How far is the unseen world from Midtown?

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 Fairmont, Boston, June 2012

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).

Christian Science plaza and Prudential Center, June 2012
Prudential Center and Copley Place, Feb. 2015
outside Neiman Marcus at Copley Place, decorated for Christmas, Dec. 2015
atrium with fountain, inside Copley Place, March 2015
Christian Science plaza, March 2014
gardens on Christian Science plaza, June 2012
Mother Church of the Christian Scientists, and Christian Science Publishing House with Mary Baker Eddy library and mapparium, June 2012
Mother Church of Christian Scientists, Feb. 2015
Mother Church of Christian Scientists, Feb. 2015
conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic at Symphony Hall, March 2014


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.

outdoor pool in March 2015 … no diving

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.

strawberry crepe at Thornton’s, March 2015
salmon, bagel, tea at Thornton’s, March 2015


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).

fairly spacious room with queen bed, two nightstands with lights, March 2015
bed, flat-screen TV, dresser, mirror, window, Feb. 2015
bed, flat-screen TV, dresser, table large enough for two laptops, two chairs, closet and more drawers, Feb. 2015
closet and dresser, with ice bucket and cups, Feb. 2015

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.

sink outside bathroom, lit by same light as bathroom (Feb 2015)
behind the door, the tub/shower and toilet (Feb 2015)

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.

night view, Feb. 2015

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.



Somebody else, some stranger, haunted

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


Oh, we have twelve vacancies. Twelve cabins, twelve vacancies.

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.”


Besides those named already, there are lots of other famous movies set partially or wholly in hotels and motels, among them Grand Hotel (1932) with Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore (the Grand Hotel, where “nothing ever happens”); the Marx Brothers movie Room Service (1938); Week-End at the Waldorf (1945) with Ginger Rogers, Lana Turner, Walter Pidgeon, Van Johnson; Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953); A Touch of Evil (1958) dir. by Orson Welles, with Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh; The Bellboy (1960), with Jerry Lewis as a bumbling hotel bellhop; the Barbra Streisand/Ryan O’Neal romantic comedy What’s Up, Doc? (1972); California Suite (1978) with Maggie Smith, Richard Pryor, Alan Alda, Jane Fonda, Bill Cosby; The Shining (1980) with Jack Nicholson; the rom-com Pretty Woman (1990) with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere; Lost in Translation (2003) with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson; The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) with Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith; and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), with Ralph Fiennes and F. Murray Abraham.


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.



No-Frills Flagship

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:


spouse and dog enjoying the lawn and cove view


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:

(photo by someone else, at Trip Advisor)
Flagship Inn, cleaning cart, June 2015
solar panels on the Flagship Inn, May 2014
dog walk area with lupines and maple, June 2015
view of Flagship Inn from Penny Lake Preserve lane, evening, May 2014
there are often warblers in the shrubs near the canal alongside the motel
canal (with bridge) between Flagship Inn and the Carousel Music Theater and Penny Lake Preserve, May 2012 … we saw a muskrat swimming in it once!
having wine with cheese and crackers outside on a picnic table, May 2014
spouse and Gretchen dog sitting outside near canal, May 2012


Interior (We’ve stayed here at least six times but I guess I haven’t taken many photos of the motel):

king bed room, with table, chairs (and plants bought at Coastal Maine Botanical Garden plant sale on the floor), May 2014
Gretchen dog in her spot in a pet-friendly room (no carpet) at the Flagship, May 2012


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:




ash bloom with multiple bees, June 2015
meadow, two trails diverged, June 2015
grassy pathway, June 2015
evening meadow, May 2014
Eastern kingbird, May 2014
clover and hawkweed, June 2015
red clover, June 2015
bench among hawkweed, June 2015
yellow hawkweed, June 2017
hawthorn blooms, June 2015
Yellowrattle (Rhinanthus Minor), June 2017
dandelion, May 2012
cedar waxwing (part of a large flock), May 2012
red Admiral butterfly, June 2015
ChlosyneHarrisii HarrissCheckerspotbutterflyPennyLakePreserveBRLT14June2015
Harris’s checkerspot butterfly (Chlosyne harrisii), June 2015
anotherChlosyneHarrisii HarrissCheckerspotsidePennyLakePreserveBRLT14June2015
another Harris’s checkerspot butterfly (Chlosyne harrisii), June 2015
either silvery or Harris’s checkerspot butterfly, June 2017
meadow path, trees and shrubs, June 2015



