“You really need to give yourself a total break, my dear. Why not try the sea spa at Trouville? It would be perfect for you. They do thalassotherapy, there’s a spa and a Michelin restaurant”... [+]
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How did they first meet? By the revolving door, on the beach side. It was like a scene in a Lelouch film. Being a person who hums shoobedoobedoo every time I walk into our dear old hotel, I was delighted. You’ve booked room 414, haven’t you? Great choice, it’s the one that truly exemplifies the hotel. Here’s the key, and Marie, my colleague, will take you up there. She’ll tell you all about their encounter.
Follow me, sir. This way. Hannah Dawson has been coming here since she was a little girl. She used to come with her grandmother who she called Poupette. Just like in the French film The Party. This coincidence always made us laugh. Even as a child, Hannah was very clumsy. Her mother often used to scold her, and it was Poupette—what a lovely woman she was—who would comfort the little girl. To cheer her up, she would buy her a hot chocolate with thick froth on top and our specialty: those famous madeleines Marcel Proust praised so highly. The little girl would end up with chocolate all over her dress. Yet, her grandma always managed to keep her out of trouble, with the help of the head housekeeper. Mrs. Dawson was very strict with her daughter. Hannah didn’t really have a father, she had only seen him twice. According to her mother, he had abandoned them when Hannah was very young. But that’s not the point, I’m digressing. So, Hannah has always come here in December. That day, the day they met, she was day-dreaming, as always, and suddenly dropped all her parcels in the revolving door. Our porter came to her rescue and everything was soon picked up. Except for one very light garment, the kind you only see in intimate circumstances, which slipped out of a bag. In all the commotion, nobody saw it slip and it blew away on the sea breeze, wafted by the spinning of the doors. Fayçal Hadja, the famous trumpeter, was coming in by the same door from his walk along the sea front. And that’s when… Ah shoot, I have to answer this call. Sorry, it’s really urgent. Go and see Jules, the barman. He’ll tell you the rest. He knows the story as much as I do. I’ll see you later, sir. Enjoy your stay in Marcel Proust’s room!
Here’s your Calvados, sir. Oh yes, it was a very amusing scene. Mr. Hadja was coming up the front steps and was just under the awning, when Miss Hannah’s delicate lacy item blew into his face. Suddenly blinded, he bumped into the glass, and the porter rushed to help him. Miss Hannah blushed when Fayçal handed her the flimsy garment. His face was serious but there was amusement in his eyes. She was embarrassed and snatched the garment from his hands, turned her back on him and headed straight for the elevator. He tried to catch up to her, but the doors clanged shut in his face. I remember the receptionist, smiling quietly to herself. The trumpeter wanted to know Hannah's room number, but my colleague wouldn’t tell him. And yet, we were the ones who helped them fall in love. And we’re very proud of that. Our charming manager took matters into her own hands and decided to play cupid. And look, here she is now.
Delighted to meet you, Mr. Robert. I hope you enjoy your stay at our hotel. We’re pleased to have you here. Writing a romance based on our Grand Hotel… what an honor! To get back to Hannah and Fayçal, they didn’t meet again that night. Because of the embarrassing incident with the lingerie, she stayed in her room all evening. He dined in the restaurant, then spent an hour or two playing melancholic pieces on the piano in the great hall. It was the following day when they next saw each other, once again near the revolving door, this time on the garden side. Turning her back to the hotel, facing the beautiful summer holiday homes, a bottle of soda in one hand and her cell phone in the other, she was talking while gesticulating dramatically. Suddenly, the cap flew off the bottle, and the sweet liquid spurted all over the white cotton sweater of Mr. Hadja, who happened to be coming out of the hotel at that very moment. The trumpet player let out an “Oh!” while our barman rushed over with towels to dry him off. Hannah, engrossed in her conversation, didn’t hear him scream. He waited for her to hang up before tapping her on the shoulder. They exchanged a few words, and, caught once again by her own clumsiness, she could hardly refuse his invitation. From ten in the morning to one o’clock, the story spread all around the hotel. Jules even invented a cocktail for the evening and gave it the sweet name of “Trumpet of Love.” We still serve it actually. You should try it while you’re here. She never tasted it, though, because she didn’t… I’m coming! Please excuse me, I have to leave you. But here’s our chef, Mr. Lebeau. He’ll be delighted to fill in the blanks. Won’t you, Jérôme?
If you’re talking about the secrets of my cooking, I can’t promise anything, but I’ll certainly tell you Hannah and Fayçal’s story with pleasure. The splendid Hannah didn’t show up that night. She rang room service and asked for dinner in her room. Fayçal waited for her a long time. I’ve always taken it upon myself to seek our guests’ opinions of the meal and, even though he assured me he had enjoyed dinner very much, he didn’t really have an appetite. With a sad look on his face, he apologized, then asked for my help to win her over. He told me that it was the first time he had been so captivated by a woman. I don’t know what got into me—I don’t usually get mixed up in our guests’ romantic affairs—but, despite his huge talent, Fayçal Hadja is so humble, polite, and sensitive that I couldn’t bear to say no. I advised him to surprise Hannah, rather than courting her the traditional way. Women who are very sought-after hate all that. I didn't suggest anything specific to him though. Everything that happened afterwards came directly from him. But time is running out, I’ll have to leave you. It’s all hands on deck in the kitchen. David, our sales manager, will let you know the rest of the story. You can find him in his office.
Come in, sir. Welcome behind the scenes of the Grand Hotel! What Fayçal set about doing to win Hannah’s heart was completely crazy. He went and booked every single room for three nights, emptying our hotel of all its occupants. That would have been impossible in the high season, but there are not many guests in December, so that’s why we could agree to his request. However, we asked him to wait for some time, so we wouldn’t have to rush any of the other guests out right away. He used that time to order hundreds of red roses, which our team arranged all over the hotel. He also had pink balloons delivered. We put them on the grand piano, all over the big reception room, and hung them from the great chandelier in the hall. When she came out of Room 414, she was so surprised by the decorations that she asked the receptionist if we were preparing for a wedding. She burst out laughing when my colleague replied teasingly, “Yes, yours, madam!” Hearing her laugh, Fayçal appeared via the revolving door, with a red rose in one hand and a pink balloon in the other. She realized that this decor, so unusual and so romantic, had been created by him, just for her. She agreed to go out for a carriage ride on the beach. When night fell and Jean-Louis Trintignant and Anouk Aimé appeared on the big projector screen, set up on the beach just for them, she was completely won over. They spent three days getting to know all the rooms in the hotel, completely drunk in love. Ever since then, they’ve booked the whole hotel every December. Tomorrow, they’re going to be married here. It will be magical. And leading up to the wedding, she’ll be staying in Room 414. But, sir, tell me more about your project. What will your novel be about, exactly?
By way of reply, I invented some story or other. I’m actually not a writer. I have only booked Room 414 at the Grand Hotel in Cabourg in order to find Hannah and discover when she’ll be coming back here. Now that I know, I’ve got everything planned. I’ve written a letter explaining to her that I’ve been looking for her for years. I’ll leave the envelope on her pillow. I’ve slipped her birth bracelet inside. I’ve carefully kept it, along with all the love of a father for the daughter he has finally found again.
Translated by Hannah Charlton