In Marcel Proust In Taos, a Los Alamos physicist, Christopher, retires to Taos, New Mexico, with his cat Marcel Proust, to write a novel about nuclear terrorism. There he meets aspiring artist Marlene, from Germany, and the two fall in love. They open a microbrewery, using the brewing recipes passed down to Marlene from her brewmaster grandfather. However, together they find themselves confronting terrorism of a new sort with the matriarch of the Taos community, Agnes Havelock Powers, who strongly opposes having a brewery in town. Agnes is rich, powerful, and influential. She has the city authorities tucked in her purse next to her checkbook. Follow the exciting and charming love story of Marlene and Christopher in historical Taos, as they experience the challenges of confronting abusive power.
While standing in the checkout line at the art supply store, Marlene reproached herself for her curt and inelegant response to Christopher’s invitation. For sure, she felt, he hadn’t been particularly suave in his outreach to her, either. In the two weeks of waiting for his call, she had gone over every nuance of their conversation in the Taos Inn, regretting that she hadn’t teased him into a more serious, or at least a fun relationship. She’d been too focused on her art, and she knew men were attracted to women who flirt, even if the man was married—Christopher wore no ring, but so what did that mean?
That afternoon in the tavern she should have invited him to her studio, changed into alluring attire and produced a romantic air for scintillating conversation by uncorking a bottle of Moselle wine, preparing a tasty tray of vorspeisen, turning on enchanting Bavarian music and lighting her scented candles—all against a backdrop of her prized art. As she paid the cashier, she brought herself back to the moment. Enough of this playful fantasizing! She was nervous about showing her art to this wealthy patron. Christopher would have to wait.
She reminded herself to concentrate on how she would present herself and her art to this woman with the name of “Mrs. Powers.” She vowed she would never abdicate her own ideals to a person who might be a domineering fuhrer in a skirt. Blumy and the other Taos artists had benefited from sponsorship those years ago and still did. Because of the railroad’s beneficence, their Taos School was indelibly imprinted upon the annals of world art, mentioned in every art history book and probably taught in every MFA program. Other individual artists, not so fortunate, had been readily co-opted. Marlene didn’t want such a destructive fate to befall her. She could think for herself, and she vowed to continue to paint, but solely for her own satisfaction.
Hurrying back to her studio, Marlene climbed the stairs only to see a note pinned to her door—Joe’s delinquent rent notice—and she panicked. She needed money and she desperately hoped this prospective patron would be generous, yet allow her to express her talent in the hallowed tradition of the Taos School, where her Blumy and his diverse group had pledged themselves to always remain faithful to their own individual artistic styles.
Marlene remembered that the gallery owner told her that the patron woman was heiress to a molybdenum fortune, and that her philanthropic nature was well known throughout the Southwest. “But, whatever you do, don’t say anything about the mountain top up by Questa that her mining company is scarring in the worst way—she’s very sensitive about the environmental issues about her company having stripped the mountain of its natural beauty.”
Having been both briefed and warned about her potential benefactor, Marlene waited for the knock on her door. Fresh flowers graced her rustic pine table. In her oven baked an apple strudel, its flavors wafting through her studio. Twice she repositioned her canvases, which she had purposely enriched with gilded frames, each time twisting her track lighting to best capture the aura and ambiance of each painting.
“What smells so yummy?” the amply proportioned Mrs. Powers inquired immediately upon entering Marlene’s aromatic stage.
“It’s my mother’s recipe for apple strudel from the old country. You will have a taste in just a minute or two—that is, when it cools.” Marlene rushed on, “There’s no sugar. I use pure honey from a little town outside Nuremberg—my father sends me a jar a month. He says the honey will counteract the pollen from our juniper trees, and I will never have an allergy.
“Oh, please sit down. May I pour you a cup of coffee?” Marlene knew she must put an end to her unrehearsed rapid speech, but she couldn’t stop. “Hasn’t our weather been glorious for this time of year? Makes me want to hike to the top of the unspoiled mountains around here instead of painting them. I’m a very disciplined artist and I know I could complete your assignment quickly and faithfully.”
“Could I have that strudel now?”
“Yes, of course. Do you take cream in your coffee?”
“I prefer tea with two sugars.”
“Would honey do?”
“Oh, forget it, dear. I’m here because Mr. Peters at the gallery recommended your work. My decorator is redoing my living room for this season’s Opera Guild socials. Mr. Peters insisted I select the art because he so values my opinion. Money’s no object, for me color is what’s important.” She looked at the painting on Marlene’s easel. “Not this one, but I do like the shading in that one over there. Don’t you have any landscapes without all these mountains?”
“I can paint a fresh subject for you,” Marlene assured her visitor. “Yes, I think we shall have to do that.”
“Do you have a particular setting in mind? Perhaps I could do an interpretive rendering of your house?”
“Maybe—no, I don’t want to appear overly pretentious, you know. Some people react….” Mrs. Powers produced small decorator color swatches. “Here, these will guide you. Your painting must not clash with my new draperies. I plan to give your painting the prominent space above my grand kiva fireplace, so make sure it blends in with everything in the room. Mine is, of course, quite a large room.”
Hesitatingly Marlene showed Ms. Powers another canvas. “This is my current work in progress. I’m painting my impressions of the Tu-o-ta Pueblo.”
Mrs. Powers pointed to the reddish-brown branches of the red willow trees lining the small stream. “Yes, this color here…a teeny bit softer, I should think. Put in a sweet little deer or two—you artists know what to do—but none of those rickety ladders. I want my friends to feel at home…you know, comfortable…so they’ll come back and donate more money to the Guild. That’s why I hold these socials, you know, to raise money for a good cause. One must support the community, as well as art and artists, don’t you think?”
“How much do you require to get started?”
Marlene didn’t know how to respond.
“Five hundred, then, is that all right?” Mrs. Powers asked, then inquired, “How will you sign my painting? Can you make Marlene look a little like Remington? I don’t want you to actually forge his signature, of course, but I want my guests to be impressed—I mean, they all know that name. Now, could I have that strudel now?”
Marlene cut a slice of her pastry, covered it with gobs of whipped cream and deliberately shoved the culinary concoction into the face of Mrs. Powers.
“Ernest Leonard Blumenschein made me do this, and he hopes you get the message.”
About the Author & Links:
Striving for new heights on the literary landscape, along with his late wife Lois, Jon Foyt began writing novels 20 years ago, following careers in radio, commercial banking, and real estate. He holds a degree in journalism and an MBA from Stanford and a second masters degree in historic preservation from the University of Georgia. An octogenarian prostate cancer survivor, Jon, 81, is a marathon runner (60 completed), hiker, and political columnist in a large active adult retirement community near San Francisco. Jon Foyt is the successful author of 10 fiction books. He currently resides in Walnut Creek, CA
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