With Compliments… the Very, Very Unexpected “Perks” of Roman Hotels

with complimentsOr a Harlequin romance gone very, very wrong.

As much as I was enjoying Naples, I didn’t really lavish the idea of spending my birthday completely alone. August is not the absolute worst time to have a birthday, not compared to the poor souls of late December, perpetually outshined by Baby Jesus and New Year’s Eve. However, despite the joy of usually having nice summery weather our bdays, there are slim chances an Auguster is ever going to gather all their friends together on their actually anniversaire. When we’re kids, our friends are at camp, their grandparents, road tripping with the fam… now as an adult in France, the situation is possibly even worse as all of the above has been transformed into Paris becoming a ghost town in August. The cherry on the top this year… it was also a long weekend, I doubted I’d even be able to scrape together two friends to celebrate with, hence my escape to Italy. But I digress, you’re probably much more interested in the actual goal of my post… and you will be highly rewarded in due time. Back to Italy … and surprises…

As extreme luck would have it, my friend and colleague Jessica Stewart of Rome Photo Blog, talented photographer and the foremost expert on Italian street art, hadn’t gone away for Ferragosto (to join those Neapolitan pickpockets on the beach from my last post) and she graciously offered to share her evening with me. Date made, I then needed to find a new place to stay as my new favorite little Roman hotel was booked up. I took this as the chance to google around to see if there wasn’t an even better place to stay. Maybe I could get a last minute deal on something fancy, it was my birthday after all. With some digging around only I not only found something cheaper than my little fav, it was a posh looking four star albergo, the complimentary bottle of wine they were including sealed the deal.

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My birthday good fortune continuing with my train back from Naples arriving perfectly on time (the one down was an hour late). I scurried to my nearby hotel to freshen up so I wouldn’t not be late for Jess. My birthday abode looked quite nice from the outside and was oddly enough right next to the French Embassy to the Saint See (aka the Vatican, I hoped bedtime prayer wasn’t not required of the hotel guests).

It was shmancy looking, but looks can be deceiving. In this case, I got what I’d paid for: my room was tiny, the internet wouldn’t load and the air conditioning didn’t seem to be working. What could have been my solace, the “With Compliments” bottle of wine looked like it was from the neighborhood convenience store. Never mind, I was in Rome on my birthday! I had a quick glass of my “compliments” wine before flying out to door.

I rendezvoused with Jess in Pigneto, a peripheral working-class neighborhood on the cool rise, similar to Paris’s Belleville district. We caught up sipping a few exotic-flavored Spritz on a terrace among Roman hipsters, before moving on to a nearby restaurant (I was going to suggest a “Taking on Pigneto,” but it was Sunday and many places were close… another time). Our lively banter flowed over to our delicious dinner during which I was extolling the wondrous powers of the tessera magica. It really works! I certainly exclaimed, promising to make her one. Our lovely evening was whizzing with each twirl of my spaghetti fork. Oh man, or rather mamma mia, I was full.

“But you have to have dessert, it’s your birthday!” cheerfully encouraged Jess. I’d been starting to regret those four pizzas in Naples… and possible all that pasta I’d eaten the previous week… and tonight. It never shows up right away, then wham! your belly becomes rounder than those gigantic pizza pies. Is a tiramisu really going to make that much of a difference?  

In the cab back to my hotel, I pushed those unpleasant thoughts out of my mind, I’d deal with them when I returned to diet-fanatical Paris. I instead rode the rest of the route on the happy birthday and wine vibes. Arriving at my “Papal” hotel, I tipped my cute cabbie generously and hopped out of the car, possibly even with a little gleeful bounce to the entrance glass doors. Only they weren’t sliding open. I tilted my head over and gave a friendly wave to the night porter. He beckoned me forward, I guess I might not have been quite close enough for them to open. Opps. I strode slightly embarrassed inside to be greeted with:

“Buonasera! Do you want a glass of wine?!” Well, well, this was indeed a friendly hotel! 

“Why not! … It’s my birthday!” I cheered back, granting me an escorted trip to the bar room next door. Now, let’s get this straight. After the state of my room, I’d become dubious about Roman hotel classification, as should you, so don’t get grand ideas of a luxurious lounge with shimmering chandeliers, plush armchairs and a long zinc bar with glamorous patrons lingering on tall bar stools. The “bar” was actually a mini side “lounge” featuring an itsy-bitsy bar sans barman lined with a small, random selection of bottles.

