Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life, the new Vancouver Art Gallery exhibit, offers what a good hotel should – opportunities to relax, travel, dream and depart refreshed.
Featuring four main themes – travel, design, culture and social impact, Grand Hotel is stimulating, enlightening, and delightfully entertaining.
Historically, authors, musicians and film stars have left a little lustre on their favourite accommodations. VAG’s exhibit playfully points out that – plush or pathetic, pension or penthouse – hotels, and those who frequent them, stamp their identities on our cities, our histories, and our lives.
Take the Strand Hotel in Yangon, for instance. Located in a former Burmese capital, the hotel was once a favourite with George Orwell, author of Animal Farm. Reportedly based at the Strand while writing Burmese Days, Orwell’s stopover in 1934 played a pivotal part in shaping his affection for the area. It also shaped his criticism of colonial prejudice prevalent at the time. Burmese Days reflected this, resulting in it being rejected by British publishers.
For me, Singapore’s legendary Raffles has always conjured up images of romance, history and mystery. Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, Ernest Hemingway and Alfred Hitchcock all stayed there. Joseph Conrad described it as a “straggling building as airy as a birdcage”. Author of The End of The Tether, Conrad frequented the Raffles bar, But, did he actually stay in the hotel? No one is quite certain. Undeterred, Raffles has named a suite after him with a turndown service which includes a four-page excerpt from the book.
Conrad Hilton’s far-sighted decisions to build hotels in Europe and the Middle East during the Cold War encouraged travel to previously war-torn regions, and stimulated economies. A picture of Hilton signing a document under a sign proclaiming ‘World Peace through International Trade and Travel’ reminds me that jet travel brought Europe, the middle East and North America closer. Hilton was determined that Hilton International would profile the American way of life with a combination of local architecture, canny American marketing…and surreptitious secret service surveillance opportunities.
[At right: The Vancouver Art Gallery – the perfect profile for Grand Hotel. URSULA Maxwell-Lewis Photo]
A picture of the rock band, Led Zeppelin, in the West Hollywood’s legendary Chateau Marmot is a reminder that Annie Leibovitz, Dorothy Parker and F. Scott Fitzgerald were among the many film folks who favoured this elegant property. It is also where John Belushi died of a drug overdose in 1982.
In Vienna, composer Richard Wagner and his family chose the Hotel Imperial in 1875 for its proximity to the Vienna State Opera. Years later it became the Soviet headquarters after World War 11. It was returned to the state in 1955. Throughout the intervening years, assorted diplomats and dignitaries came to stay. It is believed that the Hotel Imperial was the essence of what we now call the coffee-house culture.
I fantasize about reclining on a chintz chaise longue at Raffles, or the Waldorf-Astoria, surrounded by the rich and famous. But, for now, my trade-off is lunch on the VAG Gallery Café terrace basking in spring sunshine and classical music. My journey has been worthwhile.
Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life is open until September 15. As a value-added bonus it offers ‘guests’ a subtle walk down memory lane. Check in, and stay a while. I heartily recommend it – and the price is right. Senior admission is $15, or, by donation after 5 p.m on Tuesdays. The Vancouver Art Gallery is located at 750 Hornby Street, Vancouver. Open daily.
– Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is a travel journalist and photographer. Follow her on Twitter @YouTravel, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org