Welcome to day 28 of 31 Days of Heterotopias: Motels and Hotels, a month of posts about how motels, hotels, and inns function as heterotopias and liminal spaces in society. Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may mention motels and hotels only peripherally or may focus on them without referencing heterotopia or liminality. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They’ll all be listed here, as they are posted.
I still enjoy traveling a lot. I mean, it amazes me that I still get excited in hotel rooms just to see what kind of shampoo they’ve left me. — Bill Bryson
Or, what kind of animal the towels have been arranged to make.
At The Cove Motel in Orleans, MA (Cape Cod) — the sixth of our favourite motels and hotels — one of the housekeeping staff is remarkable for leaving fairly elaborate towel animals on the beds and we also heard, but did not see, that for guests with children she makes towel monkeys to hang in the closets, too.
We came back to find this elephant one day, with real cedar or yew cuttings for the eyes:
I wanted to bring it home but that sort of behaviour is frowned upon at most lodgings.
The day before, it was a swan, similar to the swans in the cove –Town Cove, off Woods Cove, off the Atlantic Ocean — from which the motel gets its name.
Even before these enchanting creatures appeared in the room during our September 2017 visit, we had decided that The Cove would be our go-to spot on the Cape, after staying there in April and having tried two other motels (another in Orleans, and one in Hyannis) on previous visits.
The waterfront location, on the cove, is tranquil and quiet.
It’s also walking distance to some restaurants (e.g., Hole in One for full breakfast; Mahoney’s Atlantic Bar & Grill for dinner — love the sole almondine; the wonderful Hot Chocolate Sparrow coffee shop most mornings and many evenings) and to the Ice Cream Cafe in season. Also walking distance to the bike rental shops and access to the 22-mile Cape Cod rail trail. It’s well located for exploring walks and beaches in our favourite parts of the Cape — Eastham, Wellfleet, and Truro — but it’s not too far from Chatham’s restaurants, Dennisport, parks and trails in Harwich and Brewster, or more shopping, eating, and entertainment action in Yarmouth and Hyannis. (It is, however, a longish drive to the Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich.)
Location and charming housekeeping staff aside, the Cove is just a pleasant and agreeable spot to rest. The wifi works well, beds and pillows are comfortable, windows can be safely opened to let in fresh air …
… ample parking is available …
… there’s seating and a firepit by the cove, and “quiet hours” are posted (and enforced) for all guests, from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., which I really appreciate. When I couldn’t figure out how to work the newfangled TV, someone came right over from the office and got it going. There’s also an outdoor heated pool (which we haven’t used), ice, vending, the usual motel amenities. Some rooms have a kitchenette (most have at least a microwave), fireplace, and/or water view.
In April, we had a deluxe queen room; this is how it looked:
In September, there were two queen beds and no sofa:
Of the two, I preferred the one queen bed with sofa, but both were perfectly accommodating.
If you visit, make sure to walk a couple of blocks to the little Orleans Conservation Area pocket garden; it also overlooks a cove.
Welcome to day 27 of 31 Days of Heterotopias: Motels and Hotels, a month of posts about how motels, hotels, and inns function as heterotopias and liminal spaces in society. Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may mention motels and hotels only peripherally or may focus on them without referencing heterotopia or liminality. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They’ll all be listed here, as they are posted.
“I used to dream of a week-long beach vacation with white sand under my toes… right now, I’d settle for 48 hours at a Motel 6 with some Lysol and a UV lamp.” — Ingrid Weir
I was lucky enough to spend several days at a motel almost on the beach, with almost white sand ̶u̶n̶d̶e̶r̶ ̶m̶y̶ ̶t̶o̶e̶s̶ under my shoes.
The Sand Dollar Inn on Pine Point Beach in Scarborough, Maine, is one of those motels with an impermanent and insignificant name, or at least part of the name (sand). Even sand dollars don’t last long on the beach: they’re either washed back to sea, picked up after dying on the beach, or picked up and killed by someone who doesn’t know how to tell a live sand dollar from a dead one. (I tried to explain this once to a woman who was picking up live sand dollar after live sand dollar off a beach; she didn’t give a damn. Yes, I’m bitter.)
Anyhoo …. The Sand Dollar Inn is sweet. I mean, look at this kitchenette, with its painted pink cabinet and drawer pulls, two-burner stovetop, King mini-fridge, plastic drying rack, Country Living dishtowel:
It’s a block from the beach, with a porch you can eat on. (Well, on a table on the porch.)
Pretty comfy inside, too.
And it attracts rainbows (view from parking lot adjoining back porch).
