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


Rottweilers
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?




Tuesday, October 12, 2010

It's not about me; it's about you..or the other way around


Usually we get to know a lot about our Treehouse guests—from their cultural backgrounds to their
astrological signs. But instead of talking about themselves, Poornima and Peter asked questions about us.

For H: Tell us about your time in Australia (Nima had found my book in the treehouse, While In Darkness There Is Light). H traveled to Far North Queensland after graduating from Harvard in 1973 and met up with boarding school friend Charlie Dean on a commune run by American college dropout friends— all the details are in the book.

For me: What brings you to Vermont? In 1975 I came with a man who had spent autumns picking apples in Shoreham and was planning to go to medical school at UVM but ended up working for the Burlington newspaper, eventually running it. A relationship with a journalist is nearly as difficult as a relationship with a doctor—I learned the hard way.

We’re not used to having the tables turned on us. When you visit Fern Forest, it’s about you, not about us. But we like to keep the customers happy, so if they want to ask questions, we’ll give answers but try to put the focus back on the guests as soon as we can. It was a see-saw, back-and-forth game for two days.

Here’s what we learned about Poornima and Peter.

She was born in Calcutta and came to the U.S. with her parents when she was six. She met Peter (she calls him Pete) on a blind date, and they’ve been married for ten years. She takes classes in architecture at Yale and teaches ESL in the evenings. According to her sun and Chinese signs, she’s a bundle of friendliness. We agree.

Peter is a Nutmegger by birth. He dropped out of college because he just didn’t see the point. When he met Poornima (he calls her Nima), he was doing social work. After he married her, he went back to college and now is in a doctoral program at U Conn and working for Yale counseling incarcerated young men. According to his sun and Chinese signs, he has a big heart but doesn’t like to show it. Nima agrees.

They live in an old house outside New Haven. They have a Skye terrier named Duncan who came with them and loved sniffing around in the woods. That, folks, is about it.

Nima has a lilting voice that tumbles quickly to the end of a thought and then she sings the last few syllables, letting her words linger in the air, as if inviting us to jump in. But we’re comfortable with silence, living as we do in the woods. Not so comfortable talking about ourselves. H went to Harvard (8th generation to do so) and says he probably should have gone to Bowdoin, a smaller school where he might have done better academically and athletically (he was third line on Harvard’s hockey team). I came from Appalachian Mountain stock, forefathers moonshiners and bootleggers. We sometimes joke that my ancestors supplied his ancestors with their booze during Prohibition. My father worked for the U.S. Navy in D.C. and moved the family there, for which reason I think of myself as a city mouse rather than a country mouse.

So why am I now living in the country? And why didn’t H go to Bowdin? See—this talking about ourselves opens cans of worms we’d rather not savor.

We’d rather hear about Nima and Pete and managed to coerce out of them that they were married in traditional wedding clothing, Nima in a black sari. They wanted to elope rather than have the huge Indian wedding, but her parents would have none of that. Nima’s younger sister went the whole nine wedding yards, so they were happy for Nima to have a scaled down version of Indian nuptials. Pete is respectful of Nima’s heritage, but he’s still Catholic, not Hindi, which is fine with Nima.


We were a little worried when their car was gone early the next morning. H sleuthed around and saw that their stuff was still here, so we figured they’d taken Duncan out somewhere. They had. Nima likes the first light of morning, so they drove to the top of Lincoln Gap and walked the doggie around, taking pictures of the red and gold trees, the frost on the mountain. It’s gorgeous here, and we like it when our guests appreciate the surroundings as much as we do. That’s one thing that brought us together in spite of our dissimilar backgrounds—the glorious beauty of autumn. We all agreed on that—even Duncan.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Why are Canadians so nice?

Connor and Ruth were late.


“They’re not coming,” H said.


“They’re Canadian,” I said. “They’ll make good on their reservation.”


They arrived at Fern Forest about seven, having gone to North Conway for some shopping. Connor is one of those rare guys, an artist who likes to cook and shop. No wonder Ruth fell in love with him.


H and I had just finished supper and offered to make them a dinner reservation. They said they’d had a late lunch and had brought some snacks they’d eat in the treehouse and, since they’d been in the car for several hours, they didn’t feel like going back out. H had to go to Burlington to play hockey, so I offered wine or beer. Ruth had water; Connor accepted a beer. I had an après dinner shot of bourbon.


Ruth has a wide smile that made me want to hug her as soon as I met her. Connor is handsome and compact and to my offer of cheese and crackers said, “Oh, we’re fine. Don’t bother with food.” I served cheese and crackers anyway, and they seemed happy to have them.


Why are Canadians so nice?


