31. AN ASHRAM OF TWO, and then...


Alain was cosmopolitan; at heart, he was a city person.  For Jon and me, our life in the little hamlet of Meiners Oaks was perfect because we could live inexpensively, organizing our lives as we wanted, and yet fulfill our draft obligations.  Jon had six months left of his service and I had a year.

Meanwhile, Alain was getting restless.  He wanted to move on, doing what he felt he was called to do.  His time with us was a hiatus in the flow of a life that was more established than ours, and the village environment was too confining and limited for his spirit.   He left Meiners Oaks to settle in San Francisco and carry on.


After Alain left, Jon and I continued our editing duties with the Theosophical ecological newsletter.  We had our independent studies and did various odd jobs to get by financially.  Alain was the glue that had held us all together.  With him gone, the two of us didn't have as much in common and, consequently, did not share as many joint activities.  We were more or less on our own.

There was, however, one thing we did do together: we took ballet lessons from a local ballet teacher, Billie Berri.   This was part of my 'Rudiments of Being Civilized' regime.

Billie had a small, luminous dance studio behind her house...with marvelous wood flooring...amongst and beneath spreading live oak trees.  It was a beautiful environment, and the mirrored walls made the space appear larger than it actually was. 

The studio was down a sleepy lane lined with pepper trees in the east end of the valley, off McAndrew Road, near Beatrice Wood's studio and Krishnamurti's former home, Arya Vihara.  It was worth the lessons just for the drive.

Jon and I had no hope, or intention, of becoming ballet dancers.  The idea was that not only would it be good discipline and a new learning experience, it would be good exercise as well as a lesson in physical grace.  And there was the added benefit for my 'aesthetic pursuits'...I could surreptitiously gaze at athletic young women going through their exercises in tights.

Ballet was more of an ordeal than either Jon or I had bargained for...or that we were prepared to endure.  Our lessons lasted only a few months.  After learning the five basic positions, spending some time at the bar, and blowing good money on ballet slippers, we both had had one plier and one glisser too many.  We stopped attending class.

My feet would not touch a ballet slipper again.


When Jon's time of service came to an end, he packed up and headed to San Francisco where he joined an architectural firm fulltime.  I was left in Meiners Oaks by myself.  

Over time, I had become close to Jon's parents, Margaret and Gerry Dieges, who lived in a newer small house adjacent to the old house.  Gerry had built that little house, too.  We three became a family.  And so I was fortunate to be able to continue to live by myself in the old house.

Margaret was dour, serious, and nervous, but occasionally she would display just the hint of a grin.  I loved the challenge of bringing a smile to her face, sometimes even a chuckle.  That was sunshine to me.  And I enjoyed showing her affection.  She was a good person...and she was always good to me.

Gerry was sunny and dreamily aloof; he lived contentedly in his own world, going through the day with a beatific smile.  The charming Dutch accent of his childhood never left him.  I don't remember ever seeing Gerry angry.  If he were challenged or were nagged, he'd just shrug it off with a bemused chuckle and carry on.

I enjoyed their company and was forever grateful for their generously allowing me to stay, free of rent.

The Dieges property was a small compound of structures.   It consisted of several parcels with very deep lots.  There was the original big house ('the old house'), which I was living in; there was, adjacent to the old house and separated by a gravel driveway, a newer little house which Margaret and Gerry lived in; there was a third house at the far end of the property which was a rental; and, finally, there were a couple of outbuildings...a tool shed near the old house and what had been a tiny two-room cabin-cottage for Margaret's father which, with a couple of gallons of white paint applied to the walls, became my art studio.

There have been many changes after I left.  Jon has designed and built several additional living quarters on the lots.  And much is now obscured as the big oaks have grown much larger. With more structures and the expansion of existing ones, the compact buildup makes the pace of life itself feel different.  Space is time...and as things come closer together...as space is filled in...time seems to shrink.  The atmosphere seems to have been transformed a hundred years since I was there.

There had been a large vacant area between the houses on the left and the rental house on the lower right...what I have marked as 'Margaret's garden'...where she lovingly tended her array of vegetables.

Above is a section of what Margaret's garden looked like while I lived in the old house.  The atmosphere harked back to another age...of a much simpler and less technological slower pace.  It was more like the 19th-century than the 20th.  That's how it felt.  It was a wonderful moment of time suspended.  In fact, I had nothing but time.  And that was more than enough to satisfy my needs.

Margaret and Gerry were part of Ojai's original Theosophical community.  After their marriage, they first lived together in a commune (this was decades before hippies).  As they began their family, Gerry built the original house where their five children were raised.  They both remained interested in spiritual matters and Margaret continued to remain active in the Theosophical Society after I met them.

Gerry had his engineering/architectural office in part of the original house where I was living.  I would occasionally go along with him to visit one of the projects he was working on.  He would take periodic breaks during the day and sit out in a rickety old folding chair on the cement slab 'patio' behind the house and sun his eyes.  It was like his meditation.

Margaret worked in the house when she was not in the garden.  She was occupied with Theosophy and appreciated the arts.  I would join her sometimes in the morning to listen to Kirsten Flagstad singing Bach and Handel arias which she played on the little phonograph while going about her chores.

We all three enjoyed getting into their humble Ford Falcon sedan and buzzing off to a music concert, a lecture of some sort, or an art presentation...one of which was, for a time, a weekly viewing of Kenneth Clark's series, 'The Romantic Rebellion,' at nearby Moorpark College.


I worked alone next door during the day, but I would join Margaret and Gerry in the evenings at their house for supper.  Margaret would cook and I would clean up.  After the meal, we would watch television...PBS series.   For weeks we watched Jacob Bronowski tracing the evolution of science in his 'The Ascent of Man'...a BBC companion to Kenneth Clark's exploration of the evolution of the arts in 'Civilization.'

But my favorite program was The Masterpiece Theater hosted by debonair and erudite Alistaire Cook.

The highlight was a six-episode adaptation of Henry James's 'The Golden Bowl.'

The production was masterfully written, produced, and acted...accompanied by Ravel's hauntingly beautiful Introduction and Allegro for Flute, Clarinet, Harp and String Quartet.  It was a complete experience and a pleasure to watch.  I loved it.

My interest in the program went beyond the pleasure of entertainment with which it was filled.

The language, propriety, manners, and living style were the epitome of what one might consider civilized...certainly from a conventional point of view.  And the drama gave me insight into the polite, proper, and privileged Edwardian society in which Krishnamurti had been raised, and which his every action and every word reflected. 

It was a society that Krishnamurti had known intimately and a society in which Alain felt comfortable.  It helped me understand where they both were coming from.   And I now understood why Alain might have put Debrett's 'Peerage' on the 'to read' list.

Thus, 'The Golden Bowl' became an extension of my 'Rudiments of Being Civilized' journey.

Copyright (c) Donald Archer 2020  All rights reserved.


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