Italy. It's not pornography it's an iron.
London. Wake 7am. Taxi then train to Heathrow Airport. Arrive at 10.15am. Flight Milan. Arrive at 1pm. Catch another flight to Trieste at 5.30pm where I am met by Tonito who drives me to The Excelsior Hotel in Manfalcone . I Am here for the Absolute Poetry Festival. I just want to register That’s about 9 hours travelling, two planes two cars and one train to Italy. More of this later.
The receptionist eyeballs me as I return from my hotel room. I suspect he’s also the owner who at the hint of complaint will throw off his jacket, to reveal a satin lined cape. With hands on hips he’ll say “Nyahha eet eez I” pause for dramatic effect “ zeee ewnor”..
Truth is he’s more like “Lurch” of The Adams Family. He bends as he stands. When I askfor an iron he looks through me . The gap between us grows. “Iron?” I say genuflectinga back and forward motion with my right hand. His eyes follow the action. My head is trying to indicate the idea that this is a question as well as an electrical implement “Iron?”. I need “iron” because I will be on stage in front of a few hundred people later on in the evening. I crumple my tshirt, the one I am wearing, and then pretend to iron it. This must look disturbing.
Words in language are a small part of communication. A surly hotelier who dislikes his customers is a dead giveaway (of a dodgy hotel) whether he is in England America or Italy. I thought I had stopped being in hotels like this years ago. I am thinking these thoughts in the silence between us. The song "stuck in the middle with you" comes t mind. As a final attempt I switch to French “s’il vous plait?” His eyebrows raise and his eyes light up. His smile beams “Ahhh you speaka French aha” he says “I thought you English people hated the French”. From then he speaks to me in french hunchinghis shoulders splaying his hands. But I don’t speak French. I say “je ne parle pas francaise, mais un peu, mais comprende? Non. S’il vous plait monsieur. Je Voudrais un Iron….Un IRON!” He raises an eyebrow. At last he says “An iron? We do not have iron at this hotel. We do ironin in the morning”. He shuffles some paper. I stand absolutely dumbfounded. Dejected I walk over to the theatre where the director kindly lends me an iron and return to the hotel.
I ask the beautiful black woman in the lift to hold it for me which she does. I know that we must be the only two in town. It’s Ursula Rucker who’ll be performing the night after me. She says in her unmistakable Philly accent “this is like those hotels back in the day”. What she means is that this is like the hotels you stay in when you are just starting out in your career. We are both being polite about the place. I’d always wanted to meet her and knew at some time I would – it’s just the way it goes and has gone throughout my career I’ve pretty much met everyone I wanted to. And maybe if we’d have been in a four/fivestar where there would be a bank of lifts, maybe I wouldn’t have met her then. After a little light banter - it turns out her room is opposite mine - “so what’s in the bag” she says. If it’d been pornography I wouldn’t have felt as self conscious “umm yeah… it’s umm an iron”. She replys "right 'course". She looks at the bag. I look at the bag. She looks accross the corridor at me and I look to her. "well, she says. Enjoy your 'ironing'". I look at the bag as she closes her hotel door and realise that it looks like it might be pornography. I think that I might knock on her door and say "it's not pornopgraphy it's an iron.". I know that the receptionist is probably laughing and watching me on a corridor cam.