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While I was in Zambia, my mother rented out my room, so I came home to piles of boxes and a great deal of unpacking, which necessitated going through everything even more thoroughly than I did two years ago. Among other things, I found some pieces of paper that I didn't want to throw out because they amused me, but don't really need sitting around, either, so I decided to share them with the internet.



Notes from spanish cooking class

- Apparently sharp knives are not a priority in Spain
- reposando en la nevera: to chill, lit. "reposing in the fridge"
- usamos el aceite con mucha alegria: "we use oil with great happiness" (to describe large quantities of oil)
- el pescado puede nadar en el aceite: "the fish can/should swim in the oil"
- Peach-peeling as a spectator sport


One time, perhaps when I was about in 6th grade, my mom brought violaclaire and I along on a business trip to DC. We stayed in a fabulously posh hotel, which of course inspired us to plot a ridiculous spy/thriller/thing story about a countess sometime around the turn of the last century.

Dialogue from Countess-story
(When the untagged dialogue starts getting hard to follow, the countess will be in italics.)

"I don't believe I asked what your name was," the Countess remarked.
"That's good," said Van Helmsly, "because I didn't give it to you."
There was a pause. Then, "You're the Countess," he said.
"I didn't ask who I was, either."
"You're in danger."
"Everyone's in danger. Countesses only somewhat more than most."
"More than usual, I'm afraid."
If you're saying you're going to kill me, I don't think I fancy it today."

Later, she gets back to find him hanging out in her hotel room.
"In the politest of company, it is considered proper to wait until the hostess has arrived to pay a call."
"Well, it's lucky for me that we aren't the politest of company. What I had to tell you couldn't wait."
"Really. I think it can. I think it can wait until you are behind bars for breaking and entering."
"Do you see any breakage, little finch?"
"What did you call me?"
"Little finch. It was what your husbandbrother called you, was it not?"
"Yes. I rather disliked it."
"Really? Why?"
"It's so undignified. What do you want?"
"I have a message for you, Countess."
"From whom?"
"Your late husbandbrother."
"Are you a necromancer, then?"
"Would you believe me if I I told you I was?"
"No." Pause. "Who are you, then?"
"I am called Van Helmsly, that is all you need to know."
"And what of your message?"
"Here it is, Countess."
He hands her the message, she looks at the seal, breaks it, and when she looks up, he's gone.

Later, after she's been working on decoding the message.
"My brother never was a poet."
"Would you mind paying for my martini? I'm afraid I'm quite out of cash."
The Countess raises her eyebrows, but snaps her fingers for the waiter.
"You've been doing quite well on your own so far. I'm surprised."
"You think you could have done better?"
"No, actually. I haven't the slightest idea what these mean."
"Enjoying your drink?"
"I prefer it shaken rather than stirred, but the hotel does the best it can. I'm afraid I have an appointment. I must run. Have a good day, Countess. Oh, and Countess? You might want to look at the ceiling sometime."

On another page of hotel stationary, some of the coded messages:
Where have you been?
How old are you?
If unicorns live,
Then so do you,
Even ever after.

And you can trust Van Helmsly.
A picture is worth a thousand words.

Look between the letters.
Read between the lines.
And beneath the golden gilt,
A message you will find.

And you can trust Van Helmsly.

Where I was written, there I shall lead. Alice, my favorite, on her page. Because it's ridiculous to ask a riddle if you don't know the answer.

Your name, written in light and punctuated in crystal.
Written on high for all to see.

"Blessed is he that readeth."
--The hotel constant.


And some plot notes:
Helmsly's clue ->
picture of White House ->
letter box ->
secret drawer ->
chandelier ->
Bible



The dialogue amuses me, and I remember the letter box, which was a great big ornate gold affair affixed to one of the walls. As I recall, several of the plot points were inspired by the geography and furnishings of the hotel itself, but beyond that I'm with Van Helmsly: I don't have a clue what it all means.

Looking over it, I think it's clear why I enjoy the WWI-era romances by Eva Ibbotson (I stayed up too late last night finishing The Reluctant Heiress, which was a romp, as usual), although it should be pointed out that I don't think Van Helmsly was ever intended to be a love interest.

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