A story from The Art of Imagination – By D.G. Heath
June is “Pride Month” and I thought this story might help celebrate…
“And now, ladies and gentlemen, the one, the only, the Entertainer of the Year… Crystal!” Hearing the applause and the admiration of the crowd, Crystal strutted out on stage in those eight-inch high stiletto heels and a revealing, Bob Mackie-designed costume of sequins and feathers. It had taken years of hard work, sacrifices, a broken heart, sleazy hotels, one-night stands, and tears of hope, but Chris had found a way to the top.
Making it to the top in Crystal’s point of view was to be known by only a single name, just like Cher, Bette, Liza, and Madonna. That was the goal from the very beginning, and determination was the fever to do whatever it took to get there. Oh, don’t get me wrong – Chris wasn’t about to break the law and would never do anything illegal.
Chris Littlefeather was born in Chicota, Texas across the Red River from Grant, Oklahoma. The family was Cherokee and had settled in Oklahoma in the early 1900s. Chris’s parents had grown up in Broken Arrow before moving to Texas with a group of farm workers.
About the time Chris reached the age of five, the family moved to the big city of Fort Worth, where the children could receive a better education. Their mom used to say, “I want you kids to have a good education, but that doesn’t mean you can’t choose what you want to do in life. Being a Native American isn’t going to be easy in this cowboy town, but there’s more opportunity here than there was in Chicota.”
Chris’s father found a good job with the Texas and Pacific Railroad and they moved into a tiny, two-bedroom house just a spitting distance from the railroad tracks. The place rumbled and rattled when the trains passed by. Mom constantly had to adjust pictures hanging on the walls and everyone was jarred out of bed when the engineer blew the train whistle before approaching the railroad crossing a quarter-mile down the road.
During their adolescent years the siblings were always together. They played dolls, made cookies, joined the Bluebirds, and played dress-up in their mom’s clothes. Mom decided they should all three take piano lessons, but the kids weren’t too happy about it. However, Chris found music was fun. With a voice that was always on key, Chris enjoyed singing along with the music. However, the piano lessons didn’t last long when they became interested in a social life. Dating at fifteen and sixteen was normal in Texas. Unfortunately, Chris was only fourteen – too young to start dating, but dancing wasn’t dating.
“How would you like to take dance lessons?” Mom asked. “There’s a square dance group that Brad’s mom mentioned the other day at the ladies’ coffee klatch and there’s a lot of kids your age joining in.”
Most of the kids were fourteen or fifteen and it turned out to be a blast. The square dance instructor was forced to move the weekly lessons to a large gymnasium when he ended up with 36 squares consisting of four couples each. With 288 kids dancing at the same time, there was a lot of sashaying and dos-y-doing. Square dancing is all about knowing the call and following what the square dance caller says to do.
In less than a month, the group was ready to do some exhibition dancing. The squares would crisscross and change partners, weaving with precision left and right, forwards and backwards, until each person was back at their original starting point. They performed for the DAR, the Kiwanis, the Masonic Lodge, and the Odd Fellows. This was a stepping-stone for Chris, who moved on to tap dancing, ballroom dancing, and modern dance. Singing and dancing became a passion.
Chris made a decision to leave the Baptist Church and joined the Presbyterian Church because they allowed dancing in the church basement once a week. That’s where John Deutschendorf sang in the church choir, and he offered some pointers on how to sing with a clear voice and project to the rafters. Johnny later became known as John Denver. However, by that time Chris had already headed for the bright lights of Broadway. Financially, college was out of the question. It was Chris’s goal to be a singer and entertainer.
Sharing a studio apartment with three dancers from “A Chorus Line” Chris learned the ups and downs of a “Broadway gypsy’s life” and decided it was time to make some changes to get recognized and move ahead. Opportunity knocked when auditions for a part in the musical “Cats” was advertised and Chris was selected. Later, a talent agent from Hollywood came back stage after the show and made an offer that was hard to refuse. Goodbye, New York – hello, Hollywood!
There were a few sleazy hotel rooms and several one-night stands on the road from New York to California. Crossing from east coast to west coast, traveling alone in the most economical circumstances, is an experience, but Chris had mastered the ins and outs of self-defense while in the Big Apple; and being a full-blood Native American, was not afraid to use a few lessons learned from the tribe while growing up in Texas.
Hollywood was a dream come true. The first few gigs were booked at small hotel bars once the agent had set things up with a local jazz group looking for a singer. Several months later they were playing at classy night clubs in Santa Monica, West Hollywood, downtown LA and even the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. With a sultry voice, flawless complexion, and wavy, jet-black hair hanging over one shoulder, Chris was a knock-out, molding and mesmerizing the audience. They were like putty in the hands of an artist. That smile and those dark, shining eyes sparkling as they surveyed the crowds were totally captivating.
When the offer came to appear in Vegas as a lead-in act for Bette Midler, there was no hesitation. Signing on the dotted line, Chris said goodbye to the boys in the band. Flying solo on stage was going to be a challenge – but there was no turning back now. The brass ring on the merry-go-round was within reach. Bette’s contract at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino was over after a six-month run, but by then Chris had been booked to perform a six-month solo show in the Park Theatre at the Vegas Monte Carlo.
When they asked how the show was to be billed on the hotel marque, Chris glanced around the theatre at all of the crystal chandeliers and sparkling wall sconces. “Crystal,” answered the sultry voice.
“I’m sorry…what did you say?”
“I want to be known as Crystal from now on.”
“But that’s only a single name. There aren’t that many people who’ve been able to pull that off, sweetheart.”
“Then you’ll just have to be sure we advertise like hell. If the crowd wants me, they’ll scream their heads off for Crystal.”
Joey Salazar looked at Chris and smiled, “You know…it just might work. Are you sure you don’t have a business head on those smooth shoulders of yours?” Chris just smiled and raised those perfectly tweezered eyebrows at him.
Over the next five years Crystal moved to the top of the charts, touring Europe, Asia, Canada, and South America. From France to Australia, the name Crystal was on everyone’s lips. However, after contracting a mysterious illness and being hospitalized while on tour in Brazil, the secret they had been able to hide all these years made the headlines… “Crystal Is A Man!” The media and the internet were all a-twitter over the exposure. He had survived the illness, but could he survive this disclosure?
There was one more sold out concert before the road tour was finished and Chris would have to honor the full contract. Moments before appearing on stage in Quebec, he was ready to back out until the he heard the crowd. It started with a low mummer, barely an audible chant. “Crystal – Crystal – Crystal…” It kept getting louder and louder as more and more fans joined in. Soon they were stamping their feet and shouting at the top of their lungs… “Crystal – Crystal – Crystal.” The blood coursed through his veins like a river of fire. They were screaming his name just as he had said they would.
