© Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner
Alexandria, Virginia – December 15, 1990
“Strangers In the Night”
Discrete references to intimate adult activities, but no vulgarity used.
July 2021 Revision
Cracking the Maya Code!
As two copies of Linda Schele’s A Forest of Kings passed through the crowd at the Smithsonian-National Geo Christmas Party, those attending realized that we were eyewitnesses to one of the greatest achievements ever in anthropology. It was a far more difficult task than translating the Egyptian hieroglyphs, which were much simpler and greatly aided by the Rosetta Stone. In contrast, each Maya city state had its own version of the glyphs.
Being proud of their descent from some of Virginia’s earliest white settlers, Bob and Sara quickly pointed out that all of the scholars involved with the final giant step of being able to translate full Maya texts were from the Southeast and educated in the Southeast. For over 150 years, southern scholars had been belittled and ignored by Northern academicians. This was proof that there was nothing inferior about the top universities in the Southeast. Robert Wauchope was from Columbia, SC and taught at Tulane. George Stuart was from Camden, SC and received his PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Linda Schele was from Mobile, AL and graduated from the University of South Alabama. David Stuart would receive his PhD from Vanderbilt University in 1995 and now is the David and Linda Schele Endowed Professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
Also at this party were the creative staff of the National Geographic Society, who then produced special TV documentaries and ten years later start the National Geographic Television Channel. Books written by George Stuart and his wife, Gene Stuart, plus those of Linda Schele and David Stuart, became the basis of numerous National Geo documentary films on the Maya civilization. We all have enjoyed them, but few people realize that these films first began as ideas discussed by intellectuals at Christmas parties.
The only meal on the menu
Once all the guests had arrived, I didn’t know how to start conversations. Don’t know if it was actually the case but, I felt that I was totally out of my league. These people were the crème de la crème . . . jet setters. However, the fact that I made the cheese, being served on the buffet, soon drew a question-filled crowd around me. So, I just answered their questions and didn’t put on any false airs. Goatherds, who made award-winning cheeses, were allowed to be a bit naïve and rustic.
As predicted by Sara, the single women, who I had tingled at the coat-removal ceremony, came by one-by-one to check me out. I certainly was not any sense the most “handsome” man there, but I was by far the most muscular and tallest man – plus the only one without a wife or date at the party. I was a star athlete in high school and had been doing heavy physical work on mountain farms since 1977, so looked more like a lumber jack than a Washington, DC architect. It was quite obvious that Sara had given all the women the impression that I was fully available – legally separated from the anti-wife, who had filed for divorce in order to be with her lover.
All the available bachelorettes were attractive-to-beautiful, extremely well educated and tastefully dressed. However, I don’t recall any of these ladies really smiling. While sipping wine or cocktails, they tried to laugh at small-talk, but their faces told a different story. They all seemed very proud of their professional achievements, but miserable in their personal lives.
In every case, when I was approached by these ladies, they would chit-chat about the cheese creamery; give vague answers to any personal questions that I asked them . . . then maneuver me away from the herd to either invite me to have “a couple of drinks” at their house, condo or apartment after the party . . . or at else tell me to let them know if I wanted to have drinks at their place. Strangely, I sensed no female pheromones . . . no real interest in me as a person. I was not even sure if these ladies liked men. They were just going through a ritual, which was supposed to fill their lonely nights and weekends.
Of course, “a couple of drinks” was the Washington elite’s euphemism for saying, “Hey, congratulations stranger. You are the flavor of the week. You get to know a highly successful female federal administrator . . . scientist. . . archaeologist . . . medical doctor . . . professor or Washington Post writer, etc. in a Biblical Way, without ever really knowing who-in-the-heck she really is!”
All of the propositions were said with the same passion that one exhibits, while picking out a rental car at the airport. I am a very romantic guy. Without passion, I am not very passionate.
I had never been in an affair during my marriage and never even thought about one-night fling with anyone until the Christmas Party at Alexandria. It was not that I had a happy marriage. It was increasingly the affection-less marriage from hell. However, no one had ever divorced in our family and obviously, a divorce would destroy a beautiful lifestyle I was creating on the farm, where the Old Back Road crossed Toms Brook in the Shenandoah Valley. I sincerely went to the party with the intent of only promoting our cheeses and perhaps meeting some potential architecture clients.
