Thursday, June 13, 2013

Listening at the Monteleone

In the last year of her young
life a strikingly beautiful
woman finds herself in the old
Hotel Monteleone, perusing a
guide to the port city downriver
from her native Minneapolis,
on a journey unaccompanied ex-
cept by her hostess, a friend
of the family. She is ill, but
her inscription in the endpa-
pers is firm, and continental.
Her name is Dorothea; her father
was a young teacher at Heidel-
berg, her mother, surviving far
beyond her, was of the third gen-
eration of the territory's first 
fortunes. Family legend had it
that he died of consumption in
Paris, on the young couple's
honeymoon. Now, I reason this
out, more probably: there may
well have been no marriage, as
her conception took place, de-
spite all precaution. Her father
may well not have died. Yet she
became beautiful, even accept-
ing her position in society; 
then, redeeming the cherished, 
missing fatherentered into
a second marriage, to a boys' 
school teacher. If I do hold
her in my mind, it's not for
having met her. It's for be-
ing left my eyes.

'Old New Orleans' has been
compiled chiefly from an-
cient notarial acts, in ev-
ery case the history of each
old home has been searched
through these conveyance rec-
ords to establish original 
ownership and the year of ac-
tual building. Therefore, if
blame for blasted tradition
is to be attached to anyone
it should be placed on the
shoulders of the notaries of
a century or more ago who set
down in their sear and yellowed
files the actual transactions ..

  To steal a glance and, anxious, see
  Him slipping into transparency -
  The feathered helmet already in place,
  Its shadow fallen across his face
  (His hooded sex its counterpart) -
  Unsteadies the routines of the heart.
  If I reach out and touch his wing,
  What harm, what help might he then bring?

  But suddenly he disappears,
  As so much else has down the years ...
  Until I feel him deep inside
  The emptiness, preoccupied.
  His nerve electrifies the air.
  His message is his being there.

Stanley Clisby Arthur
Old New Orleans:
  A History of the Vieux Carré,
  Its Ancient and Historical Buildings
Harmanson, 1936©

J.D. McClatchy
Mercury Rising
  Mercury Dressing
Knopf, 2011©


  1. The Monteleone hosts my mother's favorite bar in New Orleans. On its merit. Which is a pleasant thought, because she doesn't know that Hemingway and Faulkner chose it for the same reasons.

    1. Now, this must surely blow the Monteleone website through the roof for reservations, not that they won't come dear. On prohibitive weight of probabilities alone, none of us could escape having visited a bar favoured by either of these gentlemen; but to be known as a watering hole preferred by the mother of a reader of rmbl, and in the present tense at that, must justify some presentment for royalties, wouldn't you say? Ah, but the slippery slope of commerce must be such a distraction to manage, that I'm prepared to pass the full benefit of this endorsement to the hotel, for still knowing how to welcome a lady.