Crystal appeared in the wings and slowly moved on stage, poured into a rainbow sequined see-through, lace Versace costume and the crowd went wild. He strutted from one side of the coliseum stage to the other, waving, smiling, tossing his long black hair, milking the crowd for all it was worth, and crying as the enthusiasm of the fans filled his heart.
The band struck the first cords of, “Be Who You Are,” his number one song on the Billboard Charts. The one – the only – Crystal had found his way back on top of the world and the brass ring was in his hand. His fans had not let him down.
Someone once said to me, “You’ve traveled a lot and had some really interesting experiences in hospitality, but if you had to pick one totally magical time in your life, where on earth were you when that took place?”
As I recall, this was an interview for Condé Nast Magazine. Although I can’t remember the year, I do remember the answer.
“Monte-Carlo,” I said with a smile.
“So…what happened in Monte-Carlo?” she asked.
“What doesn’t happen in Monte-Carlo?” I quipped with a grin and a sparkle in my wink.
Of course, this is all from memory, so the quotes may not be totally accurate, but you get the idea. Perhaps I should start this story from the beginning.
It was November 2009. We had decided to drop out of the Relais et Chateaux organization of hospitality establishment around the world. This was to be the last congress we would attend and it just happened to be held in Monaco that year. That was one principality we had not visited in our past travels.
We invited two of our close friends in New Mexico to travel with us – not to attend the meetings, but to enjoy the entertainment and experience. Native American artist Doug Coffin, a Potawatomi from Kansas, and Kaaren Ochoa, a movie director, and his wife, got married at the Rancho de San Juan in August of that year. Kaaren had been working on a film and they never had time for a honeymoon. This was to be their honeymoon trip.
Doug does a lot of sculpture. One of his works (a group of 30 foot tall steel Shamans) has been purchased by a university in Kansas City and will soon be erected near the art gallery on campus.
Manquets of Doug’s Sculptures
We decided to spend a few days in Provence, prior to the congress, staying at the Hotel Le Saint-Paul de Vence – a Medieval town built on a hill and surrounded by stone ramparts where we visited the tomb of Marc Chagall and walked the cobblestone streets which were only for pedestrians. No vehicles allowed in the town.
Everything was brought in on wooden carts with large wheels pulled by burros or strong young men. The hotel staff parked the car and carted the luggage into the town and the hotel, while their visitors registered. The streets were very narrow, and full of people. The hotel was delightful and the food a gourmet treat.
La Villa Gallici Hotel and Spa
Then on to Aix-en-Provence and La Villa Gallici Hotel and Spa, an 18th century Italian villa and a five star establishment. Our room was at the end of a hall with French doors and a view of the pool. The gardens were peppered with amazing sculptures which delighted Doug. The enchanting and poetic place was located only a short walk from the city center.
Le Meridian Beach Hotel
View of the beach pool
The first day in Monte-Carlo we checked in to Le Meridian Beach Hotel located on Le Meridian Beach Plaza, where we would be ensconced for the next four nights. Each room had a terrace with a view facing the Bay of Roqueburne and overlooking the Plaza.
That first evening was a formal cocktail party in the main ballroom of the Hôtel de Paris. A short stroll from the Meridian Plaza, and adjacent to the iconic Casino de Monte-Carlo.
Eight open bars were set up with whatever you could imagine to drink and waiters were delivering complimentary champagne all evening. Silver platters of Beluga caviar on Melba toast, lobster tidbits in puff pastry, escargot in a crunchy blanket with a parsley, garlic-butter dipping sauce and numerous other fancy and filling hors’d’oeuvres were served while a live jazz band played in the background. Seven hundred guests milled around meeting and greeting old and new friends. The only announcement made was to let us all know that we had a meeting to attend at 9:00 AM the next morning. Some people wandered off to the casino but we eventually strolled back to the hotel and crashed.
Circus de Monaco
Luxury busses delivered everyone the following evening for entertainment at the Chapiteau of Monaco, where we had a ringside table to watch the Circus de Monaco while being served a delicious four course dinner. It was like watching the Cirque du Soleil while dining at the Ritz. Seven hundred people ate and watched as contortionist and scantily clad trapeze artist performed amazing stunts to provocative music and extraordinary light displays, until the final drumroll and a clash of cymbals.
The next afternoon, after a lunch that could stuff a horse, we were treated by the Prince and Princess of Monaco to a rally-showing of his extensive automobile collection (mostly convertibles) and all classics, filled with waving movie-stars, TV personalities, and political figures. The cars were all pushed by strong, handsome, young men around the Meridian Plaza – not a motor was started. It was a warm afternoon so the cool champagne was flowing once again. It was a free evening for everyone to enjoy what they chose to do. The casinos were packed.
On the last night in Monte-Carlo everyone attended the formal closing ceremonies and dinner at the Monte-Carlo Sporting Club and Casino, The main thirty-foot high structure is circular and has a ceiling that can be retracted and opens to the sky. One half of the room has huge windows that face the bay and the other half is covered with floor-to-ceiling mirrors that reflect the bay. Anything you wanted to drink was free and a five course dinner was offered with five star, white-glove service.
The surprise entertainment was the 1960’s Moody Blues rock band from Birmingham, England, playing all of their old original hits. They certainly knew their audience and age group. People were dancing in the aisles and on the tables.
Fireworks rained down like sparkling fountains from the circular roof and were reflected in the mirrors behind the band on stage. Then giant fireworks burst in the air over the bay from yachts and smaller ships anchored off shore. What a finally! But that was just a tease.
Jimmy’z Main Entry
Everyone was bussed a short distance to Jimmy’z Monte-Carlo Night Club, the iconic, upscale hot spot for the rich and famous. DJs were spinning electronic dance music. There was an outdoor terrace and a Japanese garden to wander through when we needed a break from the loud music.
Outside gardens at Jimmy’z
We drank strange drinks that glowed in the black-lights and danced under the flashing strobe-lights until after two in the morning. I was about to board the bus back to the hotel and realized I had grabbed the wrong tuxedo jacket. Fortunately mine was still in our booth and I was the last person on the bus. John had saved me a seat.
The next morning, after a delicious breakfast in the room, we boarded a helicopter on top of the hotel and flew to the airport in Nice to catch our flight back to Paris and on to the USA. Doug and Kaaren caught a different flight and spent a week in Amsterdam.
I’ll never forget that trip. Where on earth could anyone repeat such a fantasy? Doug and Kaaren still talk about it to this day and plan to visit us in Merida soon.
I may not believe in ghost but I do believe that we have all lived other lives in the past and will in the future. My problem is that I can’t remember who I was in those other lives. In all our travels, I have often had a sort of déjà vu experiences, as if I had been there before and knew or felt it was from a past experience. It’s rather strange, but I’ve gotten used to it and don’t really give it much thought anymore.
