Saturday, October 15, 2005


B and I and B and B

There are two types of B & B keepers: amateur historians and small town prigs.

B and I went on a weekend trip to Lake Superior a couple of weeks ago. We stayed at two different B & B's. The first night was here, at the Anton-Walsh house in a town called Hurley.

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The Anton-Walsh House B &B has that Victorian, unmade bed sort of charm.
Well, in fairness, the bed was made, and quite nicely, before we slept in it and messed it all up.

Apparently, it was in the late 19th century, when extractive industries such as logging and mining were really thriving, that Hurley experienced its heyday, boasting the areas leading brothels. Now the town is a jumping off point for winter skiing and snowmobiling.

Dowtown Hurley. I have it on good authority that residents of neighboring towns
at least until recently referred to it as "Hurley Whore Town."

The owner of the Anton-Walsh House was a member of the Anton-Walsh family and had certificates tracing his ancestry both the the Mayflower and to the American revolution. But he was in no way priggish. Clearly, his interest in running the B & B dovetailed with an interest in history and family geneology. He was very knowledgeable about regional history, including the history of native American tribes.

His own family history, which he laid on us at breakfast with the lemon poppyseed scones after just the slightest amount of goading on our parts, illustrated some important themes of U.S. history generally. And it occurred to me that, in his small way, Mr. Anton-Walsh (not his actual name) was contributing to the preservation of historic knowledge. It made me happy to think of B & Bs dotting the country and serving as little museums.

The next two nights we stayed at the Old Rittenhouse Inn, which boasted spectacular Lake Superious views from the front porch and most of the rooms.

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The Rittenhouse, while beautifully preserved and well-appointed, is no museum, and the enterprise is clearly about the business of hostelry rather than history. That's fine -- it's an inn, after all -- but why do they have to pander to someone's Vegas-style conception of the romantic getaway weekend and stick a big fat jacuzzi right in the middle of this lovely Victorian room?

Room at the Rittenhouse. I liked the room a lot, but I'd have preferred
a nice reading chair next to those windows.

You'd think that innkeepers with such design sensibilities might have an engaging ironic sense of humor, but nooooo. These folks took themselves much more seriously than Mr. Anton-Walsh. There was no evidence of a sense of humor anywhere in the establishment. There were fussy furnishings, and fussy rules, and fussy attitudes galore. It was here that we had the little flap over the tea which I blogged about later that night. (Indeed, the innkeeper involved is the one pictured below.)


The Inn offered a huge breakfast. Lemon poppyseed scones, of course, but also an incredible array of menu items to choose from.


Unfortunately, there was no printed menu. Instead, the wait person launched into a lengthy recitation, describing each of at least eight entrees with the sort of lavish detail usually reserved for the two "specials" at fancy dining establishments. She spoke for five minutes straight. She performed the menu, with a determined verve that one might see in theatre productions in this region. There was no way I would be able to keep it all in my head. Could she really have said that the smoked trout omelette was accompanied by a side order of Whitefish?

"Um, wow, I didn't quite catch all that," I said. "Could I ask you--"

She cut in. "I invite you to listen while I repeat the menu to the folks at the next table over there."

I was put in mind of the ancient tradition in which a representative from one tribe sitting down to a parlay with another tribe might introduce himself by by reciting the names and relationships of all his ancestors going back several generations. These recitations could take many minutes, and if interrupted, or if a mistake was made, the recitor would have to start again from the beginning.

"Could you just tell me about the smoked trout omelette one more time?" I said.

That smoked trout and whitefish omelette reminds me of the Larry David sandwich on Curb Your Enthusiasm. I don't suppose that it was served with capers, onions and cream cheese, was it? Oh, and sable. Did it also include sable?
As someone who went to grad school for historic preservation, I have to say that I prefer the first. Besides, it just seems weird to go to a Bed and Breakfast expecting hotel accommodations. There's probably a lot of moisture in those walls too... I wonder if their restorations messed up the moisture barrier.. I wonder why I'm being a preservationist on your blog...
I think you should have gone with the less grammatical yet more rhymie title of "B and me and B and B"
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