home Publisher contact
most recent work author bookshelf comments questions


Portrait of Paloma
<- Back to Portrait of Paloma Overview

Scraps from the cutting room floor:
Items edited from Haley Talbot's extensive memoir of his time with Paloma. Page numbers indicate the places where these incidents fit into the published narrative.

[Page 139] After Haley described his boyish "clubhouse" building

Paloma considered my construction feat for a few seconds, then chimed in with a memory of her own.

"Something like that happened with me, at least the confidence part - that feeling of accomplishment. I was seven and a half and I did a whole big cross-stitch sampler. It took months, and when it was done and pressed and stretched, I got a thrill looking at it and realizing that I'd done it all by myself." She stopped, as if satisfied.

"Come on," I said, "there's more to it than that. I love picturing you as a child; let's see, seven and a half, you were still in Putney. Good. Say on, I know so little about your Bessie years."

"You're right, there's more - and it's a thing that's stayed with me. But it's a bit of a long story. You sure you want to hear a lot of little girl fantasies?"

"Paloma, don't make me beg."

"All right, you've been warned. I remember Bessie taking me to a fabric store. She showed me a shelfful of cross-stitch sampler kits, each with a picture of the finished work on the lid of its box. She wanted to give me one for Christmas and she wanted me to pick it out. Well, one pattern caught my eye and after that the others had no chance. Near the top was a thatched cottage, very neat, and on the front porch was a figure I took to be a girl like me sitting in a rocking chair. The cottage was on a knoll with a road curving around its base. On the road was a parade of colorful figures; imagine an illustration for a child's version of Canterbury Tales. Underneath, in elegant block letters were the words, 'Let Me Live in a House by the Side of the Road and Be a Friend to Man.' I had to have that one. Well, it turned out I'd picked the biggest and most complicated one of the lot, but Bessie didn't flinch. An offer was an offer and Bessie never weaseled on anything. She bought it and I was thrilled.

I got it out of the box and spread out the linen cloth. My picture was printed on it in light blue lines, so light you needed to study the picture on the box cover to be sure exactly what was what. Well, nothing would do but get started, so Bessie showed me how to work the embroidery hoops and how to make a cross-stitch and I was off. It was a thrill I'd never felt before, seeing my picture grow as I worked. I got it out as soon as I'd get home from school. I carried it around and worked on it wherever Bessie was so we could talk - and no television because that slowed me down. When I finally finished, I saw that I'd improved enough to make the first part look shabby, so I went back and snipped it out and did it over. When I was satisfied, Bessie pressed it and took it to be framed and then she and I located it on the wall of my bedroom. Even Chely was impressed. She patted me and told me I'd done such a good job nobody would guess it was by a seven-year-old. I was most pleased at that.

But then something strange happened. I'd lie in bed looking at it and imagine I was the girl in the purple dress on the porch, and all those colorful people were my friends. At the same time, I felt as if I'd somehow created the family and friends that I'd missed out on. Sometimes, I'd have it that everyone in the procession was a relative of mine coming to Christmas or some family gathering. Other times, they were a crowd of strangers coming to see some wonderful thing Bessie and I had done.

But most of all, I suppose because the picture did finally exist and I'd put in all the stitches, I felt that I'd created a house by the side of the road and that I was a friend to man, in my daydreams, at least. I wonder if that was because of our isolation. There were no processions on our street and not many people came to our house. I knew that from watching television. People came and went all the time in the homes of children on TV. Anyhow, Bessie's had my sampler up in her bedroom ever since."

Paloma was done so I tacked on a thought.

"Yeah, I remember that 'reading into it' thing when I was a kid. I used to 'recognize' all sorts of creatures and things in the plaster patterns on my bedroom ceiling … and then I worked them into stories. But I guess we surrender that gift for investing things with wonder so that we can to do what we call 'growing up.' Pity."

