2003 Mercedes-Benz G500

George Saitas

The Ice Hotel's next section, a roomy hall, featured that gorgeous curving bar of my wife's dream. Little cubbies, furnished with tables and benches, were sculpted into the walls for those who sought intimacy while sipping vodka from their big, blocky ice glasses. A free-standing fireplace and a crackling wood fire generated the irony that, in 27,000 square feet of Ice Hotel, the only two sources of warmth were available in the bar. And another irony: Provincial code required a fire extinguisher within the bartender's reach, as if anything much could have burned.

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After seeing the sleeping chambers, we ended our tour, and I checked in at the wooden headquarters building on the hillside. Only I would be sleeping in the Ice Hotel; Brennan and the photo team had conventional accommodations at the Station cotouristique Duchesnay. Formerly a timber camp and then a forestry school, this group of log buildings is now operated as an ecotourism resort by the Qubec government; the two-year-old Ice Hotel is the station's newest addition. A restaurant--which offered a haute-cuisine dinner menu but was understaffed, its few servers ill trained--is part of the Station, and meal vouchers were handed out with room assignments.

By this point, I felt nervous. It helped little that on this night, a Thursday, few, if any, other Ice Hotel guests were in evidence. A video crew slugged down vodka back at the bar, but these guys were sleeping elsewhere. Could the whole thing be some elaborate publicity stunt, a way of getting free air time for the major commercial sponsors and even the local electrical contractor whose names were carved into every nook and cranny? Before I'd left home, anybody I told of this place had already read of it or seen it on TV. Where were the adventurous souls paying their own money to nestle down atop a bedstead of ice mitigated only by a pad and deerskins?

If I got to the sleeping chamber and found that, instead of a Bible, the Gideon Society had placed The Gulag Archipelago, I was moving out to the G500. I'd put the hard front passenger's seat through all ten adjustments, turn the seat heater up high, and let the engine idle, running the automatic climate system until that 25.4-gallon fuel tank was empty.

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Well, then, time for bed. With the words of Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener on my lips--"I'd prefer not to"--I readied myself in my chamber, the one sponsored by a Montral microbrewery that puts out a beer called La Fin du Monde, this very slogan being inscribed at the entrance. I drew shut the doorway curtain and took off my boots, parka, and insulated overalls. This left me chattering in my stocking cap, cotton turtleneck, long johns, and socks. I kept on the thin polypropylene gloves I had worn all day. Switching off the internal light that imbued the bedstead with a deceptively inviting glow, I wriggled into the thick sleeping bag provided by the staff.

I waited to fall asleep. My wing of the hotel was dead silent. The compressed-snow walls, floor, and ceiling squelched any sound. The sleeping-bag flap covering much of my face did not warm my nose, but it did stagnate the air; meanwhile, a gagging odor emanated from mid-bag--from my gloves, in fact, which in Ontario had absorbed a trace of diesel fuel. I cast out the little devils and breathed fresh air. The pint bottle of water alongside my thigh, where it would not freeze overnight, was the exact opposite of the stove-heated brick that went into my grandmother's bed in her youth. I kicked it away. I lay on my back, side, stomach, back. Falling asleep after a couple of hours, I dreamed of prostrating myself on a bed of volcanic stones interspersed with shards of broken crockery.

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