La Cote Saint Jacques Restaurant – River view
We traveled next to the town of Joigny in the Burgundy region of France and checked into the Hotel La Cote Saint Jacques on the sur l’Yonne River. We had read that their Michelin three-star restaurant was a must visit. The hotel was on both sides of the street and joined by a tunnel under the road. We had rooms on the river side so it was necessary to cross through the tunnel and take the elevator up to the restaurant.
La Cote Saint Jacques – Tunnel
Our room had a view of the river, but unfortunately it was raining and dark outside so we didn’t get to see much. There was a black and white marble shower with six shower heads at different levels and I couldn’t wait to try it out. Sadly, there was not enough water pressure to make it work, so we both ended up taking a bath in the huge claw footed tub that took forever to fill – again, poor water pressure. Perhaps a lot of people were bathing at the same time.
La Cote Saint Jacques – Food Photos
However, the food and service were excellent and made up for the lack of water pressure, and it didn’t hurt to let them know that John and Julie were both chefs at our Relais & Châteaux in the U.S. The chef came out to chat with us and went back into the kitchen without stopping at any of the other tables. We got a few stares from people wondering just who we were to get a personal appearance from the chef.
This reminds me of the time that John and I were touring some of the Relais and Châteaux properties in the U.S. and were staying at The Inn at Little Washington in West Virginia.
The Inn at Little Washington
We saw our friend, the chef/owner – Patrick O’Connell, prior to dinner that evening and he ask if we wanted to order off the menu or if we wanted him to surprise us. Naturally we said, “Surprise us.”
We were seated at a booth next to the kitchen doors, which in not considered the most desirable table in a restaurant but of course didn’t bother us as perhaps it would most people. As each coarse arrived at our table, Patrick would step out of the kitchen and explain what we were about to savor.
The Inn at Little Washington – Picture on a Plate
A simple cheese course
This went on throughout the five-course dinner, and one of the other tables motioned our server over and asked him who we were to get all the attention from the chef. He told them, “I’m not sure who they are, but I heard they own a ranch in San Juan”. Patrick told us this the next morning when he explained that seating us by the kitchen doors, he didn’t have to make the rounds in the dining room every time he appeared. We all got a good laugh out of the server’s response.
The Gourmet Cuisine
There are restaurants and there are special restaurants, and then there are Relais Gourmand restaurants. Over the years we have had the pleasure of dining in some of the world’s most highly regarded restaurants, those which have achieved the status of Relais Gourmand or Michelin’s Three Star ratings.
In France, we enjoyed the mouth-watering cuisine at Relais Gourmand restaurants such as:
Restaurant Pierre Orsi in Lyon (the wonders of fôie gras and truffles)
The Old Mill
Le Moulin de Mougins (Roger Vergé’s restaurant in Mougins, FR blending French and Italian cuisine),
Hotel du Lion d’Or in Vézelay
Pierre Gardiner’s Restaurant on Rue Balzac
The Hotel de Crillon in Paris
both with eminently French cuisine and magnificent wines. Oh, the memories we have. It’s a wonder we didn’t weigh 300 pounds.
Dining in the U.S., we were fortunate to sample the famous cuisine at The French Laundry in Napa Valley.
The French Laundry
When we arrived we were seated in the garden and served a glass of Champagne while they prepared our table. It was a comfortable evening and the garden was full of sweet fragrant flowers and savory herbs. The restaurant does not offer a la carte dining, so we ordered the nine-course dinner thinking that would be more than enough; however, Thomas Keller knew we were there and decided that we should sample the eleven-course menu and proceeded to wow our culinary senses and alas, we waddled out of the restaurant four hours later.
We dined at Restaurant Daniel while in New York. Daniel had invited John to use his kitchen for his food prep when he appeared at the James Beard House as the guest chef in November 1999.
Daniel – NYCJohn appreciated the offer, but decided he would be better off learning the workings of the kitchen at the Beard House. Our dinner at Daniel’s was outstanding and the wine was complimentary. We were totally contented and couldn’t thank Daniel enough for the wonderful experience.
Another exciting New York dining experience was our lunch at Jean-Georges Restaurant. The New York Times awarded Jean-Georges Vongerichten Four Stars and Michelin honored him with a Three-Star rating.
Jean-Georges Restaurant – NYC
I’m sure it was the first and the last $200 lunch we ever ate, but worth every penny. I have to admit, we did get a little extra attention when Jean George appeared at our table, which (we were told) he normally does not do at lunch. From the stares we got, I’m sure people must have wondered who we were. Dessert that day was a little gift from the chef as our server announced in a clear voice.
L’Orangerie – LA 1970’s
There used to be an elegant French restaurant in Los Angeles called L’Orangerie, which had been member of Relais & Châteaux since 1987. (The restaurant closed in 2006 after 29 years; it reopened in 2014 as L’Orangerie Bistro, a more modern, casual take on fine French dining.) However, before it closed in 2006 we were treated to dinner there by our close friend Proctor Stafford. At that time, we were far from our dream of owning a Relais & Châteaux, but totally enjoyed the excellent cuisine and service. I believe this was where I first had the pleasure of eating fôie gras, and learned to enjoy dipping my bread in the delicious parsley and garlic butter while savoring an order of escargot. I would say it was quite an adventure in dining for a guy from Texas.
On one of our trips to San Francisco, where we first met, we dined at Restaurant Gary Danko on North Point Street.
Danko’s – San Francisco
The restaurant exudes luxury without pretense, and the service was flawless. It was easy to see how Chef Danko’s spectacular menu and cart of delicious cheeses matched with the perfect wines would win awards hands down. No wonder scoring a reservation here is worth the wait. I was told they would not be able to take reservations more than one month ahead no matter who you are. I quickly explained to the woman on the phone when I called for reservations, that it was a leap year and there were exactly 29 days in February and I was calling precisely one month prior to the date I was requesting for our reservation. After conversing with someone in the background, she finally accepted our reservation request. Sometimes it pays to be precise.
In the year 2017 I began to write my memior. It’s still a work in progress, but I doubt it will ever be completed. So, I’ve decided to share some of my life with my readers. I hope you will fine it as interesting to you as it was to me.
At the age of 54…
Fifteen Years with Relais et Châteaux
1996 and 1997
The second Relais & Châteaux congress we attended was in Bordeaux, France. John and I flew (first-class for the second time in our lives) on Air France to Paris out of Houston to spend a couple of days in one of our favorite cities. The flight attendants were so nice. They presented us each with a bottle of Champagne as we departed the plane – of course this was done on the sly and very discreetly.
