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Hotel Splendide

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by Ludwig Bemelmans
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The charming Ludwig Bemelmans is known worldwide for his stories of Madeline, a student in a Catholic boarding school where “In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines…”

But readers who enjoy stories of great restaurants and hotels, as well as of the people who work, live, and dine in them, know Bemelmans for his many short pieces thereon, which capture a world of bygone grandeur and wonderful human foibles.

Hotel Splendide was the first collection of such stories, released originally in 1941, ostensibly recounting Bemelmans’ days at “the Splendide, a vast and luxurious structure with many mirrors which gave up its unequal struggle with economics not long after the boom days and has most probably been converted into an office building or torn down.”

In fifteen short chapters we meet Bemelmans’ co-workers at the Splendide, and the beautiful society women and drunken financiers and senators whom they serve. We also meet mentalists who entertain at private affairs, ballet dancers who seem to appear at those same affairs more often than they dance on stage, and others whose presence Bemelmans conjures in a few deft words. 

While many have suggested that Bemelmans was to grand hotels what Anthony Bourdain later was to restaurants, it’s also easy to see Bemelmans’ storytelling style reflected in the films of Wes Anderson, who acknowledges the influence.

Fans of Bemelmans who own La Bonne Table will know that that posthumously published book included pieces gathered from various sources. By our reading, only one was drawn from Hotel Splendide.


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