We stayed in mid-June, when it was a little more than $100 per night. A block from the beach!
And the beach is 4 miles long!
You can walk all the way to Old Orchard Beach, which we did.
If you’re inclined, you can walk on the Eastern Trail, or kayak in the marsh:
Or just hang out on the beach.
We used to live 2 blocks from this beach, way back in the winter of 1994. I love a winter beach walk.
This is what it looks like in December on the beach:
Welcome to day 26 of 31 Days of Heterotopias: Motels and Hotels, a month of posts about how motels, hotels, and inns function as heterotopias and liminal spaces in society. Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may mention motels and hotels only peripherally or may focus on them without referencing heterotopia or liminality. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They’ll all be listed here, as they are posted.
“There is no question that there is an unseen world. The problem is, how far is it from midtown and how late is it open?” ― Woody Allen
Woody Allen is no doubt speaking of Manhattan’s midtown, while I’m referring to Midtown Hotel in Boston, the fifth of my favourites.
I had long admired its mid-century low-rise almost-western motel sort of look, smack dab in the middle of Boston, a city where glamourous, luxurious, high-rise, grand hotels reign supreme — Boston Park Plaza, Mandarin Oriental, Eliot Hotel, Four Seasons Boston, Taj Boston, Fairmont Copley Plaza Boston, Ritz-Carlton Boston Common, Boston Harbor Hotel, Hilton Boston Back Bay, Copley Square Hotel, Fifteen Beacon, The Loews Boston Hotel, to name a few.
The Midtown’s price is great, usually about $100 per night, and the location is pretty perfect, near restaurants and shopping at Copley and Prudential, across from photogenic Christian Science Center pool and plaza, with its Mary Baker Eddy library and mapparium, and walking distance to the symphony and the Museum of Fine Arts (and really to Boston Public Garden and Common, only about a mile away).
So I was happy to book a room there a few years ago, in late February 2015, for an overnight stay during the 2015 Boston Flower Show, and then another time so that we could take an early train from South Station. In all, I think we’ve stayed at the Midtown three times and hope to do it again.
‘Basic’ wireless is free, with ‘high-speed wireless’ for an additional $10/night. There is also an outdoor pool, which is usually frozen when we are there. Pets are allowed for a fee.
The Midtown’s big drawback is that it’s on the Green Line, a confusing 4-headed T monster of a subway/trolley line if ever there was one, so we just Uber when staying at the Midtown. Or walk to the Orange Line. Or walk to the destination. If you drive a car there, there’s parking on site for a $25 fee.
I guess the other downside is that it’s a motel, not opulent, with no breakfast — though Thornton’s restaurant, next door, is quite fine for breakfast. There is sometimes a line after 9 on weekends.
There’s nothing really remarkable about the Midtown, other than the price, although I do dig the retro decor. They have a bellman to hail a cab if you want one, you can store bags at the front if your room is not ready on check-in, and there is a cute little lobby. But the rooms are just motel rooms, with adequate amenities, though certainly a good value for the price in Boston.
The rooms we’ve had have been fairly large, but with no microwave or refrigerator (you can rent a refrigerator, which probably tells you more about the hotel than they would wish).
The one light/fan combo switch for the whole bathroom area sheds light on the little sink alcove as well as the closed-off room with the toilet and shower, so at night it’s bright as midday in the bedroom if someone needs to turn on the light to use the facilities.
On our first visit, we could hear everything from the noisy room either above or next to us, until 1 a.m. and again at 7 a.m. Which is unfortunately true in many motel rooms, and another reason anonymity is key.
I especially enjoy the aesthetics of the public spaces, such as this hallway/stairway, filled with potted plants, with a view to the parking garage.
This was the view from our room one time:
I’ve recommend the Midtown Hotel to everyone I know who stays overnight in Boston.
It’s the sign lettering, the font, that makes it seem like a western hotel, isn’t it? Shoot out at the Midtown. Let’s hope not.
Welcome to day 25 of 31 Days of Heterotopias: Motels and Hotels, a month of posts about how motels, hotels, and inns function as heterotopias and liminal spaces in society. Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may mention motels and hotels only peripherally or may focus on them without referencing heterotopia or liminality. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They’ll all be listed here, as they are posted.
I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was – I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost. — Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Welcome to day 24 of 31 Days of Heterotopias: Motels and Hotels, a month of posts about how motels, hotels, and inns function as heterotopias and liminal spaces in society. Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may mention motels and hotels only peripherally or may focus on them without referencing heterotopia or liminality. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They’ll all be listed here, as they are posted.
