Barbara E. Poole: Madam of the Casa

In a recent wide-ranging interview, Barbara Edell Poole explained to me why she prefers to be called the “Madam” instead of the “owner” of her establishment here in San Miguel de Allende, Casa de la Noche.

“I think of the word ‘owner’ as a bit boring,” she told me. “I never intended to be an ‘owner,’ although I am the owner. I have that responsibility. But the title “Madam” has more flare! The Madam sets the tone and has the responsibility of providing hospitality, orchestrating the space and the experience.”

Barbara Poole at Casa de la Noche last week

What you may have heard about Barbara Poole’s Casa de la Noche (House of the Night), which she’s owned and run for twenty years, is true: This beautiful and charming 18-room boutique bed & breakfast hotel on Calle Organos in San Miguel’s el centro was once — in the post-war years when prostitution in Mexico was legal — a well known and loved brothel. A brilliantly colorful place, with a more than colorful history, Casa de la Noche today operates another kind of hospitality — as a respite for travelers, an artists’ haven, and an events salon.

The courtyard of Casa de la Noche

“I didn’t come here to start a B & B,” Barbara told me, “it just sort of unfolded because of circumstances. I would say, if someone wanted to do a B & B, I’d tell them my story frankly but also the ups and the downs of this business. It’s not for everybody. I’m on duty one way or another all the time. In hospitality you don’t really get to take a break. But constitutionally, I’m suited for it. I love it when I hear people laughing and enjoying themselves. I love helping people have a great time. I like that role.”

The central fountain at Casa de la Noche

Being the accidental Madam of a charming B & B in Mexico is Barbara’s third career. Originally from California, she was, first, a school psychologist, then a professional artist and gallery owner there, in addition to being a wife and mother. 

Speaking of her early years here in San Miguel, she told me, “I wanted to make a place where artists would come. That set the inspiration for this space and how I ended up evolving it. Aside from that, I didn’t have a goal, per se. 

“Along the way,” she added, “I certainly encountered obstacles – mostly because of not understanding the subtleties of the Spanish language and being a single woman in this Mexican culture. But they weren’t insurmountable obstacles. I sort of operate on the ‘ignorance is bliss’ modality. I’m a ‘just do it’ girl. I don’t have another option because that’s who I am.”

One of the things she enjoys most, she shared with me, is the beauty of Casa de la Noche, “beauty and balance” being her main life themes.

“What I cherish,” she said, “are the moments when I walk through this space – in the morning before anybody’s up, for example — and I think, This place is really beautiful. It has a kind of natural elegance. The people who come here – for an art group, or poetry reading, or romantic getaway – get to experience a kind of casual, comfortable, old-Mexican charm and beauty. This pleases me.”

When I asked Barbara (78) what she’d like her legacy to be, she told me:

“I want anybody who’s passed through this house – either as a guest or as a provider – to remember this place as a place where they were inspired to that part of themselves that feels empowered to create. That’s what I think is the best thing about being human – helping people be more of who they are.” 

And, as ever, I concluded our interview with the question: What would her message be to the graduating class at a women’s college?

“I would say: Find the place that intrigues you, the spirit inside you, your inclination, then DO it. Just DO IT. … My experience here is a reflection of making choices not on intuition but on love. That’s my power-pack, that’s where I attempt to make choices when I’m not sure which way to go. So my advice would be: Find your own power-pack. Perfect isn’t the solution. It’s the process and the willingness. Just DO IT.”           

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