Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lauren Squared

Contrary to the title, there’s nothing square about the two Laurens who recently visited Fern Forest for two nights in the Treehouse. The singer-songwriter (we’ll call her US Lauren) and her English gal pal drove up from Brooklyn for a respite from the holiday bustle of the city. Their rental car nearly made it up the snowy driveway, but US Lauren thought it better to park at the bottom of the hill and tromp up in her Chuck Taylors. US Lauren always wears Chuck Taylors and has them in a variety of colors, and I enjoyed seeing a pair parked in the mudroom while she was here.

US Lauren is an indy girl, and you can categorize that as an independent woman or a musician who plays indy music. By indy I mean she’s willing to play a small venue with ten people, including the bartender and the sound man (but of course she’d rather play for a bigger crowd). She’s also from Indianapolis, which makes her capital “I” Indy.

Although she was born in London, English Lauren’s parents are American, which gives her dual citizenship. “My mom’s from Vienna, Virginia,” she said. I’m from Falls Church, just a few miles from Vienna, and it turns out her mom and I went to the same high school. How weird is that? Her mom was a year behind me but we missed each other because I spent only my freshman year at James Madison High and then transferred to a new school in Falls Church. But I think I’d have liked Lauren’s mom, if her daughter is anything like her—bright and bubbly.

While we were nibbling carrot sticks Sunday night, and then tortilla chips, and then popcorn (these gals are young enough to feast on whatever they fancy), Brit Lauren called her mom in London. I’d suggested that US Lauren is a vegetarian because she has Type A blood and Brit Lauren wanted to ask her mom what blood type she had. Her mom didn’t have a clue but got a kick out of the fact that her daughter was three thousand miles away staying with a woman who’d wandered the hallways of the same high school she herself had attended. I have to admire a mother-daughter relationship that allows a quick call across the ocean from a weekend retreat in a Vermont wilderness.

Brit Lauren was about to take off to spend the holidays with her family in London, and we hope the Heathrow runways were cleared of snow to allow her a safe landing. US Lauren planned to journey home to Indiana, and I imagine she packed her acoustic guitar to practice for her gig at Rockwood Music Hall in New York at the end of January. We were glad to give them a couple days of peace and tranquility before the flurry of their lives catches up with them again.

US Lauren took a great leap when she quit her job to pursue a career in music. As she writes on her website, “I believe that everything falls into place if you are following your heart.” That’s good advice as we advance into 2011, and I have a feeling things are falling into place nicely for both these exceptional young women. You can catch more of Lauren Z’s songs, sung with sweet fragility, on YouTube or her website,

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New York City Time Out

When Nikki and Elliott arrived at Fern Forest on Saturday night, they both looked the worse for wear. Friday was Nikki’s birthday, and she had celebrated hard at a club in Manhattan, so hard that she didn’t realize until the next morning that her wallet had been stolen. She lost cash, her driver’s license and her debit card. By the time she reported the theft, her debit card had been charged hundreds of dollars. So far, turning 22 had not been auspicious for her.

Elliott wanted to treat his flatmate to a birthday weekend, so he rented a car—a spiffy red Mustang convertible. It was 20 degrees at Fern Forest and snowing, and the Mustang was not equipped with snow tires. So Elliott parked the vehicle, top securely up, at the foot of the steepest part of the driveway, and he and Nikki hiked up to the house.

They arrived in late afternoon, and we gave Elliott a glass of cider. All Nikki wanted was a nap, but she managed, sleepy-eyed, to let us know she’s from Glasgow, although we could tell from her melodic, wind-chime accent that she was Scottish. Elliott is from Brighton, on the south coast of England.

They didn’t know each other before they came to New York City to work as interns for a British organization on a one-year contract. Elliott landed a position with the British Consulate, and Nikki was assigned to work for British Airways. They were thrown into a three-bedroom apartment in New Jersey with three other twenty-something interns, which proved to be cramped and bustling with energy and noise. When you’re in your early twenties, you can endure anything for a year.

Already they've had about enough of New York City. When I asked Nikki if she'd seen Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, she said yes but didn't elaborate on the details. Elliott said he passed by it on his way somewhere. Thanksgiving is a holiday for us rebellious colonials, but they were glad for a day off from work.