Hotel Vigny – Paris
We checked into the Hotel Vigny, a Relais property located near the Arc de Triomphe, late that evening and went straight to bed with jet lag. They had a huge platter of fresh fruit, cheese, crackers, bread and a bottle of wine waiting in our room with a welcome greeting card. We stored our Champagne bottles in the small fridge. When we awoke at 2:00 am, we had a picnic and watched the news, then went back to sleep until later in the morning.
Once we were up and moving around, we leisurely strolled down the tree lined street to the American Express office next to the Opera House and got our money exchanged into French francs. Walking back to the hotel, we stopped at a sidewalk café and ordered an omelet and frites for breakfast. We always enjoy having breakfast at a sidewalk café in Paris while doing a lot of people watching. There is such a cosmopolitan feeling about it that is hard to explain.
Sure, you know you’re a tourist and so does everyone else, especially the waiters, but who cares. Surly waiters are totally French; they are a breed unto themselves, and they won’t change. It doesn’t take long to get waited on, but it can take forever to get the check when you’re ready to leave. They suddenly disappear or they look above you, or around you, but never directly at you. However, you are rarely handed your check before you ask for it. You just have to get their attention.
We rented a car and John drove to Bordeaux while I did the navigating. We only got lost a couple of times, but we made it in one piece and one day. As we were not in a hurry, John decided that we should take some of the less travelled roads, which could account for our mixed directions. However, we finally arrived safely and checked into the Château Cordeillan-Bages in Pauillac, France.
The building is a 17th century château in the heart of the Medoc region just minutes from Bordeaux. It is an enchanting single-story mansion with golden stone walls, turrets and a Roman-tiled roof, all surrounded by their Bordeaux vineyards.
Their chef was well known for his special preparation of the traditional agneau (lamb) de Pauillac and their estate bottled wines were outstanding. Breakfast was served either in your room, on the terrace, or in the dining room – your choice. The bedrooms and suites all had very high ceilings with French doors opening to your very own private terrace. Our room had a view into the flowering courtyard.
Nearby was the Hennessy Château in the Cognac region. We signed on for a luncheon at the château and a tour of the cognac-making facilities which included a tasting. Due to too much partying the night before, only a small group was up for the tour, totaling about twenty people. To our surprise, Maurice Hennessy was in residence at the château, and he joined us at our table for lunch.
Hennessy Château Bagnolet
We had a great conversation with him and discovered that, according to him, he was considered the black sheep of the family. He preferred a rather Bohemian lifestyle and had a flat on the Left Bank in Paris (not really approved by the family, as the Right Bank is the more upper-class neighborhood). We mentioned we had stayed at the Hotel d’Angleterre on the Left Bank, which was one of our favorite places to visit. John and I had stayed there on our second trip to Europe.
The garden court at the Hotel d’Angleterre
We were surprised when he said his flat was next door to the hotel. He also enjoyed dining in the small restaurant at 35 Rue Jacob directly across the street from the hotel. It appeared that we had a lot in common, and he extended an invitation to stay at the château the next time we were in the area. Unfortunately, we never got that opportunity.
Relais and Châteaux provided a luncheon in the middle of the motocross race track one afternoon during the congress. I assume this sport is one of the things that the Bordeaux region is known for. However, it was quite noisy and a bit distracting what with six to ten motorcycles zooming around the track at 60 mph during lunch, and rather difficult to have a conversation without shouting. Our business meetings were always in French, and those of us who didn’t speak French wore headphones through which we heard a translator. Whenever a vote was needed, everyone was given an electronic remote voting device with buttons to push for yea or nay.
I would be remiss if I neglected to mention that the Bordeaux region is known not only for its fine wines but also for that earthy gourmet delight known as truffles. I think we had truffles with almost every meal. The North American group was treated to a special dinner one evening at Saint James on the hill overlooking the city of Bordeaux and the Garonne River. I swear we had truffles with every course, including the dessert. As we were stuffed to the gills, we “truffled” out of the restaurant and back to our respective hotels.
Dessert at Saint James Bouliac (on the hill)
Our final evening’s dinner was held in a huge wine cellar with an arched stone ceiling. There were at least 500 people in attendance and the cellar could have easily held more. I don’t recall the menu or whose celler it was, but I’m sure there were truffles used somewhere, and of course, delicious Bordeaux wines.
Truffles Galore! Black and White
It was a quick three days and then back to Paris and a room at the Hotel de Crillon on the Place de la Concorde, where the final “Black Tie” evening of dinner and dancing was held. It was another fabulous meal and lots of dancing all decked out in our boots and tuxedos. We even managed to get in some last minute shopping before flying back home.
Hotel de Crillon – Paris
Meanwhile back at the Rancho, our chef Chris was cooking up some great menus himself. We had hired a young woman named Natalie from The Point resort at Saranac Lake to work as my new assistant manager. She spoke both French and English and had come highly recommended to help manage the inn and restaurant. For some reason, John did not feel comfortable with her, but she was my assistant and not his. Natalie was a good worker when she wanted to be, which unfortunately was not often enough. She did have a way with the guests and the staff, which was her downfall in the end, and nine months later we eventually had to let her go. We learned, several months later, that she had married one of the bodyguards of the French president at that time, and had moved back to France. She now manages an art gallery in Paris.
Chris Rocha was a self-taught chef right from good old Española, and with John teaching him even more, he soon developed a great reputation among our Santa Fe dinner guests. Julie, John’s other assistant chef, had trained at the CIA (no, not that CIA – the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York).
The Rhone Valley and the Champagne Region
We invited Julie to Europe with us for one of the Relais & Châteaux congresses held in Lyon. John wanted to give her the experience of “Showtime” with Relais, the cuisines of France and an opportunity to meet the top chefs of America and Europe. We always start out in Paris and travel from there.
Our first night in Paris, the three of us had dinner at Le Petite Zinc, which had moved from the Latin Quarter the year before, to a new location near the St. Germain des Pres church and square.
Le Petite Zinc Restaurant and Their Seafood Tower
We shared a “tower of seafood” as our first course, which consisted of three levels of all kinds of ocean delicacies and was really very good. Unfortunately, John got the one bad oyster and was sick with food poisoning the next two days.
We took the train from Paris to Lyon, traveling at amazingly high speed as the countryside whizzed by in a blur, but poor John could have cared less. He missed some of the business meetings, but managed to recover for the rest of our trip. Of course, we were wined and dined at some of the most fantastic restaurants, and enjoyed the cuisine prepared by the region’s most talented Michelin chefs including Alain Ducasse.
The North American group dined one evening at Restaurant Pierre Orsi, complemented with a tour of his famous wine cellar beneath the restaurant. We feasted on ravioles de foie gras and truffes au jus de porto, followed with desserts fit for a king and accompanied by some wonderful wines from the vineyards of the Rhone Valley. The restaurant was in an old flower-bedecked house only a few blocks from the Rhone River that runs through the city. The interior was beautifully done in buffed plastered walls and terracotta tile floors.