It was time to face the truth. I was terrified of the woman, who legally was my wife. I never knew from day to day, hour to hour, what personality she would have. One morning in early November 1990, Diana informed me that she would not be coming home for school, because she had a PTA meeting early in the evening. She told me to either fix myself a meal or go somewhere cheap to eat. She would thaw out some beef-vegetable soup from the freezer, when she got home.
I decided to make one more try to save our marriage by fixing her a gourmet dinner, complete with inherited china and real silverware, wine and candles. I would server the feast like a waiter in our formal dining room. When her Ford Thunderbird drove up to the house over an hour after the PTA meeting ended, I waited at the front door with a bouquet of flowers in my hand.
When I leaned over to kiss her on the cheek and hand her the flowers, she glanced at the dining table, screamed at me that I was stupid, slapped the flowers to the floor and preceded to beat me on the face with her fists. I crossed my arms so I wouldn’t spontaneously hit her back . . . probably flattening her with one blow. A little later, I realized that this whole scene was a charade. She was trying to provoke me into hitting her, so she could call the Sheriff’s Department and tell them I was beating her. I didn’t realize it at the time, because I was so emotionally crushed, but at that moment Diana lost me for eternity.
Even after I arrived at the Danby house and Sara convinced me that I was in a toxic, dead-end situation with Diana, I fully intended to drive back to the farm that night after the party. I was, though, going to chat with these twelve lovely ladies sufficiently to pick out one or more, who I could gradually get to know via G-rated lunches in the Washington, DC area, while delivering cheese. I hoped that Diana would sooner rather than later become so enthralled with who ever she had been seeing, since before I arrived in Virginia that she would want a amiable divorce, just to speed up getting rid of me.
The mysterious femme fatale
Throughout the Christmas Party Dating Game interviews, the French femme fatale repeatedly glanced or even starred at me. I thought that it was odd that her ambassador boyfriend or client? was ignoring her. She was way over dressed for the party . . .wearing a red, Paris fashion salon dress, while Washingtonians tend to wear bland “business-style” clothes with muted colors. She was also wearing a diamond-blue sapphire-ruby necklace, probably worth a hundred thousand dollars. That’s the three colors of both the French and the United States flags. She was dressed appropriately for attending the Oscars or Cannes Film Festival, not a Smithsonian-National Geo Christmas Party.
My goat cheese made me temporarily elite, but she did not have that advantage. She was way too pretty and flashy to be tolerated by the other single women and was a threat to any woman with a husband. During much of the evening, most party guests assumed that she was a high priced escort or prostitute. Nobody knew that she was a wealthy, popular singer and actress, who had been tapped to sing “La Marseillaise” at the National Bastille Day celebrations in Paris.
During the initial phase of the party, she would come up to people to chat. The politically-correct Washingtonian men, assumed that she was a high-class call girl and didn’t want to be seen with her . . . at least with their wives or girlfriends watching. The men would immediately look nervous and intimidated, then would pass on a few small-talk niceties then turn their heads and walk away.
This femme fatale watched and waited. Just after I had received another frozen fish proposition from one of Liz’s gals, she pounced! Her face was already glowing from several glasses of wine. She announced, “Ree-shard, time to give your girl some attention!” (as if we were already lovers)
She then grabbed my left hand and dragged me to the living room, where there was a two-person couch seat in the corner. On the coffee table in front of the love seat were all our cheeses and several bottles of French wine. She said, “Ree-shard, I want you to teach me which of your company’s cheeses go with each French wine!” Obviously, she thought me to be far more sophisticated than actually the case. How did she even know my name?
I asked her, “Won’t your boyfriend be angry, if he sees you sitting close to me and sipping his wine?”
“Mais non!” she laughed. “He is not my man. After you kindly escorted me into the party, he asked me to make it look like we are lovers! The Securite’ man spotted two Washington Post reporters at the party and thought it best that I not seem like Monsieur Andreani’s mistress. The ambassador has done many things to help my career. So, when I am in the Etas-Unis, I am happy to accompany him, if Danatella has other plans. He is a very nice man and like a father to me.”
