Midnight Cha-Cha-Cha and Tabasco

I am about sixteen.  I wake up in the middle of night.  The sound of distant crunching, faint music and the light spilling into the corridor lure me like the tune of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.  I get out of bed.  Naz, the canine of miscellaneous origin curled up at the bottom of my bed, opens his sleep-glazed eyes briefly, then closes them again.  No cause for alarm.  He's seen this happen before over the years.  Many, many times.  

At the small kitchen table, my mother is leafing through an out-of-date Il Corriere della Sera or Le Monde which she hasn't had time to look at sooner.  She's at the office all day and sometimes doesn't come home until late.  She is buttering a row of three of four grissini, trying not to break them, balances a small piece of parmigiano on the pan flute-like construction, then shakes a bottle of Tabasco sauce over it before putting it into her mouth.  The sharp scent rushes up my nostrils.  Soft music is playing on the radio.  While munching, she reaches for a red felt tip pen and marks articles she intends to cut out later.

She is startled.  "Oh, tesoro, did I wake you up? I'm so sorry.  I'm going to bed in a minute –  I was on my way, as a matter of fact, but I suddenly felt hungry."  

The clock on top of the fridge shows half past midnight.  Suddenly hungry after midnight.  As usual.

I sit at the table, yawning.  My eyes wander over the maps that cover practically every inch of the wall.  Israel, Italy, Turkey, France, Greece, USA, Germany, Luxembourg.  My mother's way of helping me learn geography.  Scraps of paper  with quotations.  Francis Bacon, Erasmus, Julius Caesar, Shakespeare, Ernest Renan, Trilussa.  Her way of helping me learn to think.  

I reach out for a grissino and crunch off the tip, lazily.  "Are you hungry, too?" she asks, quickly swallowing her mouthful.  "Here, help yourself." She pushes the packet of extra long, thin, Piedmontese-style breadsticks, the butter and cheese closer to me.  Then she stands up and opens the fridge door.  "What else would you like? Oh, look, we have some fontina  – would you like some?"

I shake my head and keep crunching my grissino.

She suddenly gasps and turns up the radio slightly.  "Listen, listen.  You recognise it, don't you?"

"Dvorak's Symphonic Dances."

She gasps again.  "I adore this." She softly hums along.

I cut myself a piece of cheese.

"Here, don't you want some Tabasco sauce on it?" Her expression turns pixieish.  "It's very, very hot." She picks up the small bottle, throws her head back, and shakes some sauce on her tongue.  Her eyes narrow.  "Mmm... Delicious!" 

She's daring me.  Or else she wants confirmation that I'm really her flesh and blood, that she can be proud of me.  I want her to be proud of me.  I accept the bottle she's handing me and put Tabasco on my cheese.  The sharp chilli and vinegar taste wakes me up.  

"Good, isn't it?"

I nod.  I'm like her.  My mother's daughter.

She sits down again and returns to her snack.

"Your Auntie J. and I, when we shared a flat, sometimes, when we had no money and no dinner invitations, we would sit and eat grissini and Tabasco sauce at night.  And we would dance the bossa nova or the cha-cha-cha. "

I've heard this before, but I love hearing it again.  My mother and her Iranian friend, a stunning-looking woman with ivory skin, black hair and bright blue eyes – Auntie J. to me – and their exploits in early 1960s Rome.  Via Veneto till four in the morning, a month's salary on a pair of soft leather Magli shoes, chasing after singer Domenico Modugno in J.'s Fiat 600 (until he stopped his car, came out and looked around to see the two girls waving at him), dancing in nightclubs on boats moored on the Tiber, coloured lightbulbs strung on the deck.  Like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. Before I came along and made it all abruptly impossible.

"You can dance the bossa nova, can't you?"

Yes.  She taught me on one of the other nights like this one.

"And the cha-cha-cha?"

I wish I could say yes.  But it's 1981.  My school friends and I go to discos with bright flashing lights, red laser beams.  We dance to Richard Sanderson singing Reality and want to look like Sophie Marceau.