[Page 196] On a run to the village with Anneke, mistress of Bettiswood Hall

One stop in Bettiside involved exotica. Anneke had a box of fabulous Havana cigars acquired from an Amsterdam uncle. This man, husband to her mother's sister, bore the surname Boeksma. For some reason lost on me, Anneke supposed we would know that anyone with that name was an odd duck. At any rate, it was evident that a Boeksma was, in the eyes of Anneke's family, an automatic eccentric to be tolerated with affection and watched with interest. Uncle Boeksma, among other hobbies, made annual pilgrimages to Cuba and obtained panatelas virtually unknown to the larger world or even to other aficionados. This, Anneke assured us, is the conceit of every cigar fancier who goes on such a quest: each returns with a unique Caribbean treasure. At any rate, Anneke takes her uncle's annual gift to a fully appreciative tobacconist in Bettiside who also deals in fine and rare teas. These, Anneke can appreciate and use. After careful negotiation, she was convinced that she made an absolute killing. I watched the two principals in this horse trading and concluded that I had seldom seen such reciprocally delighted traffickers, regardless of the merchandise.

[Page 216] Paloma remembering her mother after her death had sundered rather than resolved their strained and bizarre relationship.

When Chely was gone, I found among her things a note she'd written, I guess in answer to something I'd asked her - and then she'd never given it to me. I wrote to Bessie about it and she remembered when it happened because Chely just barely got back for my fourth birthday - she'd gone to Martinique and cruised around the Caribbean for six weeks, a house party on a yacht. Here is part of what Chely wrote.

Bessie couldn't wait to tell me how you'd memorized a long story, a whole children's book. I wasn't too surprised because I knew you anticipated every step in a story after it had been read to you a few times. But I wanted to humor Bessie, so I sat down with you and your book. As soon as I opened the first page, you started in and recited it perfectly. So I spread out the second and third pages and you went on absolutely word for word. I couldn't believe it and I guess I just sat for a bit. You were impatient, so I said, "go on," and you said, "Chely, you have to turn the page." Then I thought to myself, "Paloma's really made a game out of this; someone has to turn the pages for her while she pretends to read." I deliberately turned two pages. You caught me, but I stayed right there in the book and asked you if you knew where we were in the story. You looked at the page and began with the first word and read both pages and then stopped on the last word. I was floored. I always had the idea you were way ahead of me but that was unbelievable. I got out another of your books and opened it and asked you, "Can you read this?" and I did say "read." You started right in, but in a few lines you came to a stop and said, "I don't know that word." I found out you knew nothing at all about sounding out words, but you recognized dozens of them by sight, and you knew what an "s" did when it was added to a word you knew. Paloma, you were barely four. I just sat there and trembled, that whole business made me feel more inadequate and unworthy than ever.

I showed the note to Gustaf and he tried to explain my mother's feelings. He said she'd often talked to him about me and about her problems in accepting me. He had listened carefully, he said, not just because he wanted to help Chely, but also because the whole business of me and my life fascinated him. He said it was the most dramatic piece of real life he had ever been exposed to, even second hand. Well anyhow, the way Gustaf saw it, Chely had always been terribly torn about me. She never really got over her feelings of horror at the rape, her resentment of having to bear a child when she didn't want one (and worst of all a child forced on her that way). But she also knew she was my mother, and she did have feelings for me. But every time she'd come close to me and have anything to do with me, she'd imagine that some unfair fate or destiny had made me better and more important than she was. Gustaf said Chely had the strange idea that if I had just had something wrong with me, she would have pitied me and somehow we'd have been closer. She knew that was a fearfully warped idea and she felt guilty about it on top of everything else, but that was the way she'd reacted right from the start and she had never been able to control it. Gustaf said she finally got over it during that last year of her life, and in the end she took a kind of solace from thinking about me going out into the world for her or at least because of her. Those were all strange ideas to me back then; I was sixteen and it was all more than I could take in and rationalize, even though I did try.

[Page 239] Haley ruminating while Paloma was marooned in Bournemouth:

I put myself to bed, but Paloma's memoir still had me in its grip and I couldn't sleep. I saw her as she had been, sitting in the dressing room, her expressive face and graceful form beautiful from any angle. Had that beauty contributed to her problems? What if she'd been a more ordinary looking person? Bessie wouldn't have treated her differently, nor Nourrit or Amparo. What about Gustaf? He spent hours with her every weekend through her fourteenth to sixteenth years. He watched her mind develop and her body fill out. How differently might he have reacted?

