Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Hotel Babel

by Dan Coakley  © 2012

My wife with her Nargila on the Corniche in Beirut.

After a shower and shave I would descend to the restaurant by 7 o'clock.  The first job was to wake the waiters who used to sleep on the restaurant floor fully clothed, while the more senior ones would enjoy the luxury of lying on the large oriental cushions from the area set aside for the nargila or water pipe smokers. It was located in a corner of the restaurant and was draped with Persian rugs and lined with large cushions to simulate a Bedouin tent. No concerns here for a dense cloud of tobacco smoke wafting around the evening diners. 

Unwashed, the waiters would immediately clean-up after the night before and set about preparing the coffee and the freshly squeezed orange juice.  Some of their fellows would wander into the kitchen to wake up the staff there.  With this type of staff accommodation I wondered how it got its 4 star appellation or who conferred it. The menu was simple, fresh orange juice with eggs, either boiled, fried or in an omelette.   It went on its slow funereal course, while the waiters who moved around like some sedated undertakers studiously ignored their diners.  This problem was eventually solved by the application of a few dinars as a tip.  There after I only had to look up and was immediately assailed from a number of directions by competing, reactivated waiters.  
In spite of the tip, breakfast usually took about 45 minutes and frequently was not complete when the driver called with the Land Cruiser to take me to work.  So, in spite of brutal dictators the pace of ordinary life was relaxed and definitely an antidote to ulcers and hypertension.  It reminded me of the relaxed world of my childhood, a world fast disappearing. However the staff's lack of hygiene periodically took its toll and the drivers used to laugh at me as I entered their vehicle clutching a bottle of 7-up. That and Imodium would have to be my bill-of-fare for the following few days. They were familiar with the symptoms from my predecessor Tom Brosnan.
I had the choice of two Hotel Babil restaurants.  One was the Iraqi one where I used to take breakfast and the other was a Thai one.  There was little between them in the matter of speedy service.  However the Thai one won hands down in the matter of diversion as it featured Rosy.  I had heard from the UN staff that Tom my predecessor had labelled her "The Honey-pot".  She was an antique brunette having earned the adjective at least 35 years ago. The restaurant had a number of enclosed cubicles and these were Rosy's main grooming areas.  She would single out her victim early on in the night and would make him the focus of attention until negotiations concluded to her satisfaction.  She was well known in every sense with the UN MAG people (UN Mine Action Group) as they stayed a night in the hotel on their way up north.  
As the restaurant was huge but usually had less than half a dozen diners there any night I soon got the treatment.  She assured me that she adored the Irish and that she made great friends with some Irish doctors who worked in the nearby Park Hospital in the early nineties. Now when I meet one of them I mentally conjecture if he knew Rosy.  Over a few visits the ante was raised and she "shyly" made a pitch for some expensive perfumes, naming them.  I assured her that I would bring a few litres of each kind the following night.  At this she invited me to her apartment.  She was a great romanticist "Mr Dan, you come to my apartment.  It is looking over the square with the Ali Baba statue.  We can lie there and watch the dawn come up over Baghdad".  
I assured her that there was nothing I would like better as I visualised mental images of the Mukhabarat in the next room, observing me and Rosy, watching the dawn rising over Baghdad and wondering if they had set the aperture of their cameras correctly. I told her that I had an important meeting after the dinner but would be delighted to take her up on her offer the following night.  "Oh Mr Dan you are so handsome" she cooed as I sidled out the door.  I felt her compliment was a little effusive and maybe not entirely subjective as I made for the safety of the foyer. As I entered the foyer I was accosted by the owner of the hotel clothes shop opposite the Thai restaurant.  "Mr Dan, Rosy is not a nice girl", he warned me.  He had seen the fond farewell of Rosy and decided that some customer care was in order for No. 1 customer (me).  The following morning the UN Land Cruiser called to take me to Erbil in Kurdistan and I kept well away from the Hotel Babel thereafter.

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