Pat Metheny & Ron Carter Are In The House: An Innkeeper’s Journal

A fringe of hair hangs over the forty-two string Pikaso guitar created by the Canadian luthier Linda Manzer  that came by it’s name due to the instrument’s likeness to Picasso’s cubist works. It is a harp guitar with four necks, two sound holes, and the amazing forty two strings. In the dreamy, meditative melody I hear the harp, the sitar, and more. Specially designed for Pat Metheny, Manzer has created twenty-five other instruments for this man with the wild head of hair leaning over his guitar absorbed in the music he creates.

I am not much of a jazz fan but this music makes me want to sit in front of a roaring fire, practice yoga in the desert, sleep in a bedroom with an open window and a cool breeze, or smoke a joint and have a tall thin Black man play me like a cello. An instrument Ron Carter also beats like a drum.

A tall thin man, Ron walked out the front door of the Manor House earlier in the evening with a bounce in his step that belied his seventy-eight years, appearing to leap into life and the night ahead with the joyfulness of a young child skipping down a sidewalk.

He and Pat Metheny are staying with us for two nights and we are walking on Cloud Nine.

A day earlier Carolyn Chrzon, the master electrician, and David Oakes who works the soundboard checked in. They travel in a small white van with twelve guitars and one very large double bass. Carolyn is a Rhode Island girl and so are my other two guests for the night. Connie is a woman I met through the magic of the Internet, a fellow Rhode Island author and now a friend. She is here with her husband Tony.

Carolyn met Pat Metheny in Providence in the early 80’s when she was the head electrician at the Trinity Repertory Theater. He was playing at a small club and they’ve been working together ever since. Later in the month they’re headed to Tokyo and Europe. She’s lived a life on the road that to me sounds wonderful and exciting.

We had invited the former innkeeper to dinner the night of the first show. Carolyn called from Infinity Hall at six to say she comped us two tickets, front row mezzanine. We had just enough time to grill steaks and drink wine but then we had to run out the door. Patty and Michael understood how rarely the innkeepers get to see the shows and at $75 a ticket before fees it’s a bit beyond an innkeepers’ salary so they shooed us away and cleaned up after us.

In between songs, Carolyn anticipates Pat’s needs. She sneaks up behind him, stoops low, hustling to replace the guitars and plug them in then crouches back offstage as if she is on a reconnaissance mission in the jungle.

Ron and Pat are improvising this evening, speaking to each other with their instruments. Music on the fly, making it up as they go along. I am reminded of a time when I worked in a cubicle and a young girl named Neesha, another accountant who dreamed of being a writer, wrote sentences then passed them off to me via instant messaging. We were collaborating on a story to pass the time during our boring days. It’s not that easy to collaborate on a creative endeavor but these amazing musicians were in perfect harmony.

Ron Carter is the second most recorded jazz bassist in history and was a member of the Miles Davis Quintet which also included Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Tony Williams. He is one cool dude on stage, his long fingers – the pointer and the middle finger- pluck and caress the strings so subtly it looks like anyone could play the double bass but when you close your eyes and listen you know it’s a special magic that only pure talent can create.

At breakfast the next morning he orders two eggs scrabbled soft, French toast, fruit, and apple smoked bacon. Like the truck driver’s special at an Interstate diner we call it the Double Bass Breakfast. Pat slept in the first morning. He has three young children at home and is savoring a late morning in a four poster king size bed. The second morning he joins everyone at breakfast and apologetically tells us he is on some kind of diet, he’s not sure what it’s called but he’s not eating white food. We serve him a large bowl of fruit, Canadian bacon, the apple smoked bacon, and a side of another kind of ham we use for the omelets.

This is everyone’s first time staying at a bed and breakfast and although this town in the Litchfield Hills is only 1,230 feet above sea level Ron contemplates “who needs weed when you’re up this high.” He is enthralled with the large fireplace and the four foot logs. His wife loves a good fire and Rich walks him around the yard showing him the wood piles that he photographs to send to his wife in Brooklyn.

We all gather in the driveway for a photo-op and Rich helps Ron with his luggage. He asks for our email address and phone number. Rich and Ron have made plans for a future wood delivery to New York City. Ron’s wife liked the pictures of the woodpile and he says they have room for a half a cord on the back patio. Apparently there is a firewood mission in our future.

Pat Metheny & Ron Carter

Here is more music for a Sunday morning:

Music In The Morning: An Innkeeper’s Journal

SUMMER 2015: The best part of innkeeping is the people you meet and the rare opportunities to meet someone who truly inspires you and touches your soul. These moments are rarer than you would think.

Brunilda Muftaraj and Adrian Sylveen stayed with us for three nights. They live in Hartford near the S.S. Cyril & Methodius Roman Catholic Church, one of the oldest parishes for Polish immigrants in America. Accomplished, dedicated violinists, they are pursuing their passion and making a living doing it. That they have talent became clear on the very first morning when they began practicing shortly after breakfast. Brunilda played in their room, the music drifting out the open door to the side yard where I heard while cutting flowers. Adrian was in the sunroom off the living room and I listened to his sweet music while I folded clean sheets and towels in the laundry room.