H and I sent them to the treehouse for a rest, and a few hours later they came back to the house hungry. We suggested dinner in Bristol, five miles away, but they wanted no part of restaurants and villages. They preferred carry-out to eat in the treehouse. We directed them to a sub shop, and they made a quick trip to town and returned with a container of hot spaghetti. I packed a bag with plates and forks, and they disappeared into the snowy night.

Sometimes we spend a lot of time with treehouse guests, sometimes they take off to hike and explore, and sometimes they just want to enjoy the solitude of the woods. Nikki and Elliott were happy to hang out, have a soak in the spa, and enjoy the quiet. By Sunday, Nikki looked alive again, and at breakfast she and Elliott gobbled H’s cheese omelets and an entire pound of bacon. Then they headed back to the treehouse. Elliott had brought his laptop, and they watched movies and rested.

When H was 22, he headed for Australia for six months to work on a farm commune with friends in Far North Queensland. I don’t remember much about turning 22 myself. I was still in college, between spring and summer classes, and was probably working full-time at the law firm in Washington, DC, where I typed and filed. I wish I’d thought about doing an internship in the UK, but my sights were set on finishing college. After that, I had no more idea what was in store for me than do Elliott or Nikki.

Elliott graduated from University of Leeds and is thinking about graduate school when he returns to England next spring. But first he’s looking forward to April, when he’ll fly to Miami with some other interns, rent a car, and drive across America. All Nikki’s thinking about is going home to Glasgow for Christmas. She likes New York, but she misses her family. I’m sure she’s looking forward to hearing that familiar brogue again, too.

On Sunday it was still snowy, but Elliott and Nikki wanted to go to Bristol and get some supplies. H and I were going out that night and offered them the kitchen to make supper for themselves.

"Why don't you put the top down on the convertible?" I said.

Elliott thought that was a great idea. So they did, a Scot and a Brit on holiday from New York City cruising along the River Road, top down, snow landing on their caps and their laps, laughing at the cold.

By the time they left on Monday, we’d had a foot of snow, and the Mustang was covered in white. H went down to help them load up and dig out.

“Will you take our picture?” Elliott asked, and he handed H his camera. H took a couple shots with the snowy woods behind them.

Afterward, Nikki stood a few seconds.

“It’s so quiet,” she said.

I hope she tucked that silence somewhere where she can get to it when she returns to the busy flat in New Jersey. If not, there’s always a hush here at Fern Forest, and they’re welcome to a bit of it anytime they’d like to return.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Celebration of Young Love

The Treehouse has had guests who’ve brought us gifts—homemade granola, pickles, jellies, English teas. But Elliot and Phyllis are the first guests who brought us ourselves.

We thought they were kidding when they emailed from their house half a mile down Quaker Street and asked if they could book a night in the Treehouse. How silly, I thought. They have a beautiful barn that they could use for a campout. But it was their anniversary and almost Elliot’s birthday, and they didn’t want to make their own breakfast and their own bed. They wanted to be treated.

Sure, I said. But you’d better come check out the ladder to the sleeping loft first. They’re septuagenarians in pretty good shape, but Elliot has tricky knees, and the weather looked to be sloppy—and a bit icy. But Phyllis said, no, they’d brave it. I like that attitude.

Even though they’ve known each other for fifty years, it was their tenth anniversary. They met at a party, but it was crowded and no place to talk. “Meet me in the kitchen at 11:11,” Elliot said. It was November 11. At 11:10 Phyllis wandered into the kitchen, not expecting to find Elliot, but there he was. They chatted. They connected.

One problem: Elliot was engaged to someone else. And Elliot is a man of integrity. He keeps his word.

Elliot married his fiancé. Phyllis got engaged and called off the ceremony two weeks before the wedding date. It didn’t feel right. For a while Elliot kept track of her, calling from time to time but always remaining true to his marriage. Eventually Phyllis married, even though it still didn’t seem right. Then, after twenty years, she ran away from home.

One day she was playing on her computer. Her daughter had taught her to use the internet. Suddenly a box popped up with an instant message: “Is this Phyllis from West Hartford?”

