Saturday, March 01, 2008

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE ROAM

When one is an International Traveler “comme moi”, there are a certain number of petty inconveniences that are all but unavoidable when one is far from home.



These range from the simple annoyance of having forgotten to pack the correct shower gel and being forced to use the hotel soap, which invariably leaves behind a skin-slicking residue reminiscent of the after-effects of a plunge into a vat of lamb’s fat and common household cement, to slightly more awkward encounters with hotel maids when they simultaneously knock AND barge into the suite with the nerve-jangling cry of “HOUSEKEEPING”, without waiting so much as a nano-second to ascertain whether or not the Guest is a) in the room or b) completely bloody naked.

(I recall such a moment during an extended mid 1990’s stay in Nottingham, England, while directing a delightful TV series called Chris Cross – from whence sprang the lovely and talented actress Rachel Blanchard amongst others



– when I was entertaining a strapping Irish-born local in a rather intimate fashion and had a particularly climactic moment interrupted by the abrupt entrance of the Chambermaid who barely got the word “HOUSE-“ out of her mouth before realizing she was about to bear witness to the fulfillment of the Love Which Dares Not Speak Its Name.

The rest of her announcement caught in her throat with a peculiar gasping sound as she backed out of the room in shock, leaving the tattooed young man and myself to collapse in convulsive giggles. As I recall it took us quite some time to regain our composure, both mental and physical, and although I suppose I could have complained to the management about the intrusion, it just seemed best to pretend the entire event didn’t happen. Especially when, less than two weeks later, my paramouric visitor’s picture appeared in the London Daily Times, as a suspect in the IRA bombing of the legendary department store Liberty; it was a rather blurry photograph but I would’ve recognized those tattoos anywhere.)

But all of these little challenges can be quite easily forgiven and forgotten if one has had the good fortune to take refuge in an establishment which boasts that most charming - nay ESSENTIAL - element of international travel; I am speaking, of course, about The Hotel Bar.



From Berlin to Botswana, from Sin City to Singapore, it has been my privilege to hear the clarion call of the Martini Shaker in a dozen countries, on several continents, and not once have I felt like the proverbial Stranger in a Strange Land. It is the great equalizer, the Inn lounge – whether plopped unceremoniously in the lobby of Paris’ Hotel Letitia -



- or nestled deep within the bowels of London’s famed Savoy –



- the ultimate welcome mat, and for those of us who believe that a well made cocktail is the only possible route toward World Peace, it is Switzerland. With swizzle sticks.

Indeed, as a card carrying citizen of the State of Inebriation, I am of the opinion that the United Nations should simply close up shop for a month, do a massive renovation, and reopen as the United LIB-ations.



I guarantee that most of the problems with these ghastly Third World backwaters around the globe who are currently battling each other with their machetes and bomb-rigged simpletons stems from the fact that the first thing their Hitler-Lite Dictators do before running these countries into the ground is take away their peoples’ Right To Drink.

If fascism is a disease, the first symptom is invariably prohibition.



And while I know this is an unpopular position to take in our current MTV – stupefied “All Cultures Are Equal” climate (ask a Fundamentalist Muslim girl about to undergo a little genital mutilation what she thinks about THAT by the way…) I think it is safe to say that the end of English Colonialism – which was supposed to herald a new “freedom” for the oppressed – was also the end of the Cocktail Hour, and since then there has been nothing but trouble. I strongly suspect that the Arab-Israeli conflict would be over in two shakes of a jigger if the Powers That Be just got together at the Tel Aviv Hilton’s Pool Bar –



- if the breathtaking view of the Mediterranean isn’t being obstructed by smoke-



- from self-immolating homicidal lunatics -



- knocked back a few, and talked it over like old drinking buddies. It may be difficult for you abstainers out there to believe, but we are probably no more than five good stiff g and t’s away from both Abbas and Peres realizing that all this time they’ve been fighting over nothing more than twenty five miles of dirt road and some cheap shacks.



But enough about The Sober or, as we call them around the bar, The Designated Payers.

