(photo by Jim Marshall)
Ana and David Alexander Grant run a mountain pension in Southeast Europe. Life in the back of beyond is not without incident.
Ana announced the conference booking with what seemed to me to be rather naive (if engaging) enthusiasm.
“This could be a huge revenue stream!” she said.
“That would be a revenue river, then?”
“If these people are happy, that’ll attract more conferences!”
“The river will flow all the way to a revenue ocean?”
“They’ve booked lunch as well as dinner – which most of our regular guests don’t do.”
“A port call as they travel downstream?”
“You can be quite exasperating.”
When a wife describes her husband as exasperating, said husband should quickly moderate his tone.
“How many are coming, and for how long?” I asked helpfully.
“Fifteen to 20. They’ll confirm tomorrow. They want three nights.”
“Where on earth are we going to put them!”
“We can bring up the bed frames from the cellar and do dormitory style.” Ana looked sheepish. “I offered them a concessionary rate for lunch.”
“But if they’re here anyway, why not charge them the full rate!”
My helpmeet’s absence of entrepreneurial zeal sometimes astounds me.
“And where is the conference to be?”
“In the lounge. We’ll move the sofas.”
Dino, our chef de cuisine and general factotum, is in charge of sofa moving (and bed-frame lifting) but he cannot discharge his duties without assistance from the owner of the hotel – that would be me.
Dino and I spent the next day lifting and laying. I’d like to say the physical exercise was therapeutic, a sort of impromptu workout. But it wasn’t. Sometimes I’d rather own a luxury hotel than a modest pension. If I owned a luxury hotel I could hire a second Dino.
“What sort of conference is it anyway?” I asked Ana. (Till then, I’d been concentrating on the furniture-moving side of event preparation.)
“It’s for entrepreneurs,” Ana said. “Problem-solving and opportunity-seizing?”
“It’s actually called ‘problem-solving and opportunity-seizing’?” I was sceptical about the revenue river generating propensities of people who gave their conference such an ungainly title.
My scepticism, I feel, was vindicated. The conference participants when they arrived did not convey an aura of imminent commercial success.
For a start, they arrived in a vehicle for which the word “vintage” would have been a euphemism. It was piloted by a man who, in the finest tradition of bus drivers the world over, looked as though the task of steering his ancient machine up our pretty but uneven mountain road had been a monumental professional imposition. The sixteen conference goers staggered onto our forecourt looking as though they had just spent an extended period on a particularly precipitous and unpleasant fairground roller-coaster.
I felt we were dipping our toe in the commercial waters very much at the no-frills end of the conference spectrum.
The group leader, a short bearded man in his thirties with the slightly irritating pushiness of the up-and-coming entrepreneur (I used to be an up-and-coming entrepreneur so I recognise the type), explained to me that his company was building what he described as “a 21st-century creative community”.
He had to speak above the noise of the bus, which departed amid a cloud of petrol fumes. The creative community might have been in the 21st century but the bus was definitely still in the 1960s.
When the weather was fine they held their sessions on the terrace. Dino and I moved the sofas out through the French windows (with no help from the creative community, I might add). They ate lunch, as advertised, and in the evenings they made responsible but robust use of the bar.
Ana’s revenue stream started to flow, and I began to entertain visions of a mighty river.
On their last day, however, there appeared to be something of a dip in the collective confidence of the creative community.
“They all look glum,” I said. “What’s the matter?”
“The bus hasn’t come, and some of them have tight connections.”
“We can ferry them into town,” I said. “I can borrow Sejo’s van.” Sejo is Dino’s cousin, a man of many talents and about fourteen vehicles, in various states of disrepair.
“That would solve their problem.”
“And we can charge the difference on the lunch rate.”
“You’re ruthless sometimes.”
“Just seizing the opportunity,” I said.
In the afternoon, feeling smug no doubt to a degree that was certifiably insufferable, I drove the creative community back down the mountain.