Richard: ‘You write [of your upgrade at the Washington Hilton]: ‘They also serve a free dinner every night between 5 and 7 – although in their minds I think it’s only hors d’oevres.’ I’ve been exhorting our staff for decades on this subject, and yet when they go to trade shows they eschew the ‘hospitality suites’ and instead go to restaurants. What are they thinking?

Gennady [to be read, please, with Absurdistan Russian accent]: ‘Your story about upgraded free stay at Washington Hilton reminded me about last fall’s trip my wife and I and two of our high-school classmates took to Germany and Switzerland. We easily found inexpensive hotels in Heidelberg, Lucerne (my all-time favorite city), Zurich, but when it came to Lausanne, we were at a loss: nothing less than 150 euros per night. So, being a member of Hilton HHonors program, I decided to check if there are places we can stay for free (e.g., points). Sure enough, Hilton’s web site came back with 1 match when I inquired for Lausanne +/- 25 miles. We quickly booked a night at 40,000 points, and off we went to our high-school reunion. Turns out, the Hilton nearest Lausanne (Switzerland) is actually located in France, on the southern short of Lake Geneva, whereas Lausanne itself is located on the northern short of same. This meant a rather enjoyable and pleasant trip around half the lake to get to hotel (plus border crossing, which for us, children of USSR, is always an amazing experience, however uneventful it maybe). When we finally get to our hotel, which is located in Evian-les-Baines, which is where Evian water is coming from, we’re smitten by great lobby, excellent six-storey hotel right on the short of this gorgeous lake – and no customers!!! Turns out, this place has just opened like two or three months ago, and there were like two rooms occupied. Amazing! My HS classmate and best friend Yakov is currently Gold with Hilton, so he gets an automatic upgrade to the concierge level. This means that for next two nights (we loved the place so much, we stayed extra night!) we were treated to the top floor lounge, empty of course since there were no customers in the place. The food (we’re in France, after all) was great; the mini-bar had every imaginable adult beverage and soft drink; and, to top it off, the place had 50″ flat screen TV, outside balcony with panoramic views of the lake, and this incredible coffee machine which made cappuccinos and espressos to die for! And the breakfast was free, too! Needless to say, we did not spend any euros at the place, except Internet service which cost a whopping 10 euros for 30 minutes. So, my 80,000 Hilton points were well spent.’

☞ Gennady has nothing to do with Absurdistan, but I am now reading all things Russian with the thick accent in which this audiobook is being read to me. It got a rave from the New York Times, but does deserve a warning: the faint of heart or, more particularly, the delicate of sensibility, should steer well clear. ‘Earthy’ barely begins to describe this first novel.

MALCOLM GLADWELL

Jim Reed: ‘[With Regard to your recommendation of Blink], I am a great fan of Gladwell. If you haven’t already, be sure to listen or watch his TED talk (September 19, 2006). I particularly like the four talks released in Sep 2006 by Gladwell, Levitt, Gilbert and Schwartz. You can subscribe to the podcasts via iTunes or utilize the TED web site.’

MOLLY IVINS

From the obit by Katharine Q. Seelye: ‘After Patrick J. Buchanan, as a conservative candidate for president, declared at the 1992 Republican National Convention that the United States was engaged in a cultural war, she said his speech ‘probably sounded better in the original German.’ ‘

DANIEL GORDIS

Tomorrow.

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