Turning more than a page
Sunday in the Park
February 17, 2017
Restless. This time of year, when the days start stretching a bit longer and light returns to early evenings, I feel myself wanting change. My cozy home that warms me during the coldest winter days and nights seems terribly small and, at once, too large for one person. It is messy and tired and heavy feeling with weighty drapes, a graveyard of boots and jackets and gloves, scarves and funny hats. The food choices in the pantry are all… hearty.
I recently stayed in Santa Fe in a perfect space with white bright walls and a tiny fireplace, a tall bed and small couch — A space with huge windows overlooking The Square there and the Cathedral. Each morning the bells of the church would gently tell me it was time to start to stir. The newspapers were hung on my door handle and the saints/crows/ravens/blackbirds appeared on the flat roof next door to start their conversations. It was a peaceful way to begin my adventures. There was just one problem. One glaring white problem.
The books downstairs.
I brought a few of my own books to read from home. I purchased a few more once I rediscovered the wooden floored coffee/pastry shop and independent seller downtown. One night I ventured downstairs in the hotel to spend some quiet time in the library.
It honestly took me a few minutes to notice but the shelves of books were odd. All the books were turned backwards so row after row of shelves had the white pages facing out into the room.
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There was a much larger fireplace and native blankets and pots and pillows. Giant leather couches to sink deeply into. It honestly took me a few minutes to notice but the shelves of books were odd. All the books were turned backwards so row after row of shelves had the white pages facing out into the room. It was interesting, in an esthetic sort of way. All those white pages against the white-washed plaster shelves. There was a temporary order to it all. But just as quickly it was disturbing. What was the title? Who was the author? Fiction or not? So I started turning some of the spines around. The books were all without covers and old but not old enough to be rare, really. Maybe books from the '50s or '60s. They were cloth cover, some in once vibrant colors now faded in most places. All hardbacks.
I asked one of the lovely staff members finally, to please tell me the story of the books being backwards. She confessed she was new to the property but she had thought it odd herself. She assumed the new decorator had been going for "a look." She promised to ask and return.
Later, when I was fully enjoying the crackling fire, a glass of wine and a book of my own, she reappeared. She said the answer to the mystery was simpler …and sadder as it turned out. The decorator needed books for the space and simply purchased them all at once, paying for them by the foot. So since they had no meaning individually they were all turned backwards to look the same and fill the shelves.
The young woman was clearly a reader and just as disturbed by this revelation as I. I nodded and ordered another glass of wine. And then I did something a little naughty. There was no one else in the room on this weekday evening. The handsome young man entered only occasionally to stoke the fire. I started to turn a few of the books around. A blue book here and a brown one there. A faded red one. I didn't even take time to read the titles. It was a satisfying form of rebellion. And a way to pay respect to those authors.
The day I checked out of the hotel I popped in, for just a minute, to the "library" sitting room. My revealed titles remained exposed with random colors. And the wood in the fireplace might have popped right then and hissed, but I swear I heard a "thank you" whispered like a prayer.
Once home and facing the winter piles of things to shelve in the garage and move to the guest room and take to the dry cleaners and just life things one doesn't think about in the purity of a lovely hotel, I was drawn to all my books. They are a cacophony of spines and colors and shapes and subject matter. Downstairs are mostly travel books of places I have been. Art books of beautiful works I have seen and don’t want to forget. Some books about the West. Some about the performing arts. Though I know them as friends whom I really should visit more often, they are a comfortable collection. All with covers and/or spines that are noisy in color and typeface.
Upstairs in my bedroom are different shelves and stacks of more urgent reading. Best sellers and thoughtful books and some from authors I have met and spent time with. In my study are a subset of travel books-bird books or books that identify mammals or about ghost towns or people who created grand cities.
In the guest room are books to help you stretch, books about faith or wonder or non-fiction real life, real time possibilities. I had no idea there was actually any order to my shelves and piles. But it was comforting to know in all the disorder of these days and nights before spring, all was not/is not complete chaos.
It may not seem like much — not wanting order but understanding too much order stifles and is even a form of disrespect — but that little epiphany may just be enough to help me navigate the final few weeks of winter in the mountains. As light lingers longer each afternoon I may find time to lighten the heaviness of my surroundings. Not all at once but an afternoon here/there-like this Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.