Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Imperial

I hate my readers. I have written twenty-two books and nobody knows my name. No authors write words of praise on the covers. No-one says “his prose is reminiscent of a young Tom Wolfe,” or “his descriptions of Calcutta really capture the lingering smell of cow shit.” If I held a book signing no-one would show up because they liked my overview of the Mauritius bar scene. After 10 000 rupee of scotch I didn’t much like it either.

But I don’t hate you, obviously, for I am letting you in on the joke.

I am held up in the Imperial Hotel, Cielo, with a laptop and a case of cheap tequila. If you haven’t heard of Cielo, it’s because I’ve made it up. There is no old town square with a statue of St. Josephine. Josephine was a whore I picked up in Honduras. There are no boulevards of gridlocked motorbikes tumbling like river pebbles under the Arch de Chuck, or perfect beaches of bare-chested supermodels or waves that hang up long enough for you, dear reader, to remark at their beauty.

There is, however, a good bottle shop down the road.

Cynicism found me when I was penniless in Uganda. It followed me to my first Iranian brothel and had me head down over a toilet in a Monaco casino. I’ve eaten salmonella in Florence and E. coli in Ethiopia. I began inventing restaurant reviews because I was sick of people’s hospitality.

After six hundred hotel rooms I can write reviews based entirely off the name. ‘Nationals’ are soulless. Kids piss in the pools at ‘Oases.’ ‘Budgets’ are budget. ‘Imperials’ are “for the tired traveller looking to relax after a long day.”

Maybe it was my disappointment with the real world that had me inventing my own. My first invention was Dumpool, a Lancashire town so abhorrent that no-one would dare visit. My editor passed it without question and the publishers received no complaints from disappointed tourists. I was in awe of the repulsive power of my fantasies.

So from my hostel in Havana I planned my utopia: a patch of farmland on the south coast of Cuba called Cielo. I stole impossibly airbrushed photos from the internet of supermodels and hairy men in tight bathing costumes. I invented bars with invented drinks made from invented fruit. I built a red light district and shallow fountains you can scoop coins from to take to another casino. When I was finished I felt empty knowing that such a paradise could only be constructed from disappointment.

In my fantastical excitement, I finished compiling my Cuba book a week before deadline. So to fill the time I hired a car and, persuaded by my imagination, decided to drive to Cielo. I guess I was curious to know what was actually there. It was the most excited I had felt about travelling since my first book. I remember my anticipation as I drove around that last bend in the sugarcane. I imagined myself winning armfuls of peso at the Saint Guevara Casino and taking beaming photos underneath the Arch de Chuck: a monument dedicated entirely to me.

In a way it was exactly what I had expected: sugarcane plantation all the way to the horizon.

And so here I am. I’ve parked the car and walked along Desnudo Boulevard. I’ve sat on my balcony at the Imperial Hotel and watched the waves come and go until the noise felt like a logical metaphor for the stupidity of my life. I’ve thought about my Cuba book falling off the printers into shelves and shopping bags to be carried onto the planes and hire cars of hopeful tourists who would inevitably feel as silly as me.

And suddenly it doesn’t seem so bad, because if enough people come to Cielo on the same delusions that brought me to this “sunburnt eye candy” of a beach, then maybe we can build Cielo after all.

And maybe people will know my name.

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