At this point, I was convinced that this was a bizarre dream, but asked the lady what her name was. She was surprised, “You don’t know who I am? That is good. However, for now you can call me Vivi.”
I responded, “Okay Vivi, it is obvious that you are very intelligent and well educated. Do you work for the French government?” She smiled, “Sometimes, a few times a year, but most of the time, I work for myself, individual cities or private companies. I have a degree from a famous French university. If you really like Vivi, I will tell you about the public part of my life later.”
Evidently, Vivi thought I was an entrepreneur or investor. She asked me how many employees were required to make 16 varieties of cheeses. I told her, “None, I make all the cheeses.” She responded, “Increable! Sara said that you were a very busy architect. When do you have time?” I told her that I work very hard, but had designed a farm facility, which was extremely efficient. By myself, I could produce as much cheese as several French goat cheese creameries. Then I added, “Vivi, we come from very different worlds. You are a beautiful lady, but you have to understand that my days are very different than yours. They are filled with hard physical work, plus the intellectually challenging work of an architect.”
She asked me if she could hold the strong hands that made these wonderful cheeses. I said, “It would be nice.” Not only did she hold both of my hands, but she kissed them both. She was the first and last woman, who ever kissed my hands. I told her over and over again, how wonderful it felt for a woman’s lips to touch my skin.
As she lowered my hands down, she added, “French women are known for their sophistication, but in truth, we prefer natural men like you, who are intelligent. Your Benjamin Franqueline was about eighty years old, when he was the ambassador to France, but many of the noblewomen at Versailles were his lovers.” She winked. “Many more French women, would have been his lovers, but he did not have the time. We called Monsieur Franqueline, Bon Homme Richard, after the French name of Poor Richard’s Almanac. From now on, I will call you Bon Homme Richard!”
“Bien,” she said, “Let’s match the cheeses.” I told her not to swallow all the cheese until she had swirled some wine in her mouth. I knew that a German Riesling went well with Alpkäse. When mixed together, the cheese released milk sugars that taste like caramel. I asked her, if there was a French equivalent to Riesling. Yes, there was . . . produced in Alsace-Loraine.
Vivi masterfully opened a bottle of golden Alsace-Loraine wine and poured each of us a glass. She then cut two small wedges of the aged, honey-colored, Alpkäse cheese. She then put her right arm around my right shoulder, pressed her bosom against my left shoulder and then fed me wedge of Alpkäse like I was a baby. Never before or since has any woman ever done that to me. There was something primevally erotic about the gesture, which I have never forgotten.
After Vivi mixed the cheese and wine on her palette, she shouted “Oui, I taste the sugar. Increable! I congratulate the master cheesemaker with a sweet kiss!” Instantly, she wrapped her arms around me and planted a big smooch on my lips. I had not been kissed by my anti-wife in many months or years . . . so long ago that I couldn’t even remember it.
There was a wide opening between the living room and party room. Those Washingtonians, who could see into the corner of the living room, were aghast at the public display of affection (PDA) but they were also secretly envious . . . wishing also that they could be so uninhibited. Vivi urged me to finish my wine glass so we could go on to the next cheese.
Each successfully matched cheese and wine was rewarded with an increasingly longer kiss and glass of wine. In the process, I was getting quite “jolly,” but also learned something very interesting about Vivi’s past.
Like Yvette the Wannabe Hippie, twenty years before in Oaxaca, Vivi has also traveled to Mexico as a college student with the goal of getting zonkered by a mixture of magic mushrooms and marijuana. However, she had quickly tired of it and split off from the hardcore drug users. She obtained singing gigs at restaurants, bars and hotels to pay for an extensive tour of the Maya cities in Mexico and Guatemala.
At that point Vivi became the first person on Earth to hear my stories about Yvette and the Seven French Hippies in Oaxaca, plus the hotel maid in Merida, who frantically begged me to shack up with her 16-year old daughter. The combination of too much wine and Vivi’s feminine skills had unlocked secrets deeply hidden in my mind.
