All the regrets I’ve ever had about not writing that novel haunt me when I walk into the Graham Greene suite of the hotel I manage here in Hanoi. I never even wanted to write a novel, but the Metropole can do this to me sometimes. It’s not just a nice play to stay in Hanoi. It’s a piece of the city’s history. And people who made history stayed here and were inspired by it.
What is it about that suite? Well, I was having my lunch last week when some guests asked me, as they often do, about Greene’s stay here in the 1950s. Some guests ask about Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard, who visited here during their honeymoon in the 1930s. Others ask about Somerset Maugham, the English writer who wrote a quaint little book about his travels in the region, entitled A Gentleman in the Parlor. And others ask about the French actress Catherine Deneuve, who was here during the filming of Indochine. But it’s Greene they ask about the most.
The great British writer was working on The Quiet American at the time he stayed here. Or so we’ve heard. I don’t really have any proof worthy of a footnote. But in the way that things acquire a patina of truth from being said so much, this about The Quiet American is true. My guests asked to see the suite later in the day. And because the suite was empty, we were able to oblige.
In the meantime, I had another look myself. At the hardwood floors. The dark wood trim. The cornice about the ceiling. It was easy to imagine Greene here, churning out the 500 words he was reputed to do every day like clockwork.
It was just after lunch as I stood there in the room and because there were 15 minutes of free time on my schedule for that day, I ordered up a coffee. I sat in a chair, wondering at the heritage of this place.
I may not get a novel out of it, but here’s a blog to start.