A Narrator’s Farewell Part III: Bringing the Hotel’s Paintings to Life

Finally, I leave you and the Pfister Hotel with twenty (soon to be twenty-one–I’ll explain later) creative works written by me and participants in the five Plume Service writing experiences that took place between December and April.  My original goal was to bring all 80 of the Victorian-era paintings in the Hotel to life, so for the first two workshops, we perused the halls and walls of the lobby level, the mezzanine, and the 7th floor ballrooms.  I soon realized that capturing the spirit of all 80 in a few Saturday afternoons or weekday happy hours would be an impossible task!

With grand intentions, I asked participants during our first workshop to step into the paintings, then step back and contemplate the bigger picture, the world just outside the frame: What’s to the left and the right that the painter’s eye has cropped out?  What’s happening above or below?  What is that figure looking at beyond the boundaries of the canvas and wood?  

I asked them to stoop a bit closer to the oils and watercolors to notice details they might have missed.  To bend an ear to listen, perhaps imagining the taste of a fruit.  To breathe in deeply through their nose to smell the salty air.

I wondered: What is Diana telling her women at the beginning of the hunt?  What are the two women gossiping about at the altar of Athena? What is going on in the head of the nude figure at the edge of the pool? 

How did the girlfriends in Scadrone’s painting meet?  What’s going to happen after the chianti runs dry in Giachi’s, and who loses Lesrel’s card game?  What are the words to Peluso’s romantic serenade, and how is the woman in Grolleron’s piece going to get that man to leave her alone?!

The paintings offered us intriguing compositions and perspectives and colors, but since Domenichino, Bompiani, and Mayer are no longer here to give us the scoop, we became art (and artistic) sleuths, uncovering the stories these paintings tell and expressing them in our own words, through flash fiction, poetry, and other written forms.

On subsequent occasions, we would experiment with microscopic and macroscopic perspectives, with voice, and even with erotica and mock bad reviews of the paintings.

In the end, we created literary renditions of the twenty-one paintings on the mezzanine level that wraps around the lobby.  In time, these creative works will appear on placards next to each painting, accompanying the smaller nameplates that already exist.  Until then, I serve them up here as my final Plume Service to you and the Hotel.  Bon apetit!

“The Poppy Field” by Louis Aston Knight (interpreted by Amy Miller)

The sun was warm for late summer.  The scent of the flowers was strong in the air, delightfully suffocating in its heaviness.

Isabelle looked over at her sister Henrietta, already dressed in her best clothes and wearing an apron to protect against soiling.  “Dear sister, I am so happy to be here with you,” said Isabelle, plucking another perfect, pink bloom.

“Not as happy as I to have you with me!” replied Henrietta.  “Just to think, the two of us picking my marriage bouquet.  It will be as if you are holding my hand down the aisle.”

Isabelle could hear the joy in Henrietta’s voice.  It was heartwarming, even in the heat–and the dizzying profusion of color abounded around them.

“You have accepted a good man.  I’m sure he will bring you a happy life.”

“Thank you for your blessing, dear sister.”

“Well, it’s really his blessings you will be concerned with this evening,” said Isabelle with a conspiratorial nudge.  

Henrietta gasped and blushed.  “Izzy,” she cried, with playful horror.

“Well, Is it not true?  T’would be a sad life to be bound to a man who could not fulfill all his duties.”

“Izzy, I’m sure he will make me happy,” Henrietta said, dropping her gaze and blushing.

“Sunday Afternoon” by Richard Lorenz (interpreted by Eduardo De la Cruz)

I Thought It Was You

Brother, the time we grew, the times we saw the ships along the pier leaving men of hope and sharp ideas and came back mules of war, or part of them.  I remember when we rode along the tall greens back when we were too young for men.  When the kids would play and we’d chase after them.

Then war took us, and our groups were divided.  Years after, I found you, with a large bandage around your body; you’d been hurt.  Remember laughing about it?  We stayed up all night and traded stories: the good ones, the fun ones, the bad ones, and really bad ones.

Then, it became hard to talk.  You managed to get a job outside of town in a rich man’s place, while I stayed in a poor man’s den.  Months passed and no sign of you.  I heard he has people take care of you, but sometimes I don’t know.  I miss you, brother.  We are old now.

The other day I saw someone with a scar that looked like the one you had on your left side, but he didn’t turn to say Hi.  He went right through. Maybe . . . no, he couldn’t be you.

