Just so nobody should wait with bated breath to hear whether we might change our mind or not, the answer is “not”; breakfast will still not be served on Friday By The Lemon Tree.
Honestly! How else do you think we can make you appreciate what we do if not by forcing you to forage for your own breakfast in what is, for all intents and purposes, the culinary equivalent of the 7th circle of hell that is the Amman restaurant scene, with the added insult that, contrary to the original, you pay money to get into this particular hell?
With that out of the way, 2013 has been a year not devoid of apprehension, excitement, frustration, hope, exasperation and mirth along with a good dose of that quintessential human emotion that seems to enjoy a far greater degree of incidence in this part of the world… bewilderment… .
Where to begin.
For starters, the world did not end in December 2012. But for our present political and economic juncture, one would have thought that was a good thing.
For those of you that follow these rants, 2013 started off with a bang when we inaugurated the new floor on January 16th. Fewer than 40 invitees put away 20 magnums of Prosecco, 4 bottles of white, 1 bottle of Scotland’s finest distilled essence, sundry cocktails and 250 oysters. The epic consumption witnessed on this occasion was only a harbinger of things to come.
February saw occupancy soar to unexpected levels and things just kept up at the same rate till about mid June at which point we took a breather till the end of July. We’ve been running solid since then.
If last year we were merely surprised at our good fortune, this year we are positively stumped. From what we can see, it would appear that the thorough lack of political correctness encountered By The Lemon Tree is not a determent for our guests. Cantankerous old pompous ass yours truly though may be, some people still find it in themselves to put up with him. Now, that is bewildering!
Getting By The Lemon Tree however, is still the number one irritation for our guests thus, by extension, for us too. No amount of warning on our web site seems to make any difference for those whom upon arrival in the country, doggedly insist on relying on what they feel are their superior directional skills but, in reality, is just an attempt at winging it. Even official drivers in the employ of international bodies and travel agencies fail miserably to locate our building, let alone our door. The absence of any signs or bill boards on our building stumps all and sundry. The local Tourist Police station on the other hand, is quite busy giving directions to all those whom have been specifically informed not to ask for directions at the local tourist police station located across from our building.
2013 also brought the opportunity to initiate new projects and push forward some old ones. In the immediate future, we have been asked to manage a new hotel down town. This is a notable development both because there has not been a hotel of note downtown Amman since The Philadelphia hotel in 1927 and because little old us have been asked to manage it. Art Hotel Amman Downtown is a new property designed by Ammar Khammash that will open to the public by end January 2014. Art Hotel aims to be at once our contribution to the revival of Amman’s historic city center and our interpretation of what hospitality should be. We wish to run Art Hotel along the same principles of our modest home. Guests will not be treated as ATMs. We will whittle down charges to the strict minimum. For example:
- Our room rates will be inclusive of breakfast of course but also taxes. This is a practice all hotels shy away from because they want guests to see what the hotel rate might be in the absence of taxes. Our position is that guests feel more comfortable when they have one price to work with thus there are no surprises upon settling the bill. The other reason main stream hotels break down the cost of the room in its separate line items is that they don't want to get stuck with an unexpected increase in taxes once they offer rates months in advance to the travel trade. At Art Hotel we will manage this issue by offering guaranteed prices for stretches of three months at the time.
- If yellow cabs park by our main entrance expecting to pick up our guests, we will ensure that the driver will operate the meter. Airport and extra urban transfers are provided by a third party from whom we take no fees. This ensures that we can change service providers at the first hint of trouble and that transfers are competitively priced
- Our guests are allowed to purchase food and drink outside the premises and consume their purchases in their rooms
Art Hotel is the first project to come to fruition for our fledgling management company and we have some ideas on how to differentiate ourselves from what is common practice in the industry. It may work or it may not work. But we'll certainly give it a try.
We have also secured a (currently verbal) agreement for the use of the building located directly across the street from By The Lemon Tree to expand our little guest house. As of March 2015 By The Lemon Tree will boast two buildings one of which will be an official hotel, 35 rooms, a bar and all day dining offering the same food some of you have sampled at our house. Some rooms in the original building will be converted to business suites offering in room breakfast, open bar, office facilities and a dedicated driver and car.
There are two other projects under way but this note is already pushing the limits of what is sensible.
As tradition dictates, the end of year note must include the amusing, the quirky, the mysterious or the down right Faulty Tower moment and, of course, 2013 was a good vintage.
Working backwards from the mildly bewildering to the down right ridiculous, we remember:
- The driver that kept a mature French couple hostage in his vehicle for their “own safety”. The driver was instructed to take the couple to our address. There not being a sign in the street indicating By The Lemon Tree, the driver refused to let them out of the car in a presumed, if misguided, attempt at protecting them from what might lurk behind an unknown door.
