Motels: a place to hide (and snoop)


Located on the edge of the road, there is always the feeling that the worst could happen. That is why they have always been so inspiring. Gay Talese, author of ‘El hotel del voyeur’ knows this well

Manor House Motel in Denver, Gay Talese was inspired

Between a hotel and a motel there is much more than a letter of difference. It doesn’t matter that in the first you can find cockroaches in the bathroom, depressing views and the feeling that the room is a foretaste of the sarcophagus: the hotel has lineage, a halo of protective bubble, of pleasant parentheses. The motel, on the other hand, no matter how clean it is and no matter how soft the bed, always implies junk., uprooting; you enter the motel because it’s late, because you have little money or, more commonly, because you have something to hide.

Films and dirty literature have built a whole sentimental mythology of the motel -characterized by the broken souls adrift and the despair of the small losers of the American dream, as in the movies. motel chronicles of Sam Shepard-, and now nothing is going to change this idea: a short distance from the pension, the motel is the worst place imaginable to spend the night (paying). In a motel room – all spread out in a sad row, single-story rooms opening onto the emptiness of back roads; not in vain, the origin of the word is the contraction of biker hotela site for truckers, salesmen and adulterers – you always have the feeling that the worst could happen.

It is, according to the fiction, where an aggrieved drug trafficker will come looking for you to recover his money. -hiding in a motel is never a good idea- or where they will sleep you to extract a kidney to sell it on the black market of organs. The motel, in short, is that place where a psycho in an old woman’s wig can savagely stab you while you’re taking a shower. Robert Bloch had it crystal clear, and Hitchcock did not need more than to double the bet.

That rude things happen in motels was learned by the journalist Gay Talese, who one day in 1980 received a disturbing letter: a certain Gerald Foos wanted to tell him that, for nearly fifteen years, he had been spying on the guests of the motel he owned in the small town of Aurora, outside of Denver, Colorado. Foos was a methodical voyeur: more interested in gossip than hospitality, he searched for a long time for a suitable location for his plans. When he found the Manor House motel, and saw that there was a long loft above the rooms, he knew he had found the perfect structure: from above he would be able to observe what was happening below through ingenious grilles designed specifically to allow him to see without seeing anything below. to be seen.

Foos contacted the star journalist of the New York Times because, at the time, he was preparing the launch of your neighbor’s wife -a great report on sexuality in the United States-, and he considered that he had excellent material, because if there was one thing he had done abundantly from his observation deck it was watch numerous couples – and even threesomes and foursomes of swingers – engage in every sexual act imaginable, and record it in writing. Foos had detailed accounts of coitus, fellatio, lesbian and gay sex, the occasional orgy and a few paraphilias, like the one about that man who got excited when he saw his partner drinking urine mixed with champagne. Foos’s voyeurism was pathological, insatiable, and his greatest satisfaction was that he never got caught.

Doubts about the ‘padrone’ of the new journalism

Gay Talese was already a respectable octogenarian (he turned 90 in February) when ‘El hotel del voyeur’ was published. Doubts about the veracity of Foos’ story as a result of an article published in ‘The Washington Post’ – in which the discrepancy in the date between the acquisition of the Manor House and the beginning of the violations of privacy was pointed out – made the author of ‘Frank Sinatra has a cold’ reneged on the article, although new evidence made him reconcile with his work.

One can never know when one is being watched: In our age of surveillance, we know that security cameras will record us everywhere we go, and we can’t be sure that our mobile or laptop isn’t a listening point for Russian hackers and algorithms that, if they hear you say that you need a new sofa in a casual conversation, you are immediately flooded with advertisements for Swedish furniture companies. A time has come when you have to abandon that paranoia, because living with that fear – like someone who, in the past, refrained from sinning because God sees everything – implies giving up life.

The motel voyeur observed his customers in a more carefree and naive time – he claimed to have done so since 1966, although the purchase agreement for Manor House was signed in 1969; these date discrepancies called Talese’s book into question, voyeur’s hotel (2016), although essentially the whole story was true-, and the purity of the situation turns his document, however criminal it may be, into an anthropological contribution as valuable as Mercedes Mil’s first Big Brother. When no one sees you, as Alejandro Sanz would say, you can be or not be, but Foos agreed to the raw truth: couple crises, asymmetric power relations, impotence and premature ejaculation, simulated orgasms. For a while, she was also fascinated by how people did their stomachs: sideways, facing the wall, leaning forward, without touching the lid. He also observed a murder.

The voyeur’s motel was torn down in 2005 – Foos had sold it ten years earlier – and can no longer be a vacation spot. It could be a good tourist attraction: come and let us spy on you, generous discounts if you allow yourself to be recorded. There is a long voyeuristic tradition – a vice shared by Casanova and Dal and adopted for itself by the cinema in films like The panic photographer; cinema, in short, as the pornphile Román Gubern defends it, is an art of onlookers, but nor can we underestimate the morbidity of those who want to be observed. It will be another form of tourism: instead of traveling to see, travel to be seen. Total, people already do it by hanging stories on Instagram, what if we take it even further and complete the entire sale of our privacy.

According to the criteria of

The Trust Project

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Motels: a place to hide (and snoop)