Who knew there was so much to know about motels?
Wikipedia’s motel article is pretty detailed, with sections on architecture and layout (“typically constructed in an ‘I’-, ‘L’-, or ‘U’-shaped layout that includes guest rooms; an attached manager’s office; a small reception; and in some cases, a small diner and a swimming pool”); room types (some with small kitchens, some connecting); a history from auto camps and courts to early motels (“a handful used novelty architecture such as wigwams or teepees or used decommissioned rail cars”) to chains, and from expansion (when motels added swimming pools, colour TV, Magic Fingers!, and beach-front motels were popular) to decline (here’s a handy list of defunct motel and hotel chains) and then revitalization; international variations (Canada, Europe, and South America); “crime and illicit activity” and “motels in popular culture.”
If you’re interested in staying at motel with character, check out Momondo’s June 2016 list of “Iconic American lodging: cool and offbeat motels in USA,” which includes The Madonna Inn (I knew someone who stayed there once) in San Luis Obispo, CA (“rural ranch meets pink fantasy palace”), the Red Caboose Motel in Philadelphia, the Thunderbird Marfa in Marfa, TX, Kate’s Lazy Meadow, a 1950s marvel near the Catskills in NY, and Dog Bark Park Inn, shaped like a beagle, in Cottonwood, ID.
The “motels in the popular culture” section mentions some movies known for a motel setting, notably the Bates Motel in Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho. An “isolated motel being operated by a serial killer, whose guests subsequently become victims, has been exploited in a number of other horror films, notably Motel Hell (1980) and Mountaintop Motel Massacre (1986).” Somehow, I missed those. The 2011 thriller The Innkeepers used actual rooms and hallways of the Yankee Pedlar Inn, in Torrington, CT, for interior shots.
Of course, the “long-established connotations of motels and illicit sexual activity” manifests in “Motel Confidential (1967) and the porn film Motel for Lovers (1970),” as well as “Paradise Motel (1985), Talking Walls (1987), Desire and Hell at Sunset Motel (1991), and the Korean films Motel Cactus (1997) and The Motel (2005).” Sordid events take place in Pink Motel (1982), Motel Blue 19 (1993), Backroad Motel (2001), Stateline Motel (2003), Niagara Motel (2006), and Motel 5150 (2008).
An article in the National Post(9 Oct. 2015) succinctly summarises in its subtitle (taken from comments by Dave Alexander, editor of Canadian horror magazine Rue Morgue) why sleaze, horror, vice, and violence are housed in hotels and motels: “Hotels are a pseudo home where people go to do bad stuff and a place where strangers intersect.”
From the same article, Canadian film director Brandon Cronenberg says that “‘a hotel room is both a foreign space and an intimate space. … We might sleep there, bathe there, have sex there, but it’s also somewhere unfamiliar and uncontrolled, and that creates a sense of vulnerability.'” Further, says Cronenberg — getting at the heterotopia as a place that both exists in time but also outside of time, as a discontinuity of time, an accumulation of time — “a ‘hotel is like a labyrinth of secret history.’ … There is something delicious about the idea that a sordid moment from that history might resurface in the present, perhaps literally in the case of a supernatural story.'”
“All good hotels tend to lead people to do things they wouldn’t necessarily do at home.” — Andre Balazs
When I think of motels, I think of My Cousin Vinny,starring Joe Pesci as Vinny, an inexperienced lawyer from New York trying to free his nephew and friend from a murder charge in Alabama, and his sharp-witted girlfriend Lisa, played by Marisa Tomei. Technically, Vinny and Lisa are staying in an H OTEL, but it’s basically a motel, one with a railroad track abutting it. If you haven’t seen it, watch this 2-min video to see what happens at 5 a.m. in the motel room.
Then there’s Fawtly Towers, the British comedy set in “a fictional hotel in the seaside town of Torquay on the ‘English Riviera.'” John Cleese is the “tense, rude and put-upon” and socially conservative owner Basil Fawlty, with Prunella Scales as his bossy, acerbic wife Sybil, Connie Booth as the peacemaking chambermaid Polly, and Andrew Sachs as the “hapless and English-challenged Spanish waiter Manuel.” The quartet tries to run the hotel “amidst farcical situations and an array of demanding and eccentric guests and tradespeople.” It’s such an iconic show that hard to believe there are only 12 episodes! The whole series came about after Cleese, then with Monty Python, stayed at the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay while filming on location:
“Cleese was fascinated with the behaviour of the owner, Donald Sinclair, later describing him as “the rudest man I’ve ever come across in my life.” This behaviour included Sinclair throwing a timetable at a guest who asked when the next bus to town would arrive; and placing Python member Eric Idle’s briefcase (put to one side by Idle while waiting for a car with Cleese) behind a wall in the garden on the suspicion that it contained a bomb. Sinclair justified his actions by claiming the hotel had “staff problems.” He also criticised the American-born Terry Gilliam’s table manners for not being “British” (that is, he switched hands with his fork whilst eating).”