Restaurant Pierre Orsi
When the congress was over, we rented a car and drove up the Rhone River Valley through Macon and Dijon, staying overnight in Dijon and then on to the Châmpagne country next morning. The car we were driving developed a problem just outside of Troyes, and had we had to wait for someone to find the right parts to fix it, which took about three hours. Then we were back on the road to Reims and our reservations at the Veuve Cliquot Mansion.
Veuve Cliquot Mansion – Reims, France 1997
We had written ahead to arrange a tour of the Veuve Cliquot Champagne cellars and bottling facilities and to stay in the Veuve Cliquot Mansion in the heart of Reims. We arrived in plenty of time for our scheduled tour. They knew we were from New Mexico and had arranged a tour guide to do the tour in Spanish. Needless to say, we had to correct that quickly. Fortunately the guide also spoke English so it wasn’t a major issue. It was a very interesting tour and included the history of the Champagne region and the house of Cliquot, with stories of other the Champagne houses in the region.
The Limestone Caves – Miles and Miles of Champagne
In the wine industry, there is an old tried and true method for making sure your champagne holds that clear, crisp color, and it’s called riddling. This practice involves regularly twisting bottles back and forth to ensure that your sparkling wine remains free of sediment.
We checked into the mansion and were informed that we would be having dinner with one of the champagne guides that evening. The home was surrounded by large trees and a tall stone wall with huge wooden gates at the street entry to the park-like setting. The rooms had high ceilings and were nicely decorated. Our room was on the second story, with tall French windows that faced the front of the house. The bathroom was decorated with marble tiles and had a large claw foot bathtub and a writing desk in it.
As we had all taken black tie dress for the final event at the congress, we decided it would be fun to dress for dinner that night. We had no idea how many other people would be there or whether formal dress was an option. But we felt like dressing up.
However, a few things needed pressing, so we located a small room on the second floor where the staff did the laundry and were able to press our own clothes. I think the staff thought we were a little strange because we would not allow them to do it for us.
When we came downstairs for dinner all refreshed and dressed, we were the first people in the reception room and were offered a glass of champagne and some French gougeres (cheese puffs). There appeared to be a bit of commotion as the staff seemed to be surprised that we were dressed formally for dinner and not in more casual attire. They quickly made some phone calls, perhaps checking to see if there was a party they had not been made aware of.
The dining room at the Cliquot Mansion
However, a champagne representative (one of their wine makers) later appeared and apologized for his casual dress, as he had just come from the cellars. It appears that we warranted someone other than just one of the sales personnel. Another couple, staying at the mansion, ended up dining in a smaller room with the guide/sales person who had originally been scheduled to dine with us.
As it was, they quickly set the main dining room where we had dinner with one of the champagne makers. The dinner was served in the classic English style. Each of us helped ourselves from the silver trays of food served from the left. That way you don’t have to fight your wine glass, or in this case, your champagne glass (which, by the way, never got empty during the dinner). Our server was an elderly woman who was wearing a black dress with white lace collar and cuffs, a white apron and prim little white hat on her head. and of course, white gloves.
We learned a lot about champagne that night and played a game of “guess the vintage” of our final glass with dessert. I was the closest guess, but still off by three years. Not too bad, since it really was a guess. But the wine maker was impressed. We retired to the drawing room and were offered cognac and cigars after dinner. John and I didn’t smoke, but Julie we just enjoyed the cognac and more conversation with the wine maker. However, Julie couldn’t resist having a cigar with the handsome French winemaker.
The next morning, Julie swore that she was visited in the night by Madame Cliquot’s ghost. She was staying in Madame Cliquot’s former bedroom. My thought: too much champagne and cognac, not to mention the cigar.
Oh yes, the wall sconces did flicker in the dining room and we were told that it was the ghost of Madame Cliquot passing by; my opinion was faulty wiring in the old château or those candelabra lights that are made to flicker now and then, but still a good story. You can tell that I don’t believe in ghost. Spirits yes, but not ghost.
Greetings! Just returned from an escape to Campeche.
Me and my friendly bronze pirate at the Casa Don Gustave on Calle 59 – “the pedestrian restaurant street”
Happy Valentine’s Amigos!
Our just desserts! – Baileys Irish Cream Pudding
Courtyard dining with social distancing – couples only
I hope you will forgive me for this rushed, last minute prompt submission and my barrowed quote from Google. I know that’s cheating, but it fit the story.
Who doesn’t like a good celebration? I know that’s a stupid question, but I’ll have to be honest with you – John and I have been celebrating for over 51 years together. I’ll try to condense this epic novel into a short story and wrap it up in a nutshell.
It all started in October of 1969 when we met in a dance bar in downtown San Francisco. By February 13th of 1970, we celebrated Chinese New Year in Chinatown at a quaint, family-owned, Dim Sum restaurant with John’s mom and dad.
The following morning, we began our life together as a couple. There was no such thing as same-sex marriage in 1970, but we spent our honeymoon in Carmel by the Sea on Feb. 14th. It wasn’t really that unusual to see two men celebrating Valentine’s Day with a nice dinner on the coast of California. We were in our 20’s and in love –facts are facts.
We celebrated with joy when we moved from our small apartment over a carport after the 6.6 Sylmar earthquake on Feb. 9th 1971. Needless to say, we were a bit shook up, but moving to a six story French Chateaux apartment building was indeed a celebration.
The Trianon in Hollywood was the place to be and be seen. It was full of interesting people who quickly became good friends. There was a professional screamer who did a lot of screaming for female actors in the movies, an MGM movie set designer with four Oscars he used as doorstops, a holistic medium who could read palms and tell the future, (not always correct), a screen play writer (Dial M for Murder), a “Hollywood granddame” Harriet MacGibbon (the banker’s wife on the Beverly Hillbillies) who held court once a week, a mural artist, a sexy Brooks Brother’s salesman and his banker partner, plus several handsome young men who became known as The Cycle Sluts.
The Cycle Sluts (Michael Bails – 2nd in from your left and John Beal in Kiss-like makeup) – This was a tamed photo – Shot after they’re debut at Oil Can Harry’s in North Hollywood one Halloween eve.
To quote Google:
“They wore a startling combo of leather gear and Frederick’s of Hollywood-inspired undergarments. From the tip-top of their sky-high, feverishly teased wigs (think trailer-trash broads on crystal meth) to the bottom of their stature-building footwear (platform shoes, motorcycle boots), they stood tall (not one of them less than seven feet) in more ways than one. Their makeup— part Kabuki/part Sweet Charity—accentuated their unapologetic facial hair, streaked with glitter.
