Tuesday, July 08, 2008
What You Think You Are
There is something I hate about this hostel and I cannot put my finger on what it is, because it is clean and spacious and blue and up a tangling little street and situated in a former convent and the owners are kind and they like to organize trips to eat pasta and lounge in the hot springs and I am mostly comfortable here.
Because while I know rationally that this is one of the top-rated hostels in Europe and the tangle of dorm-room-chic graffiti on the walls in reception extols all the fun of this place, I have trouble seeing it.
I see twenty of us sharing two bathrooms. I see breakfast where there is only hot milk for Corn Flakes. I see huge signs above the sink saying that we are to BOTH WASH AND PUT AWAY DISHES when there is no soap and no towels. I see other signs in the bathrooms telling us to KEEP SHOWERING TIME TO A MINIMUM SO WE CAN ALL ENJOY THE HOT WATER, except one of the bathroom taps is clearly leaking… hot water. I see the adorable house puppy — we are all expected to love him, clearly, as no one attempts to restrain him — whose messes of every sort wind up in our bedrooms, in the front hall, in the kitchen twenty minutes before breakfast.
(The management’s amazing solution to a particularly smelly mess in the main dorm? They locked up the room, not the puppy.)
But it’s not really any of those things. Clearly, there are disorganized, sub-par hostels everywhere in Europe, and I’ve stayed in at least four of them. It is something else. A thing running under the surface. And I only realize what it is when I see the hostel’s brochure.
It is printed in tropical blue and yellow and plastered with photos of former guests. Hugging. Drinking. Kissing. Laughing. Having a GREAT TIME. On the cover, letters proclaim, “Ischia: The Island,” except that before the word “island,” a karat cheekily inserts the word PARTY on the line above.
And it hits me. It’s the marketing, stupid.
An American did this.
An American with a marketing degree has branded this hostel. Like The Pink Palace in Greece or The Flying Pig in Amsterdam. This hostel has designs on the Top-Tier Party Hostel Circuit. There is even a sign behind the desk I had not noticed before: WE ARE ON FACEBOOK. ADD US AS A FRIEND!
All of this is fine, except that this hostel is on a tiny island in the middle of the Bay of Naples — a place that, thanks to the piles of garbage in the street, has a bit of an image problem at the moment — and your dog just shit on the floor.
Later, I am not even remotely surprised to see the American in the flesh. To hear a guy talking about her in the common room.
“Yeah, she’s from New York. She’s the owner’s girlfriend. She used to be in marketing… somewhere.”