An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision. – James Whistler
Suddenly it’s light at 6:30 am when I skitter out, arms wrapped around myself to ward off the chill, tiptoeing so as not to make too much noise as I crunch across the gravel, to open the front gate of the hotel in anticipation of the arrival of the baker. Dawn comes earlier and earlier, a whisper of gray light revealing pale pinks and a flutter of gold as the morning awakes. It’s now light enough so that I can sneak out the side gate, jog down the tiny street along the stone wall (unlit and eerily pitch black in the wee hours of winter mornings) and open the gate from the outside, averting the necessity to travel across the gravel courtyard twice in quick succession.
I’ve been absent from this space for quite some time. Spring has finally arrived in all of her joyous, blooming, chirping glory, and although still quite cool, we have been reveling in the burst of color that has infused the courtyard garden; all of the roses have come out at once, fragrant, plump, and stunning, in yellows and pinks and reds and purples; the irises that Jean-Pierre uprooted from in front of Room #17 and scattered around the courtyard in various beds have all bloomed, the calla lilies are magnificent, and he walks me around the perimeter showing me the new, the curious, and the unusual. The birdhouses he has tacked up on every available wall space are filled with newly hatched tits and the singing is constant from dawn to dusk. The hotel is now filled, high season is definitely here, and we scurry around, we, too, from dawn to dusk.
But what has been keeping me away? Renovations! We decided to attack the annex, the little building next door housing a street-level room where our boys stay when they are in town, and 3 hotel rooms upstairs. These 3 rooms and the long hallway and stairwell leading to these 3 rooms have never been renovated since they were annexed to the Hôtel Diderot for guests in the 1960s or 70s. Although always sparklingly clean – we have the best staff anywhere – the rooms were old, the fabric wall coverings faded and stained with time, the furniture a jumble of miscellaneous pieces, odds and ends carried to the annex when they had no use elsewhere, furniture dark and ungainly, heavy and much too large for the space, armoires and side tables and desks ugly and sad.
First things first: we called Emmaus to simply come and drag everything away. We chose wallpaper and carpeting and the work began. Throughout the winter, dark, cold, and damp, they worked, stripping off wall fabric and carpeting, sanding woodwork, window frames, and floors, and preparing the stone walls for paper. Little by little we watched, popping in and out every few days, as they retiled the bathrooms and covered the cracked floors, as the walls bloomed in pretty Parma pink and charcoal grey and soft cream elegance, as the carpets were laid in deep mauve, mulberry, and slate warmed the space.
Ugly wallhangings being stripped away, horrid light fixtures the last to go, wainscoting being installed over the old torn, sad wallpaper on the landing, brand new against hideous muddy carpeting.
Their attention then turned to the common space, the entrance hall, the stairwell, and the main landing. Wainscoting in deep red was added where years of baggage and suitcases worked away at the old wallpaper, leaving trails of black and rips and stains. A gorgeous wallpaper was then placed from wainscoting mid-wall to ceiling, a vibrant gold and cream pattern with subtle flecks of gilt twinkling in the light as one moves up the stairs. Pretty cutout shades now cover the light fixtures in the ceiling, copper to match the shimmering paper. And the final, stunning touch of an oriental runner winding up the stairs, colors to match the lovely old tiles that we decided to leave in the entrance hall.
Jean-Pierre and I spent a long, tiring 4 hours drilling little holes in pristine white tile and hanging bathroom mirrors, towel racks, cup holders, bathrobe hooks, when the plumber’s helpers left early, refusing to do it for us.
Little by little the new rooms took life, new furniture added, curtains hung. lamps set onto bedside tables, ceiling fixtures hung. The girls come every day now to clean, clean, and clean again, every last speck, make the beds and plump pillows and cushions. I have ordered all new bedspreads but they haven’t arrived yet and we have not decided what pictures to hang on the walls yet, but the rooms are now, finally, ready. Brand new, beautiful rooms arriving with spring and just in time for high season.