“This carefully designed juxtaposition, indicating a gender identity meltdown, extended beyond The Look. The Act consisted of original songs and sketch material created by Bill Bowersock, Matt Vernon and John Beal tailored to showcase them at their butchest and most femme. John Wayne one minute, Ann-Margret the next. Words that have since become downright banal and void of their true meaning were used to describe them: outrageous, androgynous, and dangerous.
“In Los Angeles of 1975, the Cycle Sluts were the “It Girls” of gay culture, attracting gay and straight audiences alike in their nightclub appearances at the Whisky-a-Go-Go, the Roxy and other hip venues. Hollywood’s most famous celebrities of the era, including Lucille Ball, disco divas, producers, managers and agents like Allan Carr (Grease, La Cage Aux Follies, Village People, Joan Rivers, Ann-Margret) and Roy Gerber (The Beatles, Bette Midler) commandeered the star booths night after night. The Cycle Sluts couldn’t have gotten within spitting distance of prime time, and that was precisely their allure. Unsanitized, uncensored, and unequivocally gay, their stage personas carried the stereotypical trappings of their predecessors (hair and makeup), but added an aspect of being gay that had rarely been acknowledged out loud. The Cycle Sluts may have had false eyelashes out to “here,” but they also had substantial packages out to “there,” bulging beneath their frilly lace panties.”
We celebrated (and I mean “celebrated”) for three years at the Trianon before moving to a Tuscan villa in the Hollywood hills. It was owned by a collector of Pre-Columbian artifacts (one of the world’s largest collections), whose family owned over half of the commercial real estate in downtown Long Beach. Proctor Stafford had homes in Shell Beach, Laguna Beach, the Outpost Estates in Hollywood Hills, plus a condo in the Park La Brea Towers and an apartment on 5th Ave. in NYC.
We moved in some interesting circles an even fixed and served a dinner for Julia Child and sixteen others. We traveled all over Europe celebrating and discovering new things and amazing people. We even had a luncheon with Maurice Hennessy at the family Chateau de Bagnolet, built on the banks of the Charente River in Cognac. Maurice also had a Left Bank apartment on the Rue Jacob in Paris, it was next to the Hôtel d’Angleterre at 44 Rue Jacob where we were staying. Maurice admitted he was the “black sheep” in the Hennessy family, because he hated the pretentious Right Bank.
In 1994, we quit our jobs and moved to rural New Mexico, where we purchased 250 acres of pristine land with “knock-your-socks-off” views, built and opened the Rancho de San Juan Country Inn and Restaurant, 38 miles northwest of Santa Fe.
Over the next 19 years, working together, we developed our property into an award winning destination of hospitality, and gourmet dining which we shared with exciting people from around the world. We were asked to be members of the world class hotel organization Relais et Chateaux in 1996. Their membership was limited to only 500 properties worldwide.
Welcome to the Rancho…
Our guest list included such notables as Robert Redford, Shirley MacLaine, Anthony Hopkins, David Axelrod, the Duke and Duchess of Bedford, and Robert Harling (author of Steel Magnolias), plus numerous others – after 19 years of an enjoyable and successful run in the business, we decided to retire to Merida.
The “chef’s table” – reserve two months in advance.
From innkeeper to author, I’m now celebrating the publication of my seventh book. John still enjoys being an “at home chef” and full time gardener. And as the company LG says, “Life’s Good” here in the Yucatan.
That brings us to our current celebration, “The Celebration of Life” as we have been so fortunate to experience. We are both in our mid to late 70’s. It has been a delightful and exciting event-filled fifty-one years that we have been blessed to experience with each other.
As we look forward to sharing many more years together, people have asked us, “What is the secret to staying together such a long time?” I answer them with two simple words, “Conversation and Laughter.” If you ask me, cell phones and social media are the devil’s distractions and the downfall of any lasting relationship. Hang on to the past and you will sail into the future with a smile. Cherish your friends and enjoy your neighbors…Celebrate!
It was a clear, breezy, fall morning as I drove down M20 southeast out of London, through the farm lands of Kent passed Leeds Castle and Sandway, heading for my destination south of Charing Heath and Hurst Wood. My eyes searched for the exit onto Hunger Hatch Lane, which in turn would eventually lead me to Pluckley Road.
Church of St. Mary – Ruins
I spotted the monumental ruins of the Church of St. Mary and pulled off the road to stretch my legs. It so happened that the Vicar of St. Nicholas Church in Pluckley was the only other visitor at the ruins that morning. I enjoyed a quick lesson in history before he asked me where I was heading.
“I’m on my way to Pluckley and the Black Horse Inn.” I replied.
“I see,” he said with a smile and a raised set of bushy gray eyebrows. “You must be on a hunt for ghost.”
I gave him a perplexed look. “What makes you say that?” I asked.
“Because Pluckley Village has the honor of being named the mosthaunted village in Great Britain. That’s quite a title on a calling card, wouldn’t you say?”
“To be quite honest. You’re absolutely correct.”
He chuckled. “Then you had best stop in at Mundy Bois country pub. You’ll find all the information you need and possibly more than you want to know. Be sure to drop by the church if you are here for a few days.”
“Thanks. I might do that.” We shook hands and I continued on to the Black Horse Inn.
The Black Horse Inn
When I stopped in at the Mundy Bois country pub, I asked in a casual manner for directions to Pinnock Bridge. The elderly bartender gave me a strange glance. “You’re looking to find the ghost of the Watercress Woman, then?”
Sheepishly, I had to admit that that’s precisely what I was doing; well, if not exactly looking for ghosts, I was looking for their fabled haunting grounds. “I’m a mystery writer.” I said. “Ghost interest me and I’ve heard that Pluckley is famous for having the most ghost in England. Its paranormal portfolio includes at least twelve, so I’m told.”
“Then you’ll want to check out the Screaming Woods, where a man who worked in the village brickworks fell to his death. You can hear his screams just before he died,” said a waitress carrying drinks to a table by the window.
The Screaming Woods
“And don’t forget the highwayman, Robert Du Bois, that was run through with a sword that pinned him to a tree at Fright Corner, where his ghost appears as a shadowy figure.” added a woman seated at the table.
Two elderly men sat in the corner were playing chess. One looked up with eyes that had a strange glow and he grinned. “Just down the road, the schoolmaster’s body was found hanged from a tree by children of the old woman who used to sit on a bridge, smoking her pipe, drinking gin and selling watercress she had gathered from the stream. You can see his image still swinging from the rope when the light’s just right.”
“The old Watercress Woman, was said to have burnt to death when, saturated with gin, she accidentally set herself alight on the lonely spot where she would sit each day with her pipe.” The second waitress added.
The Red Lady
“But the most famous ghost is the Red Lady, who died in the 12th century. She haunts the churchyard at St. Nicholas along with a ghostly monk,” said a short chubby man sitting at the bar. “And if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a vision of the old gypsy woman whose paranormal spirit floats around the town.”
