Monday, June 28, 2010

Odd hobbies

Have I ever mentioned that I have a weakness for Vanderbilts?  Or, more accurately, their gilded age/progressive era mansions?  Like that staple of Lowe's commercials, Biltmore.

Maybe it's the combination of unbelievable excess -- the ceiling murals sold to noveau riche Americans by impoverished European nobility, the incredibly ugly ornate furniture that combines exquisite craftsmanship with truly hideous details, the libraries with what seem like miles of shelves of books that were obviously purchased as books-by-the-yard . . .

The Younger Daughter and I spent a couple days doing mother-daughter bonding in Asheville last week, kind of rewarding ourselves in advance helping her cousins salvage what they could in Macon, and of course we went to Biltmore.  We're both total suckers for historic structures and landscapes, and Biltmore has both.  The estate was Frederick Law Olmsted's last big project -- and it was more than big when the work began, it was ginormous,  over 200 square miles (8000 acres remain today) -- and the house was designed by Richard Morris Hunt.  We've been talking about a Biltmore expedition for several years now, and the timing was right this month. 

I had been to Biltmore before, but it had been almost 20 years.  I could remember some of the highlights from the house, but had forgotten what a nifty little city Asheville is.  Great restaurants, numerous microbreweries (one of the local tourist "attractions" is a Brews Cruise bus tour), the Appalachians for hiking, biking, canoeing, camping, the Blue Ridge Parkway for those who prefer their mountain views through a windshield, etc. . . . it's a great area.  

But the big draw is, of course, Biltmore.  The house is gigantic (~250 rooms), has more than its fair share of ostentatious touches (the two story library with an Italian mural on the ceiling, for example), is packed full of John Singer Sargent paintings (Sargent did so many portraits of Vanderbilts and Vanderbilt relations that he must have been on retainer), but still manages to feel a lot more like people actually lived there than the other Vanderbilt houses I've seen.  The bedrooms are simply bedrooms, nice but not over-the-top, and definitely not reproductions of throne rooms (e.g., Louise Vanderbilt's bedroom at Hyde Park, which was modeled on a French throne room at Versailles), and it's not that hard to picture guests gathering in the gallery to chat before dinner with a few of the Vanderbilt pet dogs lolling around drooling on people (the family's favorite breed was the St. Bernard). 
In addition to the house, the grounds include various gardens -- a formal Italian garden, a rose garden, an azalea garden, and more -- and a conservatory.  The estate also has miles of bike and horse trails, a winery, a farm exhibit (pictured above) housed in the old horse barn and complete with livestock (angora goats, chickens, Belgian horses), a hotel (the Inn on Biltmore Estate), multiple restaurants (one of which claims to be a brew pub), and offers float trips on the French Broad River.  The winery is supposedly the most toured winery in the country.  In short, Biltmore isn't just a tourist attraction -- it's a resort.  A person could go there, spend a week or more, and never leave the property.  (Assuming, of course, one had the the money -- it's not cheap.)

I think one of the things I like about Biltmore is that it does include the farm exhibits and the winery.  It's not just a celebration of conspicuous consumption like so many other historic houses from the Gilded Age tend to be.  George Vanderbilt intended the estate to be self-sustaining, with poultry farms, hog farms, and dairy cattle.  Unfortunately, he wasn't especially successful at making money, and after his death in 1914 his widow sold most of the land to the federal government -- it's now the Pisgah National Forest.  His daughter, Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil, opened the house to paid visitors in 1930.

Thank goodness it's Monday


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

To blog or not to blog

Does anyone come from a normal family?  I'm struggling this morning with the need to talk while at at the same time dealing with the usual reluctance to go anywhere near the weeds that are Too Much Information territory, especially when the TMI involves relatives and not me personally.  But I swear the family tree has enough oddballs in it that it's real hard to keep it all contained.

Actually, it's not too bad.  It's not like the family tree is loaded with criminals or perverts.  No, we've just got an over-abundance of reclusive agoraphobics.  Is there such a thing as a Garbo gene?  A "just leave me alone and let me eat my Oreos, ignore reality, and play endless games of solitaire in peace" marker on the DNA?  I've got relatives who, I swear, did not leave their homes for literally years on end.

And now the latest of those wannabe hermits:  a relative who retreated into a recliner, remote control in hand, a couple years ago and has been quietly ignoring the growing stack of mail that included the various warning notes from the bank and the county until someone physically knocked on the door to tell him, oh, by the way, your house was sold at a tax sale and the new owners take possession Monday.  As in 5 days from now.  Late last night I got a frantic call from the brother of the reality-challenged soul pleading with me to help with a last minute rescue mission.  That mission will, of course, consist primarily of hustling as much stuff as possible out of the house and into a U-Haul truck on Saturday and Sunday.  

In Macon, Georgia.  In 90+ heat.  It's going to be an interesting weekend.   

(And, yes, I'm pretty sure the dude qualifies as clinically depressed and has a desperate need to make the acquaintance of either a good therapist or some Prozac, but as long as someone is functioning well enough that he's not a danger to anyone other than himself, it's going to be hard to get the man any treatment.)

Update:  I survived.  As for the experience in general, all I can say is that whatever the 'winning' bid was at the auction, the buyers are going to be thinking they paid way too much. 

