The French Courtesan . . . Who Came In from the Cold

Chapter One

© Richard L. Thornton, Architect and Planner

Alexandria, Virginia – December 15, 1990

Nos autem decorum, ut simus

We are now becoming what we are to be.

July 2021 Revision


“The Rose” by Bette Midler . . . a masterpiece

Click the triangle to listen to the musical overture for this love story.

Was the blood of our young men and women about to flood across desert sands? In truth, though, my mind was on the Georgia Tech football team and goat cheese, so I wouldn’t have to think about anything else. I had watched my alma mater, Georgia Tech, come from behind in Charlottesville, VA to defeat, formerly undefeated, No. 1 in the nation, University of Virginia. By mid-December, Tech was still undefeated. If the Yellow Jackets beat Nebraska on January 1st in the Citrus Bowl, they would win the National Championship!

You see, my home life was miserable. I never knew who my wife would be, when she came home each day. At least one of those personas was prone to having brief, risky flings, when one of us was out of town or in the next room. We had only been married for three years, when I caught her sitting on our kitchen cabinet, with her legs wrapped around a close male friend of mine. Another persona was in a long time affair with a man at her school, which had started before I even arrived in Virginia. For most of the time we had lived in Virginia, she had made me sleep in another bedroom . . . hoping that I would have an affair, so she could label me the bad guy. I figured that if I pretended that what I knew deep down inside was true . . . wasn’t . . . then nobody else would know.

It was in the last days of official peace in the United States, but a massive military buildup was occurring in Saudi Arabia. Iraq had invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990 and had resisted all diplomatic attempts to withdraw back to their border. The deployment of US Air Force personnel and aircraft had begun almost immediately.

By December 1990, The American public knew that war was imminent. There was a sadness in the nation as projections of casualties, double or triple those in Vietnam, were appearing in the media. We noticed that our friend and neighbor Katie Couric had been thrust into a prominent position on NBC. She was the designated NBC reporter at the Pentagon.

Just the day before the party, the dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, announced that if Iraq was attacked, his missiles loaded with nerve gas would destroy the population of Israel. Simultaneously, several Middle Eastern terrorist organizations announced that they would join hundreds of Iraqi secret agents posted abroad in a campaign of bombs and nerve gas attacks in those countries, who had contributed combatants to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. Some groups bragged that they were about to destroy the Vatican, Notre Dame Cathedral, Buckingham Palace and the Washington Monument.

The ground attack on Iraqi forces in Kuwait and Iraq would begin on January 17, 1991. In the coming two years, hundreds of honest journalists and law enforcement officers would be slain. The United States would send its young men and women to war, then poison them with toxic vaccinations that destroyed their immune systems, a laboratory-bred super-mycoplasm that could cause multiple diseases . . . and expose them to toxic fumes, which caused many of them die of cancer within 20 years.

Yet, on December 15, 1990 there was the miracle at a Christmas Party near the Potomac River. In late 2020, I stumbled upon my 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1993 appointment/daily journal books, which cryptically chronicled those events. She became my secret, surrogate wife for preciously short time span, but the lady that I met that night will never be forgotten. Obviously, she has not forgotten me. She is a subscriber to The Americas Revealed.

During the period in November 2020 after Tropical Storm Zeta, when I had no electrical, telephone or internet service, I was shocked to receive a short letter with a rural French address. The letter suggested that this woman was living with a man, but I am not certain. It was very restrained, because she assumed that I had re-married long ago and had a large family. She said that my wife must be a very special person. She said that she had always wondered why I disappeared from the face of the Earth in April 1993. After two years of unsuccessfully trying to find me, she assumed that I had been killed by the “bad men” in Virginia.

Several years ago, she started noticing hundreds of articles and architectural drawings on the internet by an architect with my name. Then she ran across both the History Channel and PBS TV programs about my archaeological discoveries and realized that I was alive. Her question at the end was, “Dear Bonhomme Richard, what did I do to drive you away? I will not bother you, but always wanted to know what terrible mistake did I make.”

This Christmastime series is my answer, Ma Chere’. I have altered some irrelevant details so that no one other than her, her daughter and I will ever know the publicly known name of this talented lady. These articles obviously contain some very personal information that must remain anonymous.  The woman in the photo at the top of the page is a French-Canadian model, who is very similar in appearance to our heroine, when I met her at the beginning of the Christmas Party. She was then wearing a tight, flaming red dress and seductive makeup.  

