Tales from the Vienna Woods

But one thing Le Meridien does have that I like is aphorisms. There was one right there on the wall of the lobby as I walked in:

We play roles in life to such an extent that all we would have to do is stop playing to create theater
—Ryszard Cieslak (Polish actor)

The saying struck me as both appropriate and apt. Appropriate because it feels right to me to have a building (a hotel, a restuarant, a house) annouce what it’s all about the moment you step in. Apt because the design of Le Meridien struck me as pure role-playing.

Signalling the presiding spirit of a place through a saying is an ancient tradition; those consulting the oracle at Delphii had to read “Know thyself” inscribed above the entrance, and I remember a sailing trip through the Netherlands many years ago when I was just learning Dutch and saw “Elke morgen, nieuwe zorgen” (Every morning, new worries) inscribed above the front door to a house. Both statements tell you exactly what to expect should you pass through those doors.

So imagine my delight when, sipping apple juice the next morning during breakfast, I discovered the following saying on the little paper doilie under my glass:

Water is the only drink for a wise man
—Henry David Thoreau

That’s probably the only thing Thoreau wrote that I ever disagreed with…

Sensing I was surrounded by aphorisms, I went looking for them in my room and found the following:

On the “Do Not Disturb” sign:

My hours are peaceful centuries
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

On the cover of the Meridien Hotel & Resort Directory:

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page
—St. Augustine

The blue light may have been nauseating, but being in the company of Thoreau, Emerson and St. Augustine kind of made up for it. And I began to think which aphorisms I would choose if I had to place one on all the objects in my house…

On the CD player:

We are the music while the music lasts
—T.S. Eliot

On the bookshelf:

Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in: but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents

Above the door to my kids’ rooms:

Children sweeten labors; but they make misfortunes more bitter
—Francis Bacon

On a Post-It Note, permanently affixed to my forehead:

Thought is life
—Wallace Stevens

Le Meridien, on the Opernring in Vienna, is not exactly my kind of hotel. It’s one of those self-consciously “designed” establishments, with back-lit photos embedded in the walls and strange tubes of blue, red and yellow light placed strategically around every open space. Even the steambath had a pulsating slab of chromaticism in it. My room had a soft blue light in it, too, the kind of light used in roadside restrooms to prevent junkies from shooting up in them. It’s a queasy kind of light that makes me jetlagged just to look at it. The desk in my room had a glass plate in the top, under which were four peppers. Don’t ask me why. It took me five minutes to figure out how to turn the shower on.