Vivi eventually told me that like me, her favorite Maya city was Palenque, so she had listened closely to the conversations about Linda Schele and David Stuart discovering the meaning of the Maya glyphs. Vivi said that she had even put on flip flops and walked up the “petit riviere” (creek) that flowed through Palenque. She was enchanted by the colorful birds and many flowers on the edge of the stream, but also by the purple snail shells in the water. She always wished that she had kept some of the snail shells.
Then I told her about my fellowship in Mexico and later trips . . . also that Palenque was my favorite city and that I had also hiked up the creek in rubber sandals to its source. Furthermore, I had picked up a two-gallon bag of purple snail shells. Her response was, “Now I know I am falling in love with you! Can you take me back to Mexico? I will pay for everything.”
After making that request, Vivi paused to reconsider the seriousness of such a venture. At this point, we were two strangers, who had met at a party, but really knew nothing about each other. I put my hand on her neck to gently bring her forward to kiss her. Her head and upper torso spontaneously jerked away from my hand. Her face grimaced as if she was in pain.
I said, “Oh I am sorry. I thought that since you had kissed me several times, it was okay for me to kiss you.”
“Non Ree-chard, I love your passionate kisses. I have a sore spot on my neck. It is nothing.”
Earlier in the evening, I thought I has seen some bruises on her neck. However, now the bruises were larger and much darker. Her whole neck was turning a slight purple color. “Vivi, you have had a serious neck injury. Many of your blood vessels are leaking blood. We must go to the hospital emergency room right now!’
She snapped back at me angrily, “Non! No hospital! No doctors!” She paused a few seconds then calmed and added, “I am sorry to yell at you. You are a good man. You already care for me, but this is not a big problem. I do not need to go to the hospital. I fell down, while skiing in Suisse (Switzerland) last week. The bruises will be gone soon.”
Vivi pulled a mirror from her purse and glanced at her neck. She whispered, “Pardon, I must go to the toilette for a short time. She walked about six feet toward the Ladies Room, then turned around, used her hands to beckon me to her and whispered, ”Please hold me.” When I embraced her, she began to whimper with tears coming out of her eyes. I didn’t understand what was going on. After about a minute of hugging and kissing, she said that she felt better, because I was the best doctor of all. She then turned and continued toward the toilette.
Women!!! One minute they are laughing and the next minute they are crying!
Sara discretely lassoed Vivi along the way and directed her to an unoccupied area of the living room. Vivi was frowning so I assume that Sara was politely scolding her for the increasingly erotic PDA’s. However, Vivi started nodding affirmatively then smiled broadly. Sara then headed my way. Uh-oh!
At least Sara had a smile on her face. “Richard, we are so happy for you and Vivi. She is a very intelligent lady, isn’t she. At first, we thought she was the ambassador’s mistress! <laughing> Vivi said that he introduced her to you last August at a gourmet food festival, but at the time y’all only shook hands and went your ways. You make a very special and handsome couple. Remember I told you that there were women out there, who would treat you right . . . but uh-h-h . . . I never dreamed that she would be one of the most beautiful women in France.”
“Hope you don’t mind, Richard, but I felt obligated to make certain that she knew that you were in a bad marriage and that your wife had asked for a divorce several times, most recently two weeks ago . . . but that you were not legally separated. Vivi said that she knew all of that, (actually she didn’t) but that it was obvious to her that I had not received any attention from any woman in a long, long time.
Sara paused to think out her words then added, “You two need some privacy in order to get to know each other better (Sara was oh so discrete!) We have an old slave quarters in back of the kitchen that we fixed up for the boys to entertain their girlfriends. Times have changed. We would much rather the young folks stay there than go to a motel or park at some dangerous location. It only has old furniture, but it does have a big TV, a VHS tape player and a little bathroom . . . oh, and the bed linens are clean. Would you like our caterer to move your wine and cheese there? Vivi has said yes.”
