African Camp Fires

Travel/
#Travel #Africa
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Excerpt I. THE OPEN DOOR. There are many interesting hotels scattered about the world, with a few of which I am acquainted and with a great many of which I am not. Of course all hotels are interesting, from one point of view or another. In fact, the surest way to fix an audience's attention is to introduce your hero, or to display your opening chorus in the lobby or along the façade of a hotel. The life, the movement and colour, the drifting individualities, the pretence, the bluff, the self-consciousness, the independence, the ennui, the darting or lounging servants, the very fact that of those before your eyes seven out of ten are drawn from distant and scattered places, are sufficient in themselves to invest the smallest hostelry with glamour. It is not of this general interest that I would now speak. Nor is it my intention at present to glance at the hotels wherein "quaintness" is specialized, whether intentionally or no. There are thousands of them; and all of them well worth the discriminating traveller's attention. Concerning some of them—as the old inns at Dives-sur-Mer and at Mont St. Michel—whole books have been written. These depend for their charm on a mingled gift of the unusual and the picturesque. There are, as I have said, thousands of them; and of their cataloguing, should one embark on so wide a sea, there could be no end. And, again, I must for convenience exclude the altogether charming places, like the Tour d'Argent of Paris, Simpson's of the Strand, and a dozen others that will spring to every traveller's memory, where the personality of the host, or of a chef, or even a waiter, is at once a magnet for the attraction of visitors and a reward for their coming. These, too, are many. In the interest to which I would draw attention, the hotel as a building or as an institution has little part. It is indeed a façade, a mise en scènebefore which play the actors that attract our attention and applause. The set may be as modernly elaborate as Peacock Alley of the Waldorf or the templed lobby of the St. Francis; or it may present the severe and Elizabethan simplicity of the stone-paved veranda of the Norfolk at Nairobi—the matter is quite inessential to the spectator. His appreciation is only slightly and indirectly influenced by these things. Sunk in his arm-chair—of velvet or of canvas—he puffs hard and silently at his cigar, watching and listening as the pageant and the conversation eddy by. Of such hotels I number that gaudy and polysyllabic hostelry the Grand Hôtel du Louvre et de la Paix at Marseilles. I am indifferent to the facts that it is situated on that fine thoroughfare, the Rue de Cannebière, which the proud and untravelled native devoutly believes to be the finest street in the world; that it possesses a dining-room of gilded and painted repoussé work so elaborate and wonderful that it surely must be intended to represent a tinsmith's dream of heaven; that its concierge is the most impressive human being on earth except Ludwig von Kampf (whom I have never seen); that its head waiter is sadder and more elderly and forgiving than any other head waiter; and that its hushed and cathedral atmosphere has been undisturbed through immemorial years....
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