The Goldberg Variations: Inn Over My Head

I learned this week about a hotel in Madrid that is made almost entirely out of garbage. Built from trash that has been dragged out of landfills and the sea, it was meant to be an object lesson about the disposal of waste – but the message I got from this hotel was something else entirely. As I considered the idea of sleeping in a structure built out of used tissues and scraps of anchovy, I was struck by just one thought: better that than a Bed & Breakfast.

I had always assumed I would like B&Bs since I am drawn to charming old houses and the “shabby chic” school of decorating. But a recent visit has led me to believe that a B&B stay is not so much a vacation as a brief, rural prison sentence – a time of enforced companionship and dining for guests who are locked up with their hosts in prissy, privacy-free dwellings.

When my husband and I first arrived for our weekend at an upstate New York Bed & Breakfast, there was no one there to greet us –  just the stale aroma of cigarettes and kitty litter. When we signed the guest book we realized that we were the first visitors to register in almost a year. Upon further inspection it was not hard to see why: this B&B was actually just a glorified house, and by “glorified” I mean suffocatingly packed with faux antiques, embroidered throw pillows, and  a cloying collection of dusty knick knacks (every available surface housed at least one Hummel figure and a cluster of ceramic angels). In the stifling Victorian “parlor” I noticed a pile of board games under a fine netting of cobwebs. The floorboards creaked, the bed linens were musty and the whole place reeked of cats and neglect.

The innkeepers, when they finally appeared, were a study in contrasts: the husband was gregarious and eager to please, seeming very much like a man who spends too much time alone. His wife was a quiet and dour woman who grimly invited us for an evening of games, followed by TV in the parlor. She informed us that  we would be sleeping down the hall from our hosts (in a room with no lock) and that we were expected for breakfast at 9:00 am sharp. My husband glared at me, as it dawned on him that I had signed us up for a 48 hour playdate from hell.

I’m sure many people enjoy this kind of cozy house-sharing situation, but for me it was torture. I am someone for whom a cocktail party is a stress-filled ordeal, since having to make small talk with strangers is my own personal nightmare.  On top of that, this B&B had a decidedly spooky atmosphere – my husband darkly referred to it as “The Shining,” although the place really didn’t rise to that level of drama – its sad, countrified creepiness felt more like an endless rerun of Murder She Wrote. Still, I texted all of my friends, supplying helpful hints on where my body should be searched for if I didn’t show up for work on Monday.

After an awkward and silent breakfast under the watchful gaze of our hostess, my husband and I checked out a day early, decamping for a nearby Holiday Inn. I loved it on sight, and danced with giddy joy around our sterile, knick knack-free room. I took deep gulping breaths of dust-free air and had to force myself not to kiss the front desk clerk, who was distractedly cheerful and showed absolutely no interest in playing Boggle with me. That Holiday Inn is now my favorite hotel – but if I had to, I would happily stay in Madrid’s garbage hotel, in a room made out of torn pantyhose and used coffee filters. Anything but a bed and breakfast.

Editor’s Note: Susan Goldberg is a slightly lapsed treehugger. Although known to overuse paper products, she has the best of intentions – and a really small SUV. Catch her column, The Goldberg Variations, each week here at EcoSalon.

Image: avenueslimited