“Grand Match of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club” by John le Conte Edin (interpreted by Ana Moreno)


Everyone squints and reaches to see.  All eyes lock on the final throw.  Two women and a boy huddle, trying to keep warm; they can see their breath as they blow to warm their hands.

“Mr. Wadsworth would like a glass of the red wine and an orange,” remarks the boy.

The crowd becomes hushed as the final curler from the South throws his potential match-winning curl.  

The Apple Thief

The women and girls converse:

“How silly these men are, letting such a game consume them.”

“Such a waste of time in my opinion.”

“Elizabeth and Sarah took a basket of oranges, bread, and wine to sell.”

“Oh, did they take Elizabeth’s boy with them?  The one who is always running about?”

“Oh, yes, yes.  And thank goodness, too.  That boy is nothing but mischief.”

“Do you know he stole an apple right off of my tree last summer?   I will never forget it.  I was looking out the window, admiring a beautiful, crisp day, and all of a sudden that scoundrel runs right up to our apple tree, glances around to see if anyone is looking, plucks a fruit right off a limb, and proceeds along his merry way!”

“The nerve!”

“I know.  And you can imagine how his mother reacted when I gave her a piece of my mind.  Paddled him good, she did.”

“Well, it is good she took him with her.  We don’t need the likes of him galavanting around.”

“Not that they will sell much anyway.”

“Oh, I agree.  I feed my husband far too well for him to need anything else from any other woman.”

They laugh.

Talk About the Weather

The men and boys converse:

“Well, Mr. Wadsworth.  What is the news today?  What of that shipment of tea that was set to come in this morning?”

“It has yet to arrive.  Storms in the south seas.  I hope all three ships make it ashore.”

“The weather has been horrendous as of late.”

“Yes, I agree.  Just the other day, Caroline’s wash was ruined when a storm blew in from the east.  All evening–and even at night–she could not be appeased.”

“All this talk of women at a curling match?  Does not belong, I say.”

The crowd silences itself as Mr. Price throws his final curl.  The anticipation is almost palpable in the crisp evening air.  Men and boys strain their eyes, contort their bodies, and scamper to get the best view as the curl skid gracefully across the ice.

Untitled Landscape (interpreted by Monica Thomas)

The lake says goodbye
to reflection
as the sun hides.

The sky says goodbye
to the light
of day.

The road says goodbye
to days
uninhibited.

And the winds
And time
And memory
Never say goodbye.

“Seascape” by Robert W. Wood (interpreted by Kavon Cortez-Jones)

Mezzanine viewpoint
against the Cali coastline
the water crashes.

“A View of Venice” by Charles Clement Calderon (interpreted by Christina Oster)

From Father

Mother,

Demon vessels have demented my sails.
Waves crash, carrying away sediment filled with sentiment.
A mirage to think that my mast was made of steel.
It is not.
My mast is frail and feeble, getting weaker with the pelting storm.
But, my love, don’t ever question your presence through it all.
My view of Venice is not a blur.
I do recall.
I recall your beauty, your heart, your service.
I am soon approaching inevitable shipwreck.
But I will forever remember what the sea has forced me to forget.

“Grecian Girl” by Antonio Torres (interpreted by Christina Oster)

From Mother

Father,

Finally, our Parthenon crumbles to ruins.
The Aegean Sea sailed your ship to sunset well before I could perform a final tidy-up.
My exhaustion prevails, but faith through my passion and pain will pulse and persist until our life
Our structure
is someday restored.
But for now, my love
I have poured my last service.

“Diana of the Hunt (after Domenichino)” (interpreted by Alexa Hollywood aka Celeste Hagiopate, Punk Theosopher & Poseur)

Celeste Hagiopiate Reviews a Painting at the Pfister Hotel

Oh look, a Tableau.  Victorians loved their Tableaus. Here, a zaftig Diana is posed in a most wooden position, two arms raised.  She stands to the left of the center of the painting.  She is far too modest to stand center stage. But damn it, she demands to be seen.  Dark trees in the background circle her brighter figure.

She is at the apex of an isosceles triangle of stilted figures.  In the background and to the right is another triangle, far more sparse and off-kilter than the opulent composition in the foreground.  (Postmodern Aside: Dom Inouye, Pfister Narrator, has asked us to notice and amplify one small detail.)

