Housekeeping had drawn the thick, silk curtains against the inky night sky; Chantrea stood for a moment arching the small of her back and then quietly, her dark hair furling against her shoulders, she bent to kiss her sleeping daughters, cocooned under the pastel pink eiderdowns of their beds.
She walked through the adjoining door into her own, modern apartment where the oversized mirrors leaning against the walls reflected the soft glow of the handmade Murano glass lamps and illuminated the golden walnut panelling. It was too late to call Borys in Singapore, so she padded over to the tan leather sofa and sank down, tucking her knees beneath her. Draping a cashmere throw around her legs, she set her computer on her lap and began to write:
“My love, I am so excited to be back, but there is part of me that finds my return to the City of Lights unsettling – not least because the girls are the same age as I was when I arrived here for the first time. You and I have talked many times about the bouleversement that roared through my childhood; severing me from my mother and father and from the country of my birth; it has taken me a lifetime to realise that I was a fortunate child and that the right decisions were made on my behalf, but I have always felt so wretched, so unquenchably sad that I was never able to return to Cambodia, never able to say goodbye. You know, before I left for Europe, my father took my mother and I to see Angkor Wat; if I close my eyes I can see those moments unspooling like sepia film in front of me. We visited the Grand Hotel d’Angkor (it is Raffles now, did you know?) and as we walked in the lush formal gardens, he held my small hand in his calloused one and we breathed in the close smell of the tropics: of imminent rain, of life, growth and hope. It was on that day that he took the photograph that I have of my laughing mother and I, standing side by side under the sweet-smelling Rangoon creeper… that is all that I have left of that time.
“I am not melancholy! Paris holds immeasurable joy for me – especially now that I am staying here, in this palace that was etched so firmly into my mind when I was just a wisp of a girl.
“I must tell you that I think that Le Royal Monceau, Raffles Paris, is an oasis of groundbreaking genius! The aesthetic is simply stunning and its location unmatched: when you arrive on the Avenue Hoche, your immediate impression is of the striking elegance of the classic beaux arts architecture; vast bowed windows with their gentle mascarons carved into the mighty keystones and wrought-iron balconies that peep out onto the tree-lined avenue. There is little about the uniformed façade of Number 37 to belie the fantastical world that lies beyond – apart from the billowing swerve of the portico with the sunlight cutting through its ruby glass awning! As you pass underneath, it is like walking through the crimson streak of a rainbow; your skin turns pink in the glow and you find yourself holding your breath with anticipation before you burst through the doors into the foyer of the hotel, with its cutting-edge style inspired by the 1930s and 40s.
“It is said that Philippe Starck had an emotional struggle with the theory that the job of an hotel, essentially, is to provide a hollow shell in which guests can stay, so he conjured up the antithesis and, by doing so, he has created the most luxurious of homes, rich with history, elegance and art.
“Journalism has taken me to countless other hotels but I feel that none are as relevant as this, where the old and the new seep into one another, creating a melodious concoction of decadence and whimsy. There is playfulness in every detail: from the wrought-iron staircase that sweeps to the upper floors – its candy-striped treads lit by the chandeliers that cascade from the ceilings; to the long corridors of mirrors that reflect the graphic carpets and create bold optical illusions; there is thoughtfulness in the walls of exposed brick hung with the most astonishing contemporary art… it is so exuberant and daring, it is no wonder that it attracts la belle élite with its a heady mix of architecture, culture, design, art and cuisine. It truly is extraordinary, it is like staying at the very centre of a bubbling, joyous cauldron of possibility, a place with spirit.
“But, don’t you think that the sum of staying at Raffles equals much more than the architecture and design of its landmark buildings? I have always felt that beyond the visual wonders, the overwhelming philosophy behind the name and all it evokes is the value that is placed on generosity of spirit, of life. I know you feel this about Raffles, Singapore.
“For supper, the children and I went to the rock star of restaurants within the hotel, Chef Nobu’s Matsuhisa. We were enthralled by the theatre that surrounded the whole experience and charmed by the brigade of sushi chefs shouting ‘Irasshaimase!’ (come on in!) in unison from behind their open counters. It was sumptuous; we sat under one of the huge, black oval lights suspended from the ceiling, its yolky glow picking out the glassware on the sparsely laid table. The food was delightfully precise and poised; at once crisp and soft, subtle and powerful. It was such a delight, fumbling with chopsticks, savouring each mouthful of our spectacular shared dishes; the perfect treat with which to end a moving day.
“The girls have been fast asleep for hours now and I must go too, I feel so peaceful here in our cosy room, it almost feels as if there is a presence here, welcoming me – but for missing you – only 12 hours away.