What Happens When an Explorer from the 1750s Manifests Himself While You Are Decorating Your Upstairs Sitting Room

By Laura Marello

I’d never owned a house before, and when I finally bought one in Lynchburg, I found that I enjoyed decorating it. The rooms would take on a life of their own, sometimes a history of their own as I began to decorate them. The dining room was painted a pale gold and cream, and when I unpacked a Louis chair for the living room that had matching gold striped upholstery and ebony stained wood, suddenly the room took on a personality, but one I didn’t like. Some old, fusty person had taken possession of the room. You can’t stay here! I shouted at the chair. You’re going in the living room. I moved the chair to the living room. When I went back into the dining room the old, fusty person was no longer in possession of the room. He had forfeited it back to me.

In the library, I had a similar experience. The room was painted a pale, silvery blue. It is a small room with slanted ceilings and a dormered window, and another small square window. It faces north and doesn’t get much light. I put in a taupe velvet sofa, in a modest ‘50s style, and a matching blue, cream and almond colored rug that had an interesting scroll design on it, not too fussy or insistent, but elegant and subtle. I used an iron lamp with an armillary base and white linen shade, and my old cherry file cabinet because it matched the almond in the rug. I positioned a copy of Hokusai’s Great Wave over the sofa (the colors matched perfectly); I hung Van Gogh’s Meadow with Cypress and his usual wild sky on the wall between the door and closet. Then I hung some artwork in silver frames: a 5×7 of the entwined couple blowing on Botticelli’s Venus on the shell, and another of a soulful woman in sepia tones – a Da Vinci maybe? And I bought Da Vinci’s naked man in the circle and square with his legs and arms spread out (I’m sure there’s a name for him) a copy on canvas with an ebony frame.

images (3)Somewhere in this process I started to feel the presence of an Italian explorer occupying the room. He was from the 1750s, from Florence or maybe Venice. He had traveled in ships, for a queen. He wanted a globe in the room, and an old wooden telescope. He wanted books and old maps. I framed some old maps and put them in, and bought him a hollow wooden telescope. I have not found his globe of the world yet, or if I have I haven’t purchased it. He wants me to take the Van Gogh and Hokusai down, and the Matisse (a later addition) but I won’t let him.

I imagine having conversations with him where we talk about why he has occupied the room, if he is staying, where he has traveled, who this girlfriend of his actually is, and if his love is requited or not (I get the feeling she grew tired of his long absences and found someone more landlocked).

Sometimes I think I will dismantle his room and re-create it in a way that does not include him, but I cannot bring myself to get rid of his girlfriend’s picture, or the Botticelli, the Da Vinci, or the telescope. He seems to have known Da Vinci when they were both in Florence.

images (1)Sometimes I wonder if, like Mrs. Muir in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, I should ask the ghost/ship captain his name. I wonder if I should do some research and find out who he might be, or could have been. It occurs to me now that in addition to the globe he might want some nice silver or wooden boxes, or a chess set. A library ladder. The room does not do him justice, and yet he is there. Why?


Laura Marello
Laura Marello has written eleven books. Guernica Editions published Laura Marello’s second novel Tenants of the Hotel Biron in 2012, and her first novel Claiming Kin in 2010. Her third novel, Maniac Drifter, is forthcoming with Guernica in 2016. Tailwinds Press published Marello’s The Gender of Inanimate Objects and Other Stories in 2015; it is shorlisted for the Saroyan Prize.

She has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Wallace E. Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, and a Fine Arts Work Center Provincetown Fellowship. She has benefited from residencies at MacDowell, Yaddo, Millay, Montalvo and Djerassi.

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One thought on “What Happens When an Explorer from the 1750s Manifests Himself While You Are Decorating Your Upstairs Sitting Room”

  1. Totally absorbing. I do not know some of the references, but that is my shortcoming! I was transported back and forth in time from the present homeowner to the much earlier inhabitants. So much entertainment in a few words! Thank you….

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