The Hotel

“It was about 10:30am when the sunlight hit the windows. I looked at the roofs of the houses with patches of snow and at the mountains far away. My face and shoulders got hot from the sunlight and I stood motionless looking outside. My husband had left an hour ago and the kids were jumping on the big hotel beds. We needed to checkout before 11am.

I turned to our bed and finished packing the suitcase. I closed the zipper. I put the suitcase down and moved it to the door. I turned around and realized I still had a lot to pack. I started with the toy cars on the table, then small airplanes, and books. Those filled the backpack. There were stuffed toys all over the bed. I picked those and put them in a plastic tote bag. Bunnies and bears with their brown feet sticking outside. The bag was moved to the door near the suitcase. I went to the bathroom and picked the toothbrushes and hair pins. There were perfume bottles, mine and of my both children. The makeup, the kids’ towels, the bath toys. I stood puzzled wondering how I managed to get so many things into a hotel bathroom. I packed a box with our bath things. I still had to find space for the kids’ plush towels and bathrobes.

I moved to the second bedroom. Books. The books and toys were everywhere. The kids clothes. Brown jackets, black jackets, boots, snow boots, hats, scarfs, jeans. Those were not fitting inside the suitcases. I took some of the bigger items and piled them on the table. I noticed a box with the dolls under the nightstand, a domino game, and a fire-track. I fetched a grocery box and put the toys inside of it. Then, I opened the hotel apartment door and started to move the packed items into the hall. The hotel manager passed by our door and I felt deeply embarrassed by the amount of luggage we had accumulated. I was not tired of packing, I was not stressed, I was not in a hurry. I was profoundly taken aback by the pile of stuff that I have gathered during our stay at the hotel.

It was close to 11am when I finished moving all the snow gear and clothing into the hall. I went back to the room and realized I have forgotten the blankets. Two thick wool blankets that we carried for the kids. Those were very expensive, good quality blankets, the ones that are handmade in small Norwegian villages. My family believed those to be the best ones and insisted on taking them with us on our trips. “So that the kids do not get cold in the hotels at nights,” said my mom. I pulled the blankets from under the sheets. I rolled each of them carefully and fit them inside a big suitcase. On top I piled some of the kids clothing. Then, I noticed tea cups on the table and some plates decorated with green dancing bears. We brought those plates from USA, years ago. I put the plates in between of the blankets.

Three white bookcases stood under the windows. The bookcases were full of books. Our books.

It was our third stay in this hotel this year. Each time we stayed for three or four days and occupied the same rooms. It was supposed to be fun, we skied, had dinners and stayed up late. The kids run in the fresh air, did sports and ate crepes for breakfast. Without noticing it, as we had fun, things grew around us. They occupied our time and space. They grew bigger than us, they bankrupted us. Then came the sudden realization of it.

“How did you go bankrupt?” a Hemingway character is asked inĀ The Sun Also Rises. “Two ways,” comes the answer. “Gradually and then suddenly.” So it was with my personal life bankruptcy.

I stood in the sunlight in the hotel room and looked at the pile of things to pack. I did not move. All the things were mine. But they were not me. I bought those things. Generation upon generation told me that we needed those. We needed those blankets, those jackets, those books, those cups. And I got them all to keep our house warm. The kids enjoyed using them. The things have served their purpose.

Now I was in the middle of the room. Facing the window and the three white bookcases full of books. Behind my back were suitcases, and boxes, and bags. The kids were playing in the main bedroom. “We will just take some books and some toys,” I said to myself. And I stood still.

There was a knock on the door and the hotel manager came in and told me it was noon and we needed to leave the room. I told him that we will in couple of minutes. He looked around and did not say anything. He left the door open.

I took the books from the bookcases and put them on the table. A pile of books. Then another one next to it. While I was doing this, the sunlight was on my hands. First I felt the warmth, then it burnt my skin. It also brought the forgotten taste of pleasure. Sun touching uncovered skin. I sensed the sweetness under my tongue. I took a pile of books and placed it inside of a brown box. I put another one in. I lifted the box. It was heavy. Still I could carry it to the car. I heard the kids’ voices from the other room. They were playing a game.

I told them I would load the car and be back. They jumped down to kiss me and continued what they were doing. Outside the air was fresh. The snow crisped under my feet. I opened the car trunk and placed the books there. There was enough space for a suitcase and couple of bags. The white metal of the trunk was cold. I put my hand on it to see the thin layer of snow melt around my fingers.

Then I headed back to the hotel to pick up the kids and couple of more things. “I should ask the kids if they want their blankets during the trip.” At the half past twelve we went down the hall. I handed the keys to the hotel manager, smiled and the three of us left the hotel.”

I woke up. It was still dark. The night was over.

The last day of the year

Mont-LouisI was waiting at the cafe in Mont-Louis for my family to pick me up. It was the last day of the year. December 31st of 2013. It was cold in Mont-Louis. Earlier that day we went to see the church and the small town around us; Three streets inside of the fortress walls. There was only one cafe, one restaurant, one small grocery store, a pharmacy and two newspaper and souvenir boutiques. That was it. The kids dug the snow on the small plaza in front of the church. It was getting dark. Finally they were taken inside of the hotel to get changed and ready for the New Year’s Eve. I walked through the town a little bit longer and ended up at the only cafe that was open. The place was almost full with locals. Plus two or three couples that came down from skiing. Still in their skiing pants. Their faces fresh and red from the sun and the cold air.

I asked for a coffee and took the newspaper. It was the local newspaper and it covered the news of the towns around Mont-Louis. Then I dropped the newspaper and vaguely listened to the people around me. Everybody talking in French. I like to sit and listen to people in the cafes. People talking about the mountains, about the snow, about the TV shows. People discussing the skiing season, the weather and the lottery tickets.

I walked to the grocery store and got some cheese and wine. And talked to the store owner. I asked him if he was open the next day. He said he never takes holidays. He is open all year round from morning till night. He has the only grocery store in the town. He was nice. Then it was dark and there were no stars on the sky and I walked to the hotel, because it was windy and cold and there was nothing else to do in Mont-Louis on the last day of the year.

Next day we spent the morning skiing at Station de la Quillane, I think it is a part of La Llagonne. The morning was sunny and bright. The perfect skiing weather. The kids tried alpine skiing for the first time in their lives. They lasted for about three hours, then it was lunch time and we drove to the town. Everybody went to the hotel to change. I was already in a dress and decided to stay in town. After making the reservation at Le Dagobert I just wandered around. It was windy. The grocery store was open and I saluted to the owner. I talked to the newspaper stand lady and then ended up at the same cafe as the day before. There were five local men at the cafe. Too early for the skiing crowd. I ordered my coffee and took the newspaper. It was the yesterday’s newspaper. It felt awkward to open and read it, as if everything I read happened far away in the past. There were four pages dedicated to the stories about kids’ Christmas choirs. It covered the maternelle section of the French public schools, the kids ages 3 to 5. There were bright pictures of the kids singing and stories about each school, choir, songs and festivities. I read all the stories. I was touched by the dedication and enthusiasm of the music teachers. It made me think about the music teachers of my own kids.

Then I sat there lost. With the stories of the kids’ singing rounding in my head. Everything that touched me seemed to belong to the past. Like the newspaper from the last year. “The future must be so different,” I said to myself.