Vierzon, France November 2006

I own a small mountain house close to the Spanish border. It’s a long drive from wherever you might want to land on French shores. I often go via Dieppe and choose a half way point to spend the night. Last week I had trouble finding a hotel because of French school holidays and was directed to Vierzon to stay at L’Arche. Normally I would prefer an old, small, family run business. This is what I found:

The hotel was in a new ‘Place’ and looked kitsch from the outside. Bizarre lighting and lots of Disneyesque concrete and glass. Inside was a decor that seemed to issue from the mind of an obsessive collector. The concrete corridors that led to bedrooms were festooned with 1950s posters of women in modest bathing costumes and obscure fifties French and other films. The metal doors to the bedrooms were redolent of Jailhouse Rock or noirish prison break movies. When the lift opened at each level, there were installations of fifties memorabilia. The breakfast room had a gigantic fruit machine next to an early 19th century stove, a parrot squawking, more posters, vases, cups and glasses, knicknacks on every conceivable surface.

What puzzled me was why we do this? There was once a brilliant documentary series on TV based on people’s ‘front rooms’, the rooms that they felt represented them to the outside world. The places visitors would sit and edge from being strangers to acquaintances. The range of styles, decor, objects in these spaces raised intriguing sociological and psychological perspectives. Just as some birds adorn their nests with glittering or highly coloured found art (milk bottle tops, coloured string, feathers), humans have developed the same urge to a complex and subtle degree.

We are what we display.

L’Arche Hotel displayed an authorial mind that may have been searingly formed, traumatised, recontructed or reborn through some post-war, newly permissive Damascan episode. What led The Owner(s) to go to such ornate lengths to create this ambience? Was it merely the crudest form of ‘theming’ or something Baudrillard might have leapt upon…where identity is projected onto selected media, and mirroring then intensifies the growing fantastical identity. Whatever, we, the travellers, settled down inside the mind of this other, cocooned in tinted photographic images and the covert sexual mores of a past epoch.

We know ourselves only through how we are reflected in the eyes, words and behaviour of others towards us. We are a collection of fragments in a changing kaleidoscope. I have an idea now of the mind of The Owner of that hotel. Should I go on….

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