Tuesday, September 11, 2012

W is for Wallis....

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor at
the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, WV
      Michael and I just returned from a trip into Southern West Virginia. We stayed in Lewisburg, voted Coolest Small Town in 2011. There's a small, very official looking sign that says just that along each inward-leading road. The town itself is pretty, artsy, filled with a kind of hipster energy that, a generation ago, would have been attributed to urban pioneers. With Beckley being the closest city, I wondered just where the money to support so many artists was coming from, since there are numerous galleries and artisan shops along the three blocks of Lewisburg's historic district. Neither of us knew. Is this a refuge for politicians and lobbyists seeking to escape Washington, D.C? A psychological haven much like the physical haven offered by the nearby bunker we toured?
     Speaking of the bunker, I got my first glimpse of The Greenbrier Hotel, where that bunker--a carefully guarded secret until a 1992 expose in the The Washington Post Magazine revealed its location and purpose (to assure the safety of members of the House and Senate in the event of a cataclysm during the Cold War)--was located. When I was young and my father and mother were in business, they (I'm grateful to say) took me along to places like The Ritz Calton and the Hay-Adams. I've seen some fairly interesting decor choices, some informed by the era in which the surrounding building was either constructed or refurbished. The Greenbrier Hotel, first built in White Sulphur Springs in the 19-teens and expanded at the end of the 1920s, was renovated in a beautiful, if slightly shocking high style by Dorothy Draper in the late 1950s. There's a "Well, Good Lord!" kind of beauty to the rooms: bold wallpaper and color combinations that (when analyzed) made me think, "Hey wait, that shouldn't go together. For example, the carpet of the Trellis Room, where we met for the Bunker Tour, carried shades of grape purple, magenta, and kelly green,while the chairs and window valances had candy apple reds, peachy corals, and light lavendars in their patterns. But even though this sounds like it might lead to visual discord and the possibility of making room inhabitants green around the gills, there was a surprising airiness to it, an unexpected crazy kind of harmony. I took pictures of an out of the way sitting room and several of one of the bathrooms, although I've included just one bathroom picture here.
A coral-colored sitting room, off the beaten path at the Greenbrier.
Although you cannot see it here, to the left of the door in which I'm standing
is a giant, full body portrait of Princess Grace (Grace Kelly) in a tiara and
white and gold brocade evening gown.  

A conversation and vanity  area in a ladies' bathroom at the Greenbrier.
One of the many amazing ladies' rooms there. This bathroom has a hallway
and individual rooms with individual vanity tables in the place of stalls.This
is serious swankery, no?
But why 'W' is for Wallis as my title? Because Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor spent a great deal of time at the Greenbrier, often as celebrities (I suspect with a complimentary tab in return for their drawing capacity), handing out golfing awards and simply being photographed while similing. It seems that every photograph of Wallis at the Greenbrier features her winning smile. In fact, the photograph above, of the couple dancing, appears as a life-sized poster in the President's House (where U.S. Presidents stayed before the Civil War and certainly before the hotel itself was built...during the era when White Sulphur Springs was the annual meeting place of the South's landed gentry). These photographs of the Duke and Duchess, which reveal so much historically and psychologically speaking, has opened up a new reservoir of interest for me, one which I plan to plumb in the next few weeks. But more on that later.

Michael and me in a train car on the Cass Railroad in Cass, WV
A new collection of short stories, some of which have not been published anywhere before, is now available for your Amazon Kindle. In the Aftermath: Stories is just out today. You can learn more about the book by clicking here.  
My new short story collection, available on
Kindle. You can download it here.

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