Saturday, March 15, 2008

World Famous Pluto Water Fountain


Having spoken yesterday about the clutter of characters in my mind, I think it a good idea to lay this one to rest. She has been in the back of my mind since I went to the spa in French Lick, Indiana last December.

As part of our trip back, Morris and I were discovering Indiana. As we drove through Southern Indiana--basement houses, trailers, rusting cars and skinny dogs punctuated by Jesus Loves You Repent Now billboards along the road, I was filled with a growing desolation. Surprisingly, Morris saw the beauty in the large trees and sparse population. It was my turn to see the countryside through a different set of eyes.

Part of our discovery trip was an anniversary visit to New Harmony, where we were married. We were also bound for French Lick, a former spa famous for its Pluto waters.

As you have no doubt already surmised, Indiana sometimes surprises you with things tucked away among the farmland, such as a monastery and archabbey and site of two utopian societies. I'll get to those in other posts, today I want to explain as best I can French Lick. The name dates from the time that French trappers and missionaries were paddling around the Indiana wilderness. Not even many Indians lived here. They used it as a hunting grounds or occasioanl camping, but it was not a very people-friendly place.

The latterly world famous Pluto waters were originally just a place where animals came to get some minerals with their water--a kind of spa for wild critters. Hence, the name, Lick for obvious reasons, and French since it was the French trappers who first made it famous, or at least gave it a name that Europeans could understand.

Around that humble beginning grew an enormous health spa industry drinking Pluto water and bathing in it and variations on that. Despite its catchy name and health benefits, in time Pluto water fell out of favor.

I grew up thinking of French Lick as a relic of past glory, but a friend told me it had been beautifully restored and was worth a visit. We went for the adventure and also because my husband knew that the stresses of worrying over my family had left me flatter than a pancake. The adventure might waken my spirit. If not, there was always the spa to try plumping me up --metaphorically--from the outside in.

I was so flat that my imagination, usually in overdrive, had shut down. It was unusually quiet inside my head, but it wasn't peaceful.

After selecting a bevy of treatments, I slipped into a comfy white robe and little slippers, leaving my clothes in a lovely little wooden locker. The restoration of the hotel was a lovely blend of what decorators call "original features" such as the little wooden lockers and modern sleek surfaces and minimal decoration.

The decoration includes photographs of people from the heyday of Pluto Water. As I sat swaddled in my robe and slippers sipping non-Pluto water I studied the photographs. One in particular caught my eye.

A young woman--late teens, I think, posing on the edge of the Pluto Water fountain. She was wearing striped socks--not dainty, demure strips, but broad barber pole stripes around her slender legs. I decided that she liked the socks but was a bit self-conscious or perhaps just overall demure in nature, with her knees tucked close together, ankles crossed pressed gently against the concrete wall of the famous--World Famous-- fountain.

I decided her name was Juliet, but she was Jules to friends. She was too smart, too bookish to be attractive to boys. This fact made her father happy, but worried her mother. The photo was taken on a day trip to French Lick with her friend Margaret.

Juliet's socks were striped with pink.

Margaret and Juliet had lunch in the hotel that day and perhaps they bought a bottle of water to take home as a souvenier, but they did not take the waters.

In between that day and this, she had a life. She is either a great grandmother in a nursing home in Evansville, Indiana with a pink blanket on her knees made by her grandaughter just for her, or she died in France as an ambulance driver and her grave is visited by a white haired man in a wheel chair now who brings her one pink rose. He has already made his granddaughter promise to continue with the roses when he can no longer keep his appointment. She has readily agreed although she never met this Juliet for whom her grandfather still mourns.

Wherever she is, I know that at least one man read Romeo's speech to her and, although she laughed about it with Margaret afterwards, she cherished that moment.


I looked down at my fruit-flavored water, swirled the lemon in the bottom of the glass, and raised it in a silent salute to Juliet, wherever she was. The next day I went down to the remnants of the World Famous Pluto Water Fountain and had my picture taken.

4 Comments:

At 8:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

superb trip to set off many other things // there is more to indiana than corn, and we saw a good bit of it // also the Country Churchyard of Gray's Elegy springs to mind // scorrie //

 
At 8:39 PM, Anonymous amipggy said...

someone's granddaughter yet to be born will make up a story about you. Will she think it far-fetched if she imagines that her Hoosier vegetarian photo friend fell in love w/a beef cattle farmer and went to live in northern Scotland?

 
At 9:14 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Oh, ampiggy, what a wonderful idea. I love it. Becoming grandparents does give us a longer perspective, doesn't it?

 
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