Clown Paint (Part One, Faces).

by Lori Dwyer on January 6, 2013 · 4 comments

in Uncategorized

I wear make up like a mask.

I love it, the craft and artistry of it. When I was a child I dreamed of being a special effects make up artist, a mortician, a beautician and a nail technician. That was, of course, not even a considerable option– I was ‘smart’, and had to ‘make the most of that talent’. A university degree wasn’t required to be a make up artist, so, in patriarchal eyes, that was never, ever going to be a suitable occupation for a prodigal daughter.

I don’t think running away to the circus to be a clown was on the game plan either, really. But that’s the way things turned out. And in that ‘immature’ occupation, I found that intense satisfaction that comes with playing with colors and shades on faces, rekindled and begging to be quenched.

I became, overnight, a ‘professional’ clown, fairy and face painter. For the first three or so months of my new job I was awful to the point of feeling a stomach churning sense of sympathy and regret for my pint-sized party guests as they left the fairy’s face painting chair with a childlike rendition of a butterfly, or a pussy cat, or the eternally popular SpiderMan, slapped onto their face in the most precise way my nervous hands could manage. Which was, in all honesty, not very precise at all.

But somewhere along those first few months, clowning morphed from weekend cash–in–hand to a full time, phone answering, party booking occupation. Being the soapy mind-sponge I am, I began to take in the material around me– magic tutorials; balloon bending instructions; tomes of face painting leaflets written by faux–fairies all around the world; and skinny yellow readers written for people with a evading age of twelve that, nonetheless, gave lessons on juggling, story telling… and clown paint.

Osmosis by fascination.

It took six months to develop a paint and a face that was my own, that belonged to Lilly. The features were mine but exaggerated, playful, large smudges in primary colors. Happy yellow stars on smiling cheeks. Cornflower Blue crosses wiped from across eyes. A tiny dot of a red nose, a geisha–style love heart over my lips.

Lori, clown- circa 2005.

And long black eyelashes extended from the corner of each eye, a traditional sign of shock for mimes, femininity for speaking performers.

My costume and make up was malleable, and came in graded layers of formality. Being a clown-chameleon is essential when you consider the humid heat of Australian party season and the simple pain–in–the–arseness of costuming up to complete formal attire– a wig, a white face, and all the literal bells and whistles that went along with my babydoll smock, oversized bloomers and humongous shoes– three of four times a day, three or four days a week. For a parade or a formal function, a gig where a clown’s purpose is simply to provide color and movement, a full regalia was almost always necessary. But the closer your potential for direct interaction with the public, the less of a masquerade you become. A too–muchness about you tends to make a clown unapproachable and potentially terrifying to most small children and any clown–phobic adults. So you loose the wig and instead construct high, bunched pony tails stuffed with flowers. You make yourself up only with brightly hued, long lasting crayons, leaving out the layer of white grease paint used to make your face a blank canvas, with it’s smeary un-washability and distinctive, nostalgic smell.

As I developed my own mask, my face painting gradually improved, too.

Learning to make tiny chubby faces resemble cartoon heroes, small animals and ethereal butterflies wasn’t so much akin to shaping balloons (everything is just a dog, with parts shortened or elongated); or feeling a magic trick suddenly ‘work’ with the sound of an audible ‘clack’ deep in your psyche (practice, practice, patter, practice. Over and over until you watch yourself in the mirror and your motions are so fluid that to you, the trick the obvious and vulgar– that’s when it becomes smooth enough to fool people. The magician’s oxymoron, the perfect misdirection– trick yourself into believing you are doing nothing at all, and let your audience visualize their own illusions from the vapors of your actions). Face painting is a talent built and learned slowly, patiently. You gather knowledge on what to use, how to use it, how to elicit the trust of the little people sitting before you. There’s all those social skills that make or break a performer– when to back off, when to launch for laughter, how to adjust your body language to mirror your audience, how to make big kids feel cool enough to play along with the little ones by suggesting a camaraderie, some kind of secret adult role that frees them to play like a child. (‘Play like a child…’ And that’s a beautiful thing. It occurs as I’m writing this, that eventually you do that for the last time ever. Do you remember the last time you were a child, before you grew up completely…? Was it with the permission of someone else, someone older, doing you a favor you never even thought about…?)

