The story of the western world, it has been said, is the story of men holed up in hotel rooms straining to draw connections between the more far-flung elements of reality. I have in mind Nikola Tesla grappling with electricity and magnetism at the New Yorker Hotel, and Bob Dylan holed up at the Chelsea deciding to rhyme "hollow face" with "deck of cards missing the jack and the ace" in "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands." And I'm also thinking of me, here at the Egerton House Hotel in London, wondering what a tiny empty ceramic box I found on my pillow has to do with Kylie Minogue.
Minogue, briefly, is a 39-year-old Australian pop star whose intense popularity, a bit like that of soccer, is an accepted fact of daily life in every nation but the United States of America. So much so that London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is, until June 10, hosting an exhibition of her clothing and accessories. The nearby Egerton, a cozy boutique hotel in a pair of conjoined town houses, is duly offering fans a "V&A Kylie Package," including room and board, gym passes, tickets to the exhibition, and a mysterious "Kylie gift."
This, I think, means the little box. It can’t be anything else. It was right there on my pillow, exactly where a "gift" would be, and as I study the thing more closely, joining it on the bed and spending a minute or so opening and closing its hinged ceramic lid, I think I begin to understand. The box, like the five-foot-tall Minogue, is very small. Furthermore, it is feminine and at the same time sturdy, like Minogue herself, whose inner fortitude was recently demonstrated in her successful battle with breast cancer.
The walk to the museum takes me a scant 2½ minutes, thanks to excellent directions from the Egerton’s concierge—"Oh, it’s very easy-peasy, sir"—and it occurs to me as I walk that perhaps the little ceramic box isn’t empty after all. For by its very randomness, its gossamer-thin, almost nonexistent connections to its supposed referent, it surely contains, in the sense of encapsulating, the hottest—and strangest—trend in all of modern hotel management: the high-concept, mildly deranged-seeming package deal.
Kylie Minogue is, of course, not the world’s only pop star. Nor do the dream-weavers at the Egerton have a monopoly on mild derangement. Surely no serious discussion of either category would be complete without the name of Britney Spears, who startled the world this past February by shaving her head and attacking an SUV with an umbrella. And anyone nostalgic for that wild period in U.S. history could recapture the magic by buying the "Britney Breakdown" package at six of San Francisco’s seven Personality Hotels. The deal included a bottle of Voss water (because Spears had just emerged from rehab); a pair of thong underwear (such as what Spears conspicuously wasn’t wearing in a widely circulated paparazzi shot); and a $50 gift certificate to a top San Francisco hair salon.
For more ethereal, less mean-spirited types, there was always the "Orchid Show Package" at the Buckingham Hotel in New York. In return for $369 a night, the Buckingham was rewarding guests with tickets to the New York International Orchid Show, a copy of Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, orchid-themed cocktails like the Violet Orchid Mojito, and, to top it off, a potted orchid. For $15,000 the package could be upgraded to the "Ultimate Orchid Adventure," which began in the Buckingham’s Penthouse Suite, with its 2,000-square-foot "rooftop aerie" overlooking Central Park, and ended with guests being flown first-class to Florida, where a guide would take them hunting for rare orchids in the steamy weirdness of the Everglades.