Archaeologist-Photographer George Stuart (left) was the basic reason that I was invited to this social gathering of Washington’s intelligentsia. He ultimately became Senior Editor of National Geographic Magazine. I first met George at Palenque in 1970. However, when George visited my farm in the North Carolina Mountains in 1983, his appearance had changed so much that I initially didn’t realize that he was the same person. George’s vacation home was over the mountain from my farm. We became friends. He eventually persuaded me that I should move to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where both my architecture practice and the goat cheese creamery would prosper. They did. Once we moved there, he introduced me to his friends at National Geo, the Smithsonian Institute and the Library of Congress. They became the core of my architectural clientele. George and his first wife, Gene, wrote two famous books on the Maya Civilization. He later co-authored a book on Palenque with his son, David.
Glen Crannoc Farm in the Reems Creek Valley, north of Asheville in 1984. There were two books published in the 1980s, whose photographs were taken by George Stuart, which contained major sections on our North Carolina farm. However, there were far too many architects in the Asheville Area than could be supported by its economy. Also, we were having to ship our cheeses in coolers, via UPS, because most of the cheeses were being bought by prestigious gourmet shops and restaurants hundreds of miles to the north. Only one restaurant in Asheville utilized our cheeses. No stores in western North Carolina or Georgia would carry our cheeses.

Whenever I have a dream that I am still living amongst the hundreds of goats, Barbados sheep and Toulouse geese in the Shenandoah Valley Farm, it is always this woman or a few times, Susan, a covert FBI agent, who I later became close to, who is my loving wife. Most of the time, the beautiful, vivacious actress from France is my wife, plus there are two children, an older girl and a young boy. She and her daughter actually lived on the farm with me for six weeks. Susan the FBI agent came only once to my farm with a group of Christians to anoint me with oil to be a warrior for God and democracy. Neither lady was ever legally my wife, but in God’s eyes, we obviously will be soul-mates for eternity.

The lives of several people, who were at the Palenque archaeological site in Chiapas State, Mexico on the same day in August 1990, intertwined to radically change our understanding of Maya cultural history.  Architect David Schele, his wife and art student, Linda Schele and I toured Palenque together. We met a relatively young George Stuart in the courtyard of the Royal Palace at Palenque.  Fifteen years later, Linda and George Stuart’s son, David, would become key players in the translation of the Maya writing system.

The house in Alexandria dated to the early 1800s

Three decades ago, I was a jet-setter. . . at least for a weekend.

Even in 1990,  Bob and Sara were an anomaly in the central core of Metropolitan Washington, DC. They intentionally spoke the Virginia Dialect of Southern English!  That cultured, but steadily atrophying language is typified by the use of many more broad A’s and such oddities as pronouncing “house” like “hōs.”  They were in their 50s. Both had PhD’s in history . . . hers from William & Mary and his from the University of Virginia. Both worked as senior researchers at the Smithsonian. Both of their sons were in college, but I don’t recall what they were studying. 

Bob and Sara lived in a large Ante-bellum home in the Alexandria Historic District.  During the Victorian Era, it had been remodeled to connect the slave quarters and kitchen with the main house. That wing addition became a massive dining room-party room.

The affluent residents of Alexandria live in a different world than most of us know.  To have eight years of college and have professional credentials in both architecture and city planning, meant almost nothing at a Smithsonian-National Geo Christmas party.  Everybody there had post-graduate degrees and professional titles.  Many of the guests arrived in chauffeur-driven limousines.  The poverty-stricken amongst the guests, parked their Mercedes-Benz’s, BMW’s, Cadillacs, Lincoln Continentals and Volvos along the neighborhood street.

What pushed me into the elite of those party-goers was being a goat cheese maker – except they always used the French words fromage du chevre. Even the escort of the French ambassador was impressed.  (Much more about her later.)  I arranged photos of the farm, house, barn, milking parlor and cheese creamery on the table with the cheese plates so that the guests could see that we had constructed a modern, sophisticated, immaculately clean operation . . . and were not a group of hippies, living on a make-do farmstead.

A photo of the buffet table at the Christmas Party, featuring our cheeses, later was on the cover of the Washington Post Sunday magazine. Such publicity caused our cheese sales to explode in 1992.

At the beginning of the party, Sara then asked me to give a show and tell on the varieties of cheeses that the caterer had displayed attractively on the buffet table.  A photo of the table would later appear on the front cover of the Washington Post Sunday Magazine. However,  Sara had a secret agenda for presenting me as a superstar to her extremely sophisticated guests.

You see there was something else going on at this party . . . matchmaking. National Geographic archaeologist and photographer, George Stuart, had visited our farm in North Carolina several times.  He, his wife, Sara and Bob (from the Smithsonian) had attended our grand opening in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.   It featured the national champion yodeling choir from Herblingen, Switzerland . . . courtesy of the U.S. State Department.  

