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After years of exercising an act that, to me, defined the characteristics of imposter syndrome – staying in fancy hotels and swanning about in white robes while I read, write and dream – I’ve come to think that it comes down to playing a little game. Play that you are someone from the past or you in the far-flung future. You’re a precocious Hollywood brat; a demure French ballerina; a wise, ageing novelist; a tired Olympic athlete. You could be royalty but that’s a little obvious. Play the game, springboard your imagination. That’s almost entirely all the fun of the experience – guests, real or imaginary, optional.
The historic, storied Grand Hotel on Karl-Johans Gate in the centre of Oslo is the perfect setting for such whimsical role play. It’s glamorous, shiny and huge. You might not belong here, so get pretending; it’s what The Scream painter Edvard Munch did when he was busy swapping scrap paintings for steak dinners as he struggled as a starving artist.
The Grand is home to the famous Grand Café which greats and luminaries have treated as their second home since its opening in 1874. Having narrowly avoided closure a couple of years ago after stiff competition from contemporary hotels, thanks to some delicate facelifts this palace of dreams has lurched into a new era of entertaining some of the world’s greatest. Not satisfied with credentials as being the favourite boozing spot for artists and their muses, the hotel continues its reign as the host of the Nobel Peace Prize dinner, celebrated with a lavish banquet in the ostentatious Mirror Hall.
With this in mind, I step, weary from travelling and not yet entirely in character, into the magenta- and white-panelled, high-ceilinged Mikado suite, attended by a bellboy in an impeccable suit. In fact, it might actually have been a full tux, but I’m too distracted by the softness of the carpet, the gleaming polished floors, the scent of fresh roses and the way their blooming scarlet heads cast shadows over the walnut coffee table. I eye up the fruit platter and impressive tea stand of bitesize cakes and chocolate truffles as the bellboy politely bows out of the room.
I’m here in the dead of winter, alone, preparing for an expedition to the North Pole. Shivering, I ready myself for frostbite and pray that I don’t go down with food poisoning or pneumonia like explorer Knud Rasmussen, who died having eaten tiny fermented birds out of the belly of a seal. I calm my nerves with a swim and steam at the spa, then seek sustenance with a hefty club sandwich and crisp glass of Riesling, catching the shops for extra thermals and mittens before the moon appears and snow begins to fall. I’m fully ready to explore the giant wonderland that was my bed for the evening. My boudoir resembles a large burgundy womb and swallows me up whole after my marble bubble bath. The pampering has hit an all-time high and I can almost hear a Jiminy Cricket-esque character whispering to me about how ridiculous it all is as I reach for another grape and tut that no one had peeled it for me.
Three balconies run off my purple cloud-like room, filled with dark-wood furniture, sumptuous sofas and swishy curtains: this is how the other half live, my imposter syndrome is raging. Perhaps this is how Vivian in Pretty Women felt? I unlock the balcony doors with heavy keys, kicking off my boots and jumping up and down to keep warm as I imagine waving a gloved hand at the Nobel Peace Prize procession which would take place just below. A swarming crowd is actually gathering in the square – but it’s 2017, this is an anti-Trump protest and absolutely no one is looking at me. It’s an enchanting sight, bodies protesting in the yellow light of old street lamps that hit snowflakes, stallions and smart sergeants parading up and down the cobbled street to the sound of protest chants.
Oslo, serious Oslo, is the fairground of a different elite. Everything feels in order here. Munch lived here when he could afford it, and it’s the antithesis of the sort of bohemian disarray enjoyed by artists in the same era in other parts of Europe. These Oslo people (or Kristianians of Kristiania, as they were then known) were a clean bunch. Not a smidgen of grubby Victorian London or Paris, here. The Grand is where he came to celebrate his successes – a little charcoal under the thumbnails perhaps, otherwise clean – and at lower points drowned sorrows and plotted the next highs by swapping unassuming works for steak dinners and a bedroom. Maybe his ghost lingers here; an unholy hotel fetishist, just like me and you.
Perhaps he invited comrades like playwright Henrik Ibsen over to chink mimosa glasses over a finished script, headily scrawled as the polar winter dragged on and summer was but a distant dream. It is well-documented that Ibsen attended the café during very specific lunch and dinnertime hours as part of an long-running routine around the turn of the 20th century, and the portrait Munch painted of his pal at this spot – aptly named “Henrik Ibsen at the Grand Café” – currently hangs at the Art Institute of Chicago.
The night draws in, the crowds outside disperse, I lie between million-thread cotton sheets. As I gnaw on the end of my pen and tap away on my MacBook, I think about the chances of me not writing the next Hedda Gabler and definitely not winning the Nobel Peace Prize. But I’ve nailed the art of pretending. Now all that was left to conquer was eight hours of feverish dreams before a nourishing pre-dawn breakfast among Oslo’s greatest ghosts, before making the long journey north. Everything is good. Fine, I’ll be royalty, for one night only…
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