All those social restraints and rules are so relevant when you’re sitting, a head lower than most of the children standing around you, hot and slightly flustered and losing track of who’s next in line. Being a face painter in a busy venue often feels like being in the eye if the storm– a calm renaissant absorbed in colors and brushes and paint stains on your fingers; while a seething mass of excitement shuffles and drones around you. I find a day spent face painting peaceful and purposeful. I enjoy being trapped in a bubble of self–silence and concentration, speaking only to ask what my next earnest, innocent canvas would like to be transformed into today, maybe inquiring as to what their favorite colors are if the hues of the chosen design are interchangeable. Children are sweet in their intense concentration while having paint applied to their skin. Something about that earnest look reminds you that, in the world of a little person, wearing a mask for a few hours is a Very Big Deal indeed.

The whole point of face painting is not just to paint, but to make. To change structure and depth. Use light colors to accentuate, dark shades to deepen. Ovals of black paint to extend or widen nostrils for dogs, cats and bunny rabbits. Lines that extend from ears, along the hollow of jawbones, and over the chin and upper lip; then dot that crescent with sharp, white licks of the brush for teeth to make sharks and crocodiles. Your tiniest, skinniest brush tracing the newly formed, natural wrinkle lines on skin to accentuate them and draw age onto youthful faces. Paint the lips of little girl’s ruby red to enhance the entranced expression on their face when you flip the mirror
their way on your mini-project’s completion.

All tricks and glamors, designed to fool the eyes.

And adult make up, it’s much the same. Light make bigger, dark makes smaller. Sharp lines always look unnatural. Skin infections are wholly transferable. You’re always putting make up not onto skin, but into what is already on that skin– for perfection, a palette must be clean.

The point of wearing make up is to look like you’re not wearing any make up at all, and so few women achieve that illusion. While clown paint and face paint are just that– paint– the point of adult make up is still to wear a mask… just not to let anyone else know you’re doing it.

To be continued…

post signature



by Lori Dwyer on January 5, 2013 · 5 comments

in Uncategorized

Today, I woke up earlier than I have in months.

Roused from that blackness by the sound of myself… giggling. Surprised by something I haven’t heard for such a long time, I wasn’t sure it was possible anymore.

My own laughter popping and breaking like fat iridescent bubbles in sunshine.

I think, for today, for now… that’s all I’ll write. I’m not accustomed to keeping things close, it feels like an act of physical exertion to hold things within my fingers rather than infusing them into words.

But I’ve had so very little of this, and it feels like something… real.

And happiness can be soap bubbles, too. Maybe the vibration of speaking too much could break them.

Posted, by me, earlier today on IG and various social networks…
The fact that any of you think of me at all is just so beyond awesome it baffles me… I’m not sure what goodness I’ve done to deserve this the pouring of love and support I get, but I’m always, always grateful for it.
You guys are… tops.

post signature


The Hotel- Blue Mountains, Part Three.

by Lori Dwyer on January 3, 2013 · 2 comments

in Uncategorized

I slither ahead of Dear Brad, bound the dead weeds and sticks that cover the bottom few stairs leading to the open doorway. Tentatively, I step into the room and I’m stupidly surprised at my own reflection when the massive mirror picks it up. Should I cast a reflection if I’m not really here, not so much adding to the history a place as recording it? I imagine I’d feel the same about any reflection, in any old building I explore. But– with the exception of the laundry in the House in TinyTrainTown– mirrors are generally the first things to go in an abandoned structure. They break so easily, with such a gratifying shattering sound.