Music in the morning 1

Maestro Adrian in the Artistic Director of the Connecticut Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra and the Connecticut Lyric Opera.  He has performed concerts and recitals in Poland, Switzerland, Germany, the former Soviet Union, and the United States.

Brunilda has performed as soloist with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and the Connecticut Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra of which she is now a concertmaster and has drawn enthusiastic accolades from audiences as well as critical acclaim for her masterful musicianship in Albania, Italy, Greece, France, Morocco, Austria, Switzerland, Poland and in the United States. The New London Day critic referred to her as an “especially fine and beautiful player”.

A highly accomplished power couple indeed but during the three days they were guests at the Manor House we quickly became friends and they told us their stories. Brunilda is an Albanian American and Sylveen is an immigrant from Poland where he graduated with distinction from the Paderewski Music Academy in Poznan, Poland. His high school teacher helped him apply for a scholarship to the Yale University School of Music and he has been living in Connecticut ever since and has been awarded permanent U.S. residence for “Extraordinary Abilities in the Arts”.

The parents of three children who have inherited the family musical genes, each summer they perform and teach at the Greve Opera Academy and Music Festival in Tuscany. Greve is the market town of the Chianti Classico wine zone of Tuscany, Italy, but it was a couple of bottles of very fine San Gimignano wine that we shared around the fire.

Sylveen spoke of the difficult times in Poland, the lack of opportunity, the Cold War politics, and as Brunilda worded it, the long night that becomes the winter.

They spoke of their work and we compared the managing of festivals to innkeeping. The business end of things, the dealing with difficult people whether they be promotors or demanding guests and difficult owners of inns. I sensed that even in following your passion there is still frustration and I told them of my dream to one day be able to write for a living. It wouldn’t have to be on a grand best-selling scale as in a James Patterson, Toni Morrison, or Stephen King sort of way, but a small salary that helps make ends meets and provides you with that moment when you pick up your violin and lose yourself in the music. You work and live for the pleasure of creation, for that moment when you are who you want to be.

 

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Many months later, on this sunny Sunday morning in April we are making breakfast for a house full of Walter Trout fans. Bella Fleck is playing on the laptop in the kitchen and I am sharing some music in the morning with you. Here is the very talented Brunilda Myftaraj with NBS-CVO Magnum Opus:

 

Never give up on your dreams.

Norman Shemitz: An Innkeeper’s Journal

Week One: We met Norman back in July when he showed us how to work the elevator. He and his wife arrived at one, two hours before check-in. I watched as he hobbled across the parking lot, went to the door to hold it open for him, and asked if he needed help but he insisted he did not. His wife carried a small overnight bag the two of them were sharing. I offered to show them around the main rooms but they informed me they had been coming to the Yale Chamber Music Series for years and knew the place well.

“Can I help you with your luggage?” I asked.

“No, we’re all set. We travel light. I’ll bring it up. Norman will take the elevator.”

“It works?” I was incredulous. I didn’t know it worked and was nervous about trying.

“Well, it worked last summer,” Norman said.

“But I don’t know how it works. I’ll call my husband.”

“Oh, don’t worry. Norman knows how it works.”

The elevator is in the library and leads directly to the Morgan room where Norman was staying. I opened the door to find a rolled up carpet, two heavy boxes filled with encyclopedias, and six large empty water bottles from the water cooler in the lounge. Rich showed up just in time to do the heavy lifting.

Manor House Elevator

“Let me take a test drive,” he said to Norman.

They closed the metal door that looks like a gate and Rich pushed the button. Nothing happened.

“As I recall, you need to close the outer door, too.” Norman said.

I watched as Rich disappeared behind the door. The elevator is small and looked claustrophobic. Glad I wasn’t riding in it, I  started to get a little nervous. Most likely no one had used it since the last ride Norman took a year ago and everything else was broken around here so why not the elevator? What if it got stuck? Where would we find an elevator repairman in rural Connecticut?

“I’m pushing the button,” Rich shouted from behind the closed door. “Wish me luck.

“There he goes,” Norman’s wife said with a smile. “Good luck.”

“Don’t worry. It works,” Norman said.

In under a minute we heard some banging upstairs. Rich shouted down, “I forgot the chair was in front of the door. I’ll be back down in a minute. I need to rearrange the furniture.” After some commotion from the room above we listened as the elevator returned, and Norman stepped inside.

“I’ll come back up with you, Norman.” Rich offered.

“I’ll meet you up there, dear,” his wife said and slowly began her ascent up the impressive mahogany staircase.

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“I don’t really need your help,” Norman said, but Rich insisted. Together they stepped inside, pushed the button, and again nothing happened.

“I think it only allows for one passenger,” Norman said with a smile. He had won the argument. Rich stepped out of the elevator and Norman rode alone.

Before they left that weekend, I noticed the next weekend they were returning they weren’t staying in the room with the elevator.

“We need to talk to him about that. The Morgan must have already been booked. He certainly can’t take the stairs. He had a hard enough time navigating the one step into the dining room this morning but he can’t take the elevator to someone else’s room, can he?”