She was living in Cambridge and that morning had taken a jog along the Charles. Oddly, her thoughts had drifted to decades earlier, to Elliot. When the message appeared on the screen, she knew immediately—he had found her.

They were married on November 11, 2000.

There are some people you just know are meant for each other. When you’re with Phyllis and Elliot, you have no doubt. They address each other as “thee.” “Did thee remember thy sweater?” “Would thee like a cup of tea?” They hold hands. They giggle. They are, without doubt, in love.

Elliot, a retired teacher, is a wizard on the computer and a genealogy nut. This year he and Phyllis traveled to Finland to look up some of his relatives and check out his ancestry. Phyllis’s people go all the way back to William Brewster and the Mayflower. H has genealogy charts of both his father’s and mother’s ancestry, his father from Paul Revere and his mother from Robert the Bruce. Like Elliot, my own ancestors are harder to find. But Elliot found a hoard of them.

On both sides of my family, ancestors have been in Virginia since the 1700s. One of my relatives put a book together about my maternal grandmother’s family going back to the 13th century in Germany. My father’s family is more enigmatic, but it’s their names that are noteworthy. Moody Pack Bryant, Bathsheba, Patience, Nimrod (not the guy who led the building of the Tower of Babel), and my namesake, Grandma Louella.

We spent the evening talking about relatives, looking at pictures, bringing the dead to life. Then we joined them for dinner at the Bobcat and afterward had a nightcap and a little more sleuthing for my rum running relatives and Elliot’s ancestors, who include, according to his source, Robert Frost and Jane Austin. Then they tiptoed out to the treehouse, ready for their midnight adventure.

In the morning H and I rose early, expecting they would come in sleepless and grumpy. H made coffee. I heated up croissants and fried bacon. H made cheese omelets and kept them wrapped in a warm oven. And we waited.

At 8:00 Phyllis bounced in cherry-cheeked with Elliot grinning right behind her. They’d had a wonderful night’s sleep and were delighted to have squirrel visitors skittering over the Treehouse’s tin roof. I had put roses in the Treehouse for them and a gift—a beeswax pinecone candle. “We felt like kids,” Elliot said. “It felt like a celebration,” Phyllis chimed in.

That’s what it’s all about. Staying in a treehouse should make you feel like a kid, a kid with something to celebrate. On the card I left them, I wrote that the gift was in honor of anniversaries and birthdays and friendship. For H and me, that’s plenty of reason for celebration.

A Yard of Tea

There’s nothing like young love. Treehouse guests Kristin and Justin proved that when they came for an overnight two summers ago on their way from Buffalo to Maine. As they plotted their route from Vermont on circuitous two-lane roads, Justin said, “We’ll get there.” Kristin replied, “I believe in us.”

Her belief paid off. Shortly after their second visit to the treehouse, Justin asked Kristin to marry him. She said yes, of course, because she’s a clever girl. And sweet. And creative. And good looking. They married in a barn in Buffalo with a stuffed fox watching over the nuptials and lots of fun and love showered on them by good friends. Stan, who taught them graphic design at Buffalo State University, officiated the ceremony, and Justin and Kristin thanked him by giving Stan and his wife Diane a couple nights at Fern Forest Treehouse. Stan and Diane were thrilled. So were we.

Meeting Stan and Diane was like watching PBS and the travel channel and reading National Geographic all at the same time. Stan was raised in Afghanistan by missionary parents. His dad was an eye doctor and his mom was a tornado of energy. He’ll pour you a yard of tea the Afghanny way, by holding the teapot a yard above the cup and pouring a stream of tea without spilling a drop. And, with few resources growing up, he figured out how to have a good time with the pile of rubble his father bought from an Afghan man—mostly broken bicycle parts. Stan and his brother sorted through the confusion and constructed not one but three bikes, which they rode around the community.

Stan went to high school in Kabul. After graduation, his parents shipped him to Kansas to live with his grandparents and attend college. The grandparents knew an admissions officer, who allowed Stan to go through the admitted applications. He picked out a pretty brunette and said, “She’s going to be my wife.” Or something along those lines.