“Of course great hotels have always been social ideas, flawless mirrors to the particular societies they service.” — Joan Didion
Philip French, in the Guardian’s 16 Dec. 2000 article, “This Looks A Nice Place To Stop,” gives a brief history of 75 years of motels in Hollywood, “a metaphor for angst and alienation.” He perhaps overstates the case for danger: “Motels are places for assignations and illicit sex, for planning crimes and dividing the spoils, for insecure people in transit or desperate people on the run. There’s always the chance that you’ll wake up alone, robbed after a night of passion, or that the place will be surrounded by cops (as in Bonnie and Clyde (1967) or this year’s Way of the Gun) and you’ve the choice of shooting it out or getting handcuffed.”
French describes as motels as “located on the edge of cities, identifying their patrons as marginalised, or they are out in the wilds of the Midwest, dwarfed by the big sky and the majestic landscape. … They have a dispiriting anonymity,” either homogeneous chains that “protect us from local colour,” or “squalid, cigarette-scarred, kitsch-decorated, the thin-walled suites located behind flickering neon signs and fetid swimming pools. The upmarket places were acidly satirised in Richard Lester’s Petulia (1968), where would-be adulterers George C. Scott and Julie Christie book into a San Francisco motel so impersonal that you never meet the staff or other guests. The experience of staying in downmarket versions is cleverly caught in Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000), whose protagonist suffers from short-term memory loss and has to take Polaroids so he can recognise the LA motel he’s living in.”
Not movie-related, but French tells us in this article that in 1934, “Frank Lloyd Wright incorporated a motel in his design for a utopian city called Broadacre. Lloyd Wright planned a ramp for visitors to drive their cars virtually into their motel rooms.”
I’d never heard of it before but The Florida Project (2017) — about young kids who live in “the Magic Castle, a purple-colored budget motel that’s near the Magic Kingdom and above which clouds resemble dollops of cotton candy” — sounds like something I’d want to see: The camera moves “in and out of [the motel’s] rooms, investing the minutia of the down-and-out lives within this little ecosystem with a bittersweet energy and significance.” From the same (linked) review, this is also intriguing:
“Some might argue that The Florida Project’s ending constitutes another such misstep, but that would be to misunderstand another of Baker’s fundamental projects. Joan Didion has written, and better than no one else, about Miami as a transient metropolis, one that’s been built in the image of so many Cuban cities, and one that seems like it will, if not exactly crumble, reveal its essential ephemerality when so many of its Cuban-born citizens feel like they finally have the license to return to their homeland. The same could be said of Orlando, a city which feels like it only exists in relationship to Disney World, a capitalist dependency that’s very much felt throughout this film. As lived-in and detail-rich as the lives in The Florida Project are, the environment where they’re rooted is fleeting, a place where one passes through but never stays.”
Coming of age at the Magic Castle motel abutting the Magic Kingdom: Heterotopian in multiple ways in its ephemerality, marginality, placelessness (a place that disappears or where we simply can’t stay for long): the motel, the resort “World” itself, and even perhaps in the fleeting nature of childhood. Foucault himself speaks of child’s play as heterotopian in a way: “In one example [of heterotopias, Foucault] refers to children’s play, when they invent games. They produce an imaginative space, but at the same time mirror the physical realities around them. A bed can become a boat or a sandbox a whole universe.”(from notes on Ylva Ogland’s 2014 art exhibition, “Diverse Variations of Other Spaces”)
Title quote spoken by Norman Bates to Marion Crane in Psycho.
Welcome to day 23 of 31 Days of Heterotopias: Motels and Hotels, a month of posts about how motels, hotels, and inns function as heterotopias and liminal spaces in society. Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may mention motels and hotels only peripherally or may focus on them without referencing heterotopia or liminality. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They’ll all be listed here, as they are posted.
Another of the stand-bys today, the Flagship Inn in Boothbay, Maine.
