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Out of time

By Philippe JAENADA Sofitel Luxembourg Europe

Inside the hotel, the feeling of being on an ocean liner was even more striking – clearly the architect’s intention. The building was a great oval, a sumptuous cruise ship whose extremities were almost pointed, with an immense atrium-like lobby in the middle that seemed to be open to the sky, with only a transparent roof for a ceiling. On either side of the five floors, rooms were lined like cabins along gangways served by two glass elevators. Even before I had gone as far as the reception desk, I knew that I would not leave this place for a week: Nothing could have been better suited to my state – an indolent, aimless lolling around that had become my existence – than this immobility imposed for no reason, this pampered solitude in which I would be freed from obligations to act, freed from outside impressions and responsibilities, embarked on a stationary cruise out of space and time at last.

I would eat in one or the other of the two restaurants, drink in one or the other of the two bars, perhaps read, listen and look around me, sleep in a big, soft bed. I would go outside only a few minutes each day, stepping onto the front steps as if onto a ship’s deck, to smoke.

But it turned out that I didn’t even have to do that. In the Havana Lounge, a bar decorated in dark red tones and wood, with dim lighting, old leather chairs, antique lamps, models of ships, books and display cases filled with cigars, smoking was permitted – but hotel employees were not allowed to enter, as stipulated by a law intended to protect their health, so patrons had to get their own drinks in the bar next door, which was just as luxurious and pleasant only brighter and healthier. It had an excellent selection of rare and mysterious whiskies. I therefore spent the whole week in the Havana Lounge, a glass of magic elixir in hand, surrounded by strangers who lowered their voices when speaking in the coppery half-light laced with the heady, melancholic scent of cigars.

On the first night, I realized that I was where I wanted to be, that I had left behind the known world: Seated on an olive-green leather
couch near the arm chair in which I had settled under a small lamp with a glass and an unopened book, two heavy-set, gray-haired men in well-cut suits (one wore a three-piece version with a vest) were drinking cognac or Armagnac while discussing Joan of Arc. In a soft voice marked by an accent that escaped identification (by me), the man with the vest was explaining to the other man that Joan had not in fact been burned at the stake in Rouen in 1431. Or at least, he said, she had been alive after her death (which had apparently not bothered many people at the time, given that everything was possible in those days, especially when it involved extraordinary beings). She had been seen in
1436 near Metz, where two of her brothers, Pierre and Jean, had formally identified her as being their sister – one of them had immediately delivered the news to Orléans, where the annual commemoration of her death was thus promptly canceled. Joan (who, strangely, was going by the name of Claude) had been presented to Elisabeth de Goerlitz, the duchess of Luxembourg, who also recognized her as being the so-called Maid of Orléans.
The duchess of Luxembourg, according to the dapper storyteller with the vest, was, after all, reputable as far as such witnesses go.
Unfortunately, my neighbors then stood up, having finished their cigars, and I was unable to hear the end of the story. When the Havana Lounge’s glass door closed softly behind them, the big graying fellow was telling of Joan’s reunion with the king of France, Charles VII.

 

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