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At checkout we mentioned the dilemma.

“That’s two weeks from now. I’ll be better by then.”

Back in the kitchen, Rich whispered, “How will he better in two weeks time? How old do you think he is?”

“Eighty at the least. His wife and he were talking to the couple who were celebrating their anniversary and they said something like, ‘You must remember what that’s like? The mixed emotions of the empty nest?’ Norman’s wife said, ‘Oh that was a long time ago. We have great grandkids now, although I can’t keep all that straight. You’ll have to ask Norman about them.”

Week Two: Norman canceled shortly after returning home. He must have reconciled with the idea of not being able to climb the stairs and decided to miss one Friday night of chamber music. I rebooked his room quickly. The night before Norman had planned to arrive the people who booked the Morgan called to cancel. I informed them of our reservation policy but told them if I rented the room I would give them a refund. I didn’t think the odds were in their favor but five minutes later a man who had heard about our Inn for years decided at the last minute to call and ask if any rooms were available.

“You’re in luck. Just minutes ago someone canceled.” He was very excited. “We’ve been talking about visiting for years,” he told me.

The next afternoon we needed to run out for eggs and bread and other essential items. Check-in wasn’t for another two and a half hours. My older daughter and her boyfriend were visiting. “Don’t worry, no one checks in this early.“ I told them

A half hour later we returned to find a car in the parking lot.

“Shit, who’s that?” I shouted, hopping out of the car.

Chelsea was in the kitchen, all smiles. “I took care of the check-in, Mom. Norman took the elevator to his room.”

“NORMAN?” I shouted. “He canceled.”

My worst nightmare was happening. A double booking with a full house. My heart was pounding as I ran upstairs to explain to Norman he had canceled this date and already received his refund. Besides the fact the elevator room was not his this weekend, he had booked another room.

“No, I canceled next week, not this week” he said.

I showed him the reservation sheet. I didn’t book his reservations, the former innkeeper did, but there was never a room booked by Norman Shemitz for next weekend. I tried to explain this to him as he sat in the chair that was newly positioned across from the elevator.

“I don’t know what to say. She made the reservation.” He pointed his cane at the bathroom door.

“It’s not my fault,” his wife shouted from behind the closed door.

“I don’t have any other rooms to give to this couple.”

Norman shrugged.

“I’ll see what I can do.” I left the room in a panic, but by the time I got back to the reservation desk I had come up with a plan. I called our competition and explained my dilemma.

“You know, the thing with these chamber music festivals is they bring lots of business but they’re all elderly and confused and used to getting their way but you’re in luck, I have two rooms available.”

I breathed a sigh of relief but his rooms were thirty dollars more than mine. I tried to bargain.

“You have two rooms. What’s the likelihood you’ll book both at this point?”

“That’s true. How about I meet you halfway. I’ll give it to him for fifteen dollars over your price.”

I was exasperated but took the offer. The guest and his wife arrived on a motorcycle a half hour later and we explained what happened.

“Aaah, that’s okay. I understand. My parents are really old, too. It happens.”

“Well, we have a gift certificate for you because I know how much you were looking forward to your visit.”

“You don’t have to do that. We could even drive back home if we have to. We live an hour from here.”

“No, I insist. We look forward to having you back.” It was an extravagant gesture of goodwill but it was my first double booking and I wasn’t sure how it would go.

Back in the kitchen, sounding like Seinfeld muttering “Newman”, I cursed Norman.

Week Four: I don’t really remember Week Three of Norman’s summer visits. We were so busy I stopped writing in my journal. There was Anne Marie, The Monacos, Anne Marie’s friends, a gay couple with a small child who was just learning to walk, other guests who were nice but didn’t distinguish themselves. The Bose in the living room played lots of jazz and chamber music for they were all here to attend the festival at the Music Shed.

One of the musicians, Lei Wi, visited the Monacos for breakfast and told me his friends spoke highly of the community of people they have met here, the music, and the conversations. He wanted to share this information with Yale and thought we should have more advertising. He promised to tell the director but I should contact him too so he gave me his email, writing upside down and backwards which was quite amazing to watch.

Students at the conservatory are housed by local families and each morning they walk past the Inn carry violin cases or large cellos. On the last week  of the festival, we had a little more time to talk to the Shemitzs as they lingered after breakfast and admired the cutting garden. The neighborhood cat was sitting at the picnic table.

Zen cat

When it was time to leave, Norman had a hard time with the step down from the dining room to the living room but he refused help as always.

“Well, I hope we see you again next year,” said Mrs. Shemitz.

“Oh, we’ll definitely be back,” Norman said, confident in his immortality and future plans. I reminded them to book early so they could be sure of getting the Morgan room.

“I think you need to start calling that room the Shemitz room,” he said.

I told them we were voted Connecticut’s Most Romantic Inn. Mrs. Shemitz’s  eyes teared up and she took Norman’s face in her hands. “Oh, Norman,” she said in her high, wispy voice and kissed him on the cheek. I had stepped into a scene with Katherine Hepburn right out of On Golden Pond.