“Hello…?” I call out, loudly enough that it echoes. I’m not expecting a reply at all. I’m just listening for shifts in sound, shifts in weight, something to indicate there is someone nearby or on the floors above who heard me. “Is there anyone here? I’m a photographer… erm… a writer? I’m doing a piece on the history of the Mountains…?”

Again, nothing. “I’m not sure we should be in here…” whispers Dear Brad, having crept up behind me while I’m calling out.

I look at him, head cocked to one side and eyebrows raised. “Of course we shouldn’t. Let’s go.”

(Let me interrupt my own monologue here to say– I know. This was an incredibly stupid, illegal thing to be doing. But, hey… when opportunity leaves the door wide open– literally– sometimes you should take the risk and run with it.)

We creep up a narrow, white washed well of stairs and tentatively peer through the door at the top.

And find ourselves in some other kind of world. This is is the delicate guts of one of the state’s most opulent hotels, built purely for the purposes of decadence and indulgence.

And oh my… it is beautiful.

The roof is alabaster smooth, perfectly finished to meet walls with molded and carved plaster cornices, more artistry in the sweep of decorative practicality than in the construction of my entire house. Hallways are polished wood, floors carpeted in running rugs of deep wine burgundy with olive trimmings, thick timber kickboards where walls and floors meet. There are tiny rooms here and there, tiny hallways twisting off left and right. The further we venture, the bolder we become, pushing open heavy, solid wooden doors to either closing them again quickly and moving on in nonchalance, or to stop and gasp, press the shutter button on my camera and then bathe in what once was, what almost still is and what, if new owners suceed, will be again one day soon.

This hotel is a gorgeous place. The upstairs rooms are spacious and sunny, huge and sprawling. Some are empty of everything, some have become store rooms for curious collections of hotel hubris– fans and bedsteads, linens and bedside tables, boxes of documents and crockery. There are rooms still furnished in their entirety, a thin ghostly coating of dust dulling reflective surfaces. In one room there is a bed, made but rumpled, as though someone slept there just the night before and housekeeping has not yet come to call.

If this where a dream,this would the part of the building you would be trapped in, trying to run… running, perhaps, fast as you can, every corner you turn ridiculously, horrifically, leading you into the very same hallway full of very same eerily sunny rooms that you have just run through, eyes wild with fright, feet not even moving, not even close to touching the ground beneath you.

We slip back down a fight of stairs, back along the hall, further from the open door through which we entered. It feels like being in the midst of a children’s treasure hunt on a massive scale, an enexpected gift with a thousand tiny, loosely wrapped packages to search through. Hallways, narrow and wide, long and short; stairwells that lead you up one flight to a polished wooden landing, up two flights to another wing of pristine cream and eggshell hallways, more wings of eccentrically cluttered or cheerfully barren hotel suites. Stairs that sink down into a dark basement; short thuds of stairs that lead you only the same floor you’re already on but sunken slightly in order to accommodate the topography of the hotel’s inconvienant mountain top locality. Everywhere are signs of decadence left silent– glittering chandeliers. Intricately molded ceilings and hearths. Marble fireplaces. Ornate cast iron gas heaters made slim to sit as flush with the pressed metal walls as possible, warming the chill of winter wooden floors on the softly manicured feet of ladies. Huge mirrors with tarnished gilded frames brace long stretches of hallway walls, fixed interminably to their spots years ago and untouched by time or vandals. We pass a large, curved room, dappled glass windows across its length on the hallway side, French doors and wall to floor plate glass on the opposite, positioned to soak in a breathtaking, lusciously rampant view.

