Between a Furniture Depository and a Meat Warehouse

Going by underground tunnel between terminals recently at Frankfurt Airport, I thought I saw, or rather heard, the future. To help the passengers on their way, to calm them down, de-stress them, as they hurried to catch their flight, birdsong was relayed over the public address system. Could it be that one day this recorded birdsong will be the only birdsong that there is, or the only birdsong that the great mass of humanity will ever hear?

The previous night I had stayed at a cheap hotel near Marseilles Airport. It was situated in between a furniture depository and a frozen meat warehouse. From my balcony, I could observe the traffic passing on a flyover, and listen to its roar, though in my room the noise excluded. The air outside was polluted, a grey-purple haze hung in the sky over the earth as far as the eye could see, it smelled awful, and no pedestrian ventured along any of the roads leading to the warehouses and distribution centres of the area. How ugly out modern civilisation is, the price to pay (I suppose) for its abundance!

And yet, curiously enough, I love staying in such hotels in such areas. Once, mistaking the date of my flight by two days, I had to stay in such a hotel for three nights and I have rarely enjoyed a stay anywhere so much. I don’t go so far as to say that I should have liked to stay for a whole month, but another couple of days would have suited me well enough.

In my youth I liked grand hotels with marble columns and bowing lift attendants, but now I much prefer a standardised hotel (the same from China to Peru) with mass-produced pictures of puppies or poppies and showers the size, and often the shape, of a coffin.

Why one earth should anyone like such places, you might ask, especially an aesthete, and I have puzzled over it myself. I think it is their sheer anonymity that attracts me, the fact that there is no social role to play in them, that one is left entirely along, that there are no demands on one, that – provided one turns one’s telephone off – one is cut off from the world. They are like modern monasteries, and stays in them monastic retreats. There is spiritual refreshment in them, and no distractions. They force one back on what used to be called one’s inner resources. All they lack is a little Gregorian chant.

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