Look.  There is a chaste, bare-breasted nymph at the bottom of the painting.  She is pointing aimlessly.  Her index finger directs our eyes to the great beyond.  Those Victorians!  Stupid girl, she should be pointing at Diana or at the very least, pointing to the drunken revelers in the distance.

Was this painting meant for a mansion?  I suspect so.  A lunging hound honors the position off center and just a little lower to the right.  A direct line can be drawn between it and Diana.  This is a geometrically precise painting.  What, you expect a lush, adjectival poem about a pretty little scene from the old crone?  Leave that to the dewy-eyed twenty-year-olds.

Coda: I’m drunk.  I don’t sing for my supper or for my Cabernet Sauvignon.  Lousy voice.  I can be coaxed to write and recite a brief address.  I do it to entertain myself.  If it entertains you, well, that is an extra bonus.

“Fortune Teller” by Ludwig Vollmar (interpreted by Dominic Inouye)

Dear Herr Vollmar,

I write to you today with a quite serious request.  Two days ago, I accompanied my younger sister–you’ll remember her as Lotta–to your home, despite my initial concern about two girls such as us visiting a stranger, let alone a man, in his private abode.  You must know that it was not without a moral struggle betwixt us that I finally conceded to this most curious venture–if only, I told her, to unleash my feminine venom should anything unseemly occur.

She sought your sage advice, believing you to be a man of both your word and a man of God, inspired by the holy scriptures.  Indeed, the icons and crucifix and prayer beads that hang on your wall seem to speak to this truth.  But, sir, I studied you, since I am an observant and cautious girl, just as my mother always taught me to be.  Your holy words, on the contrary, belied the archaic babble inspired by the arcana of your dusty tarot cards, hidden as they were beneath the table.  I was wise to your charlatanism but refrained from intervening, as my sister had willingly clasped her heart over her ears.  She would have been as deaf to my plea for her to leave your foolery as she was deaf to your foolery.  You spoke no godly words, only ones of devils and towers, hierophants and suns–and the Hanged Man–which she no doubt heard as favorable signs gleaned from the Old Testament or, better yet, the Apocalypse, that her long months of pining for a certain young man, nay fool, would soon be over.

This is why I write to you now, in her absence, to insist that you never allow her to visit you again; neither will she procure your services nor will you promote them. For you have gained in coins what she has lost in faith and decency.  Yes, she has more hope now, but it is misguided, turned awry by a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  I promise to not be too slow to call your bluff and reveal you as the false prophet you are.  For now, she must not know I have made such demands on her behalf.  I trust you will heed this warning.

Sincerely,

Neté Fuchs*

* In German, Fuchs means “fox hunter.”

“Chianti” by E. Giachi (interpreted by Monica Thomas)

Pointed shoes
on slats of
dry cedar. 

Muslin bodice
straps falling off
left shoulder.

Another unshaven
man with wandering
hands.

Another empty
cask of wine
and he’ll be out.

Untitled (interpreted by Thea Kovac)

The cold hearth of  

a dark fireplace 

tall enough to walk through
is not the source

of light that limns 

her alert profile
soft neck

fingertips poised mid-stroke

above the guitar strings

his shoe buckle
round trouser buttons

climbing his shin

gnarled knuckles

sagging head

Does it matter if they are lit from yonder lamp or perhaps
lightning? 

He sleeps on.

“The Dancer” by Adolphe Piot (interpreted by Eduardo De la Cruz)

The Sarah Nobody Knows

Creeping and eloquent in style–synonymous but wild in spirit and form–she feels a breath on her toes and nobody knows her. A gallant girl but holding on by the position of Sarah. At times Sarah stops, an applaud crashes, while the Sarah nobody knows hears a clapping of the soles. The fancier the carpet, the quicker the groove, the Sarah nobody knows is the one she’d approve. But bitter is Sarah, competing for first place. While the Sarah nobody knows competes for a face . . . in the world.

“The Cardinal Reading” by H.A. Bras (interpreted by Dominic Inouye)

One critic of H.A. Bras’ “The Cardinal Reading” purports that “Bras sees the background as less important (sic) which can be seen in the lack of detail.”  While this may be so, it may be equally valid to argue that the background details that are more important.  The background details and the foreground ones–and, to be sure, the cardinal’s costume itself.

