Posted: 25 October 2018
Word Count: 2121
Summary: This book is intended to be a celebration of Smyrna before its armageddon ten years later. I started with the city, its inhabitants and its visitors - but no no plot. I have about five storieslines which I hope will coalesce soon. Below are the first three scenes in which Maisie appears. There are another three but to include them would have may it too long. I loved your last crits and look forward to more of the same
Maisie’s Progress (so far)
She didn't know whether to laugh or cry. No sooner did she think it was the worst, the filthiest city she had ever had the misfortune to visit when, without a pause, without a second thought, she knew she would have swapped a year back at home for just one more day in Paris. It Was unthinkable that she would never again sit at a pavement cafe with a cup of coffee and a pack of coarse, French cigarettes or walk her cobbled streets in the moonlight. Never again marvel at Mr Eiffel’s tower, so tall and delicate, you would swear it would blow over in a gust of wind. Had she shown you her journal, for 1909, it would have revealed that when she had arrived in Paris, two years earlier, the entry for that first day had read, "I think I'm in love. This place is beautiful!!!! The streets, the houses, the people. Everything is beautiful!!! True fact!" Had a breeze blown through the window of her little room six months later and turned the pages, a different éclat would have been observed. "I hate Le Chat Noire, I hate Lefevre. I hate all Frenchmen. I'm going home” And then, had it been a blowy day on her balcony overlooking the Place Pigalle, the pages of her journal might have turned to her most recent observations.
“Why am I so stupid? I’m ruined. I’m never, ever, ever going to drink again. I am so stupid” Should she stay in Paris? Could she leave Paris? Or go back to London? Life had become so complicated for Maisie. She seemed to attract men: the way that moths are drawn to a flame. Trouble was, too often, it was she who got burned. She thought on. What about that train? Should she use the ticket? Why not? she decided. Why not indeed. After all, a change was as good as a holiday and she certainly needed to change.
In the baggage car of the train, her monogrammed valises were filled with the finest dresses and flimsies that Galleries Lafayette had to offer. In a smaller, matching attaché case close beside her was a letter of introduction to a Mr Avedissian, General Manager, The Grand Hotel Huck, Smyrna, Turkey, a one-way ticket on the Orient Express and 10,000 francs in crisp notes. Her couchette was luxurious, better than any hotel room she'd ever paid for herself. And, the dining car was a fairy tale in gold and blue, the tables laid with white linen, silver knives and forks and on each a blue, shaded lamp.
During those days she wasted no time in getting to know her fellow travellers. The women on board had given her the cold shoulder, refused to associate with her, whispered that they knew her 'type'. Her most ardent companion had been the Right Honourable Percy Swan. She liked him. He was no more than thirty, handsome and wore his family's wealth lightly. He knew her destination, he said, spoke well of it, but had not been there of late, not since he and his family had berthed there some years earlier. Of the callers who were going to visit, Percy, would receive her best attentions.
Though she knew little about Smyrna, what she had learned made her smile. It might just be her kind of town, Paris-sur-Mer. For a start it attracted an abundance of young men who were drawn to the city from all over, hoping to build up a chubby bank account for themselves. Of course, there would also be the men who spent their time drinking and gambling, talking a lot and laughing loudly. Men who were always around but did never seemed to do anything. 'Lurkers', she called them. She could spot them a mile off. Flitting from one hotel lobby to another, they seemed to possess only one set of clothes. Their business was invariably 'import/export' though if you had pressed them for a little more detail they would have glanced around the room, lowered their voice and muttered "Pas devant les autres, s'il vous plait." Though she recognised herself in that demi-monde, she was different. She knew what she wanted, and now, she had the capital to fulfill her ambitions. She pulled her collar up, drew the attaché case closer and looked out the window.
Au revoir, Paris, hello Smyrna.
Maisie had handed the letter of introduction to the reception desk and been asked to take a seat. The manager would not be long, they assured her. Would she like a glass of tea? or some iced water? No, thank you, she was fine. She looked around. The room was high-ceilinged, furnished with Turkish-styled divans and chaises. Marble and mahogany seemed to be the principal materials here, white marble floor and pillars with Ionian capitals, mahogany reception desk with a black marble top, mahogany key and letter racks. Six huge gas-lit chandeliers hung on silver chains. From the high windows at the front, white muslin drapes fell from ceiling to floor, gathered to the sides with red silk ties. To one side double mahogany doors bore the legend ‘Ottoman Post Office’
The manager greeted her like a long-lost friend. "Enchante, Mme La Sirene. I am M. Avedissian, the manager of the Grand Hotel Huck, welcome." She extended her hand and was relieved to see that he shook it warmly. He did not kiss it as most of the Frenchies had done. This man was short , more over-weight then under-weight, wore a dark suit and a red fez. His age was indeterminate, somewhere between forty and sixty, she thought, not handsome but with a bearing of authority. She liked that. She instinctively knew she should not flirt with this man, that would be a mistake. Like her, he was a professional: he was a professional hotelier and she was a professional actress.
