Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Repost: Spring Cleaning at Marlinspike Hall

originally posted 3/22/2009

I repost this annually, as much for my benefit as for the New Reader who may have wandered in by mistake. To what end? Well, to remind myself that the tasks necessary to keep order in our little corner of The Manor are mere trifles compared to what we face in the rest of Marlinspike Hall. If you are new to elle est belle la seine la seine elle est belle, this also may help you better visualize Captain Haddock's family home.  And who knows?  Thinking about spring, even if it's spring cleaning, might brighten your day.

I'd best get back to it. Medieval tapestries don't whack themselves clean, you know.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Here, deep deep in the Tête de Hergé, it's the time of year when we tenants of Marlinspike Hall clean and straighten, rake and trim, sweep and scrub. Sometimes in matching outfits. Spring might herald a visit from The Captain to his ancestral home, and he expects to find a tight ship.

What is involved in keeping The Manor neat as a new pin? It's not terribly complicated and probably is very much like what you might do in your own home.

The Old Masters must be dusted and straight. Simple enough.

Before I made the acquaintance of The Biddington, I had to use whole bowls full of emulsion cleaner, varnish remover, and even a few drops of Domestic Industrial Strength Environmental Neutralizer for the dingiest of chef-d'oeuvres. Mrs. Biddington -- known in the industry as The Bo-Bizzle of Blue Ball Biddies -- influenced me to try cleaning our oils with various breads and doughs, even the occasional muffin and non-alcoholic fruitcake. Now I only violate EPA guidelines when working on some of the more obscure works stashed in the odd uninhabited corners of The Manor, and I wile away the winter snows by tending to them, one at a time, slowly. Cotton swab by cotton swab, corrosive compound by corrosive compound. Why such diligence? Captain Haddock likes to circulate his distinguished family's art holdings from year-to-year, so you never know when that smoky and yellowed Rembrandt self-portrait is going to see the light of day. (O! There are an annoying quantity of Rembrandt self-portraits to deal with. I keep advocating that they all should be hung in the creepy and destabilizing carny Mirror Room.)

I will never forget the Spring day, several years ago, when my dear friend La Bonne et Belle Bianca Castafiore decided that she wanted to pitch in.

I cocked an eyebrow.
Fred produced a paroxysm of belabored coughing.
Marmy issued a subtle "*ack*-*ack*-*ack*" as she puffed her mighty fluffy butt and stalked off.
I don't know where the boys were.

In one smooth arcing movement, Bianca spritzed Aqua-CitraSolve Natural Household Cleaner and Degreaser on The Conversion of Saint Paul and The Crucifixion of Saint Peter by that murderous, kinda baroque-y, sorta manneristic imp-of-a-guy, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. I can't get the straight poop from Haddock as to how his family put its hands on the pair -- both once graced the Cerasi Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo -- until Cardinal Tiberio Cerasi, a flighty guy, himself, and Treasurer to Pope Urban the SumpthingSumpthing, couldn't make up his flighty-guy mind about whether he wanted them or whether he wanted to commission another attempt at the religious subject matter. Those Haddocks sure were lucky.

I cannot count the hours I have spent cleaning all that lucky plunder.

I don't like to complain overly much -- but as you can see from the photo at left (taken in the Cozy Breakfast Nook behind The Spit Kitchen in the Western Wing), just getting to these suckers to wield a tentative and gentle feather-dusting requires those ladder skills you learned in high school and never thought you'd use!

Back to that Spring Day of the Spritz. This was the same day Bianca waxed the reclaimed antique oak of the risers on the biggest spiral staircase in our wing of Marlinspike Hall. "Reclaimed antique oak risers"? That's what I said. Wait while I consult the History of The Manor. Yes, here it is! The wood was original to the medieval castle of Vol-le-Bois -- and Lord knows there isn't much built of wood that usually survives that era free of worm holes and degrees of rot. Il s'agit là d'une récolte très sage des produits forestiers. Really, it seems insufficient to describe what The Castafiore did as mere "waxing." She lovingly burnished each step with as much Lemon Oil as she could force the old wood to accept (if not exactly *absorb*), and then polished it all off with liberal applications of thick and gooey Creamed Lemon Wax.

Later, in the Salle d'Urgence, she would claim an unexpected and preventable "slip-and-fall." When Fred called The Captain, Haddock's perennial fear of La Bonne et Belle Bianca kicked in and he offered her a healthy settlement. Their relationship is truly one of a twisted pretzel -- the big, soft kind that street vendors sell. Hmm. Well, the ones here, in Tête de Hergé country, are a nice combination of a Philly soft pretzel, but shaped like, and as tasty as, a New York pretzel --sprinkled with a liberal amount of Kosher Sea Salt and dipped in a good pungent mustard.

But I digress.

Back to Castafiore and Caravaggio: Did you know that one of the theories about why oils can be such pains in collecting dust and crap -- is that oil paint never dries? That's why spritzing the damned paintings was such an ill-advised approach to the maintenance of Old Masters. Bianca adores the fresh scent of Aqua-CitraSolve Natural Household Cleaner and Degreaser. "Ah! C'est fabriqué avec de véritables oranges!" she crows. And crows.

[It smells not unlike harvest time in the Florida groves when The Castafiore exits her bath in mid-morning. Bourbon French Orange Blossom, for a mere $45 an ounce -- it wafts, it clogs the nares, it is unmistakeable. She sought the same cloying scent on behalf of the saintly pair of Caravaggios.]

No doubt, too, that she wants to make everything all shiny, like that bleepety-bleep miroir. It's mindboggling, but even with her troupe being out of work due to the Global Opera Crisis, she persists on belting out, à la Ethel Merman, je ris de me voir si belle en ce miroir! I mean, really! They may very well want to mount something besides that tiresome Faust after Socialism takes over everything, including the theatre arts. Oh, what a happy day that will be! Art for all! Health care for all! No more inequality of resource allocation!

Anyway. Cough. The only reason those two priceless works were salvaged was because she did her spritzing right in front of me. In a reaction fueled by a burst of outraged adrenaline, I turned the wheelchair on Super-ZoomFast, a setting only to be used in the event of a true emergency. It requires an immediate administrator's authorization and key code. The first time I used it, both the chair and I ended up on our sides, not unlike Arte Johnson and his toppled tricycle on Laugh-In.

True Confession: I have been hording all the Velasquez works in the cool, dry nooks of the upper story of the Knoppenburg Manor Replica Stables. Sometimes, I lean back against wooden slats and think, "mine, all mine."

Wow. I haven't even begun to explain how we spruce up our digs every Spring. Maybe because it truly is a year long process. It never stops.

Keeping the antique Blue Jasper Wedgwood plaques free of cat fuzz. Maintaining the lawns -- replete with a scale replica of Wimbledon courts 1-19 plus Centre Court -- deeply green and trim. Oh, and the neverending battle to keep the black algae out of the moat... daily brushings and constant correction of chlorine requirements -- not too much, the eel and koi are kind of sensitive.

Like I said, it's simple enough. Sure, this year we may have to pay to have others do certain things -- Fred refuses to serve as chimney sweep, for example, and I am having a difficult time beating all the tapestries clean, plus I get a terrible crick in my neck trying to stop the stupid Persian rug borders from unraveling. There is a fix for the problem -- but weaving wool through all the fringe ends and warp threads -- it's called "cashmere and overcasting" -- followed by lots of fine needle work -- and my sore neck, back, and pinpricked hands are going on strike.

I am not gonna do it anymore.

Outsourcing. That's the ticket.

And La Bonne et Belle Bianca Castafiore? What is she doing this Spring Cleaning? We've put her in charge of morale.

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