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14. The Hotel of the Three Roses


____________________

Does anything remain for me to do in Solara? It is now clear that the most important episode of my adolescence played out elsewhere, in the city in the late forties, and in Brazil. Some of those places (the house I grew up in, the high school) no longer exist, and the more distant places, where Lila spent the last years of her brief life, may not, either. The last documents that Solara was able to offer me were my poems, which have given me a glimpse of Lila without letting me see her face. Again I find a wall of fog before me.

That was what I thought this morning. I felt I had one foot already out the door, but I wanted to say a last good-bye to the attic. I was convinced there was nothing more for me to find up there, but I was spurred on by an impossible desire to find some final trace.

I went back over those now familiar spaces: here the toys, there the armoires full of books I noticed that, between the two armoires, one unopened box remained. More novels, including a few classics by Conrad and Zola, along with popular fiction like the adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel by the Baroness Orczy

There was also an Italian detective novel from the thirties, The Hotel of the Three Roses, by Augusto de Angelis. Once again I had found a book that was telling my story:

Rain fell in long strands, which in the glare of headlights looked like silver. The pervasive, smoky fog stuck its needles in your face. The infinite theory of umbrellas flowed in waves over the sidewalks. Cars in the middle of the road, a few carriages, brimming trams. By six in the evening it was pitch dark, in those early days of December in Milan.

Three women were hurrying along, jerkily, as if in gusts, cutting as best they could through the ranks of pedestrians. All three were dressed in black, in prewar fashion, with little hats of mesh and beads

And the three were so similar one to the other that, had it not been for the differently colored ribbons-mauve, violet, black-knotted under their chins, passersby would have thought they were hallucinating, certain they were seeing the same person three times over. They turned onto Via Ponte Vetero from Via dellOrso, and when they came to the end of the brightly lit sidewalk, all three leapt into the darkness of Piazza del Carmine

The man, who was following them but seemed reluctant to catch up to them, stopped when they had crossed the piazza, and remained standing in front of the church facade, in the rain

He looked annoyed. He stared at the small black entryway He waited, still staring at the small entry to the church. Every so often some black shadow crossed the piazza and disappeared through the doors. The fog thickened. A half-hour passed and more. The man seemed resigned He had leaned his umbrella against the wall, so it would dry, and he rubbed his hands with a slow, rhythmic motion that accompanied an interior monologue

He took Via Mercato out of Piazza del Carmine, and then Via Pontaccio, and when he found himself before a large glass-paned door, beyond which appeared an enormous, brightly lit lobby, he opened it and went in. On the glass panes it said in large letters: HOTEL OF THE THREE ROSES

That was me: in the pervasive fog I had glimpsed three women, Lila, Paola, and Sibilla, who in the haze appeared indistinguishable, and who had suddenly disappeared into the darkness. Pointless to look for them now, especially as the mist was thickening. The solution lay elsewhere, perhaps. Better to turn onto Via Pontaccio, enter the brightly lit lobby of a hotel (but would the lobby not open onto the scene of the crime?). Where was the Hotel of the Three Roses? Everywhere, for me. A rose by any other name.

At the bottom of the box was a layer of newspapers, and beneath the newspapers, two much older tomes, in large format. One was a Bible with Dor'e engravings, but in such poor condition as to be little more than fodder for street vendors. The other had a binding that was no more than a hundred years old, in half leather, the spine blank and worn, the marbled boards faded. As soon as I opened it, I was fairly sure it was a seventeenth-century volume.

The typesetting and the two columns of text put me on full alert, and I raced at once to the title page: Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, amp; Tragedies. Portrait of Shakespeare, printed by Isaac Iaggard

Even for one in normal health, a stroke of luck like this was heart-attack material. There was no doubt, and this time it was not

The Mysterious Flame Of Queen Loana

one of Sibillas jokes: this was the First Folio of 1623, complete, with a few faint water stains and ample margins.

How had that book come into my grandfathers hands? Probably through a bulk acquisition of nineteenth-century material, from the perfect little old lady who never quibbled over the price, because it was like selling cumbersome junk to the secondhand man.

My grandfather had not been an expert on antiquarian books, but neither had he been uneducated. He would certainly have realized that he was dealing with a volume of some value, and was probably pleased to have the collected works of Shakespeare but had not thought to consult auction catalogues, which he did not have. Thus, when my aunt and uncle threw everything into the attic the First Folio wound up there as well, and had lain there for forty years, just as it had lain in wait somewhere else for more than three centuries.

My heart was racing like crazy, but I paid it no mind.

Now here I am, in my grandfathers study, touching my treasure with trembling hands. After so many gusts of gray, I have entered the Hotel of the Three Roses. It is not Lilas photo, but it is an invitation to return to Milan, to the present. If Shakespeares portrait is here, Lilas portrait will be there. The Bard will guide me toward my Dark Lady.

With this First Folio I am living out an adventure story that is rather more exciting than all the castle mysteries I experienced between the walls of the Solara house, during nearly three months of high blood pressure. Excitement is muddling my thoughts, my face is blazing with heat.

This is surely the greatest stroke of my life.



13. The Pallid Little Maiden | The Mysterious Flame Of Queen Loana | Part Three. OI NOZTOI 15. You re Back at Last, Friend Mist!