trail, May 2012
bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), June 2015
ferns, June 2015
Clintonia flowering, May 2012
green Clintonia berries, June 2015
lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule), June 2015
pale pink lady’s slipper, June 2017
starflower (Trientalis borealis) blooming, June 2017
Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana), with goldthread (Coptis trifolia), June 2017
yellow trail marker, lichen, June 2017
small chipmunk, June 2017
sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) flowers, June 2015
woods from the bridge, shaft of sunlight, May 2014
trail with roots, June 2015
sunlight in woods, June 2015



bridge connecting woods over the brook, June 2015
bridge over brook, June 2017
brook, marsh, June 2017
brook, marsh in the morning, May 2012
lily pads, May 2012
blue flag iris, June 2017
green frog in water, June 2017
green frog on log, May 2012
black-crowned night heron hunched above marsh, May 2014
one of many red-winged blackbirds in marsh, May 2014
phoebe with nesting materials, June 2017
phoebe with caterpillar mouthful, June 2015


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.


Taking Sanctuary in Diners, Train Stations, Motels

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.

Christmas time at Union Station, Jan. 2017
Thunder Grill at Union Station, Sept. 2014
bar at Thunder Grill, Jan. 2017
Center Cafe when it was still there, Jan. 2011.
waiting area, Union Station, Dec. 2013
Gate J is usually my Union Station gate. Jan. 2011
with my sister at Union Station, Nov. 2006
sign inside Union Station celebrating 45 years of Amtrak, 1 Jan. 2017


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.

Penn Station (on left) in the Mount Royal section of Baltimore, May 2008
me, looking tired indeed, waiting for a train, in 2004 or 2005


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.

South Station exterior, March 2015
plantings, the bus side of South Station, May 2016
South Station Starbucks (almost side-by-side with Dunkin Donuts), Dec. 2013
Au Bon Pain at South Station, Oct. 2015
line at Au Bon Pain, Dec. 2013 – look how perfectly spaced the queue is
arrivals and departures board, and train display during Christmas, Dec. 2013
arrivals and departures board with Apple ads, March 2011


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.


Mash Up of Public Spaces

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:

one of many sitting areas, Clarks Inn, Santee, SC, Sept. 2013
breakfast and dining, Hampton Inn, Roanoke, VA, June 2013
breakfast room, Birchwood Inn, Lenox, MA (Berkshires), May 2010
lobby, Hudson Hotel, New York City, Nov. 2010
partial of breakfast room, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Kennett Square, PA, Oct. 2017
lobby, Hampton Inn & Suites, Portsmouth, NH, Nov. 2014
lobby, Middlebury Inn, Middlebury VT, Nov. 2015
lobby, Intercontinental Hotel, Boston, MA, March 2016
lobby, Planters Inn, Savannah, GA, Jan. 2017
lobby, view to breakfast area, Element Hotel Seaport, Boston, MA, March 2017


Hallways and Corridors (I mean, what are they thinking with some of this carpet?):

stairs & hallway, The Midtown Hotel, Boston, MA, Feb 2015
wacky hallway carpet, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Kennett Square, PA, Oct. 2017
2nd floor of Middlebury Inn, Middlebury, VT, Nov. 2015
3rd floor hallway, Element Hotel Seaport, Boston, MA, March 2017
hallway, Hampton Inn & Suites, Portsmouth, NH, Nov. 2014
4th floor hallway, Jekyll Island Club Hotel, Jekyll Island, GA, April 2012
hallway carpet, Hyatt Place Hotel, Owings Mills, MD, Oct. 2017
hallway of roomettes on Amtrak, Silver Meteor train, Dec. 2016


Might be Motel Sixing but it feels like Turks and Caicos

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.

As I mentioned previously, there are six motels/hotels that we (spouse and I) stay at over and over. I’ve posted about The Holiday Inn Express in Savannah, Georgia, and the Middlebury Inn in Vermont. Today I’ll tell you about another of our favourites, the Footbridge Beach Motel in Ogunquit, Maine.