Since I’d said it was my birthday, maybe I could at least get a complimentary glass of celebratory prosecco. As the night porter reached for the fridge door my excitement grew, those golden bubbles would soon be tickling the roof of my mouth… Out he pulled… an Evian bottle?? Hold on a second! That didn’t look like water or more importantly prosecco. It appeared to be some homemade-looking red wine which was soon filled to the brim of a large water tumbler, for me. He poured himself a small champagne flute sized glass.

“Come, come, I have to go back to the desk,” he summoned. Um okay. I followed in my half-baffled half-already-tipsy state. “Here we can sit in the office, in case clients come in, I shouldn’t really be seen having a drink with guests.”

My preconceived notion of what this little birthday drink would entail were rapidly flying off in the wind like the Pope gracefully waving his window next to Saint Peter’s. Oh well, I could enjoy a little friendly conversation and then head off to bed. It turns out My Night Porter had other ideas in mind!

“As soon as I saw you at the door, I fell for you! Some guys like skinny girls, but I love curvy girls…”

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Oh, uh. What have I gotten myself into! His praised carried on while I was trying to assess the situation. Abandon the wine and escape to my room while I could? Had I accidentally put an order in with the tessera magica back in the cab? Was it trying to prove to me that eating all those pizzas wasn’t really a disastrous idea? That a few extra kilos made no difference to some or was even beneficial?

Distracted in thought, Mr Passionate Porter gave my bare leg a little caress. Yikes! I had to put on something of a defensive. I took a large gulp of the wine and stammered out something like hold on there let’s just talk and get to know each other. I learnt a few basic facts such as age (34), his interests (motorcycles) and that he’d already been married (I wonder if his flirting with clients had anything to do with his divorce!). Then the moves came back out.

When I tried to protest, he declared; “But I’m Sicilian! I can’t help it, we’re passionate and you look passionate too!” and leant in closer. Ahh! Tessera… the Pope… I’m sorry for any misleading requests! I’m fine with myself just as I am, I’m okay with those zillions of tasty calories I’d over-consumed. Or maybe I hadn’t read the fine print of the hotel booking confirmation: complimentary wine and complimentary boy toy for the night!

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“I have to call my mom!” I blurted out between my nervous giggles. The most ludicrous excuse, but I really did. She’d been trying to call me all day to wish me happy birthday and I told her I’d call her from the hotel. Being Sicilian he respected family and we dialed her up, I gave her the number of the hotel and she rang it back. He answered all politely and pretending to put her through to my “room” as he passed me the phone.

I tried to make progress on my glass of wine while receiving my sweet motherly birthday greetings, but it became impossible to keep a straight face when he began kissing my free arm!

“Are you alone?” questioned my mom.

“Yesssss…” was about all I could seethe out, incapable of retaining my giggles. Just then some clients arrived at the hotel and my Passionate Porter slipped out of the office and I finished up the call to suspicious mom.

The little office had security camera screens so I could see Passionate Porter chatting away with a friendly set of guests, a small group of middle aged women. I did my best to down a little more of my wine while he was out, making enough gains to make my escape when he returned, if my wine wasn’t finished, or close to it, he’d use that as leverage to keep me captive. When he returned, perhaps sensing that I was on the verge of vanishing as fast as the wine in my glass, he upped game.

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“But didn’t you see that lady? She totally wanted me!” He scoffed when I said I was calling it a night, alone. So why didn’t he deliver her some room service after I left? I tried to tame him a little by suggesting getting together when I was back in Rome to which he replied that if I didn’t want it now, I surely didn’t really like him. Not the most convincing approach, but he was probably right. Other than the fact that I wouldn’t just sleep with some random hotel porter, his pick up tactics were way off the mark, I suppose I wasn’t all that into him (or his bad wine). It also could be that I’d never fantasized being seduced by hotel staffer?

I doubt Harlequin would even hire me to write their “romances” my stories start the way they’d be happy with, then come the peculiar twists and turns! What I do know is that I’ll certainly be wary of “complimentary” offers by hotels, you just never know what, or who, you’ll get!

PS: the photos, besides the “with compliments” card from the hotel, are of an exhibit on Naughtiness in Roman times which I’d happened across at the Naples Archaeology museum early that same day… a very strange foreshadowing indeed… of my evening and the passion which still flows in Italians veins!

PSS: I think I’ll go make myself a big bowl of pasta!

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