Connoisseur at Large: Funny Valentine

  • Jack Smith

“I think we should warn you,” began the lady at the check-in desk, as she handed the Connoisseur a key. “We have a ghost.”

“A ghost!” His companion reacted to this news with a delighted shudder. “Did you hear that?”

The Connoisseur smiled wanly, as if in the throes of a sudden gas pain. Of course there was a ghost, he thought. These places always had a ghost.

He cast a glance around the lobby, actually a Victorian-style living room with frilly cur-tains and floral wallpaper. It was cozy, old-fashioned, and homey. And until a few days earlier, about the last place the Connoisseur expected to find himself this weekend. He was sitting in his library when.

“You know what would be nice this Valentine’s Day?” his companion began, ever so casually, as she dropped into the chair next to him. “To stay at a bed-and-breakfast.”

A what? The Connoisseur lowered his book and looked up in alarm. “I thought you wanted to fly to London to catch a few shows.”

“Oh, we can do that any time,” she responded.

“How about cruising the islands?”

“Cruising’s such a bore.”

“Well then, how about a spa weekend at The Peninsula?”

“I did that last week,” she reminded him.

The Connoisseur slumped in his chair. He had known women who were indomitable in business, who possessed unerring taste in art, and who had the steel nerves necessary to jockey a hunter at full gallop across a steeplechase course. But show them a ramshackle Victorian manor with a swing on the porch, and they would go all misty-eyed.

Not so with men. The Connoisseur’s friends might rhapsodize about marvelous little one-star restaurants they had discovered in the south of France, country estates with private shooting grounds, or castle hotels along the Rhine, but never once had a male friend enjoined him with, “Hot dog, we’re going to a bed-and-breakfast.” After all, the appeal—such as it is—of this peculiar institution lies not in what it offers, but rather, in what it lacks. For instance, there would be no bellmen rushing trays of beluga and iced vodka to his room, no fitness center or steam bath or squash courts, no place to enjoy a cigar, and—instead of a bar—the stereotypical decanter of sherry. “What are we going to do?” the Connoisseur had asked his companion.

“We’ll go for walks,” she said. “We’ll read. We’ll learn something about each other.”

That’s what he was afraid of.

A friend, no less an expert than Laurence Roy Stains, coauthor of What Women Want (Rodale, 2000), had explained it one day during a morning run. “It’s part of the deal. It’s one of those things you just do. At one time, a fair lady asked her knight in shining armor to go out and slay a dragon or two. Today all you have to do is stay in a bed-and-breakfast.”

Thus advised, the Connoisseur accommodated his companion’s every whim: They strolled along a riverbank; they sat on the swing and read; at breakfast they listened as their host, Orville, reminisced about great curling matches of the past. The Connoisseur spent the weekend feeling as if he were caught in the La Brea Tar Pits.

Finally, Sunday morning arrived. The Connoisseur packed up his Carrera while his companion bade adieu to their host. “Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” she asked, as the Porsche accelerated away.

“Not so bad?” the Connoisseur responded. “It was great. Who needs the London theater when you have a raconteur like Orville?” His companion looked
surprised.

“Well, I wouldn’t go that far,” she answered.

But the Connoisseur continued, undaunted. “To think of all our friends frittering away their time in Paris or on their yachts when they could be here. And we haven’t even seen the ghost yet.”

His companion began to look distressed. “Actually, this one weekend is all I can take for a while. And I think they made up that part about the ghost.”

The Connoisseur favored her with a smile. She had wanted the weekend to be a learning experience, and she was getting smarter already. 

Photo by James Lipman
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