****Update: While we were on vacation, Norman called to book four Fridays in July and August. He called again last week to check the dates. He couldn’t remember what he booked. There was some shouting back and forth between Norman and his wife. On one of the weekends he’s not booked in the Morgan room. I have emailed the guest who is staying there to ask if he would like an upgrade to another room if he doesn’t need the elevator but for some reason I am thinking he booked that room because his wife can’t climb the stairs.

Norman has been calling every few days and hanging up. I know it’s him because we have caller I.D. I hope the Shemitzs make it here this summer. I can’t help but think of my parents and the trips they took long after it was feasible to travel with my mother who has Alzheimer’s.

My siblings and I would call each other complaining about the folly of some of their plans. My father could lose my mother at a rest stop. He could fall asleep at the wheel if he didn’t have his twice daily naps. I imagine the Shemitz kids complaining to each other. “Can you believe Mom and Dad are going to Norfolk again this summer?”

There is something about the human spirit that keeps fighting every day to hold on to the life you’ve lived. Getting old doesn’t necessarily mean you have to admit you’re old.

THE BUSY SUMMER SEASON: An Innkeeper’s Journal

SUMMER 2015

The bus driver is sleeping in Le Chambre. Chris Robinson, formerly of the Black Crowes and ex-husband of Kate Hudson, Goldie Hawn’s daughter, drives him over at three so he can sleep while the band performs at Infinity Hall tonight. Chris is very tall and very thin. Rich also runs into him coming out of Haystack Pizza with food for the band and the roadies. Despite his celebrity he runs his own errands.

The following weekend the Marshall Tucker Band is in town. Their fans are wine drinkers so I restock the lounge with our complementary red and white wine. We saw the band at the Hampton Beach Casino several years ago and were disappointed Doug Gray had lost his voice and couldn’t hit those high notes anymore. At breakfast the next morning several guests agree.

Fans of the Little River Band check in on a Thursday night. They bring their own Coronas. A few of them are sharing rooms with friends and ask for air mattresses. We hadn’t approved this but the former innkeeper booked the rooms and we deal with it.

Fireflies flit across the lawn, a dog barks in the distance, a car speeds along the back road past the church behind the trees, headlights sparkling on the stained glass windows. Watching from my Tudor style mansion I feel like I am living in a Fitzgerald novel although I wouldn’t be working this hard if I were a character in one of F. Scott’s novels. The driveway buzzer beeps. Another guest has arrived. We get up and go out to the main room to greet them.

My older daughter and her boyfriend are visiting and have made up a song titled Stranded in Connecticut, the Land That Time Forgot. They are fascinated with the flashbacks to a time before they were born. The lines at the Dairy Queen, the old bowling alley, the silver diner, the abandoned factories. Heading off each day on walks with their dog, Sonny Migos Liston, a Boxer, they return with incredulous stories.

“A guy in the grocery store bought a hundred dollars worth of food and used coupons at the self check-out line. He walked out only spending thirty dollars.”

The kitchen is always cooking. People eat different foods at different times of the day. The kids sleep late, even our younger daughter who is spending the summer with us as Head of Housekeeping. Check-out is at eleven and Rich is not good with sharing the kitchen when he is making breakfast so we don’t need her until the rooms have been vacated.

One morning in the full dining room a guy loudly complains about the lack of Kleenex in his room. I tell him we must have missed that and apologize. He’s spending a second night so I replace his Kleenex when I “fluff” his room. The next morning he is mad the alarm clock was unplugged. Rich says, “Well that’s better than it going off at four in the morning, isn’t it?” The complainer grudgingly admits he never thought of that.

A short while later I pick up dirty towels that were tossed down the back stairs and step backwards thinking I am on the last step but there are two steps to go. I fall on my ass and my elbows, both my newly healed ankles tingling with an electric shock. It’s amazing how often your ankles are part of the motion. Throwing a towel up to Rich at the top of the stairs, reaching to grab a plate that is teetering on the edge of the counter and about to fall on the floor, stepping back when someone almost bumps into you. You never notice the muscles and joints you use until they’re broken and they stretch and ache when asked to react quickly.

A woman calls on a Wednesday for a room on Thursday. She says she’s been on the road for several weeks and is wondering if she can check in early. The room is clean so I tell her she can come anytime. She arrives at ten in the morning with a man her age and leaves at 6:30 in the evening, never to return. Afternoon delight? An illicit affair? I guess I’ll never know but a month later she emails to tell me her and her husband went for a hike at Campbell Falls and he broke his ankle. They spent the afternoon in the emergency room and then decided to go home.

We have a full house on a Tuesday night. Hot Tuna is playing at Infinity. Our guests are aging hippies. The name is familiar but I can’t think of a single song they play. Rich tells me they are connected to the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. I listen to a few songs on You Tube and realize why I can’t remember any of their songs. I don’t really like them. The old Hippies drink wine and enjoy the peace and solitude of the backyard.

If we have a CD of the band that is in town we like to play their music from our own CD collection. One night a couple came to see Robert Cray and were so impressed with this small gesture they mentioned it in their Trip Advisor review. I know I don’t have Hot Tuna. I search for Jefferson Starship or the Dead. How do we not have Jerry and the boys? We must have lost the CD’s on one of our many moves from New Hampshire to two different apartments in Florida to Connecticut. One guy who is attending the show tells me, “You’ll have to rectify that situation.”

