I can't remember where I read it, but it's rich people's houses that make the difference. Ultimately, I'm pretty sure I agree about that. Castle doctrine. I just saw the tweet " when really the upper class is also held together by a kind of secret traditionalism"
A couple observations.
A couple dozen summers ago, I used to go to Martha's Vineyard for the last big party. Labor Day weekend it was. And when I thought I was hot stuff in my Black American Prince years, I managed to hobnob with pretty much anyone I pleased. Until one day when I was writing poetry out by the West Chop lighthouse I happened across a couple of stunning lovelies whom I immediately attempted to charm. I made some bit of headway but discovered that they were coy about their lodgings. But I did managed to learn enough that they were heirs of the Vanderbilts. Somebody's grandparents were butlers and such butlers and their offspring were very well taken care of by the Vanderbilts. But it was the coyness and its accompanying rules that revealed themselves to be most interesting. You see they were quite clear that they were to have no male company after dark in their apartments, wherever they were. I attempted then to make a dinner date, but I could tell that I couldn't be so forward. I was taken aback a bit, considering the tone of entertainment that took place on the Avenue that evening. And as I grumbled to myself about how crass it all was, I couldn't help but obsess over those two and their restrictions - the sort my daughter now resides under at her sorority house in San Jose.
Just this weekend, on my way to visit some snow in the San Gabriel Mountains, I drove through one of my favorite neighborhoods on the planet, the swanky woody end of Pasadena on the east side cliffs over the Arroyo. I remember living there before 9/11 and my disgust at the one house that was my absolute favorite in every way except one. It had a giant banner in support of candidate Bush. Now I understand. Then, I absolutely could not. On this excursion, now much wiser, I felt a kind of saddened condescention for the prisoners of those august homes. I know what it is like to have everything I need at home and I know the feeling of girding my loins to make any trips anywhere away. I have clothing for every occassion and a choice of automobiles.
Why leave home? Whom do you invite into your home?
If you were resplendently wealthy and could afford the sort of home that is luxurious and large by any standard, I think that home would be some sort of anchor away from the public. Think about your dreams as a kid. Almost every fantasy mega-mansion includes a bowling alley. Who bowls alone at home? Well, if you had a comfortable library with all the books you wanted, or a stocked refrigerator with all your favorite food, or the complete collection of recordings from your favorite musical groups why would you go anywhere? More to the point, that as one rises in society, one finds the ability to 'do this at home'. I have quite surprised myself with the emergent quality of my own home cooking - to the point at which I'd put my Caesar salads and martinis against those of any fancy restaurant I've been to, which is quite a few. And if my lazy mediocrity can set a table that rivals the top 10%, imagine what I could do if I could hire the chefs and bartenders I know today. At the very least, here in Southern California, the quality of home in-ground pools far outshines that of any public plunge. Ick.
A home is a museum and a redoubt and a prison and a library and all that and more when it is of significant size and alive. This was in my final estimation of Bleak House the central organizing principle of Western society. The Big House. Propriety and Property all in one. That thing that shelters you and your children and your ideas and your comforts and prejudices. It is your retreat. And why shouldn't it be? Who can retreat in public except one who purposefully goes incognito to blend in with the crowd?
These days it seems as if the public fears for no good reason. I have made it an axiom of my Peasant Theory that the masses are a force of nature to be reckoned with. You cannot change it, nor can you predict it with much accuracy, but you can certainly understand when its dangers are imminent and soon to be upon you. Weathering any storm requires a few well understood preparations.
The upper class must surely understand these preparations. Wealth can prepare one for class simply through the social evolution inherent in retaining ones own house. I've not often congitated on the difference between old money and smart money, but surely old money must have some smarts, if only to get along with itself. Understatement in public would be a clear winner in my old money rulebook, and relaxation at home (or at some private club, if certain sanctities were observed about the home) would be a second rule. Of the sanctities, there have got to be some fairly hard and fast guidelines about whom one allows into the home. After all, butlers, security cams and guard dogs all serve similar purposes and we all kind of want those don't we?
At this point I'd like to take a tangent to observe how much of what we think about the upper class and of wealthy people in general is informed by, to be brief, Downton Abbey. It is our general understanding about English and European nobility, cast in our dramas and literature that gives us all these notions. I'm looking to get a more interesting picture of this from personal experience over the next few years as I begin to purposefully wander around the privileged classes of Americans. If I don't make my own million, I'm determined to observe other people's millions because I'd really like to know what is worth preserving, if I can sniff it out, in our current aristocracy's culture. After all, if we Americans are destined to become the likes of Lindsay Lohan when we all get rich (which we already are, mostly) then we may as well turn more things over to Sharia. Sharia has something very powerful going for it, which is that it makes the forces of the nature of the Masses, very predictable and controllable indeed. We have yet to see how good we are at corrupting our own democracy and liberties, but let us not forget Tytler's threshold has already been crossed.
In times of trouble there must be clear tipping points. And yet some things are preserved. I'm now thinking of some of the extroardinary mansions just off the east end of Detroit. Grosse Pointe. Some of it is cheap, I think, if I can afford what was once upper class. The bricks still stand straight and hold in the warmth of woodburning fireplaces evoking home and hearth of a wealthy white Christmas. In my own family there have been those that once possessed a building with servants' quarters. I slept there in comfort, though the wifi needed some work. But with the wifi and the fully stocked bar in the fabulously remodeled kitchen and the rarely used formal dining room, I couldn't be bothered to go out for pizza. We grumbled about the tourists who eyeballed the Frank Lloyd Wright across the wide tree-lined street.
If America is fine, which parts are certainly world-class and robustly healthy, then that will be preserved like the image of Santa Claus. And whether or not one believes in the exceptional myths, they can and will be enshrined evoking the best of us during the best of times.
While Malvos will snipe and Wilsons derail
The best of our betters will somehow prevail
Because life is survival at all costs so know
That some will survive and never lay low
Or go quietly into that eternal sleep.
A home is a castle and castles will keep.
What's good is what prospers so long as we choose
To be good and reward a failure to lose
To the dark side while darkness will never be gone
We linger, the stinger of death we will gone.
And yet in our castles we find in our hearts
longing company and company's seductive arts
still do charm and disarm our armory's guncarts.