Feb 12, 2006

We arrive at the Ice Hotel in the late afternoon. "The light's fading," Stuart gasps – and disappears into the cool, blue labyrinth.

The guard stops me. I flash my carnaval press pass. "We're not the same company," he explains.

I know, I know. But photographers. And light. They're like children in a sweetshop, you know... We're staying here tonight, so would it just possibly be OK to wander about now?

The guard's a tall, bulky bloke in a thick coat and a Siberian-style hat. Intimidating. But he's just doing his job. And so are we.

He relents a few minutes later, having confiscated one of my business cards. I track down Stuart inside the frozen wasteland. "I saw a woman with a floor-length fur, all diagonal white and brown swirls. Want to photograph her?"

"You're a vegetarian," he points out. "Why promote dead animal skins?"

"She's an exemplar of her type," I explain. "It's an Ice Hotel. Parkas are passé! We want a big freaky fur coat! Pelts and ice, classic combo."

He agrees, so I hare off. The floorplan is probably no more convoluted than the average hotel, but there's something about the igloo walls, the sculpted benches and bars, that's disorienting. The monotonality, perhaps? The minimal furniture?

I pass a barkeep razoring opaque orange curls from an ice table. "Orange juice," she sighs.

"That would be a 30-second wipe-job anywhere else," I note. "How long will it take?"

"At least ten minutes."


Furl Swirl Lady has melted into the landscape like a Wicked Witch. I pass other day visitors: giggling Japanese girls, earnest families, ski bunnies. Disappointed, I loop back through the main chamber. A couple pose under a Gothic arch of ice.

Her legs are bare between fur-trimmed boots and a handkerchief-hemline white dress.

"Excuse me. Did you just get married?" I ask. "Could we interview you and take some pictures too?"

Rachel and Travis allow us to gatecrash their wedding. The young Sydney couple eloped to the Ice Hotel. A few days ago, they lounged on the beach in 30-degree Celsius weather. Now they are man and wife – about to sleep on a snow slab – in this minus 30-degree clime (given the wind chill).

Sixty degrees of separation!

The Marshalls, I suspect, are infinitely more fun than Fur Swirl. I glimpse her at dusk, mincing up the trail in high heels. And I'm pleased we captured their warmth and joy, instead of a cold cliché.


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