Outside in the gardens I cut flowers and place them in a basket. Pink and white Shasta daisies, light and dark pink phlox, Queen Anne’s Lace. I fill five vases at the sink in the pantry and stare out the window at a neighborhood cat sitting on the picnic table admiring the garden. I decide in my next life I would like to come back as a spoiled house cat.

A couple from the Bronx is staying three nights mid-week. They brought an old boom box and play Barry White in their room. They drink wine on the outdoor patio and invite us to join them. When they leave we hug and they tell us they had the time of their lives and were in need of some romancing.

On a Tuesday morning I wake early. For the first time in over two weeks we don’t have to cook someone breakfast or check someone in later in the afternoon. Rich brings me coffee in bed. I buy Raymond Carver’s What We Mean When We Talk About Love on my Kindle and read the first story.

The calm peace returns. The feeling I had when I first arrived. Most days I am busy with breakfast and always misplace my coffee cup. It is cold when I get back to it so I freshen up the half full mug with hot coffee from the pot only to wander away from it before even having so much as a sip, distracted by the numerous tasks I perform each morning; refilling the small crystal pitchers we use for maple syrup, buttering the toast which has just popped from the toaster, attending to the buzzing dryer that reminds me the towels are dry and need folding, arranging fruit on plates that are ready to go.

Today my coffee is strong and hot. I think I would like to stay in bed all day reading and writing which I haven’t had the time to do but there are beds to make and sheets to fold. The owner is coming at ten for our weekly meeting. We have told him Tuesdays are consistently one of the only full day’s off. No breakfast, no check-in. He tells us Tuesdays don’t work for him, but that is a story for another day.

Private: An Innkeeper’s Journal

JULY 2015: An older couple are at the inn with their grandson so as to give their daughter and her husband a break for the weekend. He is eight years old and appears to be high maintenance and socially awkward. He also has gluten issues but so do many of our guests, or so they say. Grandma gives me food to keep in the inn’s refrigerator; gluten-free brown rice bread, grapes, snow peas, gluten free chicken tenders, celery and carrot sticks. She keeps apologizing for the extra work this creates but thinks nothing of walking through the swinging door with the Private sign that opens into the pantry that leads to the kitchen that we share with the inn and is the buffer between the public rooms and the private house we live in.

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I tell her not to worry, I can heat up her grandson’s chicken fingers at lunch time. After a busy morning of serving breakfast and cleaning I sit down on my sofa and put my feet up only to hear someone shuffling around in the kitchen and opening the fridge. I call out, “Rich? Michelle?” No one answers so I get up to see what’s going on and there is Grandma taking her grapes from the fridge, or are they mine? I have grapes in there too that I serve with breakfast. She hands me her trash. Her grandson tells me he saw some of the private parts of the house when we were cleaning the rooms. She laughs and says he was spying on us.

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What part of private doesn’t she understand? The sign even has a hand with an open palm like a policeman stopping traffic. Later that night after check-in I pour myself a glass of wine and once again settle into the sofa in my living room. Five minutes later I hear someone poking around the kitchen. I get up and can tell Grandma was in here. The brown rice bread and snow peas she brought with her for a picnic are back in the fridge. I am feeling violated and put out.

I see her the next morning, smile, and ask what I can get her for breakfast. By 1:30 I stop emptying the dishwasher, resetting the tables, and rotating laundry. I make lunch for the gluten free grandson, then limp my way over to my living room with a bag of ice for my ankles which although healed still ache when I’m on my feet for long stretches of time. The skies are gray, a steady rain is falling. Five rooms have cleared out, five more people are coming at three. The other four rooms are out and about, sightseeing or whatever it is they are doing. Grandma seems to be learning the boundaries of the inn.

An Irish family shows up, filling the newly cleaned rooms with grown children and grandchildren. They are a robust, rowdy, healthy bunch and run through the yard playing badminton without a net, kicking soccer balls, fighting, and there is crying from the little ones. The adults huddle around a laptop in the living room watching World Cup soccer. The nanny from Brazil has a broken ankle and is using crutches. We commiserate. This grandmother is a grown-up tomboy and organizer of all activities. When the gluten free boy returns he is wide eyed and amazed there are other children here. He shyly joins them in the backyard and his grandparents sit at the picnic table, exhausted and happy. I am happy for them knowing this weekend was more than they anticipated.

Two weeks later a forceful, demanding sort of woman shows up and immediately complains about the rug in her room. I explain the rug has been vacuumed and is clean and these are old stains but offer to vacuum the room again to appease her.

She and her girlfriend brought a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. I tell them they can eat in the breakfast room and I put out dinner plates, napkins, and silverware and tell them to leave their dishes when they finish. I will take care them. Later that night I am chatting with my visiting brother-in-law on our screened-in porch and get up to refill our wine glasses to find Miss Assertive is washing her dishes in the kitchen.

