Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Good Night, Sleep Tight...And That's All

I'm a confirmed one-star hotel man.

I get a quirky, self-satisfied thrill every time I snag a railroad narrow room with creaky wood floors, a wobbly chair and table rejected by a finer hotel back in 1963, a bare 20-watt bulb dangling on its wire from the ceiling, and a bathroom down the hall I have to share with the rest of the floor.

Good night

I downright revel in my thrift. I mentally lord it over people who can afford better hotels than this one-star in Ravenna. In fact, I picture the poor saps shelling out three or four times as much for a room with TV and minibar in the three-star joint around the corner, and I think: suckers!

Sure, they don’t have to put on pants and grab their keys every time they want to nip out to the bathroom, but I look at it this way: I could stay here for three or four nights at the price they're paying for one. (I say "could stay" because I can't; I've got to dash off to Modena tomorrow, Parma the day after that, then Milan... more than one night in a city is a luxury we working stiff travelers cannot afford.)

I stand here in my gloriously drab one-star hotel room, stripped to my undies, smugly washing my clothes in the sink (even rooms without baths in Europe usually have a sink).

As I round-robin my camera, Palm, laptop, and cellphone battery chargers though the single outlet available, I reflect on my wisdom for preferring one-star hotels—"wisdom" sounding so much better than the slightly more accurate term, "poverty." I am one who appreciates that a comfy bed is all one really needs from his lodgings; anything more is downright slothful. Or maybe avaricious. One of the Deadly Sins, at any rate.

So I am content with my view of the airshaft. I can tolerate the traffic noise filtering through the single pane of glass. I don't mind the lack of a phone that would allow me to go online—just a little intercom handset that connects only to the front desk (which is unmanned after midnight anyway). I can handle rough sheets on a sagging-spring cot.

But there are certain things at which I draw the line.

Sleep tight

On reflection, it's a good thing I decided to keep reading the next chapter of my novel, when I really should have either (a) sat at the desk and caught up on entering my research into the computer, or (b) snapped off the 20-watt bulb and gone to bed early for once to try to catch up on sleep, which at this point in my whirlwind trip is becoming rather more important than typing up notes.

But, had I done either of those things, I wouldn't have been lying in bed with the lights on.

Had I not been lying in bed with the lights on, I wouldn't have noticed, out of the corner of my eye, something moving against the white of the pillow.

It was a small brown bug.

Well, such things happen. I was frankly surprised I hadn't had to go on an half-hour mosquito-killing rampage within the room this evening, as I have on so many prior occasions in a country where windows are left cracked open all day to air out the rooms and mosquito screens are a rarity. So I flicked the bug off my pillow, and went back to my book.

Then, my eye caught another movement. It was another bug.

This one was inching along the white bulge where I had thrown the sheets back, right up next to the wall, so I squished it against the plaster. It became a smear of bright red blood, like when you smack an engorged mosquito.


Two bugs got me a bit nervous, so I put my book face down and lifted the covers.

Sure enough, there was another bug.

I flicked it towards the edge of the bed, but it somehow managed to land right back on the sheet. I flicked it again. Same thing. I was inadvertently working the thing up towards my pillow, my disgust briefly overshadowed by amazement that the bug kept zipping back onto the bed every time I flicked it off into space, as if the white sheet were some kind of insect magnet. Finally, frustrated, I just pinched the thing.

More bright red blood.

By now, my hand was next to my pillow. Suddenly, I shuddered. I scooted my butt to the edge of the bed, then lifted the pillow.

Underneath were about six of the little brown bugs.

Don't let the... uh, too late

I leapt from the cot, doing a little frantic jig and rapidly and repeatedly brushing my arms, legs, shoulders, and torso down with my hands.

What the hell was this? The Third World? The Middle Ages? How does a hotel in Europe get bedbugs in this day and age?

I didn't ponder such things for long. I was too busy stuffing my charging cords back into their case, collecting my still-damp laundry from the line I had strung out the window and pulling it on, gathering up my scattered books and papers, and jamming it all into my suitcase. I scooped up my shoulder bag, heaved the heavy suitcase, and stealthily made my way downstairs.

Why the stealth? Not sure. I think I was afraid I would get caught and forced to remain.

At the bottom of the stairs, separating the reception desk from the room access and front entrance, there was a metal accordion grate like at a shop.

I had already scribbled a note in Italian: "That bed was full of insects. I am not staying!" I spindled the note and shoved it through the ring on my room keys, tossed it through the grate to land on the floor, and quietly let myself out the front door.

Where did I go? Why, to the three-star hotel around the corner, of course.


It was actually the third three-star hotel I tried around the corner, all of them clumped along the side street leading to the Ravenna train station. The first two hotels were dark and didn't answer their doorbells.

At the third hotel, the young guy who eventually arrived at the check in desk to buzz me in, blinking 1:30am sleep from his eyes, said they were all out of singles, but he could give me a big room at a reduced rate. As I handed over my passport, I apologized for the late hour and explained what had happened. He looked up from the check-in form, horrified.

"But, where were you staying?" The Al Giaciglio, I told him. He shuddered and made a face like someone had fed him awful medicine.

"Ah! Al Giaciglio. That place..." He trailed off, shaking his head as if to rid it of the foul name he had just uttered.

"You didn't pay already, I hope." No, I told him.

"Bravo," he congratulated me.

As he handed me the keys and a remote control for the TV, I got a case of the flailing arm willies that shimmy shook me from head to toe.

"Sorry," I said. "I just... It's like I can feel them all over me."

He nodded, knowingly. Then, with concern: "You want a drink or something?"

(Upon later reflection, I was surprised he let me in at all. I—or at least my gear—could very well have been already infested, passing along the infamously intractable bedbug problem to this hotel. The man was a saint.)

Although I just took a 20-minute shower, scrubbing myself all over repeatedly, I still keep feeling them: little tickles on my ankles, my shoulders, my back, my forehead, my neck. I keep compulsively brushing myself off every time a hair on my leg or arm moves. The early evening mosquito bites on my face and neck that had stopped bothering me hours ago are once again tingling, causing me to swipe at nothing.

So here I sit, in a wonderfully bland room in the Hotel Minerva, next door to Ravenna's train station. My laundry is hung all over the room to dry. The TV over on the table is keeping me silent company. My electronics are all snuggled into their outlets in the various corners of the large room, and I am about to use the phone line to go online and post this tale.

Oh, sure, I appreciate all these amenities and conveniences, and the neat lines of the otherwise indifferent modular furnishings actually help convey a sense of supreme cleanliness, for which, at the moment, I am supremely grateful.

Still, I'm paying more than twice as much—and damned happy to do so—as I would have had I not snuck away from Al Giaciglio and its bedbugs in the middle of the night.

Despite tonight's adventure, I remain a one-star hotel man at heart—in fact, tomorrow night I'll be bedding down in Modena's youth hostel. But you can be darned sure that next time, before I agree to take a room, I'll be checking under the pillows first.

Related pages at ReidsItaly.com

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