‘The Shipley Room’ reads the sign above two lacquered, dark walnut doors… it’s identical to the one in the bag I’m carrying with me. The door handles are brass, worn at the top from years of hands twisting them open, over a century of gentlemen holding the door graciously for ladies as they pass. But not for us, not today (I try not to tell myself that Dear Brad, bless his cotton socks, wouldn’t have bothered to hold the door open for me anyway, whether this room was filled with revelers as it was, or only the ghosts of them as it is now, much as I know it to be true). These doors are locked and there is so much more to see here, so many more things to drink in, that it doesn’t occur to me to mind at all.

We pause, drawn into the salon in the fashion the architecture intended– this is, perhaps, the essence of a ’drawing room’. It’s central to lobby and restaurant, the ballroom and casino, and stairwells  and gently curving walls seem to sweep people into the wide foyer at the room’s entryway. The doorway is huge, eight foot across, and the fore-walls only partitions, really, a cut out space gr
adually glancing wider as it moves in to it’s axis with the walls sitting at shoulder height at the doorway entry, welcoming rather imposing without an actual door to close of this social space. It’s designed to flow and funnel people toward it, to cater for large, slow moving crowds tipsy on entertainment and night air.

This room centers on the bar at one end, wide and smooth and tucked into an alcove in the wall designed just for that purpose, another social trick of old-fashioned design. A swinging kitchen door is concealed to the left. Windows step high to let the sun in and add to the ambiance without brilliant views causing unnecessary distraction from the delicate past time of polite conversation. Opposite the bar is another of those gigantic gilded mirrors, creating the illusion of more space– and more people– than there actually is. The fireplace is one of the biggies I’ve ever seen, tucked into an angled mantle in the middle of the room in order to spread its warmth both sides of the curved walls. Juxtaposing such careful, deliberate planning and design are chairs, hundreds of them piled eight foot high, an ugly statement in the open places. There’s an occasional heavy, rustic black wood table nestled amongst them– stark fat toadstools in a spiny forest of black aluminum.

Just a few feet further down the main hotel corridor and we reach the hotel lobby, remarkably plain and modern in comparison to where we’ve just been– this is, obviously, not a place designed for loitering or mingling. It’s business and functionality, bellboys on minimum wage rustling in from behind the scenes like apparitions to move luggage to rooms before guests place their key in the lock, creating the illusion of homeliness- your things, of course, they’ve been here all along, just waiting for you to catch up.

The ballroom takes my breath with the hugeness of it, the entire vastness of it’s space. A fireplace- always fireplaces in the Mountains. Another longer, less obiqiutious bar. Chandeliers dangling from the ceiling like costume jewels made of solitaires; a raised platform for a band to play bluesy tones in a an acoustically perfect setting.

There’s one or two final doors, at least one sweeping entryway left to discover before we reach what will be the end of the line– not that we know that right now, the stillness of the hotel lulling us into a false sense of security, it’s air of homely comfort persuading us to stay longer, rest a while, take in the beautiful views, like a siren’s whisper. I stop to open the first door, and find myself thrilled to discover that just within is another door, this one heavier, with lead–lit glass panels in the higher half etched with the words ’Day Spa’. There’s a tingling thrill of touching history– the spa, the place where guests would soak up the majestic hydration this hotel was built around. The legend it was built upon, a monumental institution on top a cliff in the middle of unexplored hinterland.

The cynic in me is well aware that, in all likelihood, inside that door, I would have found naught but sanitized commercial disappointment– a day spa in the modern sense, bathroom fixtures and white basins and pedicure chairs.

I never got to find out, either way. At that moment, Dear Brad (d*ckhead) takes it upon himself to try the ornate–but–still–probably–recently–installed–fire–doors that mark the end of the hallway. The small olive plaque screwed into the wall next to them simply says ’Casino’. Dear Brad jumps back in over-confident shock as, three inches open, the door triggers the security alarms, and some kind of peaking hell splits audibly open above us.