The first week of classes, Stan tracked Diane down and wouldn’t leave her alone until she agreed to have coffee with him. The rest is history. But very interesting history. After they married, Stan moved his new bride to Pakistan to teach and save souls. From Pakistan they migrated to far north Quebec and then to Nova Scotia. Somewhere along the line they managed to have two children. I was afraid to ask for the details of giving birth in remote areas with none of the comforts of modern ob-gyn care. Suffice it to say, Diane is a tough cookie.

She lets Stan take the lead most of the time, but we managed to discover that Diane was born and raised in Kansas and comes from Mennonite stock. Mennonites, just so you know, are similar to the Quakers in their commitment to peace and nonviolence and to the Amish and Anabaptists in lifestyle. They believe in living simply and in valuing community. They also are accomplished farmers and brought wheat to the U.S. from Russia sewn in the seams of their clothing. Think of the Mennonites when you have your morning toast.

Diane has the self-composure of her ancestors, the tough-it-out grit that makes one believe she can handle just about any situation and she’ll do it quietly and efficiently. We found Stan and Diane to be a pious and humble couple, but they were up for a challenging hike to the top of Mt. Abe. In the snow. With the boulders slippery with ice and the wind whipping at the top. They came back rosy-cheeked and invigorated for a second night high in the trees.

I think Diane and Stan had a good time at Fern Forest. But, then, they’re the kind of folks who have a good time no matter where they are. If all they have is a pile of rubble, even better. Stan would probably find a way to turn the mess into a motorcycle to ride into the sunset with his bride gripping his waist behind him. They haven’t wasted a minute of this life, and I have a feeling there’s a lot more ground for them to cover. I hope their travels bring them back our way before too long. We welcome another dose of their optimism and ebullient spirits.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Fern Forest Treehouse has been quiet this late fall. The leaves have fallen and we've had a bit of snow. But now the ground is littered with dry leaves. I like this time of year when I can see deeply into the woods behind the house and study the stone wall for rocks that need rolling back into place. I've still got work to do to clear the gardens before snowfall and will tend to that after today's holiday.

On this Thanksgiving H and I are grateful for all the folks who have shared their lives with us over the last year and a half. You hail from Germany, Thailand, Australia, England, France, Sweden, El Salvador, Canada, Panama, Portugal, Turkey, Afghanistan, India, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and all across the United States. You are musicians, social workers, neuroscientists, athletes, college professors, artists, computer programmers, opera singers, health care workers, environmentalists, architects, psychotherapists, organic farmers, publishers, and business people. We've learned a lot from your stories and we cherish your friendship.

The treehouse doesn't sleep just because the bears hibernate. Oh, no. December is hopping. The heat's on and the wood stove is warm and cozy. Come visit to ski or snowshoe. Afterward, we'll make some cocoa or hot toddies and play a game of Chinese checkers or just chat.

We're heading to a friend's house for the Thanksgiving feast, and it's time to take the pie out of the oven. H and I wish you all the warmth and joy of the season and send you our blessings.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mai Pen Rai

What is all the hoopla about Descartes? Blake is the third philosophy PhD (he has two years to go at Rutgers; see earlier blog for visit of philosophy profs) who claims Descartes as his favorite philosopher. “Favorite” seems like a rather pedestrian word to associate with such a high thinker. Descartes, just so we’re on the same page, is the “I think, therefore I am” guy whose roots lie with Aristotle and St. Augustine. He also founded analytic geometry, by the way, and insisted on the absolute freedom of God’s act of creation. Descartes was no lightweight.

Blake and his family arrived at Fern Forest on a chilly Friday night in the midst of a nor’easter. It’s not winter yet in Vermont, but there was a deluge of rain and pretty stiff winds. We told Blake, his wife Ruth and their four-year-old twins that they were welcome to camp out in the guest room of the main house, but Ruth, who is from Thailand, said they were up for the adventure. They had skidded on slick roads in their old Subaru Outback on the way to Fern Forest, ran into a guardrail, and acquired a deep gash along the passenger side of the car as well as taking out a headlight. Fortunately everyone was all right.

The motto in Thailand mai pen rai, which means “no worries” or “it's nothing.” Even with an accident and two active four-year-olds in tow, Blake and Ruth were in a state of mai pen rai all weekend.

