Last fall, I went to the Languedoc region of France as the guest of Gérard Betrand’s large commercial winery. I was lucky enough to stay at the winery’s hotel, Château l’Hospitalet, on the grounds of one of their larger vineyards. Other journalists on the trip were staying at a Clarion Suites hotel in the nearby medium-sized city of Narbonne.
The trip was three days long, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. On Saturday there was an outdoor lunch. I met Bertrand, the vigneron himself, a manly man who is also French. I learned that he had played professional rugby. I ate pounds of salmon and drank a lot of a white wine I became fond of during my stay, Château L’ Hospitalet La Clape La Reserve Blanc. According to the winery website, the nearby La Clape vineyard was host to a “constant duel between sea and mountain,” and, looking at Bertrand, I wondered if a similar duel, between pitch and vineyard, raged within him.
I was seated next to an unusually beautiful, impressively dressed thirtyish wine journalist named Julie, and when I finally got up the nerve to speak to her, I asked how her hotel was. “Oh, it’s very nice,” she said. Her smile was dazzling. The coral suit coat draped over her shoulders was appropriately summery while fending off a pre-harvest coolness. “Except for the parrot.”
“Oh, there are parrots on the grounds?” I asked. “You know, there are parrots flying around Los Angeles, and they make a lot of noise.”
Julie told me she was from Los Angeles and well aware of Los Angeles’s parrot situation. “I mean parrot, singular,” she said. “There’s a parrot in the lobby of the hotel.”
“Can’t they—get rid of it? Do they not own—a broom?”
“Vicki,” Julie called out to a woman sitting a few tables away from us. “Come tell this woman about the parrot.”
Vicki was from Queens, twenty-fiveish, with long brown hair, a tough walk, and a raspy smoker’s voice.
“What do you wanna know?” she said.
Vicki rearranged her hair and rolled her eyes. She was clearly annoyed, though—this was a relief—not by me. “There’s a parrot in our hotel. It’s in a big cage that takes up a whole wall of the lobby. It’s fucking huge. It’s, like, a baby seal with feathers. It makes me jump out of my skin every time it squawks. It repeats everything you say. Like, you say, ‘Good morning’—to a person, not to the parrot—and the parrot is, like, ‘Good morning.’ You say ‘Ok, great,’ and the parrot is like ‘Ok, great.’ It is literally the loudest thing I ever heard in my life. Oh, also, I talked to the lady at the front desk.” Vicki spoke perfect French. “I said, ‘What the fuck is up with the parrot?’ and the front desk lady basically said, ‘This is a wonderful parrot, beloved by all,’ and I said, like, ‘I am a paying guest here and every time it squawks I literally almost shit my pants,’ and she said something along the lines of ‘I am sad for you that you do not know what it is to love this amazing bird.’”
“Does it—squawk at night?” I asked.
Julie and Vicki doubled over laughing.
“It squawks whenever the FUCK IT WANTS,” Vicki said.
Vicki and Julie and I became friends, to the extent that this is possible in a day, and we decided to spend some time together in Montpellier before flying back to the US. When I picked them up at their hotel, I dashed in to use the bathroom. I had at this point forgotten about the parrot, and I was just muttering my tuneless merci beaucoup to the lobby attendant when I suddenly heard the world’s largest airhorn going off right inside my ear canal. I screamed, and, turning in the direction of the sound, discovered a truly gargantuan parrot, in a cage roughly the size of Nicolae Ceausescu’s bathroom. It flexed its talons.
The woman at the front desk frowned at me.“This is our parrot,” she said in French-accented English.
“Yes,” I said. “I can see that.” The parrot met my gaze with terrifying directness. As I patted my poor heart, working hard to recover from our first encounter, it was clear to me that he was preparing for our next.
“Our guests love the parrot,” the woman said, her tone not unthreatening.
I was still staring at the parrot, using the logic that what one is prepared for, one can endure. But the parrot seemed to manufacture this sound louder on this second go—like 100 old women being strangled at once—deep inside its body. So that by the time I even registered that its great beak, like a brontosaurus’ nail clipper, was even open, I was well into my second heart attack of the day.
I ran into the the bathroom with my hands over my ears crying out “no no no no” and walked back through the lobby the same way. I paused in the doorway, and said “That thing is BANANAS,” and the woman called after me something like, “He is a very good parrot.”
Vicki and Julie were already in the car. “That French lady really likes that parrot,” I said.
Each was pecking away at her phone with expert thumbs. Without looking up, Julie said, “She won’t hear a word against him,” and Vicki said “Right? Frickin’ loves him.”
I forgot about the parrot, until one day about six months later, I googled “parrot Narbonne Clarion Suites.” Here is what I found:
I had mixed feelings, reading these complaints. For the parrot: In this world of corporate cookie-cutter sameness it’s somewhat comforting to know that a sizable number of customers can wish for a hotel to be a nice quiet place to sleep and the owners of said hotel can be like fuck you, we have a parrot, deal with it. Against the parrot: What was wrong with the owners of this hotel?
Well, maybe what was “wrong” with them is les cultural differences. Because then I found a French guest who found the parrot enchanting:
I don’t speak French but I know that says “A little hello to the parrot in the lobby.” A little hello? Was this reviewer deaf, perhaps?
Another amant de perroquet:
During the course of my research, I discovered that the parrot’s name was Tequila – I should have guessed as much. I wrote to the Clarion Suites and asked if Tequila was still there, I was assured that he was. Then a few more months passed and I decided to check in again. Hello, I wrote in an email, I was wondering if you still have an enormous parrot living in your lobby?
I received a response almost immediately:
Au revoir, Tequila. Don’t let the door hit your magnificent plumage on the way out.