It’s a roadside motel, no frills, two stories with outside corridors and stairs from the expansive parking lot. Outdoor ice and vending machines, picnic tables in the grass alongside the parking lot, breakfast included in a separate dining room that used to be a full-service restaurant. A small pool and hot tub. Men in white T-shirts hunched in plastic white chairs outside their rooms, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. It’s the kind of place short-haul truckers, motorcycle groups, and utility workers stay. It’s where families who can’t afford a hotel for a family reunion have their reunion, eating potato salad and grilling hot dogs at the picnic tables. It’s where people with multiple dogs can bring them all.
When we (spouse & I) started staying at the Flagship Inn, we had dogs who travelled with us. We had been staying at the charming Lawnmere Inn and cottages, on nearby Southport Island, but then it closed in 2008 (became a private residence) and we cast about for another spot.
Photo of Lawnmere as is was, by someone else (you can see the glassed-in dining room):
Our dog Petunia relaxing in one of the Lawnmere’s chairs, in the late 1990s:
The Flagship Inn, in Boothbay, is in some ways the antithesis of the Lawnmere: It’s a basic motel, the Lawnmere was an old-fashioned inn and cottages; the Flagship fronts a busy commercial road, the Lawnmere fronted a winding country road and its back view was waterfront, onto a cove; the Flagship could never be called charming or elegant, whereas the Lawnmere could, with a hotel bar and a lovely dining room that served gourmet dinners on white tablecloths overlooking the water.
But the Flagship has merits of its own. It also accepts pets, which mattered to us once. It’s relatively inexpensive, from $100 to $160 depending on when you go and what kind of room you want. Most important for us is its location: From the motel, we can walk into town — Boothbay Harbor — in 15 minutes, so we don’t have to drive through town and park a car there, saving a lot of frustration in the summer months. And it sits adjoining one of the many Boothbay Region Land Trust preserves, Penny Lake, which makes it easy to walk the trails there — just by stepping out the door — mornings and evenings. We can also walk next door to the grocery store or across the street to the laundromat (handy when we had dogs with us); and driving to other land trust properties, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Southport, or perhaps the King Eider Pub in Damariscotta for lunch are all made easier by being already on Route 27, while getting to East Boothbay and Ocean Point is easy, too, because the intersection with Route 96 is a block away.
Here’s the exterior:
Flagship Inn, cleaning cart, June 2015
Interior (We’ve stayed here at least six times but I guess I haven’t taken many photos of the motel):
Penny Lake Preserve
We visited in 2004, 2006, and 2008, at least, but I took or preserved (get it?) few photos then. For one thing, we lived in Bath, only an hour away, from 2002-2009, so we didn’t need a motel when visiting Boothbay and probably only attended the area garden tour then. Upshot is that the photos here are from 2017, 2015, 2014, and 2012. All are in May or June, which is when the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens holds its plant sale.
Entrance and signs:
There are lots of things to do in the Boothbay area. I posted a field trip to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in June 2015 and May 2014, and also in May 2014 field trips to the Porter Preserve, Singing Meadows Preserve, Zak Preserve, and Ocean Point Preserve (I see I have a lot of postings to do from more recent visits). It’s fun to walk in Boothbay Harbor, which has lots of good restaurants. There are lots of hotels, inns, B&Bs, and a few motels in Boothbay Harbor, too, but the Flagship, just a mile outside, has been handy and comfortable for us.
Welcome to day 22 of 31 Days of Heterotopias: Motels and Hotels, a month of posts about how motels, hotels, and inns function as heterotopias and liminal spaces in society. Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may mention motels and hotels only peripherally or may focus on them without referencing heterotopia or liminality. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They’ll all be listed here, as they are posted.
“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.” — Henri J.M. Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life
I’m fairly certain Father Nouwen wasn’t speaking of hotels and motels in his words about the division-healing work of hospitality, but there is something about the “free space” offered by motels and hotels, without conventional expectation and placed outside ordinary relationships to a greater or lesser degree, that perhaps gives the humans who stay in them some freedom for the mind or heart to open. As I’ve quoted earlier,
“Hotels bring together individuals whose paths might not normally cross, and they create relationships and social hierarchies new to those individuals — relationships and hierarchies that do not always correspond to the individuals’ ‘normal’ relationships outside the hotel. In subverting the status quo, they are fundamentally political spaces in the broadest sense” (from The Shining’s Overlook Hotel as Heterotopia by Elizabeth Hornbeck, 2016).