It’s so loud I can’t think and somewhere beneath me the five year old in my mind is hysterical, hands over her ears and shrieking; that shattered smoke alarm of PTSD screaming at me that something is wrong here, something is very wrong here. Adrenaline peels off my consciousness in strips as I run, long strides made easy by my pumping heart. Past the ballroom, the lobby, the bar and the Shipley Room. It’s then that both Dear Brad and I become confused, lost and disorientated– there are too many stairs here, too many ups and downs and it begins to feel like a game of snakes of ladders. We pass the bedroom with the crumpled bed for the second time and I spot a small, dusty security camera in the corner of the hallway. And I laugh. Dear Brad looks at me and shakes his head, not finding it funny at all, but really, there doesn’t seem much else for it at this point.

Mirth controlled, we backtrace steps and find the original dusty staircase we came up (Narnia, but not quite…. the book before, The Magician’s Nephew, jumping in puddles and running through attics… It felt more like that). Down again, back through the spierwebbed exercise room; the shrieking, panicked alarm growing fainter and further away as we reach the door to the outside. Dear Brad pulls the door closed, latches it shut, and we leave, me still snapping pictures, both of us attempting to appear naively innocent and slightly baffled and curious by this unknown bleating warning sound in the distance– playing the part of unaffectedly tourists, sight see–ers stopped to stretch our legs. We nonchalantly slip back over the fence, return to the car. Stand next to it and smoke cigarettes for twenty minutes, waiting for security or police or… someone. No one comes.

I go back once more, early the next morning and alone, Dear Brad having departed (he sent me a text later on, though, remember? Lovely…). I follow the same path, only bypassing the road front entrance and sneaking to the side, where the outbuildings begin. I’m expecting not much at all, expecting the door Dear Brad latched on the way out yesterday to be closed still, probably locked tight by a security guard whenever they ended up getting here.

I turn the corner cut into the rock… and the door is open again. Wide open, just as it was when we first saw it.

I try to ignore how weird that is. I ready my camera, jump the overgrown thickets on the stairs, and step over the threshold.

The alarm, the same neon blue flashing sound from yester
day, it peals and shrieks again, immediately this time around. And I leave quickly, as we did yesterday, but without the panic and the laughter and the running.

Weird. Dear Brad and I… we just found ourselves extremely fortunate, it seems. This hotel– and whatever secrets she may hold– are much more protected than they appear.

post signature


The Hotel- Blue Mountains, Part Two.

by Lori Dwyer on January 2, 2013 · 0 comments

in Uncategorized

Continued from the Patchwork Hospital, last month- sorry it took such a long time for Part Two. I got… distracted.

There’s a hotel, just past Katoomba- it may be at Medlow Bath, or one of those other tiny villages that you only just see as you cruise past them, driving music pumping, on the highway toward Lithgow. It is all those things that appeal to me about the Blue Mountains of NSW, epitomised and structured and– currently– being refurbished. It’s a glorious, majestic, glamour of a building, the main structure stacked on top of– well, built into, actually– the side of the mountain.

It may have been opened in 1901, the premiere luxury hotel for economically well–off Mountain travelers. Perhaps- just perhaps- it was originally opened as a ’hydrotherapy centre’, it’s siren song fueled by the rumour of underground springs- a flowing, crystal clear sub-terrain stream of mystical spring water. Some kind of life elixir that promised health and healing, a balm to the strains of upper-class existence. Unfortunately, by the time the this establishment, with all it’s flourishes, lead-lit glass and sculptured carpentry was actually opened, the river od mystical waters had dried up. Whether it ever actually existed is a historical anomaly- no one knows for sure.

Not that it mattered. People still flocked to the decadent hotel, dressed in their finest, to partake in the opulent accommodation, be seen in the even more opulent casino room. To honeymoon and bushwalk, canyon and relax.

This hotel may been closed for refurbishments for as long as I can rememeber. It’s one of those things, like the random concrete sculpture, that I like to drive past with unassuming people who don’t know it’s there. Because they almost never fail to say something long the lines of ’What the f*ck was that??!’