In the end, my conjectures seemed silly. Gustaf was a perceptive man, and lonely. In order to escape his desires for companionship and sex, Paloma would have to have been dull as well as plain. Who could possibly wish that?

[Page 263] Bits from Haley's letters to Paloma during the "long, cold night"

"A person isn't just an inventory of strengths and weaknesses. You can't expect to find a flaw and simply pluck it out and throw it away. It's part of you and you'll have a tendency to protect it. Denial is powerful because it's a defense of all that we are, our right to be what we are, even when it's a defense of some indefensible weakness. It's popular to associate denial with addictions, prejudices, abnormal needs - all sorts of ugly things - with the implication that, but for denial, they could be plucked out and cast aside leaving us thereafter cleansed. Maybe so, but not easily. Reshaping yourself is tougher than sculpting granite. But Paloma, believe me, you're dealing from strength. You have a magnificent base from which to operate. You're young, you're healthy, you're strong mentally and physically, (and somewhere under there, you're tough as nails), but for now, you've hidden your backbone away in a closet under a pile of excuses. Part of the mental toughness you developed to grow up and cope with the world is misdirected. If you can accept the idea of more flexibility in your outlook, if you can incorporate the conviction that you need to roll up your sleeves and get to work - and play - among your peers, I don't see how you can be stopped."

"We can't approach and deal with all of life's great choices as if there were, in each case, a perfect solution or combination available to us. Even if that were the case, what would be our chances of finding it? Some people live their lives on hold, searching for the perfect anything or everything-from their ranks come the seekers of omens and the disciples of gurus. They lack courage in their own convictions. They fear living with their own necessarily imperfect choices and decisions.

The trick is to realize life is a series of compromises, a series of recovery operations, "do the best you can." Of course we should plan to do right - it helps to have that uppermost in our minds at all times - but life does not end if we do less than perfectly. Pick up the pieces!"

[Page 299] After Paloma tells about her rapprochement with her half-sisters, she hands Haley a paper written by her father and given to her by the half-sisters.

Since we had no activity in the immediate offing, I sat down with Francisco Utrera's manuscript. What, I wondered, had he been writing? When Paloma mentioned it, it flashed on me that this might be some sort of confession. What a melodramatic end that would have provided for his tragic relationships with the Inskips. Well, that happened only in my momentary fantasy. When Paloma produced her copy, it proved to be almost two hundred pages, double spaced, based on interviews with polo players, professionals. Apparently Utrera was fascinated with the stories of the men who form the backbone of so many polo teams: men from poor socio-economic backgrounds, many of them from places like Argentina or Australia, who acquired their horsemanship by starting as stable hands and exercise boys and worked up to high salaries and a sort of demimonde status on the fringes of the horse world's aristocracy. I spent over an hour sampling the tales of those Utrera had selected, interviewed, and, I suspect, taped. I can imagine that Paloma had found herself quite fascinated. Her father had not simply acted as a reporter, far from it. His chief interest seems to have been in noting the meanness of his subjects' backgrounds, the poverty of their educations, and the fierce motivation provided by polo as an exotic exit from privation and obscurity. Even with this approach, the work felt curiously dispassionate. To him, these men were not heroes; he was blunt in pointing out their shortcomings. But he also noted the crass motives of the social and economic elites who sponsored them and brought them to the fringes of their world. Through it all, Francisco Utrera came across to me as detached and numb to emotional reaction. He reminded me of a biologist dissecting worms.

[Page 164] Paloma writes to Haley about the music he has recommended

All right, I adore your minor composers. During your "lectures" - am I being unkind? - I was impressed by your point that listening to music by all the recorded composers not only broadens our horizons and makes us better appreciate the giants, but also gives us a rest from their music, and that gives it a longer life. That made sense to me, but you've also showed me what absolute gems are to be found among the works of minor composers. Some pieces you sent literally bowled me over. How, I wondered, could such delights ever have been lost or neglected?

I'll let Gustaf take some of the blame for my ignorance. I found classical music in his house and his record collection when I was fourteen. He had so many disks and they seemed to cover everything from Baroque to Modern in great depth. I played them a lot, and then he and I played them a lot more, and he stressed his favorites: Beethoven on through Richard Strauss, music from the span of little more than a hundred years.

