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Sylvia Beach Hotel

All This & the Beach Too

Sylvia Beach Hotel, Newport

I duck out of the rain to a cozy little tea shop just blocks from my hotel, where they are serving afternoon tea – those clever little sandwiches and delicious morsels, excellent scones with real Devonshire cream. Dabs of pastries left untouched, I wonder briefly if I haven't left this continent and gone to a fantasy place that is perfectly suited to me: Flawless Tea-Time, the marvelous hotel with large breakfasts, book stores, art museum, cafes, a wine shop with exceptional sculptures, a wonderfully eclectic boutique, antiques, garden shop, imported rugs, fabrics, dishes and eccentric delights, ice cream and a garden shop. And this, just steps from the beach. All odd enough and small enough not to be faddish, without the sheen of corporate yuppiedom. Now, if only there were a movie theater and a major league baseball stadium within walking distance.

I am not in an apparition of my own design. I am on the Oregon Coast, in Newport, at Nye Beach where I lived one summer in my twenties. Nye Beach, sitting on the ruins of a glorious past, homely, forgotten for more than fifty years. The cottage I lived in is still on the bluff across from the hotel, looking down on this cluster of shops. My friends and I would sit on the porch and fantasize about the derelict building on the corner where squatters slept and The Captain with his mangy parrot held court to a motley crew of drifters and hippies and flea ridden dogs. We imagined that fine old building cleared out, cleaned up and let loose on the world as a splendid hotel, owned by us.

It didn't happen that way, but it did happen. And amazingly enough, I know the owner. But it is not remarkable really. If you know the place, you know that amazing is routine.

I am fooling around in the antique shop and have found a pair of tan leather driving gloves hidden in a dresser drawer. I laugh out loud because just this week I had lost my old ones. I buy the gloves in a hurry and rush up the hill to the hotel where I am almost late for dinner. I bound up the three flights of stairs to my room, only to find the cat racing me. She waits while I shower and dress, then walks down the stairs with me like a perfect little escort. I do not know this cat and I wonder who she thinks I am.

The cat belongs to the Sylvia Beach Hotel where I am but a guest. I have stayed here often, so having a cat become your best friend without provocation or invitation is simply one of the things that might happen here. It has been called a literary hotel because the rooms have no phones nor televisions and each room is decorated after a famous author. And there are books everywhere. But a hotel for book lovers is not all it is.

When you first walk in, you may not be certain you've made the right choice. There is a look about the lobby that gives credence to Chaos Theory. Magazines and brochures spill off tables, newspapers and newsletters are stacked haphazardly on the floor, tacky notices hang everywhere, juxtaposed with handsome oil paintings. Card racks obscure the view of the ocean. You may have qualms unless you have a sense of humor, a sense of "Well this is different, let's try it." And rare is the guest who is disappointed. Relax, this is not merely a stay at a hotel, this is an experience.

It is late and I am alone in the library three stories up, ocean facing. I sit by the fireplace but have a window beside me to remind me that I am at the beach and not at home, the storm rattling the frame, the rain urgently pelting the glass. The howl of wind, the roar of the ocean below. Two bookish types in heavy sweaters skulk about, solemn, whispering, as though illegally entering, trying to be invisible as spies, scouring the shelves for clues, looking for the perfect book where all will be disclosed.

I see them all the time, the guests, quiet, reverent, with that glow of expectation. Something special is going on here, even if it is nothing more than a good rest with a good book. There's sanctuary, introspection, revelation. And talk. Readers like to be left alone, yet, here they are encouraged to mingle and it is the mingling at dinner or breakfast where there are no intimate tables for one or two, only the communal tables that set the tone. Everyone has a story and is encouraged to tell it.

Curious things happen when people talk. If you haven't seen your music teacher from Philadelphia in thirty years, chances are you will be sitting across the table from her at breakfast. Or you've been wondering how a nuclear accelerator works. Over a glass of wine, you meet the designer. Wondering which crop to plant in the back forty? Not to worry, there's a couple of ag experts at the table. It seems inconceivable but it happens all the time. It's magic and it's no secret to me. The place is enchanted by Goodrun.

As imaginer-part owner, Goodrun, better known as Goody, sets the stage where synchronicity reigns. Wizard-like she stirs her cauldron, tossing us all in it, delighted in the mix, always room for more. Goody the catalyst, offering the structure, eccentric enough to hold all the ideas in the world.

Nye Beach in Newport. The vortex of possibility. Major League baseball next? Hey, it could happen.

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