I’ve wanted to explore here since the first time I did that myself.

There doesn’t seem to be much to see, many places to go, when you first pull up directly in front of the chain link fence with it’s huge gates that surround three quarters of the property. The far side, the back entrance, ti doesn’t need a fence- the buildings sits only five metres from a cliff face, a gradient so steep it’s almost vertical, covered with the barbed wire of the bush- a dozen different hard-limbed trees and plants, thick scrub to impede movement and break ankles. The hotel (maybe- all this is in theory, of course) directly on the main road, and Dear Brad and I aren’t the only tourists and explorers who have stopped here today for a sticky beak. An older couple are wandering the forecourt of the building, well inside the security fencing; and there’s another car parked here, too, who’s occupants are yet to show themselves. There’s someone else actually parked inside the grounds, again within the fence, one of the makeshift gates slightly ajar. There’s four of five large buildings that make up the property, most of them branching to the left of the original hotel and casino. Only one tall rooming house has been built to the right of the original, and it’s one stark white, ugly against the softness of the original cream, desolate against the perfectly clear skyline behind it. The Person With Keys, the one parked inside, is throwing random, indiscernible junk from the front door of the white building into a shiny silver skip-bin sitting angled near the building’s steps.

This feels stupid, unnecessarily risky, and I’m breaking rules… I’m almost positive that this particular place can not really be classified as ’abandoned’. Caution versus Bravery, and Bravery whispers that if I don’t do this now it may just be years before I come back here again. And by that time this endless construction work– which actually doesn’t seem to have begun– will be over and I’ll have to pay a few hundred dollars for the privelege of checking all this out.

“Come on, then,” I say to Dear Brad, who seems as hesitant as I am, and I sling my camera bag round my neck and walk through the front gate, trying to swagger along as though I have every right in the world to be here.

The view over the Blue Mountains.

We pass the older couple, who smile and say good morning, and we reply in turn. There’s a certain surreality in feeling as though you’re taking a casual morning stroll through the windswept grounds of a neglected hotel, the moulded Taj Mahal roof of the casino as a backdrop.

Like the PatchWork Hospital, the gardens here were once gorgeous. While not yet quite as rampant as the hospital grounds, given another few years they certainly could be. Leaves and weeds form heaps around roses that are aaphid infested and badly need a prune. The rudiments of catering white goods– coffee pots and industrial toasters, along with random chairs and tables- are stacked against the ochre-colored walls of the hotel wing that skirts the side of the courtyard. There’s a pool, a dolphin dry docked and suspended mid leap, the only water against the deep blue of the pool’s sides a few inches of murky green curdled algae-sludge layering the pool floor.

Between the casino on one side and the pool on the other there is a rotunda, a circular driveway to pull into while you register your stay or return your room keys. Despite the huge pillars, it takes a moment to realize that’s what it is, exactly– creeping weeds and disheveled gravel have blurred the boundaries and lines of the through-way.

This is the drive past facade, the public front of the majestic, antiqued hotel. Combined with the casino, with it’s dramatic domed roof and carved wood and stained glass doors, set high in contrast against the skyline as the valley falls away behind it; it’s all stark and gothic and fraught and brings a sense of tough but somehow sheltered people, dressed in all their finery but living here, in the unforgiving Australian bushland, with the somewhat desolate, bone–chilling cold of mountain winters. Silly feathers and fuss, the almost willful, blind ignorance that comes with having enough money to close your door on the hard parts of life; contrasted with the rugged savagery of actua
lly surviving in this environment a hundred years ago.

The public front of the building is too easy. The chain link fence sections off these main buildings– connected, it seems, so guests did not get wet feet or freeze the tips of their noses while traveling between dining room and bedroom, bedroom and casino– from the next squat structure to the left, which is old and white and looks like an oversized shoebox with tiny squares cut down the length of it’s side for peeking porthole windows. Dear Brad and I turn and walk back the way we came, aiming for the gate again in order to walk the perimeter that bit further and find a way over to the next stretch of security fencing.

