Atlantico is a vast buffet inside the Lopesan Costa Meloneras Resort Spa and Casino in Gran Canaria. The Lopesan Costa Melonoras Resort Spa and Casino — or, as I will henceforth call it, TLCMRSAC — looks like Citizen Kane’s Xanadu without the art, the metaphor or the tragedy. It has towers, chandeliers, vistas, pools, terraces, tennis courts, a swim-up bar, a miniature golf course and palm trees. It is a synthetic paradise for Europeans who want sun in November in their own time zone; it is more unnatural than Las Vegas.
Atlantico has roughly one thousand covers, if you include an annexe room styled like an Egyptian tomb with a coffee machine, and an annexe terrace. (Each terrace has its own familiar, or cat.) It is painted in shades of generic blue, for the ocean I suppose, nearby but unvisited, for the sand is black, and the waves are unfriendly. There are legions of white-clothed tables; a striped floor; odd white tubes as decor, sprouting from the floor; kindly, excitable waiters and almost no natural light. It exudes gloom. It smells of peas.
It opens for dinner at 6 p.m. sharp — we are in Spain, but we are on German time, for most of the guests are German — but the line begins to form at 5.30 p.m. The line is extraordinarily dressed — intense moustaches, metallic lipstick — and bad-tempered, with subtle, international jostling. There is a dress code in Atlantico because, if there were not, everyone would be wearing matching bathrobes, or nude. (A is sent back to change out of what the dress code calls ‘short trousers’.) At six the queue surges forward with anxiety but no hunger, for what hunger is there ‘on vacation’? No, this is remembrance of the foulness of urban living. How else do you keep to the old ways of competition, and stay sharp for when you leave TLCMRSAC?
You present your room card to a machine that beeps; when it beeps — and only when it beeps — the man holding it will greet you. You pass the sign saying ‘Please disinfect your hands before you eat, thank you for your collaboration’, and two sets of ornamental golf clubs. You approach the main terrace, the one with water features and a slightly friendlier cat. If you arrive after 6.15, you will not get a table on the main terrace. This leads to the odd spectacle of people queuing to sit on the main terrace just as it has filled. For those of us already seated, it is unsettling.
This scheming is a precursor, or appetiser, for the food itself and it is necessary — because the food is not as interesting as the people eating it. What kind of a person considers temperature alone a destination? (The answer is A, and the Germans.) There is something riveting about a buffet too; something to do with possibilities unfulfilled, worlds unconquered; surely the next food ‘station’ will satisfy, and if not that then the next along? Perhaps the sprinkles (for the sundaes) will save us? Not that the food at Atlantico is particularly nice; it is generally overcooked and overseasoned. But it could be, because there is so much of it, and this is dazzling. There are soups, cold appetisers, and a bread table, with a furious, passive-aggressive clientele fingering knives; a fish station, three meat stations, a vegetable station; pastas, risottos, paellas; cheeses, pastries, ice creams and fruits. Even more fascinating is the body language; we are on edge, with nothing to do. So queues form everywhere; queues form off queues. There are satellite queues and tangential queues and queues within queues; there are even mistaken queues.
I do not like Atlantico but I love the idea of it; it is, in its odd way, dramatic.