For the past two weeks I’ve been enjoying a stay at the historic Metropol hotel in Moscow.
Intriguing people from all around the world were my fellow guests, and I considered the staff as my good friends. I enjoyed political meetings, formal dinners, live jazz, and stimulating conversations.
Really everything I needed was there. Especially regarding food & drink! I had breakfast in my room with fresh fruit every morning, lunch in the Piazza, dinner in the Boyarsky, and after-dinner drinks in the Shalyapin.
The luxurious hotel is conveniently situated in Moscow’s historical district, walking distance to two famous theaters, including the Bolshoi. However, I did not leave the hotel during my stay…
Because I was there visiting Count Alexander Rostov, sentenced to house arrest at the Metropol for the rest of his life by the Bolsheviks in Amor Towles’s magnificent book, A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel – my favorite read of 2016 thus far!
I just LOVE the main character. This Count is so likeable. He does what good he can and makes people better for having known him. Some of his passions – like seating arrangements and dining – could be considered tedious but I thoroughly enjoyed his attention to these details.
One of many passages about his obsession with seating:
“I’ll have you know dear sister, that careless seating has torn asunder the best of marriages and led to the collapse of the longest standing détentes. In fact, if Paris had not been seated next to Helen when he dined in the court of Menelaus, there never would have been a Trojan War.”
And about menus, some wisdom I may implement:
“The count reviewed the menu in reverse order as was his habit, having learned from experience that giving consideration to appetizers before entrees can only lead to regrets. And here was the perfect example. For the last item on the menu was the evening’s sole necessity: osso buco—a dish that was best preceded by a light and lively appetizer.”
Obvious from the above, he is passionate about food. I was nearly brought to tears by a bouillabaisse he enjoyed.
He is wise; about first impressions, he learns:
“After all what can a first impression tell us about someone we’ve just met for a minute in the lobby of a hotel. For that matter what can a first impression tell us about anyone? Why, no more than a chord can tell us about Beethoven, or a brushstoke about Botticelli. By their very nature, human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory, that they deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration—and our unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour.”
The book’s official tagline was “He can’t leave. You won’t want to.” Oh how true this was.
There are so many quotes I tweeted (and more I wanted to but were too long) and so many passages I noted.
The setting (outside the hotel) of decades of tumultuous Russian history obviously plays a significant role in the story line, but the themes are also based in human nature. How do you make the most of your situation? What can you do to improve your situation? The value of true friendships and enjoying the moment. And even when you have everything you need, without free will, it is still not enough.
“Life has been generous to me in its variety,” the Count says.
As someone who wrote about the pub scenes in Ulysses, I especially enjoyed the scenes and friendships cultivated in the restaurants and pubs. Specifically, the scene with the previously mentioned bouillabaisse is one of my favorite book scenes ever. I am not going to quote any of it because it should be read in its entirety.
Please note this book is not all about food and drink though my reflections appear to focus on this aspect! Hmmm.
I will return to the Metropol often in my mind, and I recommend you make your reservation there as soon as possible!
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