Which probably has nothing to do with Descartes, but hang on and I’ll try to segue eventually.

Blake met Ruth when he was teaching in an international school in Thailand. While he’s in grad school, Ruth is home-schooling the children, teaching them to be bilingual. “I want them to know the Thai culture,” Ruth says. She and Blake take them to Bangkok a couple times a year to see their grandparents and soak up the language and the customs. Leorah is a bright and mature little girl who likes nothing more than an intelligent conversation or a good book. She can count to 15 in Thai and understands her mother, who speaks to the children only in Thai. Isaiah would rather wrestle but will count to 20 if coerced—in English. His favorite word in Thai is
ผู้พิพากษา (pronounced "poopi paksa"), which means "judge." Maybe he'll go into the legal field when he grows up.

Their first night, the treehouse rocked in the wind so that the chimes hanging inside rang all night. Blake slept on the single bunk, and Ruth cuddled in the loft with the children. In the morning, a bit damp, they dried out by the wood stove, ate a hearty breakfast, and set off in more rain to climb a mountain. In the evening I put on some lively music. The children and I danced and afterward H got down on the rug to play dominoes with them, giving Blake and Ruth a chance for a little mai pen rai and for Blake to talk about his thesis. He’s not sure yet what direction his argument will take but Descartes will likely play a role.

I’ve been doing some research of my own recently, looking up old friend Giorgio Tagliacozzo, who was a scholar of Giambattista Vico, a 17th century Italian philosopher at odds with Descartes. According to Vico—at least as far as I understand him—the criterion of what is true is according to what one has made—not, as Descartes says, according to what one thinks. In other words: I create, therefore I am.

It seems to be Vico’s idea that one makes oneself. According to Caroline Myss, author of books on energy healing, ‎"Choice is the process of creation itself," or the choices we make determine our level of existence. I guess that means that if a person gets up in the morning and sits on the couch watching TV all day or goes to a grunt job, watches a clock and then punches out to go home and watch TV, one doesn’t exist. I tend to agree with Vico on that.

One of Vico’s other ideas is that there are three stages of civilization: the divine, the heroic, and the human. If you think about it, America was founded by seekers of the divine, Puritans who came on the belief that they were following a plan laid out for them by God. The heroes were the adventurers who carved a society out of the wilderness, who led westward expansion, who fought battles and braved the unknown to make settlements. Now that we’re at the human stage, we’re attempting to thrive, to make technological and medical advancements, to find out what makes us tick.

I suppose the analogy can be made with stages of human life as well. When I look at Blake’s and Ruth’s twins, I can see that they’re in the divine stage. When they’re hungry, their parents feed them. When they’re dirty, they get bathed. When they’re sleepy, Blake and Ruth put them to bed. Every need is met—or else there’s the devil to pay. Leorah and Isaiah are faultless, pure, innocent—as close to divine as they will ever be. I don’t remember that stage in my own childhood; perhaps that’s because the other two stages have overshadowed that period.

Eventually Isaiah and Leorah will be forced to approach the edge of the cliff that marks the transition to adulthood. They’ll have to jump, which will be a heroic act. They’ll crash at the bottom, or they’ll find a soft landing, or someone will catch them, or they’ll sprout wings and fly. In any case, the act of leaping will take huge courage. I’m sure you remember this stage. I recall the heroism it took to go out in public with my parents, who knew nothing and were an embarrassment and didn’t understand me at all.

When the twins reach the human level, they’ll experience pain, pleasure, disappointment, joy, terror, satisfaction, self-doubt, and ultimately the realization that life will end. They will have lost their divinity, and heroism will be a thing of the past. There will have to be an acceptance of finality. That’s where I am now—and probably where most of you reading this are settled as well.

I apologize to you Cartesians, but I guess I’m in Vico’s camp. Vico is said to have influenced writers like James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, Bertrand Russell, Samuel Becket, Northrop Frye, Harold Bloom, and Jorge Luis Borges, among others. As with these writers, if you want to be truly alive, you’d better get cracking and create something.

