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Scribblings 41: Welcome to the Langham!

Aug 30, 2015

Langham_los_angelesOnce upon a time, troublesome pre-teens were sent off to the convent. In the summer of 1967, my parents sent me off to my grandparents.

This is more than likely a move that my mother – perpetually lamenting my “weirdness” – regrets to this day.

For starters, it was my grandparents who introduced me to a life of crime. We were at the Brown Derby restaurant on the corner of Hollywood and Vine when I reached for a piece of bread and, voila, an ashtray vanished off the table.

“Grandma!” I gasped. “You can’t do that.”

A fistful of matchbooks followed the ashtray into Grandma’s purse. “Do you want a souvenir or not?” my grandmother asked mildly.

“But it’s stealing!” I whispered.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” snorted my grandmother.

Meanwhile, my grandfather had thrown my grandmother a smile of perfect adulation. Now, fingering his love beads, he turned to me. “The hot fudge sundaes are legendary. Save room.”

I was a chunky little girl; I saved plenty of room. I also saved room for the memory.

But memories can be mischievous. As Corrie Ten Boom reminds us, Memories are the key not to the past but to the FUTURE. (Caps courtesy of yours truly.)

 

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This week, while in Pasadena, I booked a lunch at the Langham Huntington Hotel. I passed a garden…and, in less time than it took to type those four words, I was heading off to the restaurant with 100-pounds worth of landscaping stones in my purse.

Grandma would have been proud, although the choice of rocks might have puzzled her. But I am earthy that way. I wanted something elemental, something ripped from the very guts of the City of My Heart to take back with me to Texas.

I could have chosen a stone along the Arroyo…and I may yet. But, for me, the Langham is as much a pulse point of Pasadena as the Rose Bowl, Colorado Street Bridge, Caltech, City Hall, Wrigley Mansion, Gamble House, San Gabriel mountains or, yes, the Arroyo.

And let’s not forget that the Langham was once my home.

My Eventual Ex and I were driving west on Colorado Blvd, looking for a place to stay while we apartment hunted. We passed any number of motels but my heart sank (and nose turned up) at each. They looked like the kind of place, frankly, where you book stays in hours, not days.

After a while EE said, “I have an idea…”

We turned up the long curving drive from Oak Knoll and there before me lay a palace – designed, I later learned, by architect Myron Hunt, who also had a hand in birthing Caltech (the pretty parts), the Rose Bowl, and the main gallery of the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. But what entranced me most was how the two wings on either side of the main building seemed to open wider, as if urging me forward for a long hug.

“Oh please,” I breathed. “Let’s stay here.”

 

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The next morning, I crossed the lobby, weaved my way through the loggia, and set off on a jog. Suddenly the air was brimming over with this amazing scent. I gulped it down like an alcoholic the first beer of the night.

It is no accident that Tuscan brides carry jasmine, a symbol of love. Similarly my first whiff of jasmine, that first morning, forever betrothed me to Pasadena. For better or for worse. Till death do us part…and, as you’ll soon read, perhaps even beyond that.

“Oh, I can’t believe I AM HERE!” my heart sang. It was as if I were having the Best Dream of my life and I knew that it was a dream and that I was going to wake up and my heart was fracturing.

Stop all the clocks… Never were Auden’s words more true.

Yet while jasmine also symbolizes “prophetic dreams,” this transcendent moment was more than a prophecy of “The Jenine Show’s” 32-year long ‘run’ in Pasadena. It was a virtual tour of Heaven thoughtfully provided by the Great Innkeeper’s PR team.

In the pocket of Heaven where God plunks me, the air will be crisp but balmy; fountains will sing backup for the birds; every breath will taste of jasmine and light; flowers and palms and olive and magnolia trees will line wide streets; houses will be Craftsman, Mediterranean Revival, Monterey Colonial or, like the Langham, Spanish Mission-Style. And Joy will stretch infinitely, like a rubber band that never breaks.