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Again another guest passes right through the door with the Private sign and thinks nothing of it. I appreciate her help but this is my space. The kitchen is old and although Rich and I spent days cleaning, degreasing, and sanitizing, it still has a worn-down, seen better days look. We know it is clean but will a wandering guest agree? And what is it about that word Private that people do not understand?

Next morning I get up first and come downstairs to start the coffee. I am wearing a T-shirt and yoga pants, my hair uncombed, teeth unbrushed. I plan on jumping in the shower after I start the coffee and there in the kitchen I find Miss Assertive cleaning her sunglasses at the sink where an overflow of dirty wine glasses from the lounge are piled high.

“Is this your kitchen too?” she asks, all chipper and perky, just returned from a sunrise power walk.

“Yes it is, and most people don’t come back here. There’s a Private sign on the door.”

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I am flabbergasted. I should have added, “You have a sink in your room. There is a sink in the pub and there is a bathroom with a sink by the front door. What the hell are you doing back here?” But all I am thinking is thank God I’m not in my bathrobe.

After we serve breakfast and she and her friend check out, I become paranoid about Trip Advisor. What if she is an undercover hotel reviewer? What if she writes about the old, tired kitchen, the wine glasses in the sink, the linoleum fake brick floor that hasn’t shined in years?

Rich shrugs when I tell him about Miss Assertive. It doesn’t faze him because as he says, “I offered to renovate the kitchen but the owners didn’t want to pay for it. It’s not my kitchen.” Well yes, I already knew that, but it doesn’t make me feel any better.

There is a sliding bolt on the swinging door to the pantry. We begin to use this every night. I now realize Private is an esoteric and flexible word that means different things to different people and if we are going to use my definition we need to take certain precautions.

DAYDREAM BELIEVERS: AN INNKEEPER’S JOURNAL

 

June 19, 2015. James Salter died today. I had the pleasure of meeting him last summer in a class I was taking at a writer’s workshop in Southampton, N.Y. There were only eight of us in the class. A humble, quiet man, he shared his thoughts on writing and craft and read from his short story collection, Dusk.

Since then I have read his books over and over again, studying the sentences. The words. The flow of language. Few come close to making the written word sing like this. It is inspiration at its most challenging. A goal to reach for but most likely never to attain.

He would have no loss for words describing the scene I am in right now. Thunder rumbles in the distance while the sun shines through tall hemlocks, the air heavy and muggy, causing steam to rise from the freshly mowed lawn as the sun shines on blades of grass that appear to have sparkling diamond tips. The world smells clean. It is that time of day when tranquility sets in. Pink astilbe, foxglove, and black eyed Susan are scattered among the weeds throughout the cutting garden. Our only guest checked in last night and left this morning. All the beds and baths are clean, the common rooms vacuumed. The last load of sheets tumble in the dryer.

Green grass blends in with green trees blocking my vista until all is black even the Norwegian pines, the hemlocks, and the mighty oaks. Lightening bolts dance across the treetops and over the hills I can’t see from my reclining position on the screened-in porch. Rain begins to pour down, headed my way, penetrating the screens and driving me inside where my daughter is making Chinese stir fry for dinner with a dash of Thai peanut sauce. An Xfinity van is parked along the stone wall at the front of our property waiting to restore power after the storm passes.

Many of Salter’s obituaries made note of the fact that although he was a master at his craft, he never received the mainstream success many believe he deserved. Never had a bestseller. I’ve been on the periphery of this business for almost four years now and it’s hard to figure out why some books get published and have large, well-funded advertising budgets and others do not.

But here I am, still writing.

~ ~ ~

The following day we set out for a picnic at Butler Sculpture Park in Sheffield just over the Massachusetts border. On his way to Tanglewood, my brother-in-law had noticed the small blue sign denoting places of interest and told us about this mysterious place off the well traveled scenic road lined with antique shops. Small signs with arrows directed us through a maze of cornfields and up a hill to a dirt road that runs beside the Housatonic River until we arrived at a small wooden sign at the bottom of a rutted, steep driveway that we bounced along until we reached the parking lot next to a small shed that is the Welcome Center.

Butler welcome room

We poked around inside, grabbed a map, and walked back to the car for the picnic basket. Robert Butler, the creator of all this, approached from the barn further up the hill.

Butler has set his work among 40 acres of winding paths and spectacular views. This is one of only four single-sculptor parks in the United States.

He told us to wander around and we would find plenty of nice spots for a picnic. Meanwhile, he would get his studio ready for us.

Butler studio

Rich was fasciated with the big sheets of metal and the process Robert used to burnish, polish and sculpt them, and how he and his wife came to live here on this hilltop, how he cleared the land and dug the gullies for runoff with backhoes parked throughout the yard.

Hey Look Me Over

The Sentinel 

I was fascinated with the man himself. He told me a Manhattan art gallery had expressed interest in exhibiting one or two of his pieces but he said New York art dealers are corrupt so he sells his own work here on a hill in the middle of nowhere. He admits it is hard to sell large pieces to New York tourists. How do they get them in their car and transport them back to the city?