Or as Beth Lord — then teaching fellow in Philosophy at the University of Dundee in Scotland, now Head of Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen — notes, concerning museums but equally applying to motels and hotels,
“What are we to make of Michel Foucault’s claim that the museum is a heterotopia? When reading Foucault’s description of the heterotopia in his 1967 essay “Different Spaces,” we are left with the impression of something negative, uncanny, and disturbing: a heterotopia is a space of difference, a space that is absolutely central to a culture but in which the relations between elements of a culture are suspended, neutralized, or reversed. Unlike utopias, heterotopias are real places ‘designed into the very institution of society’ in which all the other real emplacements of a culture are ‘at the same time, represented, contested, and reversed, sorts of places that are outside all places, although they are actually localizable.'”
Dr. Lord mentions two of Foucault’s prime examples of a heterotopia, the cemetery and the ship, adding about the ship that it “is ‘a piece of floating space, a placeless place;’ it functions according to its own rules in the space between ports, between cultures, between stable points.” Places that are heterotopian “are those sites in a culture designated as spaces of difference, spaces in which ordinary relations within the culture are made and allowed to be other.” (Beth Lord in “Foucault’s museum: difference, representation, and genealogy,” in Museum and Society, March 2006)
It is this “being allowed to be other” than who we normally, routinely, habitually are that I think merges with Nouwen’s concept of hospitality as a space where we and our relations with others (other people, other beings, the earth, the abstract and eternal, the power structure of the culture) are allowed — not coerced, forced, or manipulated (except by architecture, perhaps) — to be other; not that being other than usual is necessarily a good in itself (as countless horror movies set in motels can attest), but that it offers us freedom where change can take place, because we are freed to question ourselves, the prevailing society, our relations with all things and beings.
Philosophical writer Alain de Botton, below, is in part speaking of motels when he describes one of their functions as that of a sanctuary:
“The twenty-four-hour diner, the station waiting room and the motel are sanctuaries for those who have, for noble reasons, failed to find a home in the ordinary world, sanctuaries for those whom Baudelaire might have dignified with the honorific ‘poets’.” ― Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel, 2002
The welcome of a good motel, hotel, or inn (or a 24-hour diner, or a station waiting room) is such a comfort in the midst of the rigors of travel. On our first evening near Newport, Rhode Island, in late spring this year, we couldn’t find a suitable restaurant without an hour-long waiting line at 8:30 p.m. You know that physically fatigued, stressed feeling you get when you’re hungry, tired from travel, trying to navigate and orient in an unfamiliar place, easily frustrated, ready for bed but needing some sustenance and just … some impersonal, disinterested, non-demanding comfort? That night, we found such a sanctuary in the Blue Plate Diner in Middletown, RI. No, it’s not a 24-hour diner (but it was open until 10), and the food was fine, but more importantly, it was warm, available, and served with friendliness in a comfortingly casual, anonymous, and just-well-enough-lit space.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in train station waiting rooms. Most are unremarkable, a few are unpleasant, but a few stand out — either because of their architecture, amenities, and the feel of the space, or because of my need for that kind of comfort just then, or both — as exemplars of sanctuary for those of us who who have, by and large, failed to find a home in the ordinary world. Or, I would say in my case, as one who has found herself equally at home when somewhere not designated as home; and more at home and at peace, contented, in the non-ordinary place rather than within the circumference of my ordinary world.
Union Station in Washington DC
It’s changed quite a bit in recent years, with the Center Cafe, in the center of the “Beaux-Arts main hall,” closing in 2016 after 28 years there (I miss it, contrary to this March 2016 Washingtonian article that says it won’t be missed by many), as well as B. Smith’s restaurant closing in 2013 after 23 years, and the Barnes & Noble bookstore being replaced with an H&M clothing store. There’s still the Thunder Grill, which offers a roomy space for travellers with lots of luggage, and the service and southwestern food are surprisingly good for the location. They also have a full bar.
Really, Union Station is just a beautiful spot, if you like classical architecture. Some of the police ride segways through the space; there are large waiting areas; and there are many boutique shops (though most open up late, close early, or for whatever reason aren’t open when I’m there) and some chain restaurants/cafes like Au Bon Pain and Pret A Manger. (A Legal Seafood is coming soon.)
I often have layovers of 1-3 hours here and don’t mind it at all.
Penn Station in Baltimore, MD
Not a grand station at all but serviceable, airy, with a Dunkin Donuts and an eat-in/take-out place called Java Moon Cafe. I’ve had some scary moments scrambling with my luggage off the train in the middle of the night — it stops for about 2 minutes in Baltimore before heading on, and not all doors open onto the platform, which if you’re asleep and disoriented poses a challenge — but waiting here for a train is one of the less stressful travel connections, since there’s pretty much never a queue as there is at termini like Washington DC and Boston, and people sit reading the newspaper on the comfortable wooden benches — like pews in a sanctuary? — until their train is called. Very civilised.
