So I’ve invented a reason: the stairs were built during Mabel’s lifetime so her husband, Tony Luhan, who was often out late at the Taos Pueblo, could climb up to her room without having to go through the rest of the house, often crowded with guests.
There’s a thread of evidence that this might have been true: earlier, when Mabel was living in Florence with her second husband, Maurice Sterne, she installed a trapdoor above her bedroom equipped with a rope ladder so Maurice could climb down to her from his room, undetected.
Probably only women understand why this scenario seems romantic.
It’s probably fortunate that this myth has not joined the crowd that partly obscure Mabel’s life. And yet in her case, as in the case of so many women, it’s the myths rather than the facts that are remembered.
It begins with fairy tale witches, often not only frightening but amazingly competent, knowing how to climb up a hair rope or fatten unfortunate children for the feast.It continues with the virago, dramatically exemplified in Charles Dickens’ Paris women sitting beside the guillotine, knitting as heads roll.
The myth figures in the Bible as Salome with her head-bearing platter and comes into the present with figures like Doris Duke, who in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, amply displayed in my forthcoming biography, will still be remembered by some people for having murdered her butler.
The archetype of the powerful, angry and vengeful woman still reigns in many imaginations, not all of them men’s. The women who seem unable to muster enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton, in spite of the awfulness of her opponent, often fall back on accusations that she has been upset, or even angry, at some time—as though those moods matter more than knowledge, experience and maturity.And who in this time, or anytime, man or woman, could fail to be upset and angry?
So it seems to me that we all have to face some form of Tony’s stairs, whether the conjecture is true or not: some outlandishness, or unconventionality, or outspokenness, or sexual appetite (or any appetite, for that matter), in order to be noticed and remembered.
Maybe it’s better to lurk in obscurity and then be forgotten before the ink on the obit is dry.
It was a relief to go down Tony’s stairs and walk across the Pueblo lands to a quiet side road where The Little Free Library stands, to accept books donated, asking only that the giver fills out a slip telling why she/he recommends it.I left a book.
I didn’t see one I wanted to take, this time.
But I will go back.