Consider, for instance, Bras’ choice of decorative flourishes, however undetailed or blurred: to the left, a painting of a mysterious, foggy island, the kind to which one would row for a clandestine tryst; the equally enigmatic wallpaper swirls obscured by a too-large and ominous cardinal shadow; the arched doorway to the right revealing a curtained space perfect for a quick change . . . of scenery; the velvety table clothing creating another ideal hiding space; not to mention the elaborately mussed folds of the cardinal’s very own robes, bunched oddly enough to hide a, well, . . . And, of course, the slight mountain of carpet, most likely unrecognized by most, rapidly pushed up in haste as feet scrambled away, revealing a small, dark, gaping cave.

“Landscape” by Leon Richet (interpreted by Bethany Price)

You haunt every step of mine and the bovines, too,
off in the fields gazing at each others’ tails.
When I walk home it’s heavy since
there is a constant incense stick burning
in my ears–a smoke trail
of whispers to yourself,
going mad, naive of my eyes closed–
listening to your brain forest prose.
I wish I had the pastel colors
rich enough to paint you my agony.
And in this willowy terrain
where the wind
where the treetops
where the elements moan in power,
their dominion is my shelter.
I am drunk here, losing control
of my hands
sifting through grass and branch,
climbing a leaf god to descend
in a bruised-love state,
my tiny white hat dotted
with greenery.

“Teddy Roosevelt’s Door” by Richard LaBarre Goodwin (interpreted by Christine Henke Mueller)

Mr. Richard La Barre Goodwin
North Dakota 1809
Portland, Oregon

My Dear Goodwin,

I have left the Maltese Ranch in search of solitude.  The woes in Washington have left a bad taste in my mouth.  I am in need of the open plains, a horse, and my destiny set in my own hands.  I know that I will need to return to Washington, but for now, this ranch and the beauty of this land shall give me space and time to think.  You have asked me to explain my absence and so I will respond by sharing with you my thoughts, my hopes, for this country.

I fear a disaster in the Capital.  Cleveland is a despicable man!  The scandal that surrounds him precludes him from holding this, the highest office, in our country.  How can such a person be held up as a model for a nation to follow?  The human body has two ends on it: one to create with and one to sit on.  Sometimes people get their ends reversed.  This seems to be the case with Cleveland.

Let me explain to you what it is upon I think this nation’s future lies.  I stand for the square deal.  But when I say that I am for the square deal, I mean not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the game, but that I stand for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service . . . Now, this means that our government, National and State, must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests.

I look out from behind this closed door and I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.  Moreover, I believe that the natural resources must be used for the benefit of all our people, and not monopolized for the benefit of the few.  I do not think that these views will land me in good standing back in Washington.  But I know, of all the questions which can come before this nation, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us, and training them into a better race to inhabit the land and pass it on.  I look out on these vast lands and the expanse of prosperity that this country has to offer and I find that I must rise up and fight back against the corporate greed taking hold over our government.  The effective fight against adequate government control and supervision of individual, and especially of corporate, wealth engaged in interstate business is the chief reason that led to the formation of the National Government.  It needs to be restored. Perhaps I shall be a dark horse and return.  Time shall tell.  

For now, I must gather my heart for what I think shall eventually be a fight to lead this country forward with progress.  How shall I do the work that is worth doing?  I know the worst thing I can do is nothing.

I hope this letter finds you in good health and that this Winter does not irritate the wounds you have suffered.  Ah! to be a retired soldier; such must be the life!

Yours with esteem, 

Theodore

“The Kittens” by Joseph LeRoy (interpreted by Alexa Hollywood)

It was the perfect place to hide the murder weapon. He saw the basket of taxidermied kittens in a small bedroom on the third floor. The delightful felines had belonged to Great Aunt Euphonia. How she had grieved at their untimely demise. Every one of the little dickens had climbed then fallen into a huge vat of cream. Alas, they expired before they could churn it into butter.

Daily, Aunt Euphonia carefully arranged flowers in the basket and then artistically strewed some about. The murderer inhaled the fragrance of roses, sighed as he saw delphiniums. The kill had been good, clean. He carefully wiped the blade of the knife so as not to leave blood stains on the sentimental tableau. He placed the knife diagonally in the bottom of the basket. Chortling, he walked back to the master bedroom. 