As for Blake and Ruth, they’re wonderful parents, and I gained a lot from visiting with this sweet family. I learned that it’s important to chill out when adversity rears its ugly head, that it’s fun to dance, and that four-year-olds are, well, just divine. The family has promised to drive up again next fall—maybe this time with Isaiah’s and Leorah’s grandparents—and give us another lesson in philosophy, fun, and a little more lofty thinking. Speaking philosophically, I look forward to that.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Titan in the Treehouse

used to make me nervous, but Titan has changed things. Titan brought his friend
Roberto for a couple nights in the treehouse. They are Airbed and Breakfast hosts in Medford, Massachusetts, where Roberto decorated the Victorian house in a manner David Bromstad might approve. The house is surrounded by gardens Roberto spends a couple hours a day tending. Pass under the rose-vined arbor and wind down the stone path guarded by statuary and urns spouting ivy. Or go inside and sit in the green room with violet draperies or perch on the red leather Elvis couch in the media room. Take a shower with orchids nodding overhead. Have breakfast at the kitchen nook and watch the morning news on the television bolted to the wall. Afterward, stroll down to Tufts University or take a bus to Harvard, MIT, BU or BC. I can’t wait to go there.

So what in the world was Roberto doing booking two nights in a treehouse?

“I needed a vacation,” he said. I can only imagine how busy he must be with guests this time of year. “And I wanted the opposite of what I have in Medford.”

Well, you can’t get more opposite than Fern Forest.

Titan was a little shy at first. Fern Forest must smell quite different from Medford. Just before they arrived, I heard a coyote howling close by. When Roberto drove up, his SUV startled some deer grazing by the compost bin. A neighbor sent a message that there was a bear on her deck, sitting on a sweater it had pulled from the clothesline. I guess even bears get a little chilly in Vermont autumn.

In the evening Titan agreed to stay with H and me while Roberto went to the Bobcat for dinner. He was gone so long that H and Titan and I went to bed and left a light on for him. In the morning Roberto said he’d made some new friends at the Bobcat. When H and I stopped at the Bobcat for a quick homebrew the next afternoon, Dana the bartender told us that Roberto had met everyone at the bar. Dana said he’d never seen a patron who could talk to absolutely anyone. Where did Roberto get his good nature?

Could be the Panamanian in him. The canal made Panama a commercial capital and brought people from all over the world—Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. Each new resident brought some aspect of culture from his homeland—food, dress, music. It’s not unusual to hear Spanish guitar played with African drum accompaniment. Panama is a bilingual country with English spoken as predominantly as Spanish. It’s a melting pot for races and a crossroads for people from all over the world.

And Roberto loves people. He falls in the middle of five children raised in Panama and serves as the family anchor, keeping his brothers and sisters connected from all over the U.S. He’s especially close with his sister Reyna, whom he says is exquisitely beautiful. I'm not surprised because Roberto is doggone handsome. In fact, he encouraged Reyna to enter the Miss Panama contest in 1995. She wasn’t interested, but Roberto offered to train her in how to dress, how to walk, how to speak in an interview. “She had never worn heels higher than flip-flops,” Roberto said.

Reyna won the Miss Panama crown that year and went on to compete in the Miss Universe
contest in 1996, finishing in the top twelve and winning the native costume competition. Roberto supplied this photo of her, and I found her scores for the Miss U contest: Evening Gown 8.64; Swimsuit 8.32; Interview 9.02; Average 8.66. I’d say Roberto coached her well.

How'd he learn the tricks of the trade? Maybe because he's an actor and has performed onstage in Panama and New York. Or maybe it's his dancing career. He was one of Ricky Martin's troupe of background dancers. Or maybe it's just that he's Panamanian.

Panama appreciates beauty. In addition to Miss Panama, they have the Realmente Bella Señorita Panamá contest, the Miss Panama International contest, Miss Earth Panama contest, and Miss Supranational Panama contest. And then there’s the natural beauty of the place. Roberto says
you can watch the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean in the morning and drive to the west coast and watch the sunset over the Pacific in the evening, the only place in the world where that is possible due to the shape of the country, like an S on its side.

Not quite like October in Vermont.