Afterward, George and his wife, Gene.* had invited my wife, Diana, and I twice to be their guests for dinner at the posh Occidental Restaurant in DC, which featured our cheeses.  Both times, I had been delighted to join them, but Diana declined to accompany me.  She also refused to attend this Christmas Party . . . claiming to prefer staying at the farmhouse to catch up on reading.  Being a dutiful wife, Diana urged me to not drive home through the Blue Ridge Mountains late at night in winter weather.  She even offered to book me a room at a motel in Alexandria.   I told her that I would wait and see when the party ended, how the roads were and how I felt.

*George’s wife, Gene, died in 1993 of cancer. She was also an archaeologist.

Sara asked me to arrive early to help slice and display our 16 varieties of cheese. Actually, the caterer did all of that.  There was more to the story.   Almost immediately she turned serious and told me, “Richard, you need to find another wife.  You deserve better than Diana.  You are an exceptional man, who deserves a special woman, who loves you and will always be proud to be at you side. Diana is constantly creating situations, where you will be elsewhere.  We have been watching your self-esteem go downhill, since you came to Virginia.

She shocked me with this information.  “Richard, do you know what Diana told me at the cheese creamery’s grand opening?  She said that the only reason that she married you was because you were the only man she knew, who had a steady job!  She bragged about making you sleep in another bedroom, unless summoned.  She laughed again, saying that no other woman would have you, so she could control you like a plow mule.   Maybe it’s none of my business, but this is a woman’s intuition.  She’s having an affair with a married man or maybe even a woman . . . maybe both.  She is only keeping you around to conceal it.  You need to divorce her as soon as possible. You deserve better.”

That blew my mind.  Diana had said the same thing to my Mexican friends on our honeymoon.  I had seriously considered getting the marriage annulled as soon as we got home from the honeymoon, because of her openly bragging about not loving me.  

I explained to Sara that from time to time Diana would demand a divorce out of the blue then the next day tell me that she would destroy me if I left her.  Just two weeks ago, she refused to accompany me to my parent’s house in Atlanta for Thanksgiving.  As I was departing at about 6:00 AM on a snowy morning, she announced that when I got back, she planned to file for divorce.  She said that she wanted to cash out on the marriage. 

However, when I returned home, all in emotional turmoil, she denied ever asking for a divorce, but then asked me, if I had another woman.  She’s the one, who has been having flings all along, but I never had sufficient personal discretionary money to hire a detective.  “Sara, you do realize that if I divorce Diana, that will be the end of the cheese creamery and that beautiful colonial farm we live in?”  

She quickly responded, “My friends in Winchester tell me that you did an excellent job of restoring their colonial house.  You don’t have to make cheese.  Your life and your happiness are more important that a side business or a house.”

Sara and her friend, Liz then informed me that I would be taking the coats of all the women arriving at the party.  It was in the 20s outside and flurrying, so all would be wearing heavy coats.  Liz told me that she would hanging out near the entrance vestibule.  She would signal to me when an unmarried woman was entering that would be suitable for me.  Liz was a little younger than Sara and had more social contacts.  She said that she had invited at least a dozen women, who were recently divorced or else single and on the prowl for a man-friend.

First, they taught me the “proper way” to greet guests and then offer to take the married woman’s coat.  Men were to use the downstairs guest closet to remove their own coats.

The ladies then taught me how to turn on a single, available woman, while taking off her winter coat.  They told me where to place my hands and when to touch her back with my chest as I was breathing hot air on the left side of her neck (aligned with the heart.)   By the way, it did work.  Two of the single ladies were already a bit tipsy from pre-party cocktails and asked me to take off their coat again. Another said I could keep on removing clothing.  LOL

Because I was the only man at the party, who was not accompanied by a wife or lady friend, I was asked by the hostess to greet all the guests and take the women’s heavy coats upstairs.

There was one other issue, which was especially important to them . . . the French ambassador, Jacques Andriani.  Sara asked me. “Do you speak French?   We want the French ambassador to be presented to the guests in perfect French.  This is very important! ”   I responded that I could communicate a little in French, but certainly not perfectly.

Sara then taught me the proper “High French” words to greet an ambassador or high government official then present him or her to party guests.  I don’t remember the words now and you certainly won’t see these phrases in most high school French textbooks.

Yes, the women, invited to the party, were wearing heavy coats . . . many were full length mink coats. Some were mink stoles over a stylish leather coat. However, NONE of the National Geo women wore animal skins or furs.  I had never even seen a mink coat or mink stole (in person) and was not quite sure what to do with them, since they were too bulky to hang in the women’s guest closet.  Sara told me to put them on the bed in one of two sons’ bedrooms upstairs, who was off at college. 