Being someone who has spent most of his adult life staying in hotels around the world, I certainly have my favorites and while I would be delighted to tell you, dear reader, all about them, I fear that any comment I make in that regard would reflect badly on the bartenders I leave out. And this is simply not acceptable; Bartenders are, in my humble opinion, the only true humanitarians left in this bitter world of ours. If Mother Theresa had been given a shot glass and a fifth of bourbon, who knows how many more lives she could have saved?



However, as I sit here in the bar at the Sutton Place Hotel, safely nestled in a huge wingback leather club chair next to the fire on a chilly Vancouver evening, I have to admit that there aren’t many places I’d rather be.



For those of you who have never been, this lovely coastal city boasts spectacular views, a very manageable downtown core and a collection of the most remarkable male buttocks ever assembled in one zip code.



While it may lack the overt sexuality of Montreal – which is essentially one large erection surrounded by bridges – or the easy-going “legs in the air” attitude of its prairie neighbors Calgary and Winnipeg, this Rainforest-as-done-by-Disney certainly has charms of its own.



Not the least of which is The Gerard Lounge.



With its dark wood paneling and extraordinarily attentive staff – as well as “Herb”, the large Moose Head which holds court above the fireplace, so named by a certain Oscar ™ winning celebrity after the justifiably famous locally grown marijuana, a daily dose of which is apparently mandatory in the province if the bleary eyed and grinning citizenry is any indication – this legendary hotel bar is famous for more than just its cocktails. It is, for want of a less fawning term, the designated clubhouse of Hollywood North.



(For those of you not in “The Business”, as they say, let me explain: Hollywood North is a nickname given to any place above the 49th parallel where the Canadian federal and/or provincial government gives out cash – in the form of employment tax credits – to make up for the fact that nobody in the country is capable of making a movie that anybody in the rest of the world will actually PAY to see unless there’s an American star/writer/director/producer/studio involved. This has created an artificial “show business” industry which services the lower tiered television networks and film studios, churning out an endless supply of made-for-TV movies and teen sex comedies usually featuring one or two authentic “Movie Stars” surrounded by a coven of pale and shivering bit players, most of whom are eventually re-voiced by faceless American actors in order to disguise accents which sound eerily like a North Dakotan with a hare lip.)

And so I find myself here, in the midst of the sound mix and computer graphics editing of my last two films – ICE BLUES and ON THE OTHER HAND, DEATH – feeling very much as if I’m in the middle of an episode of THE LOVE BOAT, circa 2008. Look, there’s David Duchovny! Hey, it’s Joan Van Ark! Wow, isn’t that Academy Award nominee Tom Wilkinson? And was that Nicole Kidman standing beside the door? Wait…why’s Tom Waits here? And what’s Robin Williams drinking over there?

Normally, of course, one doesn’t find one’s self enraptured by the presence of actors; while many of them are lovely people, and I am honored to call more than a few my friends, as a rule people who pretend to be OTHER people for a living often fall rather short in the “Interesting To Chat With At The Bar” category.

But as I sit here, waiting on the arrival of my musical composer to discuss how he’s going to cover my cinematic mistakes and missteps with a few well placed oboes, I have to admit that a certain Celtic movie star, having plunked himself down in the chair next to me for no other reason than it was empty, has completely charmed me with his glistening brown eyes and stories about his beloved son, whose devastating genetic illness seems to have thrust this once-infamous bad boy into adulthood. Had we met in some other place it would perhaps be appropriate to make some pithy comments here about that sex-tape of his which made it to the Internet, or perhaps his much publicized stay at a well known rehab center.

But there is something about the sanctity of The Hotel Bar which encourages a certain discretion and, even with its rather louche pedigree, The Gerard Lounge is no exception. So while International Traveler I may be, I am going to refrain from telling you this young man’s name. I will, however, tell you that when he finished his drink he gave me a warm hug, told me what a pleasure it had been to talk for awhile, and headed off to his room, hopefully to sleep unmolested by the Storm Troopers of Housekeeping.

As I said in the beginning, there are many petty inconveniences in the life of International Traveler; missed flights, lost baggage, often dreadful food. But these are more than made up for by moments like this, when the warm hug of a famous stranger – and the knowledge that one’s life has turned out to be far more interesting than ever expected – reminds one that no matter where you are, no matter who you are, everybody eventually ends up at the Bar.