Saturday, November 7, 2009

Designing the perfect hotel room: the shower

I travel a fair amount, so I end up spending a lot of nights in hotels. I've stayed in everything from sketchy rooms at motels with numbers in their names to a two-thousand-square-foot suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago and the Julia Child room at the Inn At Little Washington. Many of these rooms have been amazing, but none has achieved what for me would be perfection.

So, I'm going to design my own perfect luxury hotel room, in installments, as the mood strikes me. Then, all I need is a company to implement these plans. I won't even charge for the design services.

I won't be considering price. I'm describing an ideal; I expect it to be expensive.

I'm starting with the shower because it's one part of the room I will use every day.

The space itself should be larger than most hotels provide; six feet wide and six feet deep will do. There should be a place to sit at the end, not because I'll use it--I won't--but because it will appeal to others and it's a good place to put shower supplies.

Speaking of such repositories for supplies, there should be at least four large ones, two low and two high, to accommodate people of different sizes and preferences. Each should be able to comfortably hold small bottles of shampoo and conditioner (which I don't carry but recognize many do), a bar of soap, and a razor.

Built into one wall stretching from about five feet high to about six and a half feet high should be a fog-resistant mirror for shaving.

The floor and any solid walls should be tile, preferably larger pieces, and the floor tile should be heated. (Yes, I know that's tricky with water, but it's solvable.)

I mentioned solid walls because sometimes showers have glass walls. I don't care one way or the other about that, so I leave that to the implementers.

What is vital is that the space provide multiple shower heads. In addition to two large shower heads at about seven feet high, the room should provide a detachable shower head (not for me, again, but for others) and at least four others, one hitting your body at about chest height from each direction. All should be adjustable in both height and water pressure.

Water pressure is a key issue for the shower. The water stream should be intense enough that if on full you fear you may lose skin as you look like Shatner and Nimoy faking G forces. The hotel will need you to sign a waiver of liability for the damage that water pressure can do to you. Sign it and enjoy.

You'll also need to free the hotel of liability for the heat, because the water should be able to be very hot--and stay hot even if you're in the shower for a few hours. Point-of-contact heaters would be best.

The shower heads should be large, powerful (as I noted above), and in all but the case of one of the two overheads, adjustable, so you can choose your favorite type of water flow. Why two overhead nozzles? So you can have one that is a rain-type head, but with huge water pressure, and one more conventional head.

The door should have a rod--a heated one, of course--on the outside with enough space to leat you hang two large towels without them touching.

The towels should all be Liddell, of course, with at least four each per person of wash cloth, hand towel, normal shower towel, and beach towel. I leave color to the designers, but ideally the room would be both warm and cheerful.

The closest I've come to this ideal shower was in a small suite at Caesar's Palace, where the shower was all glass but had five shower heads, enough water pressure that I never had any nozzle on full, and so much hot water that after my first, half-hour shower, I couldn't tell any difference in heat from when I'd started.

I know I've omitted one shower item: the toiletries. I haven't discussed them because I have no idea what's good or what's not, so personally I don't care. So, at the risk of sounding sexist, let me say on this subject the one thing that would matter to me: The toiletries should be so exotic, so great, so expensive, and so amazing that any woman who cared about such things and who was in the room or in another room on the same trip would gush about them and steal them all to take home for her own use and maybe, just maybe, for giving to a few select friends whom she deemed worthy.

One other point about the supplies: The hotel should have tons of them, at least three complete sets in the bathroom, and it should happily replenish all of them every day when they mysteriously vanish.

Just build their cost into the bill. It's not like this is going to be a cheap room.

Other travelers and interested readers: What would you change or add?

Friday, November 6, 2009

One dead roach

I don't like cockroaches, but I have a certain grudging respect for them, because they are ambitious, cocky, hardcore survivors. Having grown up in Florida, I've seen cockroaches that could bench-press Brock Lesnar while eating stolen steak. Cockroaches are tough and annoying, but they don't freak me out.

Sometimes, though, they go too far.

Like tonight.