The old gypsy woman’s spirit
Graveyard at St. Nicholas Church
Welcome to the village of Pluckley and its inhabitants, both alive and deceased.
This is George, our neighbor, on a good day. He’s most intertaining and loves to eat salads, but he has no table maners.
It was a quiet, sultry, Tuesday afternoon as I lay stretched out on the bed for a short siesta. My fingers were tired of typing on the computer. Suddenly I was awakened by a heavy thud. I wondered what had caused the noise. It sounded like someone had thrown a tree branch or piece of wood into our back garden. However, it’s not the normal practice of our neighbors here in Merida to throw things over the walls into their neighbor backyards, so I got up to check.
At first I thought that maybe a vulture had attempted to capture one of our geckos on the wall, but on closer inspection, there was no sign of any feathers flapping as I scanned the overhead metal lattes in the narrow space. Suddenly I saw movement in the bed of ivy. At first it was like a snake. But no, it wasn’t a snake. It was a rather long, green tail with stripes on it. Then a spiny looking head peered at me from the other side of a large terracotta palm pot. It was our friendly neighborhood iguana that lives in the metal flashing on the PAN headquarters building next door.
Over the seven years we have lived in this house, we have encountered him on numerous occasions lounging on our garden wall. Strange that we had earlier been discussing what to have for dinner tonight and here was the answer. Right? Wrong.
Ah! Soup meat for tonight’s dinner.
Oh no! I would never be able to eat an iguana unless my life depended on it, and maybe not even then. Although, I must admit I have eaten pickled rattlesnake, chocolate covered ants, and fried grasshoppers in the past. That was back in the 60s, when it was considered to “hip” to do weird things like that while sitting on the floor, propped up on cushions, and smoking the flavor of the week. I suppose an iguana couldn’t taste all that bad.
Helpful hint for preperation
Iguana meat is high protein and low fat. It’s well-suited for tacos, burritos, curries, soups, stews, gumbo and more, according to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. The meat is thick, so it’s often boiled for long periods of time to soften it up
Iguana Soup – It’s an acquired taste.
It’s true that the local people of the Yucatan who live out in the country eat them on occasion. I’ve been told their meat is white and stringy, just like chicken breast, or rattlesnake for that matter, but I still shake my head and make a face when I think about it. I’m not that easily convinced.
This isn’t the first time Mr. Iguana has fallen off the wall like Humpty Dumpty into our back garden. Last time, we were afraid he couldn’t make it out. He made several attempts to climb up the wall, but proceeded to fall off the painted vertical surface and ended up back on the ground, unhurt but a little embarrassed.
I told John to get the extension ladder and lean it against the back wall, providing a way for him to climb out – after all, they climb rocks and trees. He refused to show us his intelligence and agility while we stood there watching. However, we left him over night and he managed to find his way up the ladder and back over the wall.
The moral of this story is…”Let sleeping iguanas lie.
If they have a dream or nightmare and fall off the wall, or out of a tree, they will eventually find a way back to their bed.” Perhaps with a little help.
D.G. Heath – Author
Publications now available on Amazon.
D.G. Heath Mystery Collection – Vol. One
Double Martini – Web of Intrigue – Codes and Confessions
“Why are you asking that now? We haven’t even mixed the ingredients.”
“The recipe said to preheat the oven. I’m just following what it says. No need to snap at me. I only want to help. After all, I eat the cookies too.”
John gave me a look of frustration. “If you want to help, you can chop the pecans. The knives are in the top drawer. I haven’t sharpened the larger knife, so best to use the medium size. And keep your fingers out of the way. It’s like a razor.”
With that warning in mind, I asked the obvious question, “Wouldn’t it be easier to chop them up in the food processer? I’m sure it would be a lot faster.”
“I want them chopped, not pulverized.” John took the medium size knife out of the drawer and handed it to me. “The nuts are in the refrigerator in a plastic bag on the second shelf.”
I opened the refrigerator door and searched for the pecans, which appeared to hidden somewhere on the second shelf. “Don’t stand there letting all the cold air out of the fridge.” John reached in and grabbed the bag of nuts, shutting the door in my face.
“You said they were on the second shelf, but that’s not where they were.”
“Second shelf up from the bottom, not down from the top. Didn’t your mother ever teach you how to organize a refrigerator?”
I smiled, “Obviously not. But then I wasn’t much help in the kitchen and my mother wasn’t a gourmet chef either.”
“The gourmet chef days are over. These are just chocolate-chip cookies, so let’s not get carried away. Use the other end of the counter so I can get the cookie dough mixed at this end.”
I moved to my appointed spot, dumped the nuts on the counter, and began to chop. Not an easy job either. Those nuts are slipper little suckers and I didn’t want to chop off the end of my fingers.”
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Chopping the nuts as I was told to do. Why?”
“You don’t use the wood counter, stupid. Get the small cutting board out from under the sink. You’ll scar the counter with the knife.”
Fifteen minutes later I was still hard at work chopping away. “Ok…I’m ready for the nuts.” John said.
“Well, the nuts aren’t quite ready just yet.” I offered in a serious voice mixed with concentration.
He came to see how much I had left to do. “You’re slicing, not chopping those dudes. Here, give me that knife.” I relinquished my assignment and watched him chop away like a madman.
I remained silence as he mixed the nuts and chocolate-chips into the cookie dough, then spooned the mixture onto the cookie sheet for baking. “Did you turn the oven on?” he asked.
“You told me not to. It was too soon.” I said with glee and a little smile.”
He rolled his eyes and gave me a one sided, frustrated smile. “Tell you what. I don’t mind sharing the cookies I make with you. You’re much better at writing and your talents are wasted in the kitchen, I appreciate your wanting to help, but I’m no good at writing and can’t help you, so let’s leave it at that.”
The aroma of cookies baking fill the house and I was content.
D.G. Heath – Author
Publications now available on Amazon.
D.G. Heath Mystery Collection – Vol. One
Double Martini – Web of Intrigue – Codes and Confessions
White snow glistened on dark tree branches and blanketed the ground in our neighborhood adding to the excitement that we as young children could scarcely contain. Bundled-up from head to toe, we scurried outdoors where our grandfather, wearing his jacket, gloves and hat, waited patiently to pull the flat wooden sled our dad had made for the three of us.
Giggling and shrieking in childhood delight, we scrambled aboard, Carol, my youngest sister in front, me in the middle and Glenda, the oldest behind me. “Go horsey! Go!” we commanded in laughing voices as the sled began to move. Our grandfather enjoyed his role as our animal of labor. It didn’t often snow during December in Ft. Worth, Texas. I was only four that Christmas.