"Come!" My mother goes into the living room and switches on the lights.  "Come and stand next to me."

My face has an uncontrollable grin of anticipation across it.  I'm going to bond with her.

"Now look at me.  One, two, one-two-three.  One, two, one-two-three.  Wait!" She kicks off her slippers and sends them flying across the room.  Her feet have exceptionally high arches.  Nothing between the ball and the heel touches the marble floor.  

I park my slippers next to the sofa and follow her example.

She takes me by the hand.  "One, two, one-two-three.  Now this isn't ballet school, so sway your hips a little.  Like this.  Good."

Good.  Well, I can't sway as gracefully as she.  Just like I'll never get into her 60-centimetre waist silk and satin evening dresses – the ones she wore before I came along – which she is saving for me for when I grow up.

Suddenly, an outraged, astounded face appears in the doorway.  Without her glasses, my grandmother's large, slightly protruding eyes look even larger.  This cameo is also part of the routine.  She looks at my mother.  "Are you crazy? It's one o'clock in the morning! The child has to go to school tomorrow! Katia, go to bed.  And look at you, barefoot on the stone floor.  You'll catch a cold!"

I reply, on cue, "Oh, no, not yet, please!"

"Yes, yes, Mum, you're absolutely right," my mother says with a total lack of sincerity.  "We'll both go to bed soon.  I promise.  Why don't you come and dance with us?"

My grandmother stands in the doorway for a few seconds.  "Well, goodnight, you crazy night owls."  

She vanishes as quietly as she appeared.  Such a light step.  "She never even wears out her shoes," my mother often says.

Now that I've mastered the basic steps, we come to phase two of the lesson.  My mother goes to the bamboo bookcase that holds all our records.  She pulls out an Ella Fitzgerald LP, places it on the Philips turntable, lifts the arm, carefully lowers the sapphire stylus on the right track.

You-ouuuuuuuuuu – you!

You're driving me crazy

One, two, cha-cha-cha.  One, two, cha-cha-cha.

We dance together.  Ella Fitzgerald speeds up.  The words are sung faster and faster,   spiralling beyond the possibility of any dance steps, so it becomes a free for all on the marble floor.  

It's half past one.  We're both breathless, suppressing our laughter to avoid waking up my grandmother.  "Now go to bed, tesoro," my mother says, her face suddenly authoritative although the corners of her mouth are still dimpled and her eyes sparkling.

I go to bed.  My mother returns to the kitchen.  I wonder how long she'll stay up.  I wish I weren't so sleepy.  I wish I didn't have school tomorrow.  On my bed, the dog is snoring.  I slip under the blanket, taking care not to push him with my feet.

I fall asleep, smiling, my hand under my pillow, the previous couple of hours tight in my fist.  Like a treasure I never want to lose.

Scribe Doll  

280 Hits
6 Comments

In Praise of Old Hotels – Taos and Leadville

It has been a while since I shared an old hotel dispatch from the road.   Here in the high desert of New Mexico, June is our hottest month and the only time when we get temperatures of around 100 degrees. That’s a good reason to head to a cooler location for a few days. I took a road trip north to Steamboat Springs in Colorado to do some fishing and just "chill". I was surprised to see tulips and daffodils blooming up there…it was still spring and the mountains  had a lot of snow.

  

On the road to Tres Piedras

Anyway…The most direct route is north through Taos and then, following the Rio Grande, crossing into Colorado and passing through the San Luis Valley, over the rooftop of Colorado to Leadville and then down the Blue River Valley to the Colorado River at Kremmling, then over Rabbit Ears Pass and finally into Steamboat Springs…about 500 miles. There are many historic hotels along that route…some a little too historic, as in falling down. I stayed in Taos and Leadville along the way.

 

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument

 Taos

Taos has been a meeting place for over 1,000 years. Taos Pueblo is one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in North America. The pueblo was a traditional trading center between the local Pueblo people and the plains Indians. The Spanish arrived in 1615 and established the town and the trading activity intensified, interspersed with occasional raids and later the Pueblo revolt of 1680. The region became US territory in 1847. The artists and writers began arriving around 1900 and it has been an important center for the arts ever since.

