Adriaan van Dis (b.1946) grew up in Bergen, amid
half-sisters and parents with an Indonesian (war)
history. In February 2021, KliFi (CliFi) was published,
a bitterly cheerful narration about walking
out of step, about our tendency to conform and
to simulate, and about difficult friendships. In
November 2021, his short story collection, Vijf
vrolijke verhalen (Five Happy Stories), was published.
The Best Place for You to Stay is Ultimately a Book
Pampered in the briefest of nights, woken by birds along the canal… Rhyme flowing towards me in the Hotel Ambassade, after an intense reconnoitring of the minibar: cognac, Johnnie Walker… yes, that’s when the muses play up. And the recollections: how many writers will Ellen Jens and I have visited here over the last forty years? Guests who were invited for our Dutch television book programme Here is… Maya Angelou, Roald Dahl, Elfriede Jelinek, Martin Amis, David Grossman, Annie Cohen-Solal, Hilary Mantel… Their books signed and housed in the hotel library, their signatures in the guest books: See you next book, Amos Oz wrote.
We never held preliminary conversations (the recipe for tedium), we became acquainted over a glass, or we slurped an oyster along with Umberto Eco, who ordered dish after dish. And now, I was a guest myself, and I was sleeping at walking distance from my own house. The traveller in me would love to live in a hotel: clean sheets each day, breakfast in bed, lots of staff and the comforts of the minibar. Vladimir Nabokov occupied a suite in Le Montreux Palace, Arthur Miller and Patti Smith wrote in the Chelsea in New York, and Oscar Wilde died in the Hôtel d’Alsace in Paris — tormented by the ugly wallpaper: ‘My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.’
To live in many countries, and not to be at home anywhere — that’s still my ideal. Once, it almost threatened to happen, when I had to re-sit a year at school once again, and most of all wanted to leave home. Hotel Management Studies in The Hague struck me as a good escape. ‘On one condition,’ my mother said, ‘first get some hotel experience to see if you like it.’ I chose the grandest and dearest: Chateau De Hooge Vuursche in Baarn. A lodging house for royal guests and stars of broadcasting. Although the post-war prime minister, the socialist Willem Drees, wasn’t recognised or served there during his holiday, as cyclists weren’t welcome. I trained to be a waiter there. Salary: twenty-seven guilders a week. I was measured for a cropped, white jacket, with gold epaulettes. It was one big initiation: flambéing peaches in Grand Marnier, filleting sole with a spoon, uncorking wines. At home, we’d drink a bottle of mulled wine once a year at Christmas (and after one glass, my mother would lament, ‘Oh dear, I’m tipsy’), and now for the first time in my life, I was seeing heavily inebriated men in dinner jackets and women in décolletage.
After obtaining the certificate of Ambulatory Waiter A, I did the entrance exam for the Hotel School in The Hague. Failed. ‘Adriaan is more of a practical boy.’ Thus, too stupid. So, in wretchedness, I just finished school and started to read a lot. The best place for you to stay is ultimately a book.
View the column on the website of ‘Het Parool’.
What is a writers’ hotel without writers? A pen without ink? For a period of six months in 2021, one author a week was invited to stay at the Ambassade Hotel and describe their writing lives at that time. Throughout the period May to November 2021, the newspaper Het Parool published the Writers’ Hotel columns in its weekly Arts Section.
Read more about this column project in collaboration with ‘Het Parool’.
Would you like to stay at the writers’ hotel as well? Enjoy a unique experience in the Ambassade Hotel with these special offer packages or come and admire the library after visiting our sunny terrace on the Herengracht!