“Moonlight Scene” by H.M. Kitchel (interpreted by Alexander Miller)

Moonlight whispers between the leaves
As night approaches and twilight grieves–
The passage of congealed time
To the memory of a dream sublime.
Forgotten yet is the scent of dawn,
For the veil descends on the pathways drawn
Through the tangled forest of thought
Where tears are formed as memories are caught
And lit upon the Sacred Fire
That is both comfort and funeral pyre,
Beseeched again to the insouciant sky
As the memories fall and tears are dried.
Reflected upon the flowing stream
The echo of reality does scream
Beneath the waiting touch of gloom
For darkness to eat the silver Moon.
But the night itself is another page
In the endless tale from Age to Age.
Still the Cycle revolves to each
As Dusk to Dawn, each other they teach.

“Venice” by H. Biondetti (interpreted by Dominic Inouye)

The seagull time arrives
when men have heaved their last anchors
and slung on docks their fill of fishy nets,
have warbled their merchant announcements
of crusty bread and fragrant pancetta.
Their sea cries announce
the declining day and their right
to the crumbs of the morning
and the severed heads of the afternoon.
Now is the time for women to linger
on the sea plaza, pacing leisurely
under a hazy white-winged sky,
before returning home with baskets
redolent of yeast and cured meat
and slick fins and scales.

“The Dog” by Alexander Pope (interpreted by Eduardo De la Cruz)

There are shades, and then there are levels.

I myself have never felt as naked as I do now.  In a standby moment: imagining anything I can be doing with my life, but not doing it, because of fear, complacency, or maybe just plain cowardice.

There is the life we live, real and abrupt waves of “thinking things through” as we go.

And then there’s Life–painted as a dog poised in the most natural way to live–with honesty, heroic tales, great songs that make you cry and the comfort of finding your heart in a warm home.

Some say life is like a wine that doesn’t get better after the fifth try.  It could be that life is the way a Chopin’s nocturne reminds us of two important realities: how fluent and chirp it was to be young, and how your mom is the best person you’ve ever met.   

The dog sits up and lives the life it wants, and that’s the difference. Or is it?

(By the way, if this got you down, there’s a portrait of some very adorable kittens if you just keep walking to your right.  You’re welcome.)

“Tired Out” by Andrea Secondo (interpreted by Ed Wingard)

I don’t wanna drink–
I don’t wanna pass shots back and forth with you–
Why do you peer pressure me?

I drink when I feel pressured.
The intoxication pressures me,
it lessens me, makes me feel minuscule,
as my conscious leaks and I hear caution scream.

I’m melancholy and it bothers me,
it bottles me, swallows me,
so we drink each other until my tonsils bleed.

I know I have someone to call closer  
whenever I’m forced to elude
the bliss in my mental ambience
and the awesome ambivalent aspect
of my equanimity tips overs and spills.

You’re still sober, so I chug–
“Pass me another shot”–
until I get caught and feel the episodic rhythm
call my heartbeat to stop, my heartbeat breath,
the manipulation that dances in me physically
when I can feel nothing and become too numb
to the pain to properly have a functioning cell
in my brain, so No

I won’t drink with you–
I won’t have another shot.

I will sit and think about this thing called life,
so let me
live.


p.s.  I mentioned at the outset that there would soon be twenty-one pieces.  That is because we neglected to interpret Eugene Fromentin’s “The Cows” painting!  How could this have happened?  These beautiful heifers will be lonely and forever frozen at the river’s edge if someone doesn’t breathe life into them!

I will accept poetic submissions until Friday, May 5th.  Email them to dominic.inouye@gmail.com!!!

Author: Dominic Inouye

As a teacher for over twenty years, Dominic Inouye has worked with everyone from elementary school students to adult learners, creative writers and physical therapists, to help them develop their reading, writing, critical thinking, and, most of all, their voices.  He began his career at Marquette University, expecting to become the next Mr. Keating from Dead Poets Society, then made a surprise move to the high school classroom, where he found his home at Pius XI High School, then later at The Prairie School in Wind Point, Wisconsin, where he is completing his seventh and final year as an English teacher. Never one to pull an old lesson plan out of a dusty file cabinet and re-use it year after year, Inouye began experimenting from the very beginning with how to integrate authentic, real-world, transformative learning into his students’ study of literature and the expression of ideas.  Examples include his founding of the Milwaukee Spotlight Student Film Festival, the C.L.A.S.S. program, which brings together 4th-12th graders for service learning, and the Senior Capstone program of individualized research projects.  As expected, Inouye will not be bringing any dusty ideas to the Pfister--only creative celebrations of new voices. Inouye was chosen to serve as the hotel’s ninth Pfister Narrator based on his writing style, his vision for the role, and his personality.