I'm delighted to have Jill Culiner back for Muse Monday on Discover... She always has an interesting post, and this time is no exception. So grab a cuppa, sit back, and enjoy.
I’ve always been fascinated by shabby old hotels, places that existed in the days before renovation, norms, so-called conveniences, and mass tourism. And when ensconced in one of those throwbacks to another era, I do enjoy imagining long gone guests and forgotten dramas. One sagging old Nevada hotel where I stayed conjured up boomtown days and silver mines; several old inns here in France took me back to a time when itinerant artists, craftsmen, and mercenaries wandered the roads. I’ve known hotels in bleak communist countries where impersonal rooms might or might not have been bugged, worker’s hotels in Turkey where men told sad stories and brewed me fern tea. But my stay in such places was, sadly, only temporary.
Together we drove over back roads lined with high hedges, shadowed by ancient oaks, and passing, every few kilometers, through modest villages. In one, on a silent main square, I caught sight of a shabby old hotel with crumbling rendering and peeling paint. It was the sort of inn that had known its heyday back in the 1930s, when people, satisfied by less, spent holidays in sleepy places, indulging in nothing more strenuous than fishing in the local river, strolling along dusty lanes, and eating well in the hotel dining room. I was fascinated by this neglected and unloved building. I longed to slip inside, explore, listen to the walls whisper, but that was impossible since it had been closed for many years. We drove on.
The next morning, I resumed my quest for a house to buy. Imagine my surprise when I walked into a notary’s office and saw a photo of that same hotel. It was for sale and very inexpensive—no one was much interested in purchasing an old wreck. No one but me…
Without a second thought, I bought it—how could I resist? Yes, it took quite a bit of restoration—definitely not renovation—and the addition of plumbing and new electrical wiring, but it’s where I still live. It’s a lovely place indeed, four or five hundred years old, with uneven beamed ceilings, and cracked quarry tiled floors. As a special treat, set into the former dining room’s walls, there are ten large landscape paintings dating from 1914. And I can guarantee that this old place quite definitely tells me tales.
You can’t put potential investors up in the usual hotels—those are
lice-infested, with one towel, one sheet for all comers, and wall separations
made out of strips of old paper—so towns have to build hotels like the Blake’s
Folly Emerald. It’s a grand place, too, with authentic cast-iron pilasters, a
paneled dining room, and a raised stage for an orchestra.
It’s in the Mizpah Saloon that, in 1889, Westley falls in love with Sookie Lacey, a former prostitute, now a dance hall girl. But romance rarely follows a straight path. Times change, loyalties end, life goes on, and new relationships form. And because we are all nosy folk who want to know more, we listen to the walls speak.
Excerpt (from 1927 when Susanna Lacey, brothel owner, runs into Alexander Treemont, former silver baron.)
Hearing the purr of a car’s engine, something rare on these back streets, she turned. A large Oldsmobile, an old-fashioned car, elegant in its antiquated way, and obviously well cared for, was coming in her direction. She knew whose it was.
The car stopped when it reached her. Out stepped Alexander, smiling, dapper in fine leather driving gloves and a cream-colored suit, the sartorial choice of those with a well-nourished bank account. He removed his flat tweed cap, greeted her, and Susanna noted how his pomaded hair, glossy and silver, stayed perfectly in place. How easy it was for men with no combs or pins to battle with every day.
“I certainly didn’t expect to run into you out here,” she said, holding out her hand. “But it has given me the perfect opportunity to thank you for the roses. They are beautiful.”
Briefly, he took her hand in his firm grip and bowed.
“Yellow. For friendship,” she added.
He met her gaze evenly. “And joy.”
Joy? “Ah. I didn’t know.”
His smile was warm. “I didn’t expect to run into you out here either.”
Susanna laughed. “I suppose most people do think I’m some strange night creature who never risks daylight.”
A line of embarrassed confusion appeared between his brows. “I didn’t…Excuse me if I…”
She couldn’t let him finish. Reaching out again, her fingers touched the soft fabric of his elegant suit jacket. “I know you didn’t mean anything offensive. You’ll have to forgive my frivolity. This spring air does have that effect on me.” With a strange reluctance, she let her
hand drop. “However, I do come out walking every day.”
“So do I.” He cocked a curious eyebrow. “But I’ve never run into you before.”
“Because I rarely head in this direction, southwest of the town.”
“And what brings you here today?”
She was unprepared for the question, and the real answer would be too revealing. Why had she come out this way? Because she’d been curious. She’d wanted to catch a glimpse of that wooden mansion where he lived, that swanky building with its broad front porch and high balcony. Ever since the arrival of those yellow roses, she had thought about him constantly—although why pretty flowers had turned her head in such a way was beyond her comprehension.
A Room in Blake’s Folly by J. Arlene Culiner (published by The Wild
If only the walls could speak…
In one hundred and fifty years, Blake's Folly, a silver boomtown notorious for its brothels, scarlet ladies, silver barons, speakeasies, and divorce ranches, has become a semi-ghost town. Although the old Mizpah Saloon is still in business, its upper floor is sheathed in dust. But in a room at a long corridor's end, an adventurer, a beautiful dance girl, and a rejected wife were once caught in a love triangle, and their secret has touched three generations.
Storytelling Podcast: https://soundcloud.com/j-arlene-culiner
Amazon Author Page : https://www.amazon.com/author/jarleneculiner-quirky-romances