December 21, 2010

We just got home from a Christmas trip to the Biltmore House.  Biltmore is the largest private residence in the United States.    Its huge.  You can't see it all in one visit.  A private family lived there for a couple of generations, now they sell tickets per view.   All the unseen halls and rooms and floors of the place used to fire my imagination.  As a child I had very elaborate fantasies of being left alone to explore the whole place.  Oddly, I had no fantasies of living there, no delusions of the grandeur, no hankering for fancy wall paper, marble, and servants.  I was compelled by the mystery of the space, the grounds, and the history.

Seeing it as an adult felt very different.  I still feel compelled by the history, seen and unseen artifacts, by the architectural detail.  (Architectural detail thrills me.  How odd?)   But the space itself filled me with two unexpected ideas.  One: it might be nice to keep my house a bit cleaner and a bit more artistically.  Because its inspiring.  But which is also a fine line.  Because cleaner and more decorated quickly become the opposite of inspiring and even downright vapid a whole lot of the time.  So I thought on that.  And I noticed I had more affinity for the clean spare lines of bottom tier life at Biltmore.   It was warmer down there, physically and psychologically.  The kitchen may be the nicest room in the whole estate.  I think that's a common irony of money, though; the finer things often aren't.  Not really.

And secondly: the size of the space seemed rather dreadful.  As a child I longed to explore.  As an adult I considered what it might be like to actually live there, to raise children there.   For instance, to traverse across the house, find the pool, to swim there in the silence of something like a catacomb.  No thank you.  I can hardly imagine a more ghostly place.   True, I'm the girl who courted my future husband in a 30x30 uninsulated tool shed and think it, far and away, the grandest place I've ever lived.  And clearly, I believe in holding the children close.  But who in their right mind gives birth to babies in a home where it is actually possible to lose them, not to mention the horrifyingly dangerous way the building keeps dropping away at every turn or hovering over man made cliffs above pillows of glass all up on a mountain top.  I don't know...I think the metaphor of physicality matters.  And what does that place say?  My penis is bigger than your penis?  Or does it say, Before pride there rides a fall?  Well, the family did decide to move out; they are still alive.

Maybe its simple sour grapes.  Biltmore is a national treasure of sorts, if not a national symbol of excess.  And it is shockingly well done.  And it is beautiful.   No photography is allowed inside.  And it was way too cold up on the mountain yesterday for snapping pictures outside.  I got two as we drove away.  One, the shot of the front we've all seen a thousand times.  The side view, I think, gives you a better idea of just how big this house really is.
No, I don't think its possible for me to express how big this house is, photographically.  You really should just go see it.  The real highlight was time with Pops.
Also, listening to Sissy Spacek read "To Kill A Mockingbird", hearing Henry toss off an easy and apt definition of foreshadowing and nefarious, and his spontaneous decision to thank Pops for dinner in Italian.  (Forgive me, but this warms an unschooling mother's heart.)

Riley curled her hair for the first time, in rag curls no less.  And ate her first rare filet mignon.  Some of the finer things really are finer.


val said...

Pretty curls and dinner with grandpa? Yes.

I've never heard of this house, but your description and the thoughts to follow made perfect sense.

Glad you're home. love, Val

Cecelia (CC) said...

Years ago I waltzed the halls of the French château, Chenonceau. The two homes are similar to me. At that time, one of my two traveling companions was a devout Marxist. She (Kate) stood still, thin as a rail in her long dark coat, staunchly sputtering: "This should not exist. It only makes strife in the world. They should destroy all of these, raze them, and free the people of this legacy of oppression." The other friend was from south of London, from a lovely tudor farmhouse where she wore wellies to feed the sheep. Jamz laughed at Kate. They were old friends. As Jamz and I waltzed away again down the great hall across the river she called, "Oh Kate, really dear, do lighten up. It's a wonderful architectural, cultural moment. Come, dance with us!" It's all as you say, with curls and granddads worth more than gold.