While we talked, I discovered that Ruth works in communications for the Canadian government and Connor is creative media advisor in the same building, shooting and editing video of official stuff. They go to work together, have lunch together, and come home together. They met at work—it was the day before Ruth’s birthday--and they were married one year to the day after they met. Neither wanted to talk about what they do in the office. Their jobs pay the rent and allow them to travel on vacation—to Vermont this year and last year for their honeymoon in England and France. Take a look at Connor's photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/601photography. I especially like his eye for light and shadow and the curve of a line in the b&w shots. Most of the time he uses a Nikon D90, sometimes a Canon G9, and most of the Ireland shots are with Holga 120 FN / Ilford FP4 Plus—for those of you who know about these things.


Surprisingly, Connor doesn’t play hockey, the national sport. He’s a self-proclaimed ankle skater, and generally he doesn’t get near water—wet or frozen. If you know anything about Ottawa, you know about the canal that weaves through this capital city of Canada. The Rideau Canal was one of the great engineering feats of the 19th century, requiring the construction of 24 dams and 46 locks. In the winter, the canal freezes over and becomes the longest skating rink in the world.


When he was a tot, Connor’s parents took him out onto the ice on a frosty Sunday afternoon. To keep the ice from buckling, holes are drilled—holes that used to be little boy size. Connor fell through and was up to his neck when his mom grabbed him, wrapped him in his dad’s coat, and ran for the nearest house to warm him up. The story made the papers, and the holes were reduced in diameter so children wouldn’t fall through, and bright orange circles were painted around them. I think they should call them “Connor holes.”


I haven’t spent much time in Canada, even though we’re just two hours from Montreal. H and I stayed at an inn in Le Vieux one year, and it was lovely, but I felt a little frumpy in the city. My hair wasn’t died red, I don’t smoke, I don’t wear fur, and high heels hurt my feet. H and I drove to Toronto a few years ago, but all we saw was the Hockey Hall of Fame. Farther west, we stopped in Parry Sound and dropped in on Bobby Orr’s father—we really did, and he’s a sweet guy. He didn’t invite us in, but he stood on the stoop in his slippers and talked to H for twenty minutes—the most thrilling twenty minutes of his life.


“If I go to Ottawa, what should I wear?” I asked them. They were both wearing jeans and sneakers. (Actually, they'd taken off their sneakers in the mud room and were sock-footed.)


“What you have on is fine,” Connor said. I had on jeans and Birkenstocks. I guess Ottawa is more my style than Montreal.


I’m still not sure why Canadians are such nice people. Connor said maybe it’s education. In Canada, school children study the history and culture of other countries, and it seems that in the U.S., children study only America, so we have a narrower world view. That could be a factor.


In the last decade, especially when GW was president, many Americans traveling abroad put Canadian flags on their backpacks because of ill will toward the U.S. Connor says that when he travels to Europe, he doesn’t boast the Canadian flag because he doesn’t want people to think he’s an American posing as a Canadian. I had no idea we’d been found out.


For a dozen years there has been a movement—The Second Vermont Republic—to have Vermont withdraw from the United States and become an independent country. We haven’t declared independence yet I imagine because no one has come up with a way to sustain ourselves financially—skiing and maple syrup only go so far. But what if we became part of Canada? Being so close to Quebec, it would make sense. I’d even brush up on my French. It’s not that I don’t like living in the States—don’t get me wrong—it’s just that it would be a pleasure to live among people like Connor and Ruth who are just so nice.


(Portrait of Ruth taken by Connor. Photo of Connor on Treehouse steps taken by Ruth. Other photos by yours truly.)


Friday, October 8, 2010

Author up in a Treehouse


What a delight to have my former student and fellow children’s author Edie Hemingway come to Fern Forest with her husband Doug for a night in the treehouse. Edie was one of the early graduates of Spalding University’s MFA in Writing program, and both of us were feeling our way through the academic wilderness. I had published a few books and she had co-authored two middle-grade works of historical fiction, so we were more like colleagues than mentor-mentee.

I admit that I was a little full of myself in those days, having been invited by the best-selling author Sena Jeter Naslund to serve on the faculty when she began the program in 2001. But Edie was no stranger to publishing. She planned to attend the SCBWI conference in New York, and I joined her there, along with a couple other Spalding MFA students. We met an editor from Scholastic, who invited us to submit our books for consideration. I sent him my first novel, The Black Bonnet, about the underground railroad in Vermont. He rejected it. Edie sent him her book Broken Drum, also set at the beginning of the Civil War. The editor took her book, printed thousands of copies and sold most of them. Broken Drum is quickly becoming a classic for young readers and the script has been pitched for a movie. The editor was so impressed with the success of Edie’s book that he acquired her other novel, Rebel Hart, about a woman who became a confederate spy in the Civil War. Edie has also sold movie rights for Rebel Hart.

Am I jealous? Naw—Edie is so nice that it’s impossible to be jealous of her. And she’s a darn good writer. Delacorte thought so when they bought her third book, Road To Tater Hill, another middle-grade reader set in 1963. This one won a Parents Choice Award, and Edie is finishing an enrichment semester at Spalding in screenwriting in hopes of selling the movie script. There’s a golden glow around her head, and I’m beginning to believe she can do just about anything to which she sets her mind.

