Friday, June 11, 2010

What a Difference a Day Makes

Thursday, June 10, 2010
Hyde Park, New York
Spending a day in Hyde Park after our idyllic stay in the Amish Farmlands has thrown us into anaphylactic culture shock. We have gone from the land where pridefulness is a sin to the showplace of the Gilded Age, where owners of splendid mansions vied to outdo each other in their displays of wanton excess. It's the Amish world turned upside-down.

Food: The restaurants around Amish country specialize in all you can eat buffet or family style service of simply prepared country fare. To convey the impression of "Amish-ness," their décor is simple and unadorned. Here in Hyde Park, we began the day with breakfast at the Eveready Diner, a neon and chrome affair that would permanently injure your eyes if it were any shinier.

We lunched at the Culinary Institute of America's St. Andrew's Café, which is like our Amish country dining options only in that it purports to use locally procured meats, produce and dairy products. What happens to those products once the student chefs in the kitchen get their hands on them is another story. Our meal consisted of small portions of exquisitely prepared and artfully served dishes, enjoyed in a fine dining atmosphere. We also observed that the average weight of our fellow diners was roughly fifty pounds lighter at St. Andrew's Café than at the Good and Plenty in Intercourse. This reinforces my Amish Eating Theorem: If you don't work like the Amish, you should not eat like the Amish.

Housing: Although Frederick Vanderbilt's Mansion is one of the smallest of the forty mansions the Vanderbilt clan built, its fifty rooms are stuffed full of furniture and architectural details procured in Europe. The one item in the home made in the United States was a Steinway piano, and Frederick couldn't let well enough alone—he sent it off to Paris to be painted in French Rococo style. Louise's bedroom looks like it was lifted from Versailles, and Frederick's oversized over-ornamented bed has a tapestry with a huge crown hanging right above the headboard, leaving no doubt about his dreams of royalty. It is hard to imagine how anyone could be more prideful, unless it might be his brother who built the Biltmore, which is five times the size of this modest cottage.

We also toured the Roosevelts' place, Springwood, just down the street from the Vanderbilts'. Springwood is far less ostentatious, but at 30,000 square feet, with 35 rooms, it is quite an impressive spread. Franklin lived at Springwood from birth until age 14, and came back in his adult life, while his mother lived there. At those times, like many Amish, his family had multiple family generations living under the same roof. But, Eleanor had some issues with her mother-in-law, so she had a small house of her own built on the property, where she could stay when Franklin was out of town. Usually with the Amish it works the other way around—the parents move to the smaller quarters. But, with servants the issues of keeping up a big place in old age are pretty much moot.

Attitude: We visited the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, the first of the official Presidential Libraries. Roosevelt was a big collector of all kinds of things (he had the largest stamp collection in the world when he died), so he recognized the value of preserving his collections for posterity. We suspect that he built the library because he was running out of room in the house for all his stuff. Like other Presidential Libraries we have visited, his has a reproduction of his desk area in the Oval Office. Unlike the others, his desk is so cluttered with doo dads it looks like a table at a flea market--here's a Presidential quality we can truly emulate.

He was responsible for a huge number of government reforms. He initiated the WPA when a quarter of our workforce was unemployed, and.further responded to the Great Depression with reforms of the securities and investment banking industries. Legislation he pushed separated investment banking from commercial, created the FDIC guaranteeing deposits, extended the powers of the Federal Reserve Bank, and brought the stock exchanges under FTC and SEC regulation. (Effectiveness of the reforms he instituted has eroded over time, and here we find ourselves n another financial crisis, with calls for stronger government regulation again.)

President Roosevelt also introduced Social Security in 1935, which brings us to another contrast with the Amish. The Old Order Amish are opposed to Social Security—although they pay income tax, they do not pay for or receive Social Security benefits.

Traffic: We ended the day driving to Shelton, Connecticut, and getting caught in a horrendous rush traffic jam that had us crawling for miles, then a lesser jam when we tried to escape the first one. It made us yearn for those empty country roads of Lancaster County once again.

1 comment:

  1. I visited the culinary institute and Eleanor's home a couple years ago while visiting Judith P. We also walked around Springwood a bit. Nice to reminisce while reading your descriptions!
    Amish vs. very rich, many contrasts but both fascinating sub-cultures. Interesting that the Amish reject social security, and not, I've heard, the very rich.