I instantly said “Yes, thank you” but then realized I was about to make a radical turn in my moral values. The day started off with me in rubber boots, cleaning manure out of stalls to make birthing chambers for expectant female goats. It was ending up with me cloistered with an (evidently) internationally famous celebrity. I would have said, “Life is like a box of chocolates,” but that phrase would not be coined for a few more years as Forrest Gump sat on a bench in Savannah, Georgia.
Instead of returning directly to me, Vivi chatted a bit with Roger Kennedy. She then walked over to one of the ambassador’s security team and said something to him. In a couple of minutes, he returned with a suit case. Vivi signaled to him and me with her hand to follow her into the kitchen. Sara was waiting there to show us the guest room. The security man dropped the suit case in the room and quickly returned to his watch over the ambassador.
The building had changed little since the Civil War days, except that a modern wood stove had been inserted into the fireplace opening. It had a loft space, where I imagine the children of the house servants slept. Yes, it was very comfy and very private. Sara said, “I thought you would like it,” then left.
Vivi smiled at me, “Could you please remove my dress.”
I gulped . . . “Now?” I blurted. “We’ve only known each other two hours.”
“No silly Ree-shard, unlock my zipper and pull it down. This dress is sexy, but uncomfortable. You are going to meet the real Vivi, not the fake French femme fatale. She kissed me on the cheek and then added, ”Ree-shard, you are a very different type of man. Most of the important government leaders and businessmen that my government sends me to greet, want me to take off my clothes as soon as I walk in the room. It makes me feel like a dirty prostitute.” As this point, I was getting confused as to who she was . . . a singer or a government official.
I unzipped the dress and helped pull it down . . . then stepped away, as if Vivi was a snake that was about to bite. I then stood rigid and partially turned my head away, somewhat in shock, as Vivi began to strip off almost everything before my eyes. She had some bruises on her feet, knees and one thigh also. She apparently had a very violent skiing accident.
In order to keep my mind off the gorgeous lady that I beheld, I told her, “Oh don’t tell people that we met in August. I almost died in August.” “Non!” she interjected, “You look very healthy now!”
“Yes, I had the symptoms of many diseases, plus 24 tumors under my skin . . . caused by the bite of a strange type of tick. I think that you have ticks in France, too. During the day my body temperature would range from very low to very high. Sometimes, I would just collapse on the floor. Eventually, I had no feeling on the left side of my body.”
Vivi was pulling a sweater over her head. “How did you get well?”
“I got worse before I got better. My personal doctor first sent me to the head of infectious diseases at the University of Virginia. Without doing any more tests or looking at the tumors, the arrogant doctor called me into his office and gave me a prescription to see a psychiatrist. He acted like I was crazy.”
“I went back to my personal doctor. He was furious. He was more than furious, when he received the full report from the University of Virginia Medical Center. My anti-wife had told the university doctor that I had no medical problems, but was depressed because we had no children! My doctor told me that under no circumstances should my wife know that I was being sent to another doctor.“
“My personal doctor then found a pathologist, who had a special post-graduate education for diseases caused by insects. This man took me very seriously, when my temperature was 103 degrees in the afternoon and he felt of the tumors. He took one vial of blood from me. In a few minutes, he called me in his office. He said that he did not understand why I was not in a coma. I had a 16,000 white cell count and 75% blood chemistry shift. A 100% shift means that you are dead. He told me that I had at most about two weeks to live, if he couldn’t find the cause. He also told me that he was so ashamed of my treatment at the University of Virginia, he was not going to charge me a penny for his services or the lab work.“
The good doctor personally took six more vials of blood and told me to go lay down in a bed in his office. About four hours later, he determined that I had simultaneous, active infections of several deadly diseases He also found that within the past year, I had survived an infection of Typhoid Fever. Even more suspicious was the presence of a high level of arsenic in my blood. Someone was definitely trying to kill me in a very sophisticated manner.
For 30 straight days, the new doctor gave me the special type of antibiotic needed to completely eliminate all of the types of bacteria in my body. Actually, I started walking normally after three days of treatment. I am completely healed now.
Vivi’s eyes and mouth grew wide open, “Mon Dieu! Somebody wants you dead. Now, I have no guilt at all for kissing you. Please come back to France with me. I have the money to protect you from anybody.”