 

Totemic

Totemic

His wife started making smaller pieces that would be easier to sell and they are having some success with that but the business end of art doesn’t concern Mr. Butler.

smaller art-Butler.JPG

He is following his passion and however he’s doing in regards to how others measure success, he’s living a pretty decent life. He built his own house, a small contemporary place with incredible views. He rarely comes down off his mountain except to get a cup of coffee at the country store. He’s off the grid but if you make your way up there he will gladly show you around.

Picnic at Butler Park

Back at home I sat down to write. The fourth novel is coming along slowly. I published Life Is All This in May, a short month ago. Like my new friend Robert Butler, I am discouraged with big time New York publishing who awards a disproportionate amount of  book deals to Ivy League graduates and the well connected who live in New York and write stories about Ivy League graduates and the well connected who also live in New York.

I work Life Is All This all over social media but as my protagonist Sam asks, “Does a Tweet sell a book?” I beg for reviews because I’m trying to get the novel on Book Bub and reviews are important but in the meantime there are towels to fold and sheets to wash. I’ve filled the lounge with clean glasses, granola bars, and complimentary wine. We are waiting for check-ins but Rich will show them to their rooms for I am recording the notes of the day. The shiny sculpture sparkling in the sun, the misty mountains in the late, muggy afternoon, the iconoclast who sculpts on a mountain, avoiding the spotlight, and the brilliant writer who never achieved the attention he craved.

We are driven to create and talent doesn’t always rule the day, but in the end it is an inexplicable desire that keeps you going. You bend the steel into a piece of art that sits in a forest in your backyard or you fill the page with words few people may ever read.

Hanging outwith the Stars

~ ~ ~

March 16, 2016 I share these innkeepers notes months after they were written. When I started this journal I thought I would keep it to myself or maybe use it to write a book, but as I struggle to “grow” my followers I thought people might like to read the stories of an innkeeping life. I go back and forth on this, how much of my work do I share for free? They are words that I squeeze into my busy days. Where is it best to use them?

Then this came the other day from a reader who discovered a piece I wrote about my mother’s Alzheimer’s.

This is so beautifully written. My grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s and at some point she did tell us to take her home even though she was at home (she meant the house she was in when she was younger), so this really resonated with me. I discovered your blog through HuffPost and you are one of the writers I wish the world has discovered sooner. Take care.

I didn’t give that piece to the Huffington Post. She must have found it through another piece I posted there. I no longer share my work on Huff. I do enough writing for free. I don’t want to tell this reader the “world” has not really discovered me yet because her words brought a smile to my face.

Then I found this on Brain Pickings:

“For the vast majority of history, one made a living and then one had a creative life — the two didn’t have to be the same. Only recently did we come to believe that what legitimizes one as an “artist” is making art full-time and having that art also make one a living. The insidious implication of that belief is that the art made by people with day-jobs is somehow less valid, less legitimate. Which, of course, isn’t the case. It is indeed a rare thing for a creative life and a living to be one and the same. So how does one get to that point.”

The flag above is a piece made from weaving pieces of metal. It is called Hanging With the Stars. I find lots of meaning in this tattered flag. The harder it is to realize the American Dream. The journey to find meaningful work. Some people’s desires to become rich and famous.

Living the life I’ve lived gave me the raw materials. I’m not sure I would be a writer had I lived a life of privilege and easy connections. The stories I write are the summation of the stories I’ve lived and the stories I’ve heard in the places I’ve been.

So for now I multi-task. This blog is being made ready for publishing while we make breakfast at the inn. It’s served with mushroom spinach omelets, blueberry pancakes, and yogurt parfait because life is all this.

Blog at Breakfast.JPG

 

The Road To Providence

Joan Didion once wrote, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live” and I believe this is true. I don’t know how to write this particular story but I feel compelled to share it.

Tragedies that make the evening news occur every day. Someone gets shot in a movie theater or at a school. Tornadoes tear through towns, floods wipe out neighborhoods. There are accidents on highways and dark country roads.

Late Monday afternoon, I found myself laying by my mother’s side on a bed in my aunt’s condo. Sunday afternoon the townhouse next to my parents’ place caught fire and spread to their unit via the roof. They made it out safely but their home is destroyed from smoke and water damage so they are currently staying at my aunt’s place just across the parking lot, while she is vacationing in Florida.

My parents have been struggling with illness and aging for quite some time now. I have only occasionally written about my mother’s Alzheimer’s. It is difficult and hard to share a private, personal story. Over the last few months, as often as I can, I make the two and a half hour trip to Rhode Island from the inn where I work and live in the remote northwest corner of Connecticut. Like many people, my siblings and I juggle demanding jobs, parent our own kids, and try to help our elderly parents when we can, but the brunt of much of this falls on my sister who lives close by.

My mother is disorientated. She wants to go home. She doesn’t understand why she can’t sleep in her own bed. Last night she stayed at my sister’s house and today she is here, and she is tired and upset.