- The couple that demanded to take advantage of our good nature and flexible check-in/check-out policies. At the end of the first leg of their reservation, the wife threw a hissy fit by the breakfast table. She repeatedly tapped her rigidly stretched out index finger on a print out that said “flexible check-in and check-out”, while simultaneously letting out shrieks of indignation at out inability to comply with her demands because we were fully booked. Both husband and wife were politely pushed out the door posthaste under advise never to return despite the fact they were meant to stay five days the following week.
- The one time I tried to be politically correct in order to decline the reservation of a woman that in the brief exchange of messages had given signs of being a pain in the ass. She felt slighted and went on to place a disparaging comment on Tripadvisor because she could not stay By The Lemon Tree. All we could say is: “Meeeooowwwww!!”
- The multitudes of nitwits that seeing the best rating of any lodging in the region and a modest room rate, made reservations through Booking.com without bothering to read the description of what By The Lemon Tree is and what it is not. Inevitably, upon pulling up by the main door, the welcome offered by our four legged friends made them all beat a hasty retreat. Needless to say, we are no longer on Booking.com
- The girlfriends on holiday that gave us a rather good comment on Booking.com but scored us 7.5/10 because we don't offer shampoo in the rooms.
Finally, for our Faulty Tower moment.
As the new guest floor had just been inaugurated a few days prior, we took a reservation for a lady that was going to stay with us for two weeks and perhaps longer. A few days after her arrival, I knocked at her door to convey a message. As the door opened, my senses were overpowered by a miasmic cloud emanating from the room. As I staggered back in a daze, out of the corner of my eye I had noticed several pairs of what appeared to be mangy shoes, lined up next to the door.
Gathering my strength, if not my composure, to convey the message, I immediately beat a strategic retreat downstairs and promptly reached for the Macallan. My senses regained, I called for a general meeting of the staff to decide how to handle the situation and what to do next.
The guest was a lovely and congenial young girl, a delicate flower with a smile at the ready and always a kind word for all. Seeing her at breakfast or watching her mingle with other guests in the evening, one could not help but wonder whether even amongst the most obstinate cheese makers she could ever find a partner in order to pass on her genes. More to the point however, one hoped she would not pass on her genes at all.
Other than to ventilate her room and secretly spraying Dr. Scholl in her shoes, we decided to do nothing and hope the miasma would not leak out of her room to infect contiguous rooms.
The day arrived that our guest had to leave. We hugged, we kissed, we carried her bags outside the building and, as the car door closed with her inside, we all made a mad dash to her room to ventilate, scrub, wash, wipe, mop, steam, wash again, repaint and disinfect….
… all to no avail. The smell seemed well ingrained. The guest had spent two weeks in the room after all. After a full 24 hours of the window having been wide open, the room smelled as much as before.
Once again the team got busy to scrub, wash, wipe, mop, steam, wash again and disinfect (we had already repainted). This time we undid the beds and took the mattresses out and, for good measure, took out the chairs and curtains too. By now, our handy man Naim had joined in the effort too (some of you will remember Naim from our previous Faulty Tower moment).
24 hours later nothing had changed.
Right! Something was happening.
Time to call the plumber.
Abu Omar, our plumber, bless his heart, is a very proper young man with good manners and skills if not a keen attention to detail. As I explained the situation to him, he promptly came to inspect the sanitary installations. Drains, toilet, bidet, sink… the lot.
Abu Omar verified the integrity of the waste pipe connection on the toilet and, for good measure, sealed the base of the toilet to the floor with cement. We then inspected and ascertained that the drains were clear and, although they were, we proceeded to flushed them nonetheless.
24 hours later nothing had changed.
It was now three days and the room smelled just as much as when the delicate flower lived in it.
But for the whir of the extractor fan, all was quiet in room 12. Once again, we were four grown men staring blankly at nothing in particular, each alone with our own thoughts. Thursday had rolled around as it always does in these situations. Abu Omar was thinking of shisha and tea with is buddies down town. Naim was probably thinking whether he would ever marry his daughter off. I, obviously, was thinking that I would probably never be able to use this room again not even for our four dogs.
Just as it is darkest before dawn and that salvation often comes from unexpected quarters, so it was that on this sunny but nippy February afternoon, whilst alone with our thoughts, Abu Omar’s side kick, Saleh, brightened up.
“What’s that?” Saleh asked pointing in the general direction of the ceiling.
“The extractor fan! What do you think!” said we in scornful chorus whilst rolling our eyes.
Saleh who was standing behind all of us, pushed through our little group and approached the vent with a shredded tissue in hand.
And lo! As he placed the tissue over the vent, it became apparent that the “extractor” was extracting nothing. Quite to the contrary. The extractor Abu Omar installed was blowing air inside the bathroom… and foul smelling air it was too.
As it turns out, whilst the extractor fan electrical connections had been reversed, the external end of the duct it had been attached to was sitting square over a sewer vent.
With best wishes for the new year, we look forward to hosting you in one of our hotels where you too may luck out and experience one of our fine Faulty Tower moments.