The day after my visit to Samambaia was peaceful and unexpectedly happy. Even though I didn’t have all the answers to the questions I went with, I left with a new piece and memory of my grandmother. It really was a reunion. And that was enough.
My remaining day in Petropolis I would dedicate to exploring the city. I wanted to get a feel for its vibe and its people, trying to recreate images and experiences from that magical 1950’s era. My first stop was the Quitandinha Palace.
Built in the 1940’s, this hotel was at one point in time Brazil’s second largest. Its Brazilian baroque style is fused with some art deco inspiration: the result is magnificent. As I wander its massive halls and peek into its ornate ballrooms, I cant help but imagine the parties and festivities that Lota and Elizabeth must have celebrated here. Could they have met any of the superstars who stayed in these halls? Walt Disney? Orson Wells? Greta Garbo?
The rooms, once filled with life and exuberant sprites, today are filled with velvet roping to control the flow of tourist traffic. Preservation has given way to a void: the life that filled these walls is mostly gone. I walk along, wishing my grandmother were here to tell me all about the splendour of where we were and maybe that would make it seem a bit more magical.
I was going down a flight of stairs when I stop, enchanted.
One of the deepest wells of inspiration for artists has always been nature. Theres so many ways to transform it, interpret to, and manipulate it onto your canvas, whatever that may be. There is a staircase that has the stunning image of palms pained on its walls. I trace the outline of the palms with utmost care so as to not cause any damage. I let the art overcome me, happy and inspired.
“Do you like the painting?”
Downstairs, a member of staff is watching me. He seems amused.
“Very much so. Do you know whose it is?”
"Dorothy Draper, of course. It's a twist on the design of her hotel in Arrowhead Springs, California."
I’m shocked. Dorothy Draper, the queen of all things eclectic, the first interior designer in history…her famous palms continue to be lauded today, nearly 80 years later. For her, public spaces were ares where people should feel transported through design. And here, with me, she’d done just that.
What is it about Petropolis that attracts such strong and talented women? Could it be its engrossing nature, the incredible vistas, or its history, all of which attracts the best artistic minds to leave their mark on its walls and streets?
Dorothy Draper's unexpected role in this story has given me an idea. I write in my little notebook, just like my grandmother did years ago. Sure, Draper was here, but so were Elizabeth and Lota, with their Samambaia and toucans.
This is how our Petropolis mural came to be.