Sagebrush Inn


 

I’m starting out with a white lie. I didn’t stay at the Sagebrush Inn on this trip but did on an earlier one about eight months before. The place looks southwestern and is in the Spanish/Pueblo Revival architectural style common to northern New Mexico. It doesn’t appear to be all that old from the outside because, by now, you are used to seeing places that look old whether they are or not. Once you get inside the age of the place becomes more apparent. It looks authentically and honorably and expensively old. It would cost a lot these days to make something look like this without making it look plastic, as if Walt Disney had a hand in it.

The Sagebrush Inn had its start in 1933 catering to the travelers visiting Taos on their way to Arizona and the Grand Canyon. It was (and still is) a little bit of a distance from the Taos Plaza and the popular restaurants and shops. The Inn was a smallish place at first but expanded with a restaurant and additional rooms to accommodate more guests. Georgia O’Keefe lived in one of the rooms for a year in the 1930s…now called the “Artist’s Loft”. Ansel Adams stayed there and certainly made effective use of his time visiting photographic sites.  He was already familiar with the Taos Pueblo by 1930 and the famous Mission of San Francisco de Asis is across the road and a few hundred yards south of the Inn. The village of Hernandez is about forty miles south near the Pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh, called San Juan Pueblo in Ansel Adams’ day. Dennis Hopper was a frequent visitor at the Inn. Marlon Brando, Robert Redford, Gerald Ford, and famed Navajo artist, R. C. Gorman all spent time at the Sagebrush Inn. Gorman’s original artwork is displayed at the Inn.  In the 1950s, it had an illegal gambling room tucked away somewhere that was eventually raided.

 

In more modern times the Sagebrush Inn has expanded from the original twelve rooms to 156 rooms and become a conference center as well as a hotel. There was an automobile dealership event of some type while I was there.

 

I stayed in a comfortable modern guest room. The restaurant and lounge were popular with the guests and the food was very good. I suspect there are comparable lodging places at less cost but this is a place with some history and atmosphere if you look past the more modern additions. Another option might be the Hotel La Fonda on the Taos Plaza which has an interesting history dating back to 1880 but has also been modernized considerably over the years. 

San Francisco de Asis Mission Church (1772)

Kachina Lodge

On this recent trip, I wanted to stay closer to the Taos Plaza so I chose the Kachina Lodge, walking distance from the plaza and shops on Bent Street. I stayed on the way north into Colorado and again on the way back home a week later. I was scheduled to attend a literary reading at the Op Cit bookstore on Bent Street and this was a convenient and interesting location.

The Kachina Lodge is of a later generation, a classic 1960s sort of place that catered to visitors to Taos. That was the era when Baby Boomer kids, like me, were being dragged around the country by their parents in big-finned cars to see the USA in our Chevrolet. The lodge began in the 1960s but expanded considerably in the 1970s but with the same Taos style that echoes Pueblo and Colonial Spanish architecture.  Of course, there is a large swimming pool, sort of in a pinto bean shape.

 

There are about eight buildings of guest rooms, called casitas (Zia Casita, Tesuque Casita, Santa Fe Casita, etc.). I stayed in the Zia Casita building both visits, once upstairs and once on the ground floor. I recommend the ground floor rooms – they are cooler and easier to get to but don’t have the little balcony sitting area. The room capacity of the place seems to far out-reach the number of guests. It must have been a very busy place at one time. The Kachina Lodge hosts conferences and meetings so maybe I just visited on at a quiet time. During ski season, it might be very popular because the room rate is attractive. During summer months, they have ceremonial dancers from Taos Pueblo perform every night in an open performance space. I was busy in the evenings and didn’t see the performances.

 

There is a lot of common lobby and sitting room space in the main building as well as meeting rooms. The lounge was closed when I was there. French doors at the rear of the building open on a spacious and shady portal with a view of the swimming pool. I can imagine the moms and dads of the 1960s enjoying an adult beverage while junior splashes around in the pool. Some of those Baby Boomers are still in the pool.

