20
Sep 04

The Chatwin Hotel

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The Chatwin Hotel

Bruce Chatwin’s name has cropped up a couple of times among the travel posts. This pleases me. I’ve been a devotee for years and once formed part of the clich’d Chatwin Traveller set, hitchhiking around South America with a scruffy copy of In Patagonia in my backpack.

I’ve read the books, echoed his footfalls, and now, the ultimate piece of the jigsaw; stayed in the hotel. I’m still unsure why there is a hotel devoted to Bruce Chatwin in the Tuscan countyside. But there is, in the town of Arezzo.

Now in cultural terms, Arezzo already has much going for it. Pierro della Francesca’s fresco cycle in a local church is both neck craning and breathtaking. Robert Benigni grew up in Arezzo and Life is Beautiful was filmed among its streets. And now a hotel devoted to the writings of Bruce Chatwin. Painting, cinema, literature in one handy Italian town.

We stayed in the Ouidah suite. How do you decorate a room in the style of a Brazilian slave owner working out of Africa? Like this: Blood red walls looped with bamboo. A black wooden mirror ringed with animal skulls. The glass covered in rusty flakes. A dark wooden headboard and heavy red bed linen. It was incredibly strong in colour, if a little oppressive with the shutters closed.

Other rooms explored similar themes. The China room picked up from a short story in What Am I Doing Here while the Arkady Suite took inspiration from The Songlines. Other references were more obscure. The Oxiana room was based on Chatwin owning a copy of Robert Byron’s travels and one room was a homage to Italo Calvino and nothing to do with Chatwin at all. The receptionist was happy to talk about the history and the maid turned a blind eye as we cleared the bathroom of anything not nailed down. It was a little pricey, but I would have paid double to stay.

I once met a man who knew Chatwin. He was a grizzled old ‘entrepreneur’ (his word) who said he was fond of the Gringo. This is unusual in Argentina where Chatwin upset the majority of those he met through unflattering portraits. He showed me a photo of Chatwin and himself and said the Englishman was unique (he, in turn, is described by Chatwin when the writer falls off his horse in Patagonia). He also tried to rip me off over a bag of crisps. He said, don’t give me money, give me a present. While looking through my bag I pulled out my camera. He said that would do but I said it wouldn’t.

I was half expecting him to appear in the lobby of the hotel, “this was my idea!”

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