Turns out Proust was an apt choice for my “lite” summer reading. Last weekend’s break in the Lake District was filled with nostalgic musings brought on by the fact that the hotel we have stayed in every year for the past five years has changed hands since our last visit.
On the surface the new owners have made improvements. Paint and soft furnishings have been changed from florals to tasteful neutrals, tongue and cheek taxidermy graces walls and mantel pieces, and vintage accessories of the riding boot and croquet set variety are strategically dotted in corners of rooms. In other words, it now looks like every other country house hotel in England. The menu, previously of the home cooking variety by a lady named Viv, now has the same scallop with pancetta and pea puree type repertoire found in every gastropub in England (not that my scallops with pancetta and pea puree were unenjoyable). Jam served at breakfast comes in shallow porcelain ramekins instead of the foil topped plastic packets of Silver Shred I once paid homage to on this blog. And all these changes are reflected in the average age of the clientele, which used to hover around seventy even when you included husband and me. In a hotel of fifteen rooms I counted only one elderly couple, she sporting the reliable female OAP attire of ped socks in wedge sandals, he nodding off on the couch in the lounge after their 7pm supper.
Husband and I made good sport of lamenting all the so called improvements, the edge of which was taken off by the amazing (that’s an average day to you in L.A.) weather and the splendid isolation of the place, features that a lick of sage green paint and a stuffed owl in a glass box don’t change. Still, I’ve noticed in our middle age we are getting more and more sensitive to changes in places we hold dear. Earlier in the month in Paris we spent the best part of an hour venting our disgust over the appearance of a Lacoste shop on the site of a former crumbling down patisserie in the Marais. It wasn’t even a good patisserie—I once had a very mediocre lemon tart there—and yet there was something unmistakably violating about the appearance of the shiny new global retail brand in its place.
All this longing for the way things used to be makes me feel old and boring. We’ve become the kind of people who like the memory-fueled idea of a place more than the place itself, and, even worse, are prone to wheeze on about it. The only remedy I can think of is rather palatable as far as medicine goes: time to book a vacation to a place we’ve never been before. Then we can complain the whole time about new things.