As I walk the footpaths of the village and sea cliffs, here in Ringmore, South Devon, sheep, cattle, ravens, gulls and buzzards claim their part of the scenery and hills. In the winds and rain, one ponders life, much as one does on any walk apart from the world; and it happened that my husband and I took a path off the regular along a small lane in this village. We came to an old inn, called Journey’s End. Three flags fly in front of it – the United Kingdom’s, South Devon’s and America’s.
American flag? I wasn’t too sure I wanted to step into the place with it flying. Yet, based on what I had recently heard, that the new owner is from California, I decided to head on in, take some photos, perhaps talk to him too. Feeling more as an ex-patriot over here and, also, holding an Irish passport, I can freely say, I suspect any place flying a U.S. flag anymore. Simply everyone over here is talking about how America has upset the world.
My husband, who is a Brit, headed up the hill, and left me to go into the inn. I met the owner, John Paul Riva, finding him a sweet person, a soft smile, and with inner modesty, says he loves to run this inn with his wife, Juliet.
I sat down to a ginger beer, and clinked the ice about while he jumped up to greet local customers, and saying each time: “wait a second for me.” Gone for awhile, he was walking them out to the lane.
When he returned I asked him, how do you like it here? ( A typical first question.)
He answered: “Very much. Love it.”
I looked around at the old photos and recent ones on the pub walls. I fix on one of a dazzling actress, got up to read it, then decided to ask him about her. (The photo is his grandmother, Marlene Dietrich).
I say, is it true your grandmother was both so fantastic as a grandma, while so famous a Hollywood actress?
“Yes,” he answered. “She was the best grandmother a boy could have. She was just a wonderful, human being.”
I told him I’d read about her love of cooking, housecleaning, just ordinary things, too.
“Yeah,” he said, “that is also true. She always said she was just as anyone else.” He smiled at that. Then he decided to say this: “She’d tell me, when I asked her about being famous, ‘you know, Paul, everyone is the same. We all pee the same.’ Well, then she’d laugh and add, ‘I, Dietrich, (she always called herself Dietrich) pee the same as anyone else, but a little more elegantly, maybe.'”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or not at this, but saw the pee thing was an old saying in the family.
“You see, she knew everybody and genuinely liked so many people,” Paul said. “I don’t mean she just knew people, but really knew them.” He looked around at the old bar, just out of the 16th century.
“I mean, when she said, she knew Adlai Stevenson, she really did. She just had every connection out there,” he said and shrugged. Maybe this part of Hollywood celebrities life disturbed him more than he wished to say to me.
Yet, he smiles again. His smile is terribly engaging when he said: “Most of all, she was with me a lot and influenced me a lot in my growing up. She was a reader, intelligent. There wasn’t any subject she couldn’t converse about.”
He mentioned more names, political and entertainers to me, yet, I wanted to know about him. What brought him to a tiny place, in a valley by the sea, about five hours by train from London’s crowd?
John Paul Riva spent many years in Hollywood himself, as researcher and executive producer of number of films like “Lethal Weapon,” two Harrison Ford movies, and a lot more.
“After 28 years in Hollywood, I had to get out. Just had to,” he said. Paul and his British wife, Juliet, searched for an Inn in the UK to run. “I wanted a change of life. I was looking for a way of life.”
Here, in these lovely lanes, sheep roaming hills, sea winds blowing he seems to found this change. The Journey’s End Inn, rebuilt on the site of a 13th century inn in the 16th century, had its name changed to Journey’s End after the production of R.C. Sheriff’s famous play, “Journey’s End,” first performed at the Apollo Theatre, London Dec. 9, 1928.
The play was a huge hit back in its day. It was set in WWI, in the trenches of St. Quentin, France. The British soldiers have a sense of waiting, “waiting for something.” They discuss life throughout the play, feeling no rhyme or reason for their existence. The play has many themes and conflicts, making it something that audiences could relate to in their own lives. The play captured intense surrealism of living in a vacuum, in anticipation of something. Of course, with the ending black out, the audience realizes.
Journey’s End Inn, takes that end and makes it Tir Nan Og or the vale of Eternal Youth. Here, in this place, a small crowd gathers each day, knowing each other, and discussing life in the 21st century – the daily life, not of politics too much. For all reasons, it is will named.
John Paul Riva wants people to enjoy the inn. It is their living room. He and his wife cook and serve meals, and a variety of ales, drinks, including natural beer (non alcoholic, John Paul doesn’t drink). They have a small garden on a hillside beside the Inn. Their family members come often. His mother, Maria, the only child of Marlene Dietrich, will be coming in from California for Christmas. He is trying to arrange for his other children from his first marriage to live in England,” to experience it over here.”
He knit his brow one more time and said: “It is a way of life here. You have to want that, to make a change.” I told him I kind of got that. To live in Maine also, is for some people a way of life, a change, I told him. Writers, artists come there, too, to get away from the crowd.
“Brrr,” he replied. “I like all I hear about Maine, but not the cold, can’t take that.” I laugh. The climate here in southwest England is like California a bit… I say. He concluded, “You bet it is. That is what I love.”
We will be back I tell him, maybe with our grandchildren. (We have to return to the U.S. soon.)
“See you soon,” he said nodding.
Because we had to leave for London and soon return to Maine, I didn’t have time to wander up any more pathways in southwest England. I recently heard the real Earl Grey lives here, too, in this village, in a hidden thatched cottage. For now, I am content to drink his tea, and plan the next trip back. Maybe find him.