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Thank you, Joe

The news has been pretty grim recently -- the never-ending war in Afghanistan, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the economy, you name it -- so I've got to thank Joe Barton (R-Big Oil) for injecting some comic relief.  Just how tone deaf does a politician have to be to realize that sticking up for a multi-billion dollar oil company wouldn't be a real popular move with the American public, at least when we're seeing oil-covered pelicans every 20 seconds on television?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Living in a third world nation

Major intersection in metropolitan Atlanta, North Druid Hills and I-85, and the grass and weeds are getting so tall the walk sign is going to be blocked soon. 

Somehow I don't think this particular example of neglect can be attributed to one of those "do not mow, wildflower area" projects.

Update: Well, as of June 21, the weeds have been cut on this side of the guard rail (obviously not visible in picture, but it exists); no sign there are any plans to mow the rest of the area around the interchange, though, and the kudzu on the north side of the street is still making good progress in hiding the bus shelter.

Monday, June 14, 2010

And it's not even a Toyota

I managed to sleep through the excitement, but the neighbors tell me the crash was fairly loud, especially at 1:30 a.m.  The driver kind of overshot his usual parking space.

And, yes, alcohol was a factor

Saturday, June 12, 2010

So much for sleeping in on Saturday

The carpenters were hammering away next door shortly after 7.  Think they're putting up the trim around the doors and windows.  The move grows closer, and, as long as the hammering and power tools don't grow so loud that they interfere with the C-SPAN addiction, a little construction noise isn't an issue, although it did mean I was awake slightly earlier than I had planned to be.

C-SPAN began with discussing the mess in the Gulf, of course, and there were the usual tinfoil hat types calling in.  It always astonishes me how quickly people can come up with conspiracy theories, particularly truly batshit crazy conspiracy theories.  The capacity of gullible minds to believe the unbelievable never ceases to amaze me.  Example:  Al Gore and his fellow tree-huggers conspired with British Petroleum to sabotage the drilling rig so that at some point in the future all the environmentalists can make a killing in the solar panel market.  Bizarre.  Some of the theories were almost as amusing as the guy who suggested the way to solve the whole problem was to dump huge amounts of dry ice into the Gulf of Mexico to freeze it solid.  As a society, we're definitely reality-challenged. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Apathy, ennui, or malaise?

The house is a mess (we left the place looking looted when we headed out on vacation), the laundry baskets are overflowing, and I know I should be packing for the impending move up the sidewalk, but I'm feeling zero motivation.  I'll blame Blanche Lincoln (D-Walmart).  She won the Democratic primary run-off election in Arkansas last night, proving once again that once the Waltons decide to buy a state, it stays bought.  I don't think her opponent Bill Halter was quite the paragon of progressivism that various groups were claiming, but he did appear to at least come close to being so far left as to maybe qualify as a centrist, which is a lot more than can be said for Lincoln. Between politics, the mess in the Gulf of Mexico, and Israel managing to engage in some remarkably stupid behavior, the news has been remarkably depressing lately. 

The move up the sidewalk may actually be happening fairly soon, so maybe I should focus on it instead of being bummed out by politics.  All the major structural work appears to be done, the plasterers came and went while I was in Michigan, and the painters are working now.  I talked with the plumber this morning -- he's in the process of finishing up the washer/dryer hookups.  About the only thing left to do is the floors.  Once I see the carpet guys around, I'll know we'll be doing the apartment shuffle shortly. 

Work is the same old shit. It definitely doesn't function as much of a motivator.  I like what I do (most of the time) and I certainly can't complain much about working conditions or wages, but sometimes when I see the bureaucracy in action I can understand why people bitch about the government.  Of course, usually it's not actually the bureaucracy or an official government policy but some asshole supervisor just high enough in the food chain to have a tiny amount of power he or she enjoys using to make other people's lives miserable.  One of my co-workers is trying to get permission to telework due to a hardship situation.  They've  allowed teleworking for similar reasons for other people; there's no earthly reason for denying her request.  She has a job that is almost 100% Web-based, she doesn't work with any sensitive information, and she doesn't need to meet face-to-face with anyone, ever.  It's the type of work that can be done from any place on the planet that has a decent internet connection (mine fits that description, too).  It screams Tailor-Made-for-Telework.  So what is our division management doing? Throwing every conceivable roadblock in her way to keep her trapped in her cubicle.  At the same time, we're treated to email after email from The Director and other top management types blathering on about Large Nameless Agency's commitment to encouraging telework and promoting a greener work environment.  Someone needs to tell the guys at the top of the food chain that the goal of having 25% of the workforce teleworking this fiscal year is being sabotaged by the mid-level managers. 

There is one good thing to be said about the situation I'm in now -- past the magic number for qualifying for retirement.  If anyone at Large Nameless Agency ever tries jacking me around the way they're playing games with my co-worker, that'll be my last day at work.  It'll be one of those, oh, by the way, today was my last day moments as I head for the elevator with the magnet collection and my plants.  There's a limited amount of soul I'm willing to sell just to rub two coins together, especially when I now have a safety net.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The quintessential cheesehead

Cheese in one hand, kielbasa in the other, and standing next to a place that sells beer.  The only thing missing is a Packers tee-shirt.  Like so many other oversized fiberglass dudes, he was born in Sparta, Wisconsin, a relative of Muffler Men and Happy Chefs, if not quite cast from the same mold.  I could not tell year of birth as the ID plate on the back of his leg has been painted over one too many times.

Located near the interchange for Interstates I-90/94 and I-39 on state highway 78 on the way to the Merrimac ferry. Photos taken May 26, 2010.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Bathing in DEET.  It didn't work.  If I recall correctly, the scars the deer flies left will fade eventually.