lift operator at Disneyland's Tower of Terror horror ride where you get into the lift and plunge to your death while the lift man eerily laughs, showing his rotten teeth, and vanishes.

The hotel probably spent all their money on polishing their outdated post-war furniture because the doorman also doubled as the bellboy. He showed us to the lift and carried our bags to our room. I felt plenty rich at that moment, because I was so used to cheap hostels that my travelling mantra was "Please God let there be an empty bottom bunk in the 16-bed dormitory with shared bathroom." And here I was with a bellboy carrying my suitcase, and all of a sudden I felt like Bill Gates.

Despite all this, I still felt uneasy. The dim hallway, long, empty and very, very quiet made me nervous. The bellboy's silk tarbush tassel swung from right to left in a hypnotizing manner, which made the walk to our room even more like a stroll down the death row for some inexplicable reason.

"This place is creepy," I remember telling my travel companions. They just looked at me without saying a word, most probably because they were too fatigued to entertain my childish remark. A 20 dirham tip, and the bellboy left us to enjoy the extremely vintage looking room. The closet doors had maroon cushions on them, that's how vintage it was. And don't get me started on the bidet in the bathroom.

The next day we went down to the lobby using the stairs just because we felt like it. I saw some framed photographs on the way down, and they were all dated to the pre- and post-war period. The stairwell floor was covered in small black and yellow square tiles and I had to double check the date to make sure we were, in fact, already in 2013.

The huge lobby with utilitarian furniture, the typewriter, the long and quiet hallway, the pleasant bellboy with an eerie smile. Suddenly it all added up, and it hit me: I was staying at The Overlook, that creepy hotel in The Shining where the innkeeper murdered his wife and twin daughters, where blood comes out from the lift doors, where room 237 was haunted by a naked old woman's ghost, where Jack Nicholson froze to his death while chasing his son with an axe in a blizzard.

That's why I felt so nervous and spooked. Tangier was a lovely city, and the people were nice. But if I could do things differently, I would gladly pick a dodgy back alley hostel over a spooky vintage hotel that looks like the one they used to shoot The Shining, a horror movie that makes my hair stand on end every time I hear its title.

When we finally left the hotel, I felt relieved. And I'm glad curiosity didn't get the best of me, otherwise I would've sneaked behind the reception counter and taken a peek at the typewritten sheets just to check if they were, in fact, just hundreds of pages containing one single sentence: "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy."

In which case I would be traumatized till the end of my days.

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