"La Sirene is only my stage name, sir. My name is Maisie Mansfield. Please call me Maisie."
"Maisie, it shall be then." His English was perfect, as, she would discover, were five of the other languages he spoke. His Italian, Swedish and Egyptian were merely functional. "Now, how may I be of service to you? Le Conte Turballe speaks very highly of you. He tells me you are a gifted singer and stage artiste."
"Why, yes sir, that's right. I don't know if I'm gifted but I've been singing since I was six years old. Firs of all for Mum and Dad and my family and when I was called to the stage, I performed in theaters in London, Edmonton and Manchester."
"He says you were quite a success in Paris also. You were..." he looked at the letter, "he says you were the talk of the town"
"I wouldn't say that, sir, but they did seem to like me." Break a leg, Maisie.
"He thinks you would be suited to the concerts we have here each Friday and, if not here at the hotel, then at one of the theatres in the city." Her instinct told her that the next thing he was going to say was to leave her card at the desk and that he would be in touch. Nuts to that. She'd had enough of this 'Sir' stuff, too. Either he was going to sign her up, or he wasn’t; this was no time to pussyfoot around. She'd been in show business long enough to know that talk is cheap.”
"I think I could bring a little bit of 20th century pizazz to your hotel that would bring people in from far and wide. If you don’t mind my saying, Sir.” she said. “In Paris they used to queue round the block" The manager listened.
“Indeed,” he paused then said, "What made you leave Paris?" Bam! and there it was, the dragon’s breath. What should she say? This was the question that she'd been wrestling with for days. What had the Count said about her? ' Maisie is a sensational singer? You won’t regret giving her a job?’ Or had he written, 'This woman is a living nightmare. Please take her off my hands.' The days of planning what to say, were over. Was it to be Cordelia or Goneril, Sarah Bernhardt or Lady Macbeth. In the end it was Maisie Mansfield, pure and simple, "Well, sir, to be honest, I got a bit bored with Paris.”
Maisie’s first day had gone well. She'd slept in a clean bed with white sheets and soft pillows and absolutely no chance of some lurker tapping on her door in the middle of the night. The manager had told her that until she got settled in the city she should stay here at the hotel with the live-in staff. All things considered it could not have worked out better. Tourballe had obviously thought that discretion would be the better part of keeping his marriage intact not to mention his career. Had he thought to mention the affair to his friend, the hotel manager, every bump and grind, who could tell what might have ensued. His friend, he trusted, but it was Smyrna after all, this was where East meets West, business meets pleasure, rumour meets reality. And after doing what comes naturally, rumour and reality can give birth to lots of baby lies. And what happens to baby lies? they develope into very ugly children.
She considered the coming day. After breakfast she was to meet the hotel's resident musicians, a piano player, a string player, a percussionist and a woodwind player and rehearse a selection of songs upon which the manager would decide. This was the easy part: this was her world. On stage she felt relaxed and free. She would rather be on stage entertaining a thousand people than have to entertain one little man who only had eyes in his, well, never mind that. On stage she was La Sirene.
In Paris, she was known as a singer and a dancer but she wanted more. She was not sure what was missing but she knew that apart from her singing and dancing she possessed comic and mimic talents. Even now, though she had only met him once, she could have taken off the little manager to a tee. From the way he walked to the way he talked to the tilt of his head.. It was something she did instinctively, taking a person’s outward characteristics, and very often their inner lives too. And that was when it occurred her.
No matter where you are in the world, all musicians are all the same. Their image is one of, nonchalance, street-wise, who cares? Their language is flip, fast, clever, show me, don't just tell me. Their dream is, give me half a chance, a ten-minute spot, front-stage centre, with a bunch of musos who know the difference between their arse and their arpeggios and I'll play you music that will steam your brain. The reality is, they are a bunch of decent guys who wished they were good at something else. Maisie was not a great singer but she was good with men. As soon as she walked into the ballroom she stopped acting. It wasn't a conscious thing, it just happened. Everywhere else, she played a part.
The boys were a mixed bunch, A Turk, a Greek, a fat Armenian drummer and a homosexual Jew. Her insouciance and knowledge of her art soon put everyone at ease. She introduced herself, apologized that she did not speak Turkish or Greek but could speak passable English or bastard French, it was up to them, true fact. However, the musical arrangements she handed out transcended all national barriers. They were written in a language that they all understood and before long they were coalescing into a tangible unit, listening to each other as they played and giving way instinctively as they sensed someone coming up on the outside.
By twelve o'clock, they were happy. They had three arrangements that the manager could hear, a French torch song, an American ragtime and a bawdy English music hall song. Before they separated for lunch, Maisie asked if they were familiar a song which had been sweeping Paris. "It’s about the railway that goes up a volcano. Do you know it?" They did know it, as did the rest of Europe, everyone was singing it. She had not performed this song before, she explained, but she thought it might suit them. Sure, they were happy to run through it with her. Ten minutes later they were done. After lunch, they would perform for the manager and Maisie's fate would be sealed.
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