Hôtel de la Gare

For the dverse prompt

 

I had walked this street so often

yet never noticed the façade,

the way it shunned the pavement like a criminal,

windows dingy, half-shuttered,

paintwork the yellowing shade of cheap paperbacks,

the name, camouflaged by time and rain

barely distinguishable and incongruous—

Hôtel de la Gare.

 

We ended up on this street

one night of pivotal tension

that started beneath the stars

and ended

behind the dingy half-shuttered windows

of a hotel far from any station.

No trains woke us, no cock crowing,

the curtain veiled the half-shuttered sun,

and the silence was like suffocation.

 

Years afterwards I still walk that street,

and the criminal shiftiness of the façade

glares at me, hands in pockets

and a fag in the corner of its mouth.

Just keep moving.

I keep moving,

wondering why those dingy half-shuttered windows

refuse to sink back into unseen shadows,

why that incongruous name draws my eye,

why we ever thought there could be something for us

in a place that should never have been.

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Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

59 thoughts on “Hôtel de la Gare”

  1. To notice that façade on two different occasions certainly captures the nature of life and our ongoing travails. There are places that have come to define some pivotal moments of our lives — I really like how you have pictured the scene in this light. The street has recorded it all, as you have done in this verse.
    This is so good: “and the criminal shiftiness of the façade/glares at me, hands in pockets/and a fag in the corner of its mouth”.

    1. This was a hard one to write, but with distance, I can see the interesting aspects of it, the way places disappear when they are unimportant, and thrust themselves in your face when they have acquired a sort of notoriety.

  2. This poem has bucketloads of atmosphere, Jane, and you’ve conveyed the familiarity of the street while describing the otherness of the façade in ‘the way it shunned the pavement like a criminal’. I’ve seen quite a few dingy hotels in various places, but I think the French give the Brits a run for their money when it comes to the shabbiest. I love the description of the paintwork ‘the yellowing shade of cheap paperbacks’! That’s a powerful phrase: ‘the silence was like suffocation’.

    1. Thanks Kim. Maybe there are just fewer hotels in England, but they are or were everywhere in France, even in the smallest villages. You’re right about the scruffy disreputable look of them.

  3. An excellent piece, one of your best. Loved the textures, the darkness, the despair; so exotic and mysterious, as well as emotionally charged.

  4. the criminal shiftiness of the façade

    glares at me, hands in pockets

    and a fag in the corner of its mouth.

    Just keep moving.

    That’s a poem in its own right. Such a great image, and somehow so evocative of France, those provincial towns.

  5. This is superb Jane! You were at a moment of peak creativity when you wrote this. It is one of this moments that a poet craves, celebrates in the happening, and then loses in the afterglow until that spirit rises again – while hoping that it will. What a splendid moment for you!

    1. I’m glad the poem got to you, Rob. I do a lot of wandering and observing (about all I ever get done these days) but this thought popped into my head and wouldn’t go. Maybe personal poems are the most honest and so have the most impact.

  6. I’m just getting to this, but wow, Jane, so many wonderful lines in this one. You portray this hotel like a living creature. So evocative. This is really wonderful.
    (I think you mentioned this situation to me once. )

  7. Well done. An atmosphere “à la Simenon”. There were many “Hotels de la gare” before. Even in the remotest village with a station. I guess many have closed as the stations close.
    Joli travail. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you. It’s a part of France that has disappeared, along with the commis voyageur without a car. Simenon’s France has all but gone. The Hôtel de la Gare in the small town where I live is still there, and it doesn’t serve alcohol in the restaurant…

  8. My fav of yours so far, Jane – and that’s saying something! 🙂

    These lines esp reminded me of my wife and I’s stay in Paris a bit back —

    We ended up on this street

    one night of pivotal tension

    that started beneath the stars

    and ended

    behind the dingy half-shuttered windows

    of a hotel far from any station.

    *

    All in all, your poem permeates with the intrigue of Paris every person there must feel! 🙂

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you like this one. It’s a personal memory from when Paris was still getting into my blood. In the 1980s there was still a lot of Simenon’s Paris left, lots of seedy hotels and seedy nightlife.

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