South Station in Boston, MA
I’ve spent more time here than any other train station over the last 25 years. (It’s also a major bus terminal, including for the bus from my NH town to Boston, which I’ve probably taken at least 30 times in each direction in the last eight years. The bus station side is not nearly as nice — in terms of architecture, spaciousness, amenities, etc. — as the train station.)
On the one hand, I like that South Station is an Amtrak terminus, which means trains start and end there (this is the northern end of Amtrak’s very popular Northeast Regional and Acela lines), so on boarding all the seats are available when you get on and on disembarking you never miss your stop, even if you are asleep. But being a terminus also means that riders often line up, inside and outside, long before the train is scheduled to depart, in order to get the best seat possible or seats together if travelling in a group. I do this, too, but it’s kind of a pain to feel that urge. On the other hand, if I’m going to be sitting on a train for 8 or 12 hours, it’s not a bad thing to stand in a line for a while beforehand.
Actually, just looking at these stations has me itching to take the train again right now.
“So I’m more at home with my backpack, sleeping in a hotel room or on a bus or on an airplane, than I am necessarily on a bed. It’s weird being here. It feels like I’m standing next to my real life.” — Henry Rollins
A bed is certainly more conducive to sleep, but in some ways I prefer sleeping (or trying to sleep) while being no-where, on a train or bus, or being somewhere that feels like no-where, like a hotel or motel.
Train stations, diners, hotels — I love those that feel welcoming, comforting, a home away from home that’s nothing like home. A placeless place feels like my place.
Welcome to day 21 of 31 Days of Heterotopias: Motels and Hotels, a month of posts about how motels, hotels, and inns function as heterotopias and liminal spaces in society. Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may mention motels and hotels only peripherally or may focus on them without referencing heterotopia or liminality. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They’ll all be listed here, as they are posted.
Exteriors, Entrances, & Lobbies
Included are: Holiday Inn Resort, Jekyll Island, GA, July 2016; Olde Tavern Motel, Orleans, MA (Cape Cod), Nov. 2016; Sand Dollar Motel reception, Pine Point, ME, June 2013; Midtown Hotel, Boston, Feb. 2015; Cotton Sail Hotel, Savannah, GA, Sept. 2014; Clark’s Motel, Santee, SC, Sept. 2013; Flagship Inn, Boothbay, ME, June 2015; Tall Timber cabins, Pittsburgh, NH, July 2015; Casablanca Motel cabin, Manchester, VT, Nov. 2012; Cove Motel, Orleans, MA (Cape Cod), April 2017; Schooner Bay Motor Inn, Rockland, ME, Aug. 2013.
Lobbies, Public Living Spaces, Breakfast Rooms:
Hallways and Corridors (I mean, what are they thinking with some of this carpet?):
Welcome to day 20 of 31 Days of Heterotopias: Motels and Hotels, a month of posts about how motels, hotels, and inns function as heterotopias and liminal spaces in society. Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may mention motels and hotels only peripherally or may focus on them without referencing heterotopia or liminality. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They’ll all be listed here, as they are posted.
The Footbridge Beach Motel is really just a basic roadside motel, with a pool (which we’ve never used), with wifi (which we require), but what makes it perfect for us is that it’s a 5-10 minute walk to the Footbridge Beach — usually quite uncrowded, even in the middle of summer, and if you drive there in season you pay a $20 parking fee — and a 1.3-mile walk on a sidewalk into the lively tourist town of Ogunquit (about a 25-minute walk for us), which means we can leave the car most of the time at the motel and walk to the beach and town. (There’s also a trolley shuttle to town in July and August.) And there are good places to eat across from and next to the motel.
They also accept pets, which mattered to us when we first started visiting Ogunquit in 2012.
It’s a relaxing spot, both the motel and the beach. Photos below were taken at the end of August 2012, mid-June 2015, and late May-early June 2016.
The Foot Bridge (across the Ogunquit River to the Atlantic Ocean)
Welcome to day 19 of 31 Days of Heterotopias: Motels and Hotels, a month of posts about how motels, hotels, and inns function as heterotopias and liminal spaces in society. Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may mention motels and hotels only peripherally or may focus on them without referencing heterotopia or liminality. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They’ll all be listed here, as they are posted.
