[Readings] Chamber of Secrets, By Sophie Calle | Harper's Magazine

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[Readings]

Chamber of Secrets

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During her time working as a chambermaid at a Venetian hotel in 1981, Calle took photographs of the rooms she was assigned to clean. The Hotel, which includes her observations alongside the photographs, will be published next month by Siglio. Translated from the French.

ROOM 46

Monday, February 16, 11 am. I hear a woman’s laugh coming from Room 46. The bellboy knocks on the door, brings in breakfast for two, and leaves. I go up to the room to listen.

She says, “Oh! This is lovely.”

He replies, “But anybody can make that.”

She says, “This is chocolate the way I like it.” He laughs throatily.

When I come back ten minutes later, the subject of conversation is still the same.

12:30 pm. The bellboy knocks on their door, takes the tray, and leaves.

She says, “Oh! Those Italians!” and “Oh! No, don’t do that! I’ve got problems. I swear! You’re too much!”

I hear them kiss.

She says, “You shouldn’t do that! I haven’t been to the loo this morning,” whereupon she shrieks, “Oh, I forgot to lock the door!”

The key turns in the lock. It’s 1 pm. They’re loudly making love, and I go off my shift.

Tuesday, February 17, 11:20 am. I hear the woman say, “I told you when we left . . . ” followed by silence. By 12:40 pm they have gone out. I go in. The first thing to catch the eye is the mind-bogglingly huge pair of shoes, under the table, that blocks out everything else. I then find the following items scattered around the room: a carton of Camel cigarettes, a pair of Ray-Ban glasses, a Sony Walkman, tapes (Bernard Lavilliers, The Doors), books: Retour à Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr., Le complot du Caire by Gérard de Villiers, La grande chasse au requin by Hunter S. Thompson, and three comic books. A knife and sheath, a book on aerospace medicine, notes on the same subject. One of them wears striped pajamas at night, the other a black silk slip and pink bed jacket. In the suitcase, there are two pairs of women’s panties, tampons, a pair of men’s underpants, a tube, and a jar of Vaseline. The bathroom is a mess.

Wednesday, February 18, 10 am. The room is empty. They have checked out. On a piece of paper in the wastebasket is the following text, scribbled in pencil: “Ghetto, Court of Malta and gilded mouth. Wooden staircase, street of love, the bridge of wonders. Turk sewer rats. House bricked-up windows. Secret courtyard of mysteries. Candelabras. Huntress. Arrow. Bow. Cows. Naked young girl. Names of fallen angels: Samael, Satael, Amabel. Narrow passage of nostalgia.”

They have forgotten a pair of panties and socks that are drying on the bathroom radiator. The towels are all over the place, and the water is still running in the washbasin.

The Hotel Sophie Calle

The Hotel Sophie Calle

ROOM 24

Sunday, February 22, 11 am. I go into Room 24, the pink room. Two pairs of flannelette pajamas, one red and one yellow, are tangled in a heap with the sheets. I find three suitcases. Two of them are empty. The third contains cosmetics and large amounts of pills and medicine. From the labels I learn that the owners, Mr. and Mrs. D., live in Geneva. The wardrobe and the chest of drawers are full. I’ll look at them later. But I do notice a long, black silk dress, a pair of women’s boots in light suede (in a tiny size 34), and a huge pair of men’s shoes.

In the bathroom, a pair of men’s pants are drying on the shower rod; symbolic, they reflect the tedium that prevails in this room. Unless it’s just my own weariness. The sheet on the right-hand bed has a stain. I change it.

Monday, February 23, 11:15 am. Today, it is the sheet on the left that is stained. I change it.

Wednesday, February 25. At half past noon, I walk past the door of Room 24. I hear a man’s cough and a woman’s voice.

I go closer and listen:

Him: “What did you say?”

Her: “No, I want to see the museum near the post office.”

He coughs.

Him: “I know there’s a museum we still haven’t seen.”

Her: “A palace?”

Him: “No, it’s a museum. Look under ‘museum.’ ”

Her: “I’m starting to feel so fat.”

Him: “Oh! The Museum of Modern Art!”

Her: “Modern Art! Oh no, not modern art!”


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