A personal investigation into the endangered art of hospitality
‘Hospitality is just as important to our existence as water and air. We would perish on our travels if no doors opened for us. We would dry up if no visitors came into our house. Without hospitality, the world would come to a standstill. It isn’t a simple barter. What I give to you, I don’t necessarily get back from you, since you pay it forward to the next person.’
During the year that all human interaction is put on hold due to the Covid pandemic, Chris Keulemans thinks back to balmy evenings in Beirut and Sarajevo, fabulous dinners in Trieste and Berlin, a stay in a cemetery in Tunis, a café where the lights were still lit on the evening after the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, encounters with Salman Rushdie, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie and ‘god’s gift to women’ Henk. At home in Amsterdam-Noord, he runs his hand across the dark lacquered surface of his dining table. Will all the guests ever return?
In our welfare state, Keulemans argues, looking after visitors from other countries has become a cold transaction, outsourced to institutions. The pandemic has put even more pressure on hospitality. Keulemans, worrying that the art of hospitality will become lost, seeks to define it by taking his own experiences as a traveller and host as a point of departure. In a mix of travel stories, memories, and observations, he reflects on the best ways to be hospitable. Why is the welcome warmer in places where people have less? How has hospitality changed in the modern era? How do you befriend a hotel room? What do guests and hosts never say to each other? What makes a place a home?
The book exudes a longing for people, for coming together to talk, drink, eat and make space for others. It tells of the deep bonds that develop between guest and host, and in doing so expresses a desire for companionship, conversation and contact. If the people in this book can do it, in the midst of misery, poverty, and calamity, what’s to stop us? ‘Welcoming strangers is never self-evident,’ the author reminds us. ‘Reservations have to be overcome, on both sides.’