I have stayed in at least one B&B that worked for me, because we — spouse, dog, self — were in one of several separate cottages surrounding the Birchwood Inn, in Lenox, Massachusetts — in the Berkshires — and the innkeeper (Ellen, who has since retired; unfortunately, the new owners don’t seem to rent the cottages anymore) had two dogs of her own: a sweet golden retriever, Quinn, who was trained to help the deaf, which the innkeeper partly was, and this lovely little black dog, Piper, a beagle-lab (bagel) who looks demonic in my photo for some reason.
This was May 2010; spouse and I hadn’t had time away together except for a family birthday party in two years, and after our difficult fall and winter — full of sad goodbyes and uprooting, spouse’s medical diagnosis and ongoing treatments, the dog’s medical diagnosis and ongoing lab tests, my father’s death and my mother’s Alzheimers, as well as the weight of friends’ sorrows in tough times — it was a much needed pampering. Sometimes B&Bs are good for pampering, as long as they leave you alone, and they did.
We interacted with Ellen and other folks only at breakfast and afternoon tea (yes, tea! so civilised; talk about pampering), if we felt like it — though with Piper more often, as she had the run of the place — and the breakfasts, at our own table, were incredibly delicious, including: cheese blintzes with a Maine blueberry sauce on top, a spring omelette with peas and asparagus, lemony stuffed French toast, fondue Florentine soufflé, fabulous ginger pear pancakes, a berry fruitini, a watermelon and kiwi stacked on a crumble with a lemon curd topping, poached pears with a lovely sauce, and sausage, bacon, or ham if desired.
We were invited to sit on the inn porch, for tea and otherwise, and I think we did …. it’s been 7-1/2 years and I can’t quite recall anymore, though I remember that we got bread, cheese, a fruit tart, olives, beer, etc., at the local farmer’s market and gourmet shops and had lunch on our own cottage porch one day.
We bought marcona almonds and cheese at Rubiner’s Cheesemongers in Great Barrington, too. (I guess the woman behind the counter wasn’t pleased about my photo.)
Somehow I neglected to take any photos inside the cottage room, except of our dog, Gretchen:
She seems relaxed.
This was our cottage from the outside, in the evening —
there was a rabbit running around —
— and our entrance (the back entrance) into the Inn proper —
— and another shot of the Inn’s porch:
It was quite a nice place to be, walkable to Lenox, and the restaurants in the Berkshires were amazing, especially Viva Tapas Bar in Stockbridge — their fried artichokes live in my memory as one of the best things I have ever eaten — which sadly apparently closed in 2012,
and especially especially Rouge in West Stockbridge, from whom I still get emails and to which I would return in a heartbeat if it were closer. (I guess I took these weird photos with my phone at the time. Sorry!)
Bistro Zinc in Lenox was good, too, where, sitting next to a tall window that opened onto the sidewalk, I had trout meuniere and spouse had soft shell crab. Mmmm.
There are so many interesting things to do and places to visit in the Berkshires. We had only a week or so and went to Edith Wharton’s house, The Mount — what I remember from it is climbing hydrangeas; the mind-boggling Asia Barong in Great Barrington (still get eccentric emails from them, too); Naumkeag House & Gardens in Stockbridge (44-room Gilded Age house, designed as a summer home by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead, & White, the former country estate of New York City lawyer Joseph Hodges Choate); Kennedy Park trails in Lenox; the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, which runs about 11 miles from Pittsfield to Adams, MA — we walked from the Farnam’s Rd entrance in Cheshire to the town of Cheshire proper, and back, about 4 miles; Tanglewood, in Lenox, where the Boston Symphony Orchestra plays in the summer; and a play (preview performance of Julius Caesar) at Shakespeare & Co. in Lenox.
Asia Barong …. a unique place: “In the unlikely event we do not have what you are looking for, we can search in Asia for it. Or by using the link to the order form below, we can carve to your specifications any sculpture in any quantity or material.”
Naumkeag (not quite open for the season, and no indoor photos allowed):
Kennedy Park in Lenox:
Ashuwillticook Rail Trail
Shakespeare & Co. – some dilapidated buildings on the property
Plus this quirky cemetery in Stockbridge! (cemeteries are another heterotopia, uniting all other places and people in a community in a past-present sacred-forbidden place of crisis, often on the margins of town — this one is on the edge of a golf course):
If you want more travelogue, I blogged about this in May 2010 in several posts: intro; Thurs-Sat; Sunday; and Mon-Wed.) I note, on re-reading them, that the innkeeper saved us scones one day when we didn’t make it back for afternoon tea on time. That’s one perk of a good B&B: you are offered comfort and reliability in a difficult, unreliable time.