Who is Chuck and why does he like to travel?

I was born to be a writer and when I wrote my novel Wild Point Island, Chuck, my orange and white recently rescued feral tabby, got it in his head that he wanted to travel to the island and see the place for himself. Well, of course, Wild Point Island, can only be seen by revenants (you'll have to read the book to find out who they are) and Chuck is no revenant so instead, I concocted a plan to take Chuck with me when I travel around the world, which I do frequently. Not an easy task. First, I have to deflate the poor kid of all air, stuff him in my carry-on bag, remember to bring my portable pump, and when I arrive, I pump him back up. Ouch. But he's used to it by now and given the choice to either stay home in his comfy cat bed or get deflated, he pulls out his passport, ready to travel, every time.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Chuck Gives Peace Hotel a Chance

The magnificent Peace Hotel with its green pyramid shaped top.
The outside is only matched by its glorious interior . . .

        I’m not a political person, but this week we celebrated the eleventh anniversary of September 11th, and I remember that horrible day.  And then the American Embassy was overrun in Libya and four people were killed, including our Ambassador in what is now being called a coordinated terrorist attack.  
I thought it only fitting to focus on one place, which at least symbolically  represents by its very name, what we should all be striving towards: peace.
The Peace Hotel.
Yes, that is its real name.

This is the entrance on the Nanking Road side.  
When we were recently traveling in China, one of my obsessions was to see the Peace Hotel again. I’d stayed there eight years before, and I was determined to at least visit this hotel and see it again, for it is one of those very special places that truly takes you back in time.
But let me explain.
Years ago, there was a movie, a very popular cult classic called Somewhere in Time starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour.  Reeve, a playwright, an unhappy playwright, takes a break from his writing and decides to stay at the old Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan.  One day he spots a photograph of a beautiful woman (Seymour) hanging in an anteroom off the lobby and immediately falls in love with her, only to discover later that she’s an actress from the turn of the century.  Undaunted, he tracks down his old college professor who believes time travel is possible.  The critical element, Reeve learns, is to find a place that actually existed in the time period you want to return to and then convince your mind that you are in that new time period by surrounding yourself visually with clues from that place in time.  Reeve is able to travel in time to Seymour and the story goes on from there.
This display case captures a bygone era.  
Walking into the Peace Hotel is like walking back in time.

I love this shot--the beautiful Art Deco style light and wall decorations ...

Located on the Bund, along the Huangpu River on Nanking Road, the busiest road in Shanghai, the Fairmont Peace Hotel was originally called the Sassoon House and housed the Cathay Hotel.
      Construction lasted from 1926 to 1929 and was begun by Sir Victor Sassoon (yes, that famous family) who made his fortune by trading for opium and weapons.  Before 1946, the Cathay Hotel was considered the most prestigious hotel in Shanghai.  After the Communist take-over, the hotel functioned as a government building, and then in 1956 it reopened for the first time as the Peace Hotel.  In 1992 it became listed as one of the famous hotels of the world by the World Hotel Association. It has become particularly known for its jazz band, which has played continuously since the 1930’s.
The Peace Hotel closed in 2007 for a three year renovation so the approximately 300 guest rooms could be modernized.  I stayed in the hotel before the renovation, and, perhaps, that’s why I felt it was so special.  
I remember the exact moment I first walked into the hotel.  Jazz music was playing in the background, oddly enough.  The interior of the hotel is Art Deco, and it boasts a white marble floor and yellow walls.  So walking through the halls for the first time, I was dumbstruck by the feeling that I was walking through a time tunnel and that any moment someone would say or do something that would prove to me that somehow we’d been whisked back to the 1930’s.  Maybe that was my secret fantasy--walk down a long hallway and by the time you reach the end of it, you are back in time.  You unlock a  room and stare out the window, and sure enough, what you see in Nanking Road--the street is once again jammed packed with rickshaws and foot traffic and all signs of innovation and modern technology are gone.
Midnight in Paris?  No, early evening in Shanghai.  

           When we first arrive at the Peace Hotel, this time, Bob and I and a reluctant Chuck wander around for a bit and then head to the lounge, the bar and order two Bloody Mary’s.  We are too early for the Jazz Band and our plan is to have a drink and then head upstairs for dinner at the Dragon and the Phoenix, one of the eight restaurants in the hotel. 
This is the bar/lounge area where the jazz music is played and where Bob and I sat with Chuck.
But we savor every moment of our time in the lounge area and realize that the decor probably hasn’t changed much in close to eighty years.  We are the only ones in the lounge so when the friendly bartender scoots out, we’re free to relax and sip our drinks. Chuck is sulking.  He didn’t want to come to the Peace Hotel.  Not a fan.  So break one of my cardinal rules and let him go free to sniff around and explore.  
“Just give the Peace Hotel a chance, okay?”
Yes, there are no cats allowed, but I get the feeling with this place, that even if Chuck were spotted, we’d be given a frown and then time to scoop him up and head for the door.  
Everything is elegant and old world.
        Of course, I’ve filled Chuck in on the history of the place.  And although the kid likes being outside, a place like this with all the different smells will hopefully keep him busy for awhile.  And, frankly, Bob and I get lost in the atmosphere.  
We’re both movie buffs and can easily imagine all the people who sat in this room over the decades--the dresses of the women, the music that played, the dancing, the drinking.  It’s almost as if you could close your eyes and then open them and see another time, another place . . .
“Chuck.  Where the hell is Chuck?”
From out of nowhere, I realize that Chuck is missing.  He has wandered out of the lounge.  Followed his sniffing nose . . . somewhere . . . who the hell knows where.
I easily panic when it comes to the kid.  
And he is like a kid.  
He’ll get totally lost in the moment.  
Bob and I leave our delicious drinks behind, rush to the door.  
“You go that way.  I’ll go this way.”  There’s a hallway.  He could only have gone one way or the other.  “Meet back here.”
We scamper away, and I can feel my heart pounding. I won’t even allow myself to think about the impossibility of trying to find a cat lost in the Peace Hotel.  Lost in Shanghai.  Lost in China. 
I may never see him again.
And what were my last words?  Give the Peace Hotel a chance? 

         Stay tuned for Part 2 of Chuck Gives Peace Hotel a Chance to be posted on Sunday, September 23, 2012.  

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