The ambassadors of Spain, Mexico, Argentina and Costa Rica arrived first.  Sara hadn’t asked me to do it, but I used the equivalent Spanish words to the formal French to introduce them to the guests. Even though I never studied Spanish in school, I am much more knowledgeable of Spanish, because of four extended visits to Mexico. This was a big hit with these dignitaries.

Then the Ambassador of Sweden and his wife arrived in a SAAB sports car!    Blew their mind.  I greeted them with, “Hur står det til?  Välkommen til nara julfest.  Jag heter Rikard Tornton.”  After I took the coat of the ambassador’s wife’s coat, she repeatedly looked back at me with a pleasantly surprised expression.  How could a dark-haired goatherd from rural Virginia know Swedish?

Then the custom-built Renault limousine of the Ambassador Andreani,  arrived with a DC police motorcycle escort. It was followed by a Land Rover SUV, containing his security detail. Liz was peeking out the door at their arrival then returned inside with a panicked look on her face.  She raced over to me tell me that the ambassador’s wife, Donnatella, was not with the ambassador.  There was a much younger, very pretty, woman walking beside him and she didn’t know who this woman was. 

I looked out the side window of the entrance doors.  His glamorous escort or mistress was wearing a long, dark mink coat that almost touched the floor.  She was exotically beautiful . . . maybe in her mid-or-late 20s and by far the most “striking” lady to attend the party.  She really didn’t look like what I remembered most French women looking . . . more like a upper class Latin American lady or perhaps someone from Spain.

The ambassador took care of the revised presentation problem. One of the men in the ambassador’s security detail came up to him and whispered something in his ear.  As I was taking the mademoiselle’s coat off, he put his hand out in front of her to let her know not to proceed forward then bolted ahead and entered the main party room alone.  I introduced him then handed her coat to Liz.  I interlocked my right arm with the embarrassed woman’s left arm and escorted her into the room, but did not announce her name, since I didn’t know it. 

The seductress looked straight into my eyes and whispered in perfect English, “You are a very kind man, monsieur. If only you were the man, I have to be with tonight.”   At that moment, I had no clue who she was supposed to be with that night, but assumed that it was the ambassador.

Shortly, thereafter, the ambassador’s chauffer brought in a case, containing several varieties of very expensive French wines.  No wonder Sara wanted to stoke the ambassador’s ego.   That evening was the first and only time I ever tasted a demi-glass of Chateau Rothschild wine (much over-rated!).

Afterward, I grabbed the long dark coat from Liz and headed upstairs.  I was about to hang it in the bedroom closet, since the coat was not nearly as thick as the mink coats. I peeked at the inside lining of the coat.  It was pure silk.  Then I noticed the label.  It was in Russian and French.  The words meant Russian Wild Sable – Made in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  Geez!  I was holding a coat that cost somewhere around $80,000 to $100,000 back then. *In 2020, the same coat would cost at least $150,000.





I stood there for several minutes, trying to figure out what to do with an $80,000+ coat.  The decision was forced when Sara hollered up the stairwell to come downstairs to meet a friend of hers. Where do you store sable fur?  On top of mink fur.   I quickly elected to lay the sable coat over the mink coats, perpendicularly.

A fortuitous introduction

Virtually all the guests were “somebodies” . . . the people whose names you see in National Geographic and Smithsonian Magazines, PBS documentaries and the Washington Post . . . sometimes on the national news.  George Stuart introduced me to Roger Kennedy and his wife, Francis. Roger was Director of the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institute. In three years, newly elected president, Bill Clinton, would appoint Roger to be Director of the National Park Service. 

We only chatted briefly, because the truth was, I had not been in his museum since I was a 12 year old boy in a group of over 1200 students from the Fulton County School System.  I did visit it the next day, however. Over the years that followed, Roger and I would develop what might be described as an acquaintance friendship . . . nothing more.

It can not be emphasized enough that had I not attended this special Christmas party and had I not struck up a conversation with Roger Kennedy, my life would be catastrophically different today . . . that’s assuming that I would even be alive. There would be no 16 books on Indigenous American and Colonial architecture. There would be no premier on the History Channel’s “America Unearthed” on the Mayas in Georgia. There would be no “The Americas Revealed” web site. There would be no People of One Fire Youtube Channel.

You see . . . exactly 19 years and two days after I first met Roger Kennedy, he would call me on the telephone out of the blue. His message was going to literally save my life four months later. Life is indeed stranger than fiction.


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