Today it was announced to the world that the Western Ghats have been designated as a World Heritage Site. How does that happen? How does a place, a practice, or a thing, get inscribed? What infuses meaning in a place? We spend a lot of time thinking about that, especially with regard to lodging properties that are devoted to the conservation of patrimony. And especially in the Western Ghats, where Cardamom County is our learning laboratory for entrepreneurial conservation.
At the same time as UNESCO made its announcement, I saw something remarkably relevant in a different context altogether: a hotel infused with even more meaning than it already had, by a simple but determined action of one man. Not one of my favorite magazines, but one of my favorite cultural Zeligs (try to find the Bob Edwards interview with him about his relationship with Paul Newman, which is at least as interesting as his relationship with the notable in this reflection):
I first visited the Ritz 64 years ago, accompanying Ernest Hemingway, who was writing Across the River and into the Trees, a novel that was going to be serialized in Cosmopolitan magazine, for which I was then a young editor. Hemingway and the Ritz were virtually synonymous. In the 20s he and his buddy Scott Fitzgerald had spent many long evenings at the hotel’s celebrated bar, and their behavior there had become legend. As World War II ended in Europe, Hemingway personally liberated the bar as the Nazis were retreating. It was expected that General Leclerc, in command of the Allied troops, would be first on the scene, marching up the Avenue de la Grande Armée with a full panoply of tanks, artillery, flags, and bands. But well before Leclerc could get there, a jeep came careening up the avenue, zipped under the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs-Élysées, and across the Place de la Concorde, then skidded to a stop in the Place Vendôme at the entrance of the Ritz. Hemingway was in command of that jeep. Ostensibly a war correspondent, but with a gun slung in the crook of his arm, he had taken charge of the motley group in the vehicle, most of them stragglers who had become separated from their units. Hemingway called them his “Irregulars.”