Friday, July 29, 2005

Evening Thoughts at the Galle Face

Evening Thoughts at the Galle Face

Upon checking into a strange hotel, it takes a while for one to acclimatize to the new environment. One has to fumble through the different light switches, discover where all the power outlet points are, and get familiaried with the bathroom plumbing.

I have a standard routine: adjusting the air-cond temperature, hanging my shirts in the closet (if necessary sending them for pressing) and arranging my toiletries in the bathroom. The geek in me would also immediately search for ways to connect to the Internet. But here at the Galle Face Hotel, Colombo, I can forget about cyberspace access. They do have it at the business centre but with the rates they charge, it's not worth it.

The first ten minutes in a strange hotel room can be a bit traumatic for some people. One can feel very disoriented, claustrophobic and lonely. More so at the Galle Face Hotel: It's old, musty and dark--the kind of environment that immediate makes one think of spooky inhabitants. But so far in my two visits here, I have not had any of such encounters. But I can imagine that the dim lighting in the rooms (which feels almost like candlelight) can be a bother to a lot of people.

I did not originally plan to stay here again for this trip. It was when my other more conventional choices are all fully booked, I had to settle for the quirky again. The Galle Face is certainly not the conventional business traveller's hotel; it is one for romantics--those with a nostalgia for a bygone era of colonial opulence. (Sometimes I do suspect that I was a rather decadent colonial planter in my previous life). Despite its claims to past glories, the Galle Face Hotel is a bit crappy by today's business traveller's standards.

Besides the lack of the usual luxuries that one would come to expect, the crumbling condition of the standard rooms (I believe the luxury suites are better maintained for the hotel continues to host heads of states and movie stars) and other minor inconveniences, I am actually quite comfortable here. The beds are clean and the bathrooms, thank God, are not as ancient as the rest of the hotel.

Evening at the sea-facing Verandah and Checkerboard is the highlight of my day. After a hard day's work, being able to luxuriate with a cool beer under some swaying palm trees overlooking a sweeping vista of sun, sea and sky is simply divine. I would dip into my current read, occasionally straining under the crimson rays of the sunset and the constant shower of seasprays churned up by the lashing wind and waves, and feel completely at one with the universe.

Mesmerized by the magic of the surroundings, without fail, some strange forgotten songs from my childhood would surface to my lips. On this particular visit--I don't know why--it's old Love's Old Sweet Song that I keep on humming. And I still remember the words:
Just a song at twilight, when the lights are low;
And the flick'ring shadows softly come and go.
Tho' the heart be weary, sad the day and long,
Still to us at twilight comes love's old song,
Comes love's old sweet song.
Ah, happiness to me is having some good company in the evenings, huddled in front of the piano, singing old ditties like this. But sigh, since the TV invaded our living rooms, such pleasures are so hard to come by...

I think I will definitely stay here again on my next trip.

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