 

 

The 1960s are clearly evident if you just look around. I noticed the lighting fixtures and some of the furnishings seemed straight out of an old Elizabeth Taylor, Tony Curtis, Debbie Reynolds, or maybe Jerry Lewis movie.

 

The Blue Mesa Café is the on-site restaurant and it is another classic 1960s space complete with a totem pole serving as the center support for a round, kiva shaped seating area. When I was there for breakfast the food was good but service was awful. Be prepared to tackle the waitress to get a menu. I must have been invisible on both visits. Guests get a fifty-percent discount for breakfast so the price was right and I wasn’t in a hurry anyway. The café is a good place to people-watch while waiting for your food.

 

The Kachina Lodge is a little quirky but I enjoyed staying there and would do it again. The room rate was very reasonable and you get a cheaper rate by calling the Lodge than by going through Expedia or another on-line lodging site. The location was convenient. It is a family run place and the “maid” is a sixteen-year-old boy who sings to himself as he works…a song only he knows.

Next door to the Lodge is the Taos Ale House/Burger Bar and about a half mile walk toward the plaza is the Taos Mesa Brewery Taproom. I visited both but the Ale House is a friendly and casual place if you don’t feel like walking a half-mile for craft beer. The food was fine at both and the Ale House had several familiar Albuquerque craft beers on tap. Taos Mesa had their own locally brewed beer. It was all good.

 

Colorado's High Peaks

Leadville

The road from Taos to Leadville is scenic to say the least and goes through some of the oldest communities in Colorado. The Spanish conquistadors ventured up into this part of Colorado and the San Luis Valley was settled by people moving north out of New Mexico. The early settlers were sheep herders and there is a weaving tradition in some communities. Heading north the traffic thins out and you are in view of some of the highest peaks of Colorado. Leadville, the highest incorporated town in the US (10,152 ft.) was founded in 1877 but first settled in 1859 during the Colorado gold rush. Instead of gold, the place became famous and wealthy based on silver deposits. 

 

The Delaware Hotel

Leadville was booming in the 1880s and needed properly designed and constructed business establishments to replace the mining town ambiance that permeated the place…and still does to some degree. Three brothers, William, John and George Callaway recently of Denver, arrived in Leadville in the mid-1880s and began what must have been one of the earliest attempts at urban renewal. There were about 25,000 people living in Leadville at the time and the brothers were very much interested in making a profit from the folks working in the mines.

 

The brothers first went to work building commercial space…the two-story Callaway Block on Harrison Avenue. Next, they started on the Delaware Hotel on the corner of Seventh and Harrison (named after their home state) and it was completed in 1886 at the substantial cost of $60,000. The first floor was reserved for commercial space with hotel rooms on the two upper floors.  George King, the architect for much of the building boom, favored the then popular Second Empire style with ornamentation and mansard roofs. King also designed the Grand Tabor Hotel in a very similar style across the street from the Delaware.

When I made reservations I asked for a room with antique furnishings…why not? When I checked in I had a two-room suite that would have slept seven people. My four-poster bed was high enough that I would have injured myself if I fell out of bed. It was, indeed, furnished with some impressive antique furniture. The second room had a couple iron-frame beds and a nice writing desk. There was a walk-through bathroom connecting the two rooms.

 

 

The hotel is entered off Seventh Street. The lobby has a grand staircase leading up to the guest rooms. Antiques are everywhere. There is a breakfast room off the lobby through an arched alcove. At the other end of the lobby is a small (modernized) 1880ish bar for serving drinks and a seating area. There is some commercial space further toward the Harrison Avenue entrance. Upstairs there is a broad hallway leading to the guest rooms with space designed for seating and more 1880 period furnishings. The place has been modernized a little but still has the feel of a grand hotel in mining country of the 1880s. You can almost get a glimpse of Doc Holliday, Poker Alice, "Unsinkable" Molly Brown, and Baby Doe Tabor in and around the place.