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.

Property exterior


patio, where you can cook out on one of the grills and/or eat outside (or have a smoke)
pool (2015)

Our room(s)

spouse (and my reflection) in chair outside room 12
We had room 5 this time
king bed, nightstands, fridge and microwave
king bed, table and chairs, dresser with TV, closet (2015)
dog in her bed with toy in mouth (2012) (spouse in foreground on bed)
the dog celebrated her 11th birthday at the Footbridge


The Foot Bridge (across the Ogunquit River to the Atlantic Ocean)

signs here are in English and French — there are lots of visitors from Quebec to Ogunquit
the footbridge (May 2016)
the footbridge (June 2016)
me on the footbridge (Aug 2012)
footbridge railing over the river (June 2015)
American black duck in the river (Aug. 2012)
boat often in the river (May 2016)
rosa rugosa lining bridge path (June 2015)
pathway from bridge to beach (June 2016)

Footbridge Beach

threatening clouds (June 2015)
(Aug 2012)
stormy (Aug 2012)
people on the beach (Aug 2012)
surf, sailboat, long view to Marginal Way in the evening (May 2016)
beach at 8 p.m., Aug. 2012
Plankton very excited to be on the Footbridge Beach! (June 2015)
evening (May 2016)
bird tracks on the river beach (June 2016)
plovers and terns nest here (June 2015)
plover in evening surf (May 2016)
fluffy plover, evening (May 2016)
ruffled plover (June 2016)
two sanderlings (Aug 2012)
misty beach, evening (June 2016)


Ogunquit – Marginal Way: A one-mile walk along the coast from the Sparhawk Motel to Perkins Cove

June 2016


sparrow, June 2016
June 2016


lobster trap with St. George the bulldog on Marginal Way (June 2016)


allium and iris at Sparhawk Motel along Marginal Way, June 2016
ladybug, June 2016
bee in white rosa rugosa, June 2016
crashing waves, June 2016
view to Norseman Motel and Ogunquit Beach from Marginal Way, June 2016


June 2015


Bonaparte’s Gulls on beach, near Marginal Way, June 2015
June 2015
yoga on beach, seen from Marginal Way, June 2015
man fishing in waves, seen from Marginal Way, June 2015
bridge on Marginal Way, Aug. 2012
one of many coves along Marginal Way, Aug. 2012

“I looked along the San Juan Islands and the coast of California, but I couldn’t find the palette of green, granite, and dark blue that you can only find in Maine.” –Parker Stevenson

Aug. 2012



Ogunquit – Restaurants and Cafes: Lots of good ones! We like Back Yard coffee house   for breakfast, and Banditos Mexican Grill, Caffe Prego, and La Orilla tapas for lunch/dinner.

view from Caffe Prego porch (June 2016)
olive mezza at Caffe Prego (June 2016)
Caffe Prego (June 2016)
porch seating at Caffe Prego (Aug. 2012)
view from porch at Caffe Prego (Aug. 2012)
Caffe Prego and alliums (June 2016)
La Orilla tapas restaurant (June 2016)
cheese, bread, chutney – June 2016, I think at La Orilla
lovely grilled shrimp – June 2016, I think at La Orilla
Banditos Mexican — great to sit outside with a Negra Modelo and come chips and guacamole (June 2015)
Banditos Mexican (Aug. 2012)
Banditos, June 2015
Banditos inside, Aug. 2012
fish and shrimp tacos at Banditos Mexican (June 2016)
Made in Ogunquit T-shirt at Banditos Mexican (June 2016)
Back Yard coffee house (June 2015)

And Angelina’s Ristorante: Wine Bar & Tuscan Grille, across from the Footbridge Motel, is nice, too (both photos Aug. 2012):


BeachFire Bar & Grille, right next to the motel:

patio, June 2015
BeachFire fire, June 2016


Beach Plum Farm – community garden on the way from the motel to Ogunquit

8 p.m. June 2016
raised beds, June 2015
lettuces, June 2015
angelica, June 2015
Aug. 2012


Can’t forget the inspirational trash cans around town, of which these are but three:

Perkins Cove (June 2016)
Perkins Cove (June 2016)
Footbridge Beach (June 2016)


*post title lyric from Vacation by Thomas Rhett