After an hour of sleigh riding, making snow angels and throwing snowballs mom and dad helped us build a snowman complete with large button eyes, a carrot nose and black marbles for his smile. Dad contributed one of his pipes and Mammy, our grandmother, found one of Gran’s old hats. We used some broken tree limbs for his arms and stuck a pair of dad’s work-gloves on them. It was time for lunch with some hot chocolate and cookies for dessert.
Our tall Douglas fir tree stood in the living room, waiting to be decorated. Gran popped some pop-corn and we sat around on the floor stringing pop-corn to drape around the tree. Of course we ate a lot of it so he popped some more. Dad put the lights on the tree first, then he and mom hung the ornaments as we handed them out. Last but not least the tree was circled with our pop-corn strings all tied together. Dressed in our pajamas after dinner, we gathered on the floor around mom’s rocker as she read Christmas stories to us before bedtime.
At the ages of three, four and five, we still believed in Santa Clause. We put milk and cookies on the coffee-table so he wouldn’t go away hungry – and they were always gone on Christmas morning. I remember hearing Christmas sleigh bells outside our window. Dad had pinned a piece of cardboard to our bedroom window-screen with tiny bells attached to it. He then tied a string to that and ran it under the sill of their bedroom window and attached it to his bed post. He always slept with the window raised about two inches during the winter.
Once we were tucked in bed and almost asleep he started jerking on the string making the bells jingle outside. The three of us jumped out of bed and ran into their room, “Daddy, Daddy – he’s here, we can hear the sleigh bells on the roof!” we cried.
Pretending to be half-asleep, he grumbled, “You guys must be hearing things – he wouldn’t be here this early. You better get back to bed or he may not stop at all.” So off to bed we ran – all excited. We heard the bells again, but were afraid to get up…and eventually fell fast asleep.
We tip-toed into the living room early the next morning and there, under the tree, we discovered lots of presents, and the milk and cookies were gone. Christmas had arrived while we were asleep.
As we grew older and wiser, Dad shared his secret of the bells with us. Stringing pop-corn became a family tradition and dad always reminded us not to forget the milk and cookies to give Santa nourishment on his yearly journey. Someone sure liked his milk and cookies.
We usually got all we wanted for Christmas, and when I look back on those past Christmas mornings, I see the smiles on mom’s and dad’s faces as they watched the three of us filled with joy, our eyes twinkling with delight and faces stretched with gleeful smiles from ear to ear, I know they too got all the wanted for Christmas.
I hope this true story stirred some fond memories of your family’s Christmas. May you share the joy, warmth, and love of the season and may your tummies be filled with milk and cookies.
As Tiny Tim would say… “God bless us one and all!”
Lady Buckland was dressed for dinner at her home in the Cotswold’s of the English countryside. It was early December, and a blanket of fluffy white snow covered the rolling hills around Buckland Manor and ice crystals formed on the leaded glass windows. Buckland was not far from Bath and Stratford-upon-Avon.
Living alone with her cat Simon and her dog Bennie, she enjoyed the comforts of her stately stone manor house. Her grandchildren would be arriving for the holidays, and the staff had decorated the manor for the season. The Christmas tree in the foyer glittered with tiny twinkling lights, as it stood sentinel over the mound of presents around its base.
A warm fire glowed in the drawing room fireplace, with its marble mantle draped in evergreen trimmings of fir-trees and holly branches, glittering with bright, colorful, ornaments and satin ribbons in silver and gold. Four red and white stockings hung on the fireplace mantle, each with a name sewn on the cuff. The flames roared with a warmth that filled the room, as she relax in her Georgian wingback chair upholstered in burgundy satin-damask, enjoying a glass or two of sherry while Minnie, the cook, prepared her evening meal.
Several glasses of sherry later, she began to feel a glow from the alcohol, just as Thomas, the butler, announce dinner was served. Wobbling, on the arm of Stephen, her footman, she slowly shuffled to the table in the dining room. “I must be a bit tipsy,” she said to Bennie, who followed along beside their footsteps. “Oh well… maybe it’s just old age…right Simon?”
The cat jumped onto the dining chair at the side of the table and purred his agreement as she gently rubbed his head and scratched behind his ears. Living alone, with just a small staff, for the past ten years, she had come to think of her two pets as extended family members and her conversations with them elicited responses which she totally understood.
Simon had a talent which she thought was amazing. He could pluck the strings of her old violin with his tiny claws as if playing a tune. Having arthritis, she rarely played any more, so she allowed the cat to have his fun. However, he did need to practice a bit more, and his tunes were not always recognizable, but it was music to her ears.
She had heard numerous tales of dogs that could talk, but Bennie was not one of them. Although, he did make a strange laughing sound for a Yorkshire terrier and he would always chuckle at her little jokes right on key, as if he understood them. Lady Buckland with her laughing dog and musical cat were subjects for light gossip among the locals in the area. There was hardly a resident in the nearby village that didn’t know Lady Buckland.
After dinner, it was back to the comfortable chair by the fire and a snifter of brandy on the table next to it. Her little family snuggled in to keep her company, as she contemplated the coming holidays with her grandchildren. Comfortable in her surroundings, she drifted into a dream, as she remembered a children’s nursery rhyme about a cat and a dog.
“Hey Diddle-Diddle” it began – sounding much like an English country song.
“The cat and the fiddle” – she could visualize Simon playing her fiddle and quietly giggled to herself.
“The cow jumped over the moon” – she wondered what the author must have been smoking when that happened. Anyone knows that cows don’t jump – much less, over the moon. But it could look like that if someone was lying in a pasture watching the moon rise just under a cow’s belly. There are explanations for everything.
“The little dog laughed to see such sport” – she pictured Bennie with a smile on his whiskered face laughing his silly head off and rolling in the grass for attention as she rubbed his belly.
“And the dish ran away with the spoon” – she thought that was a strange line, but then she solved the mystery. The dish must have been in love with the spoon and for very good reasons. The fork made stabbing moves at the dish and the knife continued to slice with cutting remarks. But the spoon …ah yes…the spoon was a smooth talker with its shinny silver tongue. Having to choose between the three it’s no wonder the dish ran away with the spoon.
In her youth she had once been an attractive and beautiful “dish” catching the eyes of many young men. She had been pursued by Gregory “the knife” and Edward “the fork” who were only interested in her father’s money. But she fell in love with Sir William of Buckland Manor, her knight in shining armor – her silver spoon that she slipped her hand around and ran away to be married surprising everyone.
Bennie the Yorkie was laughing in his sleep while the violin was quite as Simon, curled in her lap, purred his contentment. It was time for the dish to go to bed. Christmas would soon be here.
Merry Christmas! – D.G. Heath
Yes…We Have No Camels
Now available on Amazon!
D.G. Heath Mystery Collection – Volume I
Double Martini / Web of Intrigue / Codes and Confessions