The hotel offers a continental breakfast in the breakfast room each morning. You can smell the coffee brewing in your room. I was happily impressed with the place and would have stayed there again on my way home but it was booked thanks to a major mountain bike event. Leadville, and most of Colorado it seems, is mountain bike country. Those biker folks look healthy but scrawny by my standards. 

Conveniently located across the street from the Delaware Hotel, a thirsty traveler will discover the Periodic Brewery – as in 'Pb', the designation for lead on the Periodic Table of Elements. You must be a little bit of a geek at his elevation. In fact, the Periodic Brewery is the highest elevation craft brewery in the world, they proudly tell me. The place was popular, the beer was good, and my pulled-pork sandwich was great. The brewery is small and only had four beers on tap and ran out of two of them while I was there (not my doing). There was a guy on the back porch brewing more beer but you better get there early. The staff was not the friendliest I’ve met but they seemed like they were good at finding more beer in the back room when the two taps ran dry. Maybe they were a little stressed out…the next weekend was going to be hectic with thirsty bikers. You soon realize that drinking a lot of beer at over 10,000 feet of elevation is a little risky and, luckily, the Delaware Hotel is just across the street. You can get there.

So, all in all the trip was enjoyable. Summer in Colorado is a little too crowded for my liking but that’s because I live in (almost empty) New Mexico. I’m not a skier but I imagine it is even more crowded in many places during ski season.

Moo

*     *     *

414 Hits
7 Comments

Of Truth

"What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer. Certainly there be, that delight in giddiness, and count it a bondage to fix a belief; affecting free-will in thinking, as well as in acting. And though the sects of philosophers of that kind be gone, yet there remain certain discoursing wits, which are of the same veins, though there be not so much blood in them, as was in those of the ancients. But it is not only the difficulty and labor, which men take in finding out of truth, nor again, that when it is found, it imposeth upon men's thoughts, that doth bring lies in favor; but a natural though corrupt love, of the lie itself. One of the later school of the Grecians, examineth the matter, and is at a stand, to think what should be in it, that men should love lies; where neither they make for pleasure, as with poets, nor for advantage, as with the merchant; but for the lie's sake. But I cannot tell; this same truth, is a naked, and open day-light, that doth not show the masks, and mummeries, and triumphs, of the world, half so stately and daintily as candle-lights. Truth may perhaps come to the price of a pearl, that showeth best by day; but it will not rise to the price of a diamond, or carbuncle, that showeth best in varied lights. A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure. Doth any man doubt, that if there were taken out of men's minds, vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like, but it would leave the minds, of a number of men, poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves?"

Francis Bacon

Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall, 1625 

 

268 Hits
0 Comments

The Poem I would have Writ

"My life has been the poem I would have writ, 
But I could not both live and utter it."

Henry David Thoreau

Born July 12, 1817

227 Hits
2 Comments

Latest Comments

Monika Schott A rickety bridge
18 November 2017
Thanks, Di.
Diane Rampertshammer A rickety bridge
17 November 2017
Pure poetry - very evocative - you are a painter with words..Di
Ken Hartke Lamenting the Lost Art of Conversation
12 November 2017
Thanks for the comments. Rosy -- I look at this sort of social conversation as a healthful thing for...
Rosy Cole First Song
12 November 2017
This is almost like a memory of birth, reviving those sensations, but translated in imagistic terms....
Rosy Cole Lamenting the Lost Art of Conversation
12 November 2017
Oh Ken, how rare that is! A gift. What a lovely sojourn in the byways and an unexpected exchange of ...

Latest Blogs

                                                         The fading season —                             when all the trees have darkened           ...
      'I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse, perhaps, to be locked in.' Virginia Woolf     I know w...
A slow sway pinches out a crying creak. It wavers and reverberates, motions in the belly as a slug of up and down. Yet there’s no whiff of breeze on...
Although I had admired a lovely large tree across our lake with yellow leaves for a couple of weeks, I kept wanting to see some reds and bright orange...
                To that which moves, to that which moves,          Which penetrates the universal shine         And shimmy, Roundabout, wh...