By Terry Trucco
Hotels are embedded in our lives, and not just when we travel. They’re welcoming places, standing at the ready with a bar where you can meet friends, a lobby offering shelter on an inclement day and a restaurant that’s often one the best in town.
We attend weddings and conferences at hotels. Some of us have memberships in hotel gyms. As unofficial local landmarks, the best hotels exude a promise of glamour, adventure and serendipitous surprise. Walking home from my first job in New York, I often strolled through The Plaza. One day I whirled through the revolving doors with Mick Jagger.
But this is just the warm-up to the much larger role hotels play in modern life, as authors Caroline Field Levander and Matthew Pratt Guterl put forth in their new book Hotel Life. Tantalizingly subtitled The Story of a Place Where Anything Can Happen, the book presents hotels as powerful social institutions, not unlike universities, hospitals and even prisons, that embrace all walks of life and offer insights into who and what we are. Or as the authors put it, “hotels cut to the core of what it means to be human in modern times.”
That’s a tall order for a Holiday Inn. But that’s their point — viewed collectively, hotels are much more than a bed for the night with a mint by the pillow. As democratic institutions open to anyone with the money to check in, hotels have held a mirror to society for nearly 200 years, reflecting changing views on lifestyles, wellness, sexuality, food, fashion, economics, politics, religion and design. Hotels have been on the front lines in dealing with issues of class, sex, gender and race. As depicted in classic movies like 1932’s Grand Hotel, hotels are microcosms, where a savvy social historian can drop a bell jar over a swath of humanity and explore anything from cultural imperialism to methods of suicide. (more…)