“Fire truck.” says Dear Brad. He’s stopped just inside the gate and looks thoroughly confused.


“Fire truck!!”

And that’s just what he means… fire truck. As in, a real, read and shiny full-sized tanker parked right here, behind my car, lights flashing and firemen– paid fireman, not volunteer– in big black shiny jackets climbing up and down into the cab and looking as though they are actually preparing to leave again. One of them sees me looking his way and smiles and waves, and I wave back, again with that surreality– I’m standing directly behind the ‘No Trespassers!!’ sign and nobody is even the slightest bit fussed. Person With Keys is still dumping random things in the skip bin, seemingly also nonplussed by flashing emergency lights, nor trespassers with cameras.

Back of the hotel, looking north.

The firies drive off, and one waves to me again, fingers flicking a small salute off his helmet as they pull out on the highway.

Dear Brad and I look at each other, and I’m imagining that, by now, I appear just as confused as he is.

“What the…?”

“I have no idea. But they obviously didn’t mind us being here, so lets go…” (Yes, I said that a lot to Dear Brad this weekend. Anyone who comes exploring with me hears “Come onnnnnn, let’s go!!” on a semi-regular basis.) I don’t care how chilled the local fire brigade are about harmless but still illegal trespassing… The local cops may not feel the same way. And my theory always is- get in, get out. Loitering attracts more attention than stealth movement.

And there’s so much more here to see.

Further down the fence line– the entire property runs for a good five hundred metres along the main highway, and sits directly opposite a tiny sandstone train station– the chain link stops and only the original fencing remains. It’s short and squat, all five foot high concrete pillars connected by concrete spans at the bottom and top. Again, too easy– one leg over, then the other, choose a branch from one the olive trees just inside the fenceline with which to steady yourself, the drop the six foot or so onto the other side,where the ground is slightly lower.

There’s a mismatched group of three or four outbuilding on this side of the fence, most of them still connected to the main hotel buildings with long, tacked on corridors. This is obviously the lower socio-economic end of the Hydro Majestic, and it seems the small white shoebox building we toward first was either the (very) public accommodation for coachmen and traveling servantry, or the staff quarters. It’s dark and dingy and the rooms closest to the road have the feel of dampness, of places so shaded by thick tress that they get very little sunlight at all. And, of course, without the heavy fencing and their imposing security signs making a veritable fortress of this side of the hotel, this building has become an easy target for vandals. It’s not so much graffiti, not even evidence of squatters leaving behind piles of chip packets and soft drink bottles or impromptu fireplaces. The evidence points toward simple, wanton teenaged destruction– things broken, moved and dismantled; order made into mess simply because it’s here and unprotected and they’ve never had so much freedom and power over any environment before in their lives.

In the far back corner of the shoebox building is a kitchen, stripped of anything useful. Every other room, opening methodically off the dark central hallway, is a tiny sleeping space with an identically sized tiny window. The contents of each room differs– some are filled with furniture, some  have nothing at all. The roof has come down in some places, throwing merciful thick fingers of slanty sunlight to dry the dampness caught in carpet and upholstery.

The first two rooms are strewn with papers. Cardboard filing boxes are stacked atop one another, drunkenly squashing each others corners and creating compressed heaps of paper. The boxes not stacked up are strewn like snow drifts, piles of looseleaf printed A4′s acting as a slippery, shifting sandhill carpet. I pick up a few of them, shake my head, let them float back toward the floor.

“What are they?” asks Dear Brad.

“Receipts. And invoices and envelopes and stationery and brochures. I’m guessing when the new owners come looking for all the past paperwork from the hotel… this is where they’ll find it.” And again, I wonder… how the hell did it all get here? Who’s job was it, to file and store documentation? What point did they decide ‘Oh fuck it, I’ll just stack all the paperwork here in an unlocked moldy old boarding house?’

