The landlady

I spoke at length to the landlady when I moved into the house last week. She was pleasant, charming, interesting and interested.

anna madrigal tales of the cityShe reminds me of a couple of people, one of whom is Anna Madrigal. Of course, if you haven’t read (or watched the 1990s TV series) of Armistead Maupin’s masterful Tales of the City then it sadly won’t mean anything to you. But do read it. It’s a wonderful book that transports you back to the heady days of 1970s San Francisco. Anna Madrigal is the landlady of Barbary Lane – the apartment building which the key characters reside in. She’s an eccentric, friendly old dame. In the mini-series she was played by Olympia Dukakis.

Who, then, am I? Well, I’m part Mary-Anne Singletone, the small-town, rather naive country girl from Ohio (or in my case, the west coast of Wales). It’s probably fair to say I’m not heterosexual lothario Brian Hawkins. But I am more like Michael Tolliver (“a sweet and personable gay guy known to friends as Mouse”) and at times I have the ditsyness of bohemian bisexual Mona Ramsey. Job-wise I probably have elements of “the scheming bisexual husband of DeDe” – Beauchamp Day.

mouse, mary anne and mona tales of the city 28 barbary lane

(Mouse, Mary-Anne, Mona)

I guess what I’m trying to convey is that I experience parallels with 28 Barbary Lane and my own new place – especially with regard to the landlady. I really did think of Anna Madrigal when first I met her.

The other person she reminds me of a little bit is Norma Desmond, played by Gloria Swanson in the original film of Sunset Boulevard and on Broadway by Glenn Close (below).

norma desmond glenn close sunset boulevard

Why Norma Desmond? Well, she does have this faded European countess persona thing going on, living in this vast Westminster townhouse, which she owns.  I think she was glamorous in her heyday. And she does – it’s hard to explain – seem eager to have young people around her. She said to me “most of the people here are your age, do mix with them, enjoy it” (or words to that effect). As I said last time, she just feels completely different to a common or garden landlord who normally wouldn’t take any such interest. And she’d shared some stories about the house coming into the family after the war. I feel a sense of history in the house, of past lives. What was it like at the start of the 1900s or perhaps during the inter-war period of the 1920s and 30s, those halcyon days before the outbreak of the second Great War which brought this city and this country to its knees – changing everything, forever. And what was it like during the blitz, during the blackouts, during the fires, when bombs rained down on London 70 years ago?

So much history is here. So much character, both in the building and in its eclectic owner.

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6 thoughts on “The landlady

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  1. Ha this post is all over the place 🙂 Very fun.

    I first read the first Tales from the City novel on Crane Beach, Ipswich, Massachusetts, around 1990. I loved every little bit of it, even the contrived, over-the-top coincidences (that only mount through the series). I snapped up all the available books and then kept buying them as new ones came out.

    I have only seen the first series — I’m pretty sure they got a (less cute) actor to play Michael in the second one.

    Speaking of fun landladies — I presume you are familiar with the show Spaced? She’s got to be my favourite landlady of all time 🙂

    And speaking of Norma Desmond — did you see the latest Sex and the City movie? I hate to sound catty but SJP is *not* aging well. The close-up scene of her putting on make-up in the mirror reminded me and Lisa of nothing more than Norma Desmond putting on make-up in Sunset Boulevard. *shudder* (And I’m pretty sure Gloria Swanson was younger in Sunset Boulevard than SJP is now…) One of the best movies ever, though. And William Holden … man … he smoulders.

    Oh, and you’re Welsh? *swoon* Do you have the accent? Ydych chi’n siarad Cymraeg? I love me a Welsh accent … and a North Country Accent. And a West Country Accent. Mmm Cornishmen. And a Geordie Accent. And Scots and Irish of all varieties. Don’t tell me your accent is plain old Estuary 🙂

  2. Justin – I’ve heard of Spaced but never watched it. Nope, I’ve not seen the latest SATC film yet. Can believe she isn’t ageing well, though! LOL at the resemblance between her and Norma Desmond!

    I was born in Wales but didn’t live there for very long, in truth. I also like accents and no, I don’t think I have one. Certainly not ‘estuary’ which is very low-rent.

  3. That’s a bit harsh! From what I’ve read, Estuary is the current standard accent in the UK! All my cousins have it and they’re all university graduates and grew up in Welwyn Garden City north of London — pure suburbia. It has some influences from London “low-rent” accents like Cockney but by itself I wouldn’t call it low-rent. Hardly anybody seems to have a pure Oxford accent anymore, not even the presenters on the BBC.

    Alas I lost my accent some time between ages 8 and 13. I’m not sure exactly when — I only know that we moved to Illinois shortly before my 4th birthday, and then to Missouri when I was 8, and children in Missouri continued to say I “talked funny” for some time, and I regularly got beaten up twice a year: once when we studied Thanksgiving, because we were taught that the “pilgrim fathers” had fled England in search of “religious freedom” whereas in fact they were intolerant religiously fanatical puritans who would have extended no religious freedom to anyone else in England if they had had the chance. And then again whenever we studied the American Revolution. I remember being pushed down on the playground every year by boys telling me they would rather be French than English (because the French were allies of the Americans during that war). By the time I was a teenager I had lost the accent entirely — a shame, because British accents are highly desirable commodities on this side of the Atlantic. If I had moved in my teen years I would have been even more popular with the girls than I already was — I was always a girl magnet — all the way into my 20s — I regularly had at least one girl in love with me every year, frequently more than one. It’s in fact amazing to me that nobody sussed that I was gay by my constant refusal to “put out” for any of these girls throughout junior high, high school, and college! 🙂

  4. Enrico – I haven’t seen that show. We only get limited US TV here. *Touch wood* she seems pretty good so far. Have had some good conversations with her. She really did remind me of Mrs Madrigal, too.

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