Instead of sour grapes, I say: You go girl!

Edie’s husband Doug is one of those strong, silent types. They live in a 1930s bungalow called Misty Hill Lodge outside Frederick, Maryland, and Doug has fixed it up, adding a master bedroom suite with a walk-in closet (I believe it’s the only closet in the house) and a stone patio with fire pit for outdoor cooking (Doug loves to cook—Edie’s too busy writing). Edie offers writing workshops in front of the big stone fireplace, and if I lived closer, I’d sign up.


Edie and Doug were on their way to Vinalhaven in Maine, where she planned to do research for her next book, and they went out of their way to spend a couple days with us. It had been raining hard and the treehouse was a little damp. I offered them the guest room in the house, but Edie said no—they wanted the adventure. She’s on a literary adventure, too, and I hope the road she’s on is filled with sunshine and sweet breezes. Edie deserves that—and she has earned it. Visit her website at www.ediehemingway.com.

Monday, October 4, 2010

"New York State of Mind" (Thanks to Billy Joel)


Last weekend, Derio and Liesa were Fern Forest’s two most beautiful people—and the most altruistic. Liesa left her home in Germany last January to come to New York and work as an au pair, taking care of the five children (all under age twelve) of two doctors. She’s considering her next step, which she hopes will be working with special needs children either back home in Deutschland or in the U.S. Derio is contemplating a career as a teacher, having left his graduate studies in theology. At one point he thought he might become a chaplain for military soldiers, and he enjoyed doing spiritual counseling with inmates at a medium security prison so much that he still thinks a career with the church might suit him.


Liesa has weekends off from her job, which involves ferrying around the older kids to their athletic practices and music lessons. The three-year-old is handful. He has his own iPhone, which he uses to play games and watch videos—and don’t try to take it away from him. If he gets scared in the middle of the night, he wanders into Liesa’s room and crawls into her bed to finish his sleep. In the evenings she cooks and disciplines, teaching the youngsters Old Country manners, especially at dinner time. She comes from a family of givers. In addition to their own five offspring, her parents have two foster children and also take in recovering addicts, giving them jobs on their farm feeding chickens and taking care of livestock. They’ve taught their sons and daughters the value of giving to those less fortunate.


Derio also comes from Old World values. His grandfather was from Puerto Rico and married an Italian woman. His mother is Swiss. He was taught to respect his elders, to follow society’s rules, and to honor God. He politely declined the beer and wine we offered him both nights he was with us.


For a couple in their mid-twenties, they’re pretty unusual, I think. Saturday they hiked up Mt. Abe and when they came back to shower before going out to dinner, we had some time to have a nibble and get to know them better. Derio played bass in a band before he went to graduate school. He mentioned that his dad plays saxophone in a band, and when I asked him what band, he said, “He has played in a few.”


“Like, which ones?” I said.


“Billy Joel, for one,” he said.


“‘It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me’ Billy Joel?”


“Yeah,” Derio said. “Billy’s a really nice guy. My dad played with Ringo Starr and his All-Star Band, too.”


“Ringo of the Beatles?”


“Yeah. Ringo’s a really nice guy, too.”


“You met Ringo Starr?”


“Sure,” he said. “I went with my dad to Ringo’s birthday party, and Paul McCartney and Keith Richards walked in.”


“Like Sir Paul McCartney and Richards of the Stones?”


“Yep,” Derio said. “All nice guys. Elton John, though—I had a hard time talking to him.”


So would I, Derio.


I looked up his father, Mark Rivera, and found that he has played with Billy Joel’s band for 27 years. He’s accomplished in soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones as well as guitar, percussion, keyboards and vocals. He also has performed with Hall & Oates, Peter Gabriel, Simon & Garfunkel, John Lennon, Edgar Winter, Billy Ocean, and Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh. No wonder Derio lives at home on his parents’ hundred-acre estate just outside the city. And all it took were a few carrot sticks and some hummus to dig this information out of him.


Of course, I had to tell him that I spent four days at a writing conference at the Hotel Richelieu in New Orleans, where McCartney lived for a couple months with Linda. One of our workshops met in the McCartney suite, a capacious two-room habitation with kitchenette and deluxe bathroom. I had to use the bathroom at one point, and while I was sitting on the stool, I realized that Paul McCartney himself most likely used this same seat. So I can probably brag a more intimate association with the former Beatle than Derio had with him.


In my opinion, Derio and Liesa are perfectly matched. He’s the epitome of cool, and she’s starlet gorgeous. I hope they figure out how to keep the flame alive when Liesa goes back to Germany this winter.


When we bid them farewell Sunday, I said, “Derio, tell Ringo he’s welcome at the treehouse anytime.”


“Ringo would like it here,” he said.


Hear that, Ringo? And just to make sure you’re not singing “It Don’t Come Easy” when you visit, H will even give you a boost up to the sleeping loft.