That is the ideal hotel of Cees Nooteboom (b. 1933), an accomplished Dutch novelist and world traveler. In addition to his nine or so novels, Nooteboom has authored even more books of travel writing. NOMAD'S HOTEL is a collection of English translations of various of his travel pieces written between 1971 and 2002.
The locales that are the subjects of these essays range from Gambia, Mali, and Morocco in Africa, to Iran (circa 1975 and still under the Shah), to the island of Aran, and include the cities of Venice, Munich, Mantua, and Zurich. In addition, there are several miscellaneous travel-related pieces, including two entitled "Nooteboom's Hotel", mosaics composed of the most distinctive features and experiences from the hundreds of hotels in which he has stayed. Through the course of the book, Nooteboom muses about the very exercise of travel. Harking back to a 12th-Century Arabian philosopher, he gives credit for at least part of the attraction of travel to the notion of "siyaha" or "pilgrimage": "Traveling around the world, meditating and drawing nearer to God. The latter would be a pretension for me, but substitute the word 'God' with 'mystery' and I do feel able to subscribe to it."
Three things elevate NOMAD'S HOTEL above the run-of-the-mill collection of travel pieces. First, there is Nooteboom's extraordinary eye or percipience, which he complements with a novelist's imagination. Second, Nooteboom's essays are unusually rich in their historical dimension. He treats his foreign locales as so many different doors to the past, so that the book, a la its subtitle, truly is part time travel. Third, the book is superbly written. On all three points, one might be excused for thinking that perhaps Jorge Luis Borges was at least a collaborator.
NOMAD'S HOTEL is not a book to be read at one or two sittings. The pieces are so rich, so complex and imaginative, that they should be savored individually -- much like, come to think of it, the stories of Borges.