Now I see that he had no seventeenth century music and paid only lip service to Bach and Handel and Vivaldi and their contemporaries in the early eighteenth. When I look in his collection for your beloved composers born in the first half of the eighteenth century, your "lost generation," I find Haydn, otherwise zero, absolute zero. Now I know and respect Richter and C. P. E. Bach and I love the selections you sent from Soler and Dittersdorf and Vanhal.

And then there is Johann Christian Bach. How can it be that I have never heard him in concert or on disks. He is an angel. When I am lonely, I put on his chamber works or some of those Opus 13 concertos for fortepiano. Pure bliss. When you explained that J. C. Bach taught Mozart how to sound like Mozart, I thought you had drifted into fantasy land, wildly exaggerating this Bach's influence during his months as Mozart's teacher, but no, you discovered something profoundly true. Over and over, I hear J. C. Bach anticipating Mozart -and no such thing in the works of any other.

And I mustn't forget Michel Corrette. I will never again be without his carols for oboe and organ; they make me shiver from head to toe and bring tears to my eyes. I will always be amazed that Gustaf knew nothing of these composers or did not care for them.

Your music keeps me company every day, a half hour here, a half hour there, one or two compositions at a time, and yes, I have tried your suggestion that I concentrate on the music alone and not play it in the background. I sit, close my eyes, and follow it wherever it takes me - a totally different experience.

Paloma's Favorites (among disks lent or given to her by Haley)

Johann Christian Bach: Three Quintets and Sextet
Trevor Pinnock and The English Concert
Archiv Produktion 423 385

Anna Bon: Sonatas for Flute, Bassoon, and Continuo
Claudio Ferrarini, flute, Andrea Corsi, bassoon, Francesco Tasini, keyboard
Mondo Musica MM 96006

Michel Corrette: Carols for Organ and Oboe or English Horn
Daniel Meylan, organ, and Jean-Maurice Capt, oboe & English horn
Cascavelle VEL 1007

Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf: Concertos for Double Bass (Nos. 1 & 2)
Chi-Chi Nwanoku, double bass, Swedish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Paul Goodwin
Hyperion CDA 67179

Frantisek Xaver Richter: Concertos and Chamber Music, Musica Alta Ripa
Dabringhaus und Grimm MDG 309 0508

Antonio Soler: Quintets for Harpsichord, Two Violins, Viola, and Cello
Concerto Rococo with Jean-Patrice Brosse, harpsichord
Pierre Verany PV792111

Antonio Soler: Quintets for Harpsichord, Two Violins, Viola, and Bass
Concerto Rococo with Jean-Patrice Brosse, harpsichord
Pierre Verany PV799041

Barbara Strozzi: Il Primo de' Madrigali (Venezia 1644) - Orlando di Lasso Ensemble
(2 disks) THOROFON DCTH 2441/2

Jan Krtitel Vanhal: Concerto in F Major for Two Bassoons & Orchestra, The Umea Sinfonietta, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, with Annika Wallin & Arne Nilsson, bassoons BIS CD 288

Jan Krtitel Vanhal: Sonatas for Viola and Continuo, Karel Spelina, viola, Ladislav Pospisil, cello, and Josef Hala, keyboard Supraphon SU 3285-2131

Disks recommended by Paloma to Haley

Filippo Gragnani: Chamber Music with Guitar - Marco Riboni, guitar, Andrea Pecolo, violin, Emilio Vapi, flute, Anna Maria Giaquinta, clarinet, Leopoldo Saracino, guitar, Andrea Bellato, cello
Stradivarius STR 33385

José de Nebra, Viento es la dicha de amor (Zarzuela), Coro Capilla Peñaflorida, Ensemble Baroque de Limoges, conducted by Christophe Coin, with soloists
Auvidis Valois V 4752

Giovanni-Felice Sances: Motetti e cantade a voce sola
Concerto Soave with Maria Cristina Kiehr, soprano
l'empreinte digitale (Distributed by harmonia mundi s. a.) ED 13038

Musica en Tiempos de Goya La Real Cámara, Emilio Moreno, with Marta Almajano, soprano Glossa GDC 920303

Barroco Español, Vol. 2, Zarzuelas, Al Ayre Español, Eduardo López Banzo, with Marta Almajano, soprano Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 05472 77336