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Monday, January 28, 2013

The Uses of History

Quinte Hotel - home of Gatsby's Lounge at one time
I'm writing a piece for the local historical society newsletter, about the Quinte Hotel, which was lost to fire on December 21. I'm reading contemporary descriptions of the hotel in the splendid language of the newspaper accounts of 1895 and 1908. In 1908 the "magnificent hostelry" was reopened after a disastrous 1905 fire, to general approval: "the princely Quinte, after its baptism of fire has risen from its ashes more magnificent than ever" (Daily Intelligencer, February 28, 1908).

 As the Quinte Hotel moved into the mid/late century it began to suffer some growing pains. By that time, it had definitely lost its status as the most sumptuously appointed hostelry between Toronto and Montreal, as it had once been touted.

Lots of local folk have memories of the hotel as it began to show signs of wear - among the many diversions on offer over those decades were the exotic dancers of Gatsby's Lounge. Al memorialized Gatsby's and the endowments and "nimble performances" of the ladies there in 'The Uses of History', linking their charms with the courtesans of the c16 Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar in a way we had come to expect of him. Few but Purdy would be reminded of the Venus of Willendorf while admiring (in a detached manner, of course) a brunette stripper's "prodigious measurements."
Corby Library nearby (once the domain of Angus Mowat)

"Leaving the dry library
and feeling a need for wetness
I settle myself in the Gatsby Lounge
at the nearby Quinte to partake same
and quaff a flagon or six
My books are laid out on the table
beside beer and ready for serious study"...

Al's descriptions of the talents of the ladies, and his travels back and forth in time in their contemplation can be enjoyed in their entirety in the poem 'The Uses of History', published in Piling Blood (1984) and reissued in Beyond Remembering (2000).

1 comment:

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