Cinderellas and Cinderfellas, we will dance and dance and dance across the Colorado Street Bridge, and midnight will have become a myth.

Here on earth, however, midnight is like dust. Inevitable, no matter how conscientiously we Swiffer. So, for now, I make do with booking reservations within remembrances.

In 2009 the Station fire threatened over 4000 homes in La Canada Flintridge, a community bordering Pasadena. My house was one of them. EE and I were forced to evacuate.

A few hours later, we found ourselves at the Langham, where evacuees were receiving severely discounted rates and surpassingly empathetic service.

“How may I help you?” asked the young man at the desk.

“Chocolate,” I replied.

What happens next still astounds me. It was 1 am, and I was in shock, and all I really wanted was for this dream – this nightmare, Langham or no Langham – to end. Nevertheless what was beaming at us as we entered our room? A platter of prettily arranged gourmet chocolates.

Our gift to you, read the note.

 

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My next stay was due not to an Act of God but to an Act of Mama. After insisting that she was for sure visiting – “just quit being neurotic and book the damn room” – you guessed it. Mama flaked.

Of course the damn room was nonrefundable.

So I used it.

That first morning, while still in bed, I reached for Alice in Wonderland. I had found it on my bedside table the night before and quickly discovered that, no, a guest hadn’t left it behind. It was for me.

At hotels in the past, I had found Bibles – but never Alice, not once. Yet it kind of made sense. Don’t both books chronicle a great journey, a great awakening, of faith and growth and humanity, even if it’s within a harried rabbit, stoned caterpillar, or walrus on a binge?

 

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I opened the book at random, a favorite ‘waking up’ game of mine.

I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? … I almost think I can remember feeling a little different…Who in the world am I?”

WHO IN THE WORLD AM I? I looked out my window at the grounds beneath me and realized that, like Alice, I had changed. I was a writer, sure. But I also wanted to become…a hotel. A refuge with wings.

And these words by Rabbi Rami Shapiro would be inscribed over the doorway: Sheltered in your peace, may I be a shelter to those in need of peace.

The tricky part was pulling this off.

Fortunately, the Langham provided the answer: “HOW MAY I HELP YOU?”

If you want others to be happy, the Dalai Lama instructs us, practice compassion.

Poet Naomi Shihab Nye prefers the word “kindness,” which she then obligingly follows up with a primer on how to get there.

Bottom line, before I can open the suite called Kindness to the guests of my heart, I must lay the groundwork. I must construct stout floors of loss, empathy, and sorrow…

 

Before you know what kindness really is,
you must lose things.
Feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in weakened broth…

Before you can learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see that this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans…

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it until your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth…

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore…
Only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

 

As lunch ended, I picked up the pretty pink Langham pen and asked the waiter, “Can I take this?”

The waiter reached into his pocket, pulled out a handful, and spilled them on to the table. They glinted like jewels.

“How kind of you,” I replied.

 

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~~~

 

“Scribblings: Week 39 – Welcome to Boot Camp” is the second in a series of monthly nonfiction musings that Jenine Baines will be sharing with HP readers.

Enjoy more of her work in “Write Here”:
Scribblings, Week 39: Welcome to Boot Camp
Welcome to Pasadena, Where Everything Is Perfect
Scribblings: Week 25
Surrender
Scribblings: Week 15
Scribblings: Week 14
Scribblings: Week 13
The Rabbit in the Moon
Sorrow Tree
The Deflowering of Silence
The Morning the Egg ExplodedToo Beautiful
May I Have This Last Dance, Mr. Banana Nose?
Into the Bay Forever
No Two Blades of Grass
How Long Is Never?
Golf Course
Too Beautiful
Oh, to Sing

 

~~~

 

Photo, top right, publicity photo: Langham Huntington Hotel Pasadena.

Photo, jasmin, Beli flower, by Bijay chaurasia (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

 

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