After a sleep in the treehouse, Roberto took Titan to St. Johnsbury to visit Dog Mountain, artist Stephen Hunek’s 400-acre dog park with swimming pond and dog chapel. He had taken along a picture of Titan’s predecessor and friend, Gloria—a Rottweiler mix—to post in the chapel along with other gone-but-not-forgotten canine friends. The chapel’s white steeple points to the heavens topped by a winged Lab weather vane. According to Hunek’s website, he got the idea for the chapel after surviving a near-death coma from a fall down a flight of stairs because he wanted to honor “the connection between art, nature, and spirituality.”

The following day was our wedding anniversary, and Roberto presented H and me with this Hunek mug from the dog park. I claimed it for morning coffee and drink from it turned so that H can see the picture. There's a lot to learn from our four-legged buddies.

Even H says that dogs have strong spirits. Titan is an especially sweet doggie. “Gloria trained him,” Roberto says.

Titan looked a little wistful when he hopped back into Roberto's car, but Roberto promises to come back this winter to ski with H. I’m planning to partner with Titan for a snowshoe in the woods behind our house. I could use a lesson in canine spirit.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Turkey: No country for old men..but how 'bout women?

“Do you do yagli gures?” I asked Ozan. Ceren giggled. Then she corrected my pronunciation.

Ozan blushed. I’d been doing a little research before breakfast.

“No,” Ozan said. “It is a traditional sport, done only in certain areas of Turkey.”

H looked puzzled, so I said, “Yagli gures is oiled wrestling.”

“It’s disgusting,” Ceren said. “They grab each other.”

Well, I thought that was the point. I can’t help flashing back to the fireplace scene in Women In Love with Alan Bates wrestling nude with Oliver Reed—but I digress.

Ozan is more interested in football—soccer where he comes from.

For the past two years Ceren (the C in Turkish is pronounced J) and Ozan have lived in Montreal, where she goes to school for photography and he works in a French restaurant. But they call Istanbul home. H was a history major in college and says Istanbul used to be Constantinople. Ozan adds before that it was Byzantium. As in Yeats’s poem, “Sailing to Byzantium”: “That is no country for old men. The young / In one another's arms, birds in the trees.”

I’ve never been to Turkey, and perhaps now I am too old to go. But after meeting these two, I’m tempted. Turks are known as quiet, amiable and hospitable people and this couple is a good example of such graciousness.

The history of Turkey is not so amiable. The Huns, led by Attila around the year 400, invaded just about everyone around, expanding Turkish territory all the way to the English Channel. In fact, the Great Wall of China was built to keep the Huns out. The word “turk,” by the way, means strong and mighty. Attila was a force to be reckoned with.

And then there was the Ottoman Empire, named for the ruler Osman (which means “bone-breaker”), lasting from 1299 until 1922, a time when there was no discrimination based on religion (Turks are Muslim, Jewish or Christian), race or language—and architecture, art and literature flourished. It appears that no one messed with Osman, either.

Eden is thought to have been in Turkey and perhaps Noah’s ark as well. Turkey is the bridge between Western and Eastern Europe and is surrounded by water—Black Sea, Mediterranean, Agean, Ionian, Sea of Marmara—you can practically tiptoe across a confetti of islands to Greece. Imagine sandy beaches protected by craggy mountains. Aren't you already feeling serene?

But don’t get too comfortable. Bordered by Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Bulgaria, Turkey is a hot spot for conflict. Fortunately, Turkey aligns itself with peaceful Greece, and most of the food has a Greek influence. Yogurt, honey, shish kabob, lamb, garlic, rich soups. I wish Ceren and Ozan had stayed long enough to cook us up a dish or two, but they were on their way to Boston to meet a Turkish friend and transport him to Montreal for a visit.

In Turkish, Ceren means “Bambi,” an apt name for her doe-like eyes, long legs, and sweet smile. Ozan means poet or bard, and Yeats could have written a poem to his handsome face. When they left for Boston, Ceren kissed me on each cheek. Then I turned to Ozan, and when he kissed my cheeks, I got a little thrill at the overnight stubble on his chiseled jaw. I reached to touch, realized I was out of line, and drew back my hand.

“It’s okay,” Ceren said. “You can touch him.” I laughed. Then I touched and felt a tingle, as if I were stroking the beards of Attila, Osman, Noah—maybe even Adam. Oh, and didn’t that make me feel so young?