Saturday, August 17, 2013

HOTELS I HAVE KNOWN

Friends often tease me about my love of hotels and my not-so-secret yen to own a luxury hotel somewhere in the world.  The last time we visited Asheville, North Carolina, several months ago, we drove out to the Omni Grove Park Inn, Asheville’s showplace hotel that has a 100-year old history.  The hotel has recently spent 25 million dollars upgrading its facilities, and is touted as offering guests spaces that include modern technologies and conveniences.  It also boasts a 43,000 square foot subterranean spa that has 10 mineral-based pools and three fireside lounges.
Built by magnate, Edwin W. Grove, who created a formula to prevent malaria called “Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic,” the hotel opened in 1913 after Grove had made his millions selling 1.5 million bottles of the miraculous tonic.  Grove suffered from bronchitis, and physicians sent him to Asheville for a cure in the fresh mountain air.  In Asheville he began purchasing property and later became renowned as “The Father of Modern Asheville.”  When Grove Park Inn opened in 1913, William Jennings Bryan delivered the ribbon-cutting address to a gathering of 400 southern gentlemen who heard him proclaim that the Inn was “built for the ages.”
I sat in a rocker on the porch of the Inn and watched people streaming through the lobby into the multiple restaurants and strolling through interconnected retail shops…and I coveted a room in the 513-room resort, vowing that next summer I’d book one and “take the air,” as the Cajuns say, in the Blue Ridge Mountains while sojourning in this refined place.
I’ve spent the night in many elaborate hotel complexes, but the lodging I enjoyed the most was the Shah Abbas Hotel, now known as the Isfahan Abbasi Hotel in Isfahan, Iran, which we toured while living in southern Iran during the 70’s.  The hotel was built at the time of King Sultan Husayn of the Safavid Dynasty approximately 300 years ago and was originally built as a caravansary for visiting traders and diplomats.  At its zenith, the city of Isfahan was described as “half the world,” and when I stayed in this elegant hotel and strolled in the gardens during Now Ruz, I experienced the charm of that phrase.  The hotel has been renovated and remains one of the hotel showplaces of the Mideast.
Although I admired the beauty of the Hotel Grande Intercontinental in Paris, my stay there was limited by two children, 12, and 7, and a Persian cat I brought back to the States (not to mention eleven pieces of luggage I was transporting home).  The hotel’s luxurious amenities didn’t include a cat box for the immigrating kitty that developed a fever while we were ensconced in our elegant room.  The calming shot we had given kitty Roya before leaving Tehran had worn off during the first night of our stay, and I spent most of the early morning hours tending a sick cat and listening to the children’s complaints about a hotel that offered no decent pet accommodations.
I’ve savored Dutch ambiance and delicious beer cheese while staying at the Intercontinental Amstel on the banks of the Amster River in Amsterdam and eaten breakfast in the atrium at the Gaylord Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee during our stay there, have danced in the old Blue Room of the Roosevelt Hotel while sojourning in this New Orleans hotel, and have certainly stayed in less-luxurious digs elsewhere in the U.S. and the world… but I still have an envee to book a room with artsy-craftsy oak furniture at the Omni Grove Park Inn,  I could sit on the porch and imagine that I’m a female version of F. Scott Fitzgerald “taking the mountain air,” and dream about being a hotel magnate with the money I’ve made from writing the Great American Novel. 
The picture above is extracted from the cover painting of Iran In A Persian Market, my first published book (1980).  The painting was rendered by Oscar Ortiz, now deceased.
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