Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Director Wes Anderson at Deyrolle before the fire
On a cold and rainy January day seven years ago, my husband and I were wandering around Paris when a curious little garden shop caught our attention. Inside we found an assortment of tools, books and clothes but nothing remarkable enough to carry home to Texas.

As we were about to leave, the clerk told us there was a premier ├ętage and pointed to a stairway at the back of the shop. Not wanting to be rude, we climbed the steps expecting more of the same and were stunned by what we found—a grand suite of rooms full of hundreds of stuffed animals posed as though they had frozen in mid-action when our feet hit the top stair. Like many before us, we had discovered Deyrolle, the cabinet de curiosit├ęs.

Under normal circumstances, I might have found all the taxidermy somewhat appalling, but there was something so charming and playful about the way the animals were arranged, I fell in love with the place and every creature in the extraordinary menagerie. I couldn’t help thinking, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if whoever owns this place could bring these animals to life when no one was around?”

That man became Adrien Durand, the hero of the paranormal romance novel my agent has out on submission. Since then I’ve returned to Deyrolle many times, and have taken friends and family to visit my favorite place in Paris. Sadly about three years ago a fire destroyed most of the second story and with it hundreds of animals lovingly collected over more than a century.

The fictional place I call La Maison d’Ermonie has taken on a life of its own in my imagination—a fantastical world that is more real to me than the place that inspired it. I shouldn’t have been surprised this week when the somewhat reconstructed Deyrolle no longer held the enchantment of the original, but I was. Surprised and disappointed. The animals were no longer posed playfully and the whimsy has been lost. Change is inevitable but I still mourn the loss of a grand dining room set for dinner with a guest list of zebras, a donkey, a lion, a water buffalo and a goat presided over be a magnificent stuffed horse I named Maurice.

Have you ever revisited an old haunt or a literary shrine only to find time had stolen its magic? 


Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Lark, the fantastical Deyrolle lives on in your book, and that is wonderful and important since the rebuilt version doesn't much the original.

Usually, when a place doesn't match my memory of it, the fault is mine. Either I've changed, or I remembered the place wrong. That said, I recently re-visited Lake Travis in Austin, and the water level is lower than I've ever seen it. Some spots no longer jibe with my memory of them.

The water levels at Lake Travis may rise again, but the animals at Deyrolle can't be reproduced. I'm sorry they were lost.

Sarah Andre said...

Gosh, that picture was RIGHT out of your story! And Maurice was standing there at the top of the stairs--just as you described, amazing.

Sorry the new Deyrolle couldn't recapture the magic and yes, I'm not surprised.

I found out quickly that I can't 'go back.' During my 10 yr college reunion I alternated between shock at the changes and disappointment that the feelings and memories attached to places weren't there anymore. The place felt shsbby and I felt old.

I returned to a girls' camp I'd spent 5 summers at as a teen and the reaction was just the opposite. Instantly the smell of pine needles, the views of the cabins on the lake and the utter silence walking the paths thru the woods almost brought me to my knees.

Memories of shrieking laughter with friends, the boy-crushes that rendered me tongue-tied and dorky, the awful camp food, reading the original bodice-ripper: Rosemary Rogers by flashlight under the covers...every moment of those 5 years was precious (which you never know at the time) and realizing it 25 years later completely overloaded my senses .

The 'good' emotions I felt wandering down the paths were so strong. so overwhelming, that oddly...I also have no need to ever go back there. It was almost too much to bear. Isn't that weird?

Sheila Seabrook said...

This is so cool, Lark. About two hours south of us, we have a gopher museum. Yup, that's right. :) I've never been there but apparently it's something to see so I definitely want to go. Apparently the gophers are dress in various costumes and living in all kinds of different houses, stores, etc.

Lark Howard said...

Our memories are often filtered through the experience we had of a place, Pat. Lake Travis will no doubt rise again. Deyrolle's new identity may develop into something as interesting as its old. Time will tell.

Lark Howard said...

I shudder to imagine attending a college reunion, Sarah. My high school class group on Facebook maxes out my interest in my youth.

Your camp sounds lovely. And I agree you might not want to push your luck by going back again.

Lark Howard said...

A gopher museum, Sheila? Sounds like a Bucket List item to me!

Louise Behiel said...

I went back to my amazing, wonderful elementary school and found it small, ordinary, dark and dingy. I'm sorry I returned. it was a sad day.