One of the (many) things I like about being an American Abroad is that there is so much that goes on that one doesn't fully understand. For example, not far from the Villa Muscato - which is in quite a respectable neighborhood, really it is - there is a hotel.
It's not much of a hotel, actually, wasting a prime location on a dumpy building made somehow especially offensive by how its creator dumped the worst sort of faux-Moorish details onto a squat concrete bunkerish shape. One gets the feeling that it gets by through (a) having a misleadingly bucolic name, thus possibly attracting tourists who don't do their research and (b) proximity to significantly more expensive hostelries that occasionally have to turn away visitors who've motored down from neighboring capitals for the weekend.
At one corner of this unpromising lump is the entrance to what is putatively the hotel's restaurant/café. It has a sad neon sign that, in combination with the Come-to-the-Casbah plasterwork around the stout wooden doors, vaguely recalls a far more elegant establishment (above).
Ever since we moved in, Mr. Muscato, Koko, and I, some two years ago, every night this place, its little neon sign flickering, has been packed. Cars fill the exiguous parking lot, line the neighboring street, and spill over on to what passes for sidewalks in these parts (local readers will understand the syndrome all too well).
Well, we're social enough - one look and you can tell we like a good meal. It would be lovely to have a nice little local place just around the corner, a welcome change from hotel bars and chain coffeehouses. We've gone by at various points, from morning on a weekend to mid-evening on a Wednesday (our Friday, you know) and -
Empty. Once in a while a disconsolate table of out-of-towners, or sometimes a pair of local gentleman on shisha in a corner. Other than that, nothing but a smattering of empty tables, down-at-heel sofas, and a surprised-looking waiter or two. We've asked if there are other places to eat or drink in this hotel and reluctantly have been shone a rather tragic poolside area with a table or two.
No where else?
Of course, we are intrigued.
Miss Marple-like, we find reasons to walk and drive by. We observe the comings and goings, of a range of people that even by local standards is wide: women in full abaya, foreign couples, groups of local men in national dress, young, older, you name it. And yet of our wide circle of acquaintance, not a single soul can help explain what goes on. None has ever been there, except, like us, by accident and only briefly.
It's a dry establishment, and these sorts of things are taken seriously enough here that I don't really think there's some kind of clandestine speakeasy somewhere in the bowels of the place. The variety of people that we see around the place seems to work against the most obvious assumption, that it's a run-of-the-mill brothel (although that's not at all an uncommon thing 'round about here). I've tried to make a list of other possibilities, and they all seem unlikely: methadone clinic, Alcoholics Anonymous center, Scientology meetings...
What goes on at the Surfside Hotel?