I went to grab a bit of toilet paper in my bathroom and noticed that the first sheet wasn't sitting flat. Then, I saw a dark spot on the sheet. Then, the dark spot moved. Yes, a roach had crawled under the top sheet of toilet paper and was making its way slowly forward into the roll.

I was not happy.

The roach is now dead.

The search and destroy process was not pretty.

I leave the rest to your imagination. Or not; not would probably be best.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

On insanely expensive meals

Regular readers will note that I write frequently about food, particularly about insanely expensive restaurant meals. Ticia asked recently how I got into the hobby of "collecting restaurants," as I often put it, and suggested that others might want to know. So, I'll do my best to explain.

I didn't grow up with fancy food; far from it. I was a very shy and conservative diner for quite some years. Over time, though, business travel took me to cities with restaurants far better than I had ever sampled before, so my palate grew both more discriminating and more adventurous.

A group of us began eating out most Saturday nights and trying different local places, and that helped me expand my dining horizons.

What really pushed me over the edge, though, was a meal at Minibar in Cafe Atlantico many years ago. Minibar, for those who don't know it, is a six-seat restaurant-within-a-restaurant that sits on the highest level of Jose Andres' Cafe Atlantico. Andres worked at Ferran Adria's El Bulli in Spain, and while there he learned a great deal about molecular gastronomy. The meal we enjoyed on that first trip (we've since gone a second time) involved many of Adria's now widely known techniques, including caviar made from the essence of peas, various deconstructed classic dishes, and so on.

The presentations were like nothing I'd ever seen--and they were all delicious and whimsical and fun. Like many types of literature, and like SF in particular, these dishes were more than food, they were the works of artists in conversation with their field's past and contemporary artists. I know that sounds pretentious, but it's true; a chef who deconstructs a classic dish, such as Caesar salad, into a new but tasty concoction that captures the essence of the classic in a new way is both commenting on and honoring that previous dish.

I finally got it: the meals were not just sustenance, and not just delicious, they were also art experiences, performance art of a very special type.

When you eat at The French Laundry or Alinea or Robuchon in Las Vegas, to name but three, you are not simply feeding yourself; you are experiencing the art of a chef and a style of dining that the chef has created and refined. You have the opportunity to learn and experience new things--even as you stuff your face.

A true foodie, I believe, is not just in it for dinner at these fancy places, of course. A true foodie should also love any food that tastes good or is inventive or is otherwise interesting. So, I'll happily enjoy a hot dog or macaroni and cheese, but I'll also crave these more adventurous offerings, even if they cost a small fortune, and I'll enjoy them both as meals and as the art experiences they truly are.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

An update on Children No More

The most common questions I received from fans at the World Fantasy Con related to the fourth Jon & Lobo book, the one I'm writing now: Children No More. So, I thought I'd answer the main ones here, in case others are interested.

What's happening with the book?

I'm writing it.

Are you stuck?

Nope. I write each day, and each day it gets a little longer.

What's taking you so long?

It's a hard book, a very emotionally demanding one, and one that took me a long time to get my head around. Plus, I have a day job and a lot of other commitments.

When will you finish it?

When I'm done. No, I'm not trying to be rude; I don't know the date.

When will it appear?

It will be Baen's lead hardcover in August, 2010. You should be able to buy the eARC about six months earlier.

What's the plot?

I won't tell you. Sorry, but I don't do that.

How long will it be?

However long it ends up being. Seriously, I have no length goal. I'm guessing around 100K words, but that's purely a guess.


Yeah, I know that's not a lot of data, but it's what I have and/or am willing to share.

Now, back to writing.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, day 8

I'm on the plane from SFO to DFW and have done all the catch-up email work that I can. I'm really missing that in-flight bandwidth now, but so it goes. Today is all about travel--driving, walking, flying, walking, flying, walking, and driving again--so it's not particularly interesting. More to the point, I don't want it to be interesting; the more predictable and routine air travel is, the better.