“Well, I am happy that the new doctor got you healthy for me!” Vivi laughed and added, “You are staring at me. Have you not seen a woman change clothes before?” I answered, “No, not one I have only known for two hours.”
She shook her head, ”You’ve never been in an affair or with a prostitute, have you?” “Never!” I answered proudly.
“Richard, I think that your wife is the only woman you have ever lived with, yes?” I answered in the affirmative.
“Richard, this is strange. The only woman, you have ever lived with is a monster, yet you don’t hate women. I can tell that you love women. Do you have good relationships with your mother and sisters? Did you have many girlfriends with good relationships before you married?” I said, “Yes, I am still friends with most of my old girlfriends. Yes, I also have close friendships with my mother and sister.”
She smiled, “That is good, because I have been around many men, who actually hate women.”
Vivi then finished dressing as I continued to gawk. This entire scene was surrealistic to me. My wife did not like for me to be in the room, when she dressed. Vivi was wearing a skirt above her knees, sweater, scarf and beret. She looked like a different person . . . like a sweet, but slightly naughty French coquette . . . the same look, she had when she started modeling at age 17. The scarf and sweater concealed the bruises on her neck.
She explained, “This is my costume from my last movie. It is a true story. I played a girl from a small village in Spain, who is studying at a university in Paris. They only let me play roles for women, who are not French. When the Nazi’s captured France, she joined the Resistance. She became one of France’s greatest heroines. She was captured in 1944 and tortured for many days by the Gestapo in Normandy. Most of the women in her prison had already been shot. However, she was saved by American paratroopers just minutes before she was to be killed. Are you going to save me?”
I didn’t yet understand the last statement, but suggested since she looked so cute, we should go back into the party room for a few minutes, so I could introduce her to George Stuart, who worked as an archaeologist at Palenque. That was the favorite Maya city for both of us.
“Yes, that will be fine. Now I will tell you. My grandmother is a Mexican Indian. My grandfather met her while working as a petroleum engineer in Tabasco, Mexico. You said that we came from different worlds. Well, I am part Indian. You are part Indian. I love Mexico and you love Mexico. I love history and you love history. See we have much in common.”
We went back into the room and found George Stuart. His eyes lit up as the two chatted about Palenque. Like me, he loved Vivi’s new clothing. It was apparent that the two of them could have talked about the Mayas for hours. Then Gene, his wife came up to greet me and “to meet my new girlfriend.”
Gene was more blunt that Sara. She told Vivi about my “ex-wife” standing them up twice at the Occidental Restaurant even though George had eaten many a lunch at our farmhouse in North Carolina. Gene obviously did not realize that we had just known each other three hours . . . although moments earlier, I had seen Vivi only wearing her panties. I guess visual carnal knowledge counts for something.
“Vivi, I can tell right now that you two are really in love. I am sure that Richard is going to take you down to Georgia real soon to show you off to his parents. They were at the North Carolina farm one time, when we stopped by to say hello and take photos of his goats. His former wife, Diana, made some really catty remarks to Richard’s mother, right in front of us. Be sure that he takes you by Etowah Mounds in Cartersville. I used to teach school in Cartersville and also studied Anthropology at the University of Georgia.”
“George, I have a feeling that these two lovebirds want to be alone for awhile. We can have them over to the house, when Vivi comes back to the States and get to know each other better.” As they were walking away George told Vivi to come visit the National Geo building before she went back to France and have lunch with him.
Until that conversation, I had never known that Gene Stuart had taught school in Cartersville and studied anthropology at the University of Georgia. She never mentioned it, the two times we ate at the restaurant.
While we were walking back to the guest quarters, Vivi was mumbling “la verité, la verité”. [the truth, the truth] As we entered the room, she paused and put her right hand on my shoulder to stop me. She said, “I am going outside to smoke. Please come with me. We need to talk.” We headed out the double doors in the party room, which opened up to a patio and flower garden . . . of course, now all covered with snow.
As we proceed through this story, remember nothing is as it seems. There are multiple layers, like an onion, in several people’s lives.