So I went back to the Hotel Bel Air for the first time in what feels like decades, to have lunch with darling Vicky King, who was, for twenty-five years, that included all the time I lived at and visited there, its beautiful and devoted PR person. We both of us had a hard time, it being so overbuilt with what does not belong there, that one, or in this case, two, had a hard job calling up visions of what one/two had so loved. The food was still fine, and Lucinda who had been there long ago when I was was there still, and still adorable, and the swans were still sort of sailing the pond in their indifferent, undedicated way. But everything else seemed cluttered and/or unstyled, or, at best, unstylish. And absolutely nothing urged me to return or feel longing. Lunch was more than enough.
T.S. Eliot noted that April mixes memory and desire, but even though it's April, I felt absolutely no desire to hang out there, and memory was more saddened than enriched. A wedding was being prepared for, the gardens tented and draped, and I recalled where one of my children had been married for one of her weddings. The husband-to-be who'd flown over to talk me back into sponsoring the event is long gone, his name not even remembered, though I could still see him standing by the pool slightly soused in late afternoon as he wistfulled: "Madeleine...Madeleine should have her day." She had it, the event held in esteem and more or less consecrated for a year and a day.
That has been the setting for any number of important and not-so-important but still meaningful-at-the-time ceremonies. It might be interesting to ferret out the histories of the weddings that have taken place there, and add up how many of them had borne real fruit. Mostly I think they were fruitful for parents, to show how much they loved their children, at least at the time. But all of it strikes me as sad now, what with the overbuilding and underwhelming, as Billy Rose might have said, his having once announced to me that he was "underwhelmed," one of the few clever things he ever said, to my disappointment, as I expected at the time that great reputation carried with it intellect and wit. I should not, however, disparage him or any of that experience as it did give me my best, or, at least, my most successful novel, THE PRETENDERS, since it starred the fictional version of him, made infinitely more interesting than I think he really was, as well as a great rendition of the long-ago, it now turns out she was, Sue Mengers.
But the thing about the past is that it's over, and so, I think, is the hotel. Many different languages dance about what remains of what was wondrous, which is mostly the gardens. Everything else is... well, I have already more or less given out a sigh, which it is not really even. The Ladies' room looks bigger and better, but that sort of resounds and, in a way, intensifies the reason to be disappointed, because you should not be most lifted by where you pee.
Well, as Thomas Wolfe would have said, You Can't Go Home Again. Except in this case, he might have said: You Can't Hotel.