The most important event since my last entry was dinner at The French Laundry, Thomas Keller's original restaurant and still, at least to me, the mothership of his many operations. This place is sufficiently legendary in foodie circles that it's almost impossible for a meal there to live up to the restaurant's reputation for perfection, inventiveness, and, above all else, wonderful food--yet, our dinner did. In the over four and a half hours we were there, the service was always impeccable and, when necessary, accommodating; the food was so good that the worst bite was better than anything I taste in a typical day; and the culinary surprises were many, including a few Brussels sprouts bites that I actually liked. I didn't think that was possible.

During the dinner, Chantrelle, who operates, interviewed me for a piece that she'll be posting on her site sometime soon. (When I'm aware it's up, I'll let you know.) We ran through a bunch of her standard questions for writers who are also foodies, and we also covered a lot of other topics. I have no idea what she'll write, but I had a fun time talking with her and everyone else at the table.

I certainly cannot afford--in either money or calories--to eat at The French Laundry often, but I will return there any chance I get. It was an amazing meal in which the real thing proved to be every single bit as wonderful as its legend.


I'm finishing and then posting this entry from a plane that is descending to RDU as I type. I'm making a leap of faith in this posting, because the plane could always crash. Dave would argue that there are plenty of asteroids awaiting us, and one could take down this aircraft, but I'm opting to believe in a happy ending for this flight.

A coupon made the bandwidth on this plane free, so I was able to catch up on work while in the air. Technology is sometimes grand. Perhaps tonight I will be able to get a decent amount of sleep. That would be lovely.

Monday, November 2, 2009

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, day 7

Dinner last night was my first meal in one of Keller's newer establishments, Ad Hoc, where the motto is, "for temporary relief from hunger." The emphasis here is on comfort food, with everything served family style and a single menu with no options. We had squash salad, Catalan beef stew, a cheese and fruit course, and poached pears and ice cream. It was all very good, even the squash salad (and I am no squash fan, to put it mildly), with the stew simply outstanding. The casual atmosphere was fun and relaxing.

Lunch today continued the Keller theme, as we ate at Bouchon, a French-style bistro where I have eaten once before, many years ago. We grazed by sampling sides and appetizers, and as one would expect, it was all wonderful.

The hours between meals were entirely work, the beauty and the curse of the modern world being that one is never unable to do sales calls and email. Still, I am currently one hundred percent up to date, which is good heading into a day filled with travel.

Tomorrow, I will report on dinner at the Keller mothership: The French Laundry.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

On the road again: World Fantasy Con, San Jose, day 6

Last night's dinner was a trip into strangeness. A group of us went to Picasso Tapas for, well, tapas. The food was generally tasty, but the wait staff had a great deal of trouble understanding our orders, even when one of our party repeated the items in fluent Spanish. The weirdness started when a man in chef's dress with a huge, fake gray moustache and a rubber chicken on his costume began rocking out on a keyboard. The songs slid ever closer to lounge music until he broke out with a rousing rendition of "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head." That was the moment we knew we had to escape. Fortunately, we were able to slither between the chairs and flee the place only five minutes later.

Later that night, I moderated a Liars' Panel for the second time (the first was at Balticon). We entertained a modest-sized audience, raised $375 for Variety Children's Charity, and laughed quite a lot in the process.

Afterward, over dessert in the bar, new friend Griffin and I laughed ourselves to the point of chest pain over a particularly odd motorized conveyance idea (no, I won't tell you, because I still hope to make it real) and some of his cop stories.

This afternoon's World Fantasy Con banquet was an interesting blend of the unusual and the mundane. On the one hand, the room is full of SF and fantasy writers, editors, artists, agents, and fans, so a certain amount of weirdness is what one would expect. On the other hand, put any group in a large hotel ballroom, seat them at eight-tops, put a podium and a microphone at the front, and serve them rubber chicken (or beef or vegetarian, your choice), and it becomes exactly like any other group in the same situation. Still, it was a pleasant time, and the awards, which like all authors I crave but expect never to win, went to deserving recipients.

Tomorrow, I will report from farther north, the land of chef Thomas Keller, whose food I will eat in at least two restaurants.


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