Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Visit to the Gilded Age

My parents are in town for a long week-end.  What a treat!  I feel fortunate in that they are fairly easy company to host.  We like similar activities, and our food preferences are similar.  When parents are coming--anyone's parents--I do tend to clean more vigorously in advance, but it's good to tend to those tasks.

I've said it before:  one reason I like having out of town guests is that we tend to get out of the house and explore our surroundings.  Ever since we moved down here in 1998, I've had the historic mansion Vizcaya on my list of places to get to, but we haven't yet.
My mom saw it listed in a book of 1000 places to visit before you die, so we decided to go yesterday, on their first full day of the visit.  There's too much that might disrupt the plan if we wait until Monday.  And since we have a week day free, we wanted to avoid the week-end.  For more on the trip, see this post on my creativity blog.

At first, I enjoyed seeing the house, with each room decorated ever more lavishly and in some cases outrageously.  And I loved the gardens, which were extensive and amazing.

And then I started to think about the excesses of the Gilded Age, which came just before Vizcaya was built in 1915.  I started thinking of the lower classes who must have seen mansions like Vizcaya as all that was wrong with their lives.  I thought of the huge numbers of workers that it took to build the house and the huge staff it must have taken to run the place.  I wondered how the staff dusted the elaborately carved ceilings.  Or was the lighting dim and no one noticed?

I thought of our current time.  What would be the current version of Vizcaya?

I live in a part of the country where the distance between the upper class and the lower class is extreme. I see beautiful mansions on the water, modern Vizcayas.  And I see slums that have more than a bit of 3rd world element to them.

Many sociologists might predict class warfare in the not-too-distant future, but I don't.  We live in a country that preaches that we, too, could have a Vizcaya to call our own if we just worked hard enough.

But I do wonder about the excesses of good fortune.  What makes the difference between the super-rich who share and the super-rich who just build another mansion in another part of the world?

If I ever become part of the super-rich, I hereby swear that I will be happy with smaller living spaces, so that more people can have housing.  I will give money to groups like Habitat for Humanity so that more houses can be built for more people.

I also know that according to most of the world's standards, I am part of the super-rich.  And so I do give money to Habitat and to Lutheran World Relief, so that others can benefit from my good fortune.

It gives me a window into the mind of the super-rich.  Just as I don't feel super-rich, maybe they don't either.  Maybe that explains the hoarding, the saving of the money into ever bigger siloes.

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