Chapter 12: Isabelle

Chapter 12: Isabelle


These old manor houses were meant to provide protection. Father once made me close my eyes and stand in the great hall of Ryne Hall and imagine how it must have felt. “None of these doors are here; none of the wings have been built yet,” he said, forcing me to shut out the obvious escape routes. Unlike Winston House, Ryne Hall had continued to live and grow, and there were many halls, each the center of a different wing of rooms and corridors. It was difficult then to imagine being isolated in the great hall. At Winston House I didn’t have to imagine so much.

“The sounds of arrows smacking against the windows,” he said to me. I thought they might sound like little clinks, metal arrow bouncing off stone, a little sound that masked a deadly danger.

“Where do you go?” he asked. I looked around. The great hall was filled with statuary and furniture, but I imagined that back then it would have been bare. All I could do was cower in a corner, so he took me there, and together we crouched. I put my back to the wall and tucked my knees up to my chin. He surrounded me with his bulk and lowered his head so his forehead touched the top of my head.

“We’d have to sit like this until the attack subsided,” he explained.

“How long would that take?”

“It depended. It could be a half hour, it could be all day. It depended on how well-supplied the attackers were, and how badly they wanted to get in.”

And we’d just sit there, waiting, trusting in the thick walls. There’d be shouting from outside, he’d said, and probably shouting from inside. Maybe some of the dogs would be inside with us as a last line of defense, and maybe some armed guards by the door. But the family would be here, in the corner, crouched in the darkness.

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The Girl With the Flaxen Hair

The Girl With the Flaxen Hair

My father grew up in a two-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor of a six-story building on Jane Street in Greenwich Village. The apartment had been purchased by his father in 1944, and nobody was ever able to explain how a Steinway Vertegrand ended up in the living room. It had come with the apartment, and the sole attempt to remove it, sometime in the early 1950s, led to the discovery that while it could fit just fine through the front door, there wasn’t enough room in the hallway to turn it around so it could go down the stairs. Some giant could probably lift it over the railing and onto the stairs, but between our landing and the exit to Jane Street there were seven hairpin turns, and the piano would have to go up and over the railings each time.

The potential buyer had his money returned and the piano was shoved back into its space, where it was covered with muslin and used to display pictures and houseplants in front of the window that didn’t lead to the fire escape.

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J.S. Bach was in a teenage street gang

J.S. Bach was in a teenage street gang

Johann Sebastian Bach is best pictured as the bewigged and corpulent gentleman in Haussmann’s (hopefully) unflattering portrait. Very little that we know of his life contradicts this image of a severe man with fleshy jowls who made mind-boggling complex and beautiful music (look at the way he holds the paper upside-down: it’s for you to look at and admire, not for him–he wrote the damn thing, he knows it’s awesome) (also note how he doesn’t make it easy for you to read, because you are probably too stupid to really get it anyway).

Someone once asked him how he got be so good at music. His answer, in short, was, “I worked hard. If you worked hard you could do it, too.” Which is a bit badass but also a little snobby and probably not meant to be helpful.

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