It’s common, of course, for people to fall in love “across a crowded room.” I fell in love with a hotel looking out a train window: passing through Brive-la-Gaillarde, that pleasant market town between Limoges and Cahors, I was drawn, across the way, to a Late Victorian hotel facing the station, four or five stories, a bit ornate, friendly looking and solid in more than the pure engineering sense. I made a note of it, as the telephone informationist recommends when giving you a number. And eight years later, one 10 p.m., I came to know the Grand Hotel Terminus’ birdcage elevator, its varnished halls, creaking armoires, bathtubs long as a yacht if not as sleek; and there was the resident cat to join us for breakfast. Several visits indicated that the Terminus had few clients, and the formal dining room, once proud I’m sure, stood empty at the lunch and dinner hours.
Soon the Michelin guide, requiring gleamier, less Titanical tubs, dropped the Terminus as if it were some eccentric aunt not welcome in the parlor. But the hotel continued to answer my requests for a room, assuring us the “calme” we enjoyed in room 16 which overlooked the garden and was assigned to us “comme d’habitude.” One year the dining room even echoed to a meeting of hearty locals, Rotary members perhaps; they lunched on good roast veal because the aroma of its juices shot up to our little balcony where we were picnicking on a robust Cantal from the nearest fromagerie (just down a bucolic lane) and looking off to Auvergne, or its environs, in the East. It’s ten years now since we included Brive in an itinerary, and I pray that the Terminus with its lovable anachronisms and pianissimo corridors and Monsieur le Chat and the voice of the station announcer across the way has not been, well, terminated. Who cares about governments falling?
Let’s see, is that number 011-33-5-55-74-21-14?