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House of Passion
My guide was an old native of the city. “You see that house at the end of the
street?” he pointed with a bony finger. “That’s where Claude Roget painted the
great portrait of Madame Recamier.”
“You mean the one in the Louvre?”
“Yes. He did those Dutch landscapes here too.”
My guide was recommended by the museum’s curator. The curator obviously had more
important things to do than talk to me, so he looked up a number in his
directory and dialed it. “You’re lucky,” he put his hand over the mouthpiece to
muffle his voice and said confidentially. “I thought the old bugger was dead.”
But he wasn’t. His name was Ambrose and he owned the apartment. He was the
concierge when Claude Roget lived there. He saved his money wisely and bought
the hotel just last year.
The noisy cab stopped half way up the street. The driver didn’t want to go any
further. “I’m going to have to back out, it’s too narrow to turn around here,”
The street was barely wide enough to open the door of the taxi, and Ambrose and
I flattened ourselves against a display of potted plants and let the taxi back
out ... “I’ll wait for you at the end of the street,” the driver shouted.
Ambrose looked up to a window on the second floor. “That was Roget’s apartment.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked up there to see him working. He
would paint with his back to the window and the easel in front of him.”
“Who lives there now,” I asked him?
He unlocked the front door with a giant brass key. “Nobody,” he grunted. “I
can’t get anyone to rent the room ... it’s haunted you know, didn’t the curator
“Haunted? You can’t be serious.”
Ambrose led the way upstairs. He took the steps painfully, one at a time.
“You’ll see. You’re like all the others – you don’t believe in the ... the ...
I thought the old man was a little far gone. Hadn’t the curator back at the
museum hinted at it? He was surprised to find out he was still alive. We climbed
the stairs the rest of the way in silence and stood at Roget’s door. The old man
looked up at me briefly and took another key out of his pocket – the lock grated
loudly and he pushed the door open.
We entered and stood in the middle of Roget’s studio. The old man looked at me
closely and I immediately knew what he meant by the “passion.” There was a
tingling in the air, a humming like the sound of a powerful motor running
somewhere far off. My hands itched and, with my left hand I reached in my side
pocket for my note pad and my right hand dug the pen out of my shirt. A sense of
urgency came over me. I had to write something! Right then and there! Even while
standing there, in the middle of the room – even with nothing to say, I must
“You feel it then?” the old man smiled crookedly. “No one can stay in a place
like this. It would drive a man mad to feel this ... passion, day and night. No
sleep. No friends. Just a drive to create. It is not a good place to be.”
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