Behind the shoebox is another, slighter smaller white Fibro building, fewer windows, more doors. It was, apparently, the care-takers shed on one side, his equipment shed and maintenance room on the other. The tools are, of course, gone, but most of the fittings and random accessories are still here. There’s a calendar on the wall, stopped at March 2007. Screwed to the door of what I’m assuming was, once, the caretakers office– a desk, chair, even a stained and crazed coffee cup still sit dustily inside the small nook– is a sign, obviously salvaged by maintenance when there still was maintenance here. It reads ’Shipley Room’, lettered gold on dark olive paint. It’s from within the hotel proper, and I find myself bre
aking the rules again… coveting. I source a  butter knife from the floor, carefully untwist the screws from the thick wood. And take it home for the fairy garden. Righteous bubble broken, I gather intermittently as we pick our way back toward the exit- a red ’fire phone’ with only the handset and cradle, no buttons, lays in a heap of plastic bags and crockery on the floor; so I salvage that, too, and nail it to a pole in the garden for my kids to play with.

Inside the staff quarters.

The guilt is only slight. Skip bins… they nullify the notion of stealing, somewhat.

The last outbuilding appears to be the oldest, older even than the hotel itself, ad the romantic in me imagines a pumping station for the ghost of underground springs. Two squat stories of hand-pressed brick, it’s last incarnation seems to have been as an engine room, boiler room and storage shed. The bottom floor is boring, greasy and mechanical. On the far side of the external walls there’s a rusted metal flight of stairs leading to a landing that looks rotted with concrete cancer. I start up them and on the fourth step the entire staircase swings lazily with my weight.

“I’m not sure it’s safe…” I call out to Dear Brad.

“I don’t think so, either.” He replies, and twenty seconds later he’s past me, up on the second floor anyway, laughing and telling me to get a move on, if it held his weight it will hold mine.

The bathroom in the sky

He was lucky it was worth it. Upstairs was another living quarters, same dusty rooms with worn out furniture stored here that has long been forgetten, or that has no place else to go. But, strangely, what was left of the tiny bathroom was… amazing. A small shower next to a large window that looked out over the valley behind the hotel. Hectares of sweeping greenery, too high and close to view the steep drop off of the cliff so you appeared to be standing on the very top of the world. It’s the coolest bathroom I’ve ever seen In Real Life and again there’s that tugging, pensive sadness. The feeling of things being left to fall part, to rot in the absence of every day interaction with humanity.

Miraculously, the rickety stairs don’t collapse on the way back down. We head toward the back of the hotel, toward another outdoor stairwell, this one a huge set of stark silver fire stairs that are attached to the side of the main bulpilding– a legality necessity that is also an ugly modern eyesore. But the view from the top is breath taking, too huge to take in all at once, so gloriously lush that it catches your breath deep in your chest. It doesn’t take long before vertigo chases me down, down, down until I’m just one flight from the top, a comfortable threshold where I can be sure I’m placing my feet on something solid, where I’m no longer dizzy and my body trusts itself to stay vertical and not slide itself awkwardly through a gap too small for me to fit through anyway and send me plummeting toward the emerald green ground below.

The hotel, built into the rock

“Hey… can you see that?” asks Dear Brad softly once he’s caught up again at the foot of the fire stairs, “that door, at the back there… it’s open.”

And damned if he wasn’t right- there was a door, at the very back of the hotel, right against where the cliff drops away. And it was standing open, unlocked, exposing an almost empty room with a huge mirror mounted on the far wall. Seemingly out of place and jarred with the old–fashioned decor, the only objects with the room were two or three huge gym–sized treadmills, a dainty coating of dust and the beginnings and trendilling ends of silky spiderwebs ornating the curving handles and blanketing the running belts.

Continued tomorrow… (really tomorrow, this time. Promise.)

post signature