My Dad went to Walmart to buy some essential things — underwear, T-shirts, a couple of sweaters, and a nightgown for my mother. It is a soft purple fleece and she is covering herself with it like a blanket. She wants it to cover her feet but each time she sits up it falls out of place. I tell her to lay still and I will fix it. She also wants the sleeves to fold over her chest but then decides she would like the sleeves tucked beneath her back. We continue to arrange the nightgown for quite some time. I straighten it out, making sure there are no wrinkles. I tell her it is nice and neat, “no wrinkles, it looks perfect.” She keeps telling me her house is spotless. “Nice and clean. Not perfect, but almost perfect.”

“Your house is always perfect,” I tell her.

“I work very hard,” she says. “I clean all day. For hours and hours.”

“I know you do.”

“You’ve been to my house?”

“Yes, many times. You decorated it very nicely. And it’s very clean. Spotless.”

“This isn’t my house. I want to go home. I’m tired.”

She knows something is wrong with her house and is worried it may be dirty. It is actually very dirty. The floors and carpets are covered in black muck from the roof and the insulation. It was heartbreaking to see and although my father didn’t bring her back there today she knows something is very wrong, but she isn’t sure what.

I hold her hand and show her pictures of my daughters, her granddaughters, on my IPhone. “I have four daughters,” she tells me. “They all live in New York.” She has three daughters and one son, and none of us live in New York, but I don’t correct her.

“You like New York, don’t you? Do you remember when you were little and spent the summers there with your Aunt Jeanette?”

“Oh, you know Jeanette?“ she asks.

“Yes, I do. I didn’t know her husband Pete, but I know you used to ride with him on his tugboat on the Hudson River.”

She nods and points to a picture on the wall. It is a reproduction of the famous painting Pinkie by Thomas Lawrence, a woman in a flowing white dress wearing a pink bonnet with long pink ribbons.

“I painted that picture.”

My mother used to paint. I have a picture she painted of a red sleigh crossing a snowy field beneath a mountain. It depicts the sleigh ride my husband and I took after we got married in Lake Louise. I am worried about her paintings in the townhouse but my younger sister is over there now trying to salvage the old photos and the paintings, the priceless things that have no real value but are priceless nonetheless.

“That’s beautiful,” I tell her.

“She’s a friend of mine,” she says.

My father has been offered five days of respite. Hospice has been available to him for over a month now. My mother eats very little, she insists her doctor has told her she can’t eat food anymore. She weighs eighty-four pounds. This is considered an end stage symptom of Alzheimer’s, which makes her eligible for hospice care.

Tuesday morning my younger daughter offers to come with me to pick up my parents and drive my Mom to the hospice home where she will be “taking a little vacation”, my father tells her. She isn’t paying attention, she has no idea where we are going.

The place is lovely. We walk her to her room where they already have her name on the door. She sits in the chair by the bed and talks to the nurse about her house which is spotless. “You’re house is clean, too,” she tells the nurse, looking around the room, checking for dirt and dust.

We kiss her before leaving the room. I tell the nurse she should be prepared for some serious separation anxiety. My Dad has to have a procedure on Wednesday to check on the bladder cancer he’s been diagnosed with. He has insurance to deal with, and he needs to find a place to live for the next six months or more. He has a lot on his plate. I reassure him it’s okay not to visit during this five day respite. It will just set my mother back. My sister and my aunt will come.

We drive my Dad back to my aunt’s place. Although overwhelmed and sad, it appears a huge weight has been lifted off his shoulders. He has been trying to do the impossible for four years now and finally he has some help.

After I drop my daughter off at her apartment, I begin the drive from her ethnic, urban Italian neighborhood in Providence to the quintessential New England town in the southern hills of the Appalachian mountain range where I live and work at the inn. In between, I pass through rural farmland and old mills in northwest Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut where the blown-out windows of abandoned factories are wide open to the elements, just like the roof at my parent’s townhouse.

Unemployment, lack of opportunity, and heroin addiction are the problems facing a lot of people who live here. From the poor neighborhoods outside of Hartford with their boarded up buildings, pawn shops, Jamaican bakeries, and convenience stores that accept EBT to the wealthy enclaves of West Hartford where people shop at Whole Foods, I get a snapshot of income inequality in twenty-first century America.

I think about whether or not I should tell this story and if I do, how will I write it and why would I write it. I don’t have a large following and I don’t sell a lot of books. I’m a small voice in a loud, brash world where outrageous behavior attracts attention, money talks, and the right connections open doors. Will anyone be listening? Does anyone care?

I lean toward slice of life stories with anecdotes about daily life. I often see the personal through a universal lens. On the road home from Providence I begin to think about the definition of providence, which is the foreseeing care and guidance of God or nature over the creatures of the earth. In a Google search of definitions I also find this: “your circumstances or condition in life (including everything that happens to you); “whatever my fortune may be”; “deserved a better fate”; “has a happy lot”; “the luck of the Irish”; “a victim of circumstances”; “success that was her portion”.

I think about the ‘heterogenous mass’ as Walt Whitman called the ‘many in one’. My story is the story of one daughter, one family, touched by an unexpected tragedy that made the evening news, but it is also the story of the human condition and how we all have more in common with each other than not, and I suppose that is the calling to write. To share the stories, to help each other through the hard times without feeling so alone.

Mom at Matunuck