Thank You to the Europa & Regina: When the God of Towels Smiled
Years ago, on a brilliant autumn afternoon, it suddenly struck me: somehow I’d become measurably less concerned about the quality of the food in a gourmet bistro, and obsessively focused on the excellence and appointments of a hotel Ladies’ Room.
My first introduction to a truly stunning public bathroom occurred when I visited the fabulously multi-starred Europa & Regina Hotel in Venice. In the Ladies Room adjacent to the lobby, sconces hugged the marble walls and shone in muted, golden shimmers, caressing a woman’s features with benign Raphael-like lumens. From gleaming taps hot water flowed in such abundance as to beckon one to wash, to lave, to submerge, but alas, there wasn’t time.
However, in a lovely basket on the glistening stone of the counter stood a white tower of cushiony, felt-like paper towels. Pulling one from the stack, I dried my hands and looked down, observing that the towel held little evidence of my use. Wetting fingers and palms again, I reused the same cloth, stroking away the water droplets and half-expecting the towel to shred. It didn’t.
Next, I doused the towel thoroughly with soap and soaked it in the hottest of water. When wrung out tightly and then shaken with an audible snap, the towel held firm with no change in shape or strength. I’d never seen the like, but I was finally convinced that munificent gods had indeed smiled. In a blink, and with a scant look around, I snatched a full dozen of the precious cloths from the pile and sequestered them deep in my knit bag. Seconds later, the Ladies’ Room door whispered to a close behind me and promised never to tell.
Stealing paper towels at the Europa & Regina hardly seems the act of a five-star-hotel guest, but I wasn’t one of those. My dear sister, Paula, vacationing at the hotel, had treated me to the Venice trip halfway through my tour as a volunteer in Peace Corps Morocco, that “toughest job you will ever love.” I was staying at a modest pensione with our mother while she enjoyed the delights of a renowned hotel. I didn’t care. Just being in Venice was a gift.
Life in the U.S. Peace Corps was extraordinary but skint. While I basked daily in the intriguing demands of my teaching position and the rigors of creating classroom materials from nothing, the life of a volunteer had also meant struggling to stay warm during a frigid winter and searching always for affordable essentials. With little money and a strong yearning for simple luxuries, the towels from the Europa & Regina were a treasure that lasted nearly to the end of my tour, continuously wiping down counters, furniture, mirrors, and windows. One at a time I used and washed those strong-fibered rectangles, only releasing them to the garbage when long tears and holes took over.
Relatively innocuous, the towels were a boon to the spirit as well as the household and I seriously considered writing the management a thank you note. I only refrained because my sister frequented the hotel on every buying trip, and I wanted no stain of theft on her reputation.
The Europa & Regina remains a monument to impeccability, with no detail of welcome, comfort, or convenience overlooked. Even now, whenever I return to Venice, I wander over to take a latte on the patio and scan the happenings on the Grand Canal and the glory of the Salute. Not only is the coffee excellent, but I also have a chance to return to that transformational Ladies Room. Only now, I don’t take towels.