NORMAN J OLSON : From Biltmore to Furniture to Today
NORMAN J OLSON : "Biltmore Garden Party"
JOHN HORVATH Jr : Ten Years Plus, Still Thriving
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From Biltmore to Furniture to Today Ten Years Plus, Still Thriving  
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From Biltmore to Furniture to Today

last Friday, my wife wanted to get away from Minnesota for a couple days so looking around to see where we could fly to… which flights were open for employee pass travel… we decided to go to Charlotte, North Carolina… because we had heard that the Appalachian scenery was interesting and it was a place we had never been…

we started talking about leaving at about 10 a.m. and left for the Minneapolis airport (MSP) around noon for a flight that left at around 2 p.m… it is not unusual for us to make travel plans in this last minute way… and we have had some very interesting experiences going to places that we basically drew out of a hat, as it were…

doing a quick bit of on-line searching before heading to the airport, I typed into the search engine "day trips from Charlotte…" and the machine came up with one… which turned out to be the Biltmore Estate in Ashville, NC… a few comments on another web site suggested that there was very nice mountain scenery in the Ashville area, and a friend of Mary's had suggested that a place called High Point, NC was a national center of furniture manufacturing… and since we have a beautiful wooden table that was made in NC, we were interested to see what was there…

so we got to NC late in the afternoon and stayed at a very cheap hotel ($39) with a very hard bed… we had a rental car as it is hard to travel by public transit in most of the USA, and rates were low due to it being, I think, off season so the car was only $38 for two days… Saturday morning, we took off driving toward Ashville… the drive was very scenic, even though it is dead of winter and the hardwood forests were all devoid of leaves… the grass was still green in many places and some of the shrubbery was green so, it was not quite as brown as Minnesota at this time of year… and while it was very cold in NC, that was equal to it being very WARM in Minnesota… and it was a bright sunny day, so a good day for a road trip… the mountains around Ashville were indeed very beautiful with indigo hills in the distance… these mountains are not craggy like the Western mountains but high with heavy forest and rounded profiles… I kept joking that I wanted to meet some real Appalachian hillbillies… travel in the United States has revealed I think that the USA is getting to be more and more homogeneous… I mean, the food is the same, the fast food places are the same… the malls and shops are the same… the advertising is the same… the chain stores and restaurants are the same… and the people look and sound the same, if often seems to me from California to Florida and up and down the country… I think this has to do with the ubiquitous media… television is everywhere… I have one and all the channels and shows are the same at home as in the motel in North Carolina… the internet, facebook etc. etc are all the same… all over the country people are hearing the same voices and buying the same products… and the regional voices really are disappearing… both the Texas drawl and the Minnesota "yah sure youbetcha" are not found among the young and will be entirely gone in the future… while it is easy to see this as a culture of blandness drifting from coast to coast, I guess it does make travel easier and change is the norm of the universe, so why not here…

anyway, driving into Ashville, we saw a sign for a "Farmers Market" so we exited the freeway to have a look… some years ago, we were driving in Hollywood, California looking for the huge farmer's market there… we stopped to ask two very nicely dressed guys who were walking cute little dogs if they could direct us the the Farmers Market… they were trying hard to be helpful, but had obviously never heard of anything called a "farmers market…" so, they put their heads together and then directed us a few blocks left and right certain that they had figured out our weird request… what we found as we followed their directions was a Ralph's grocery store… (Ralph's is a large chain of big grocery stores) to this day, they are probably talking about the hicks from the sticks who referred to the grocery store as a "farmers market…"

the NC farmers market was a serious market for wholesale distribution of locally grown and imported produce… it was pretty slow due to the season but we saw a few stands open selling apples from Pennsylvania and citrus from Peru… we stopped at one of the stands to look at some apples and there was an old guy, who looked like a farmer, in overalls and a jean jacket with a checked cap… he was standing in the door of his shop talking to us and I thought for all the world he was speaking some foreign language because I could not understand and then when I made out a few words, I thought he was maybe a person unable to speak due to some problem… but then I realized that he was speaking English with such a thick accent I could barely understand him… later I found that several of the fruit sellers spoke that way and was delighted to see that the homogenization of America had not completely wiped the amazing Appalachian Southern accent from the map… the apples were excellent…

the Biltmore estate was designed by Richard Morris Hunt, the great New York architect who designed the famous Fifth Avenue façade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the base of the Statue of Liberty, among many other buildings… the grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the great landscape architect, journalist and environmentalist who also designed Central Park in New York City… I was in the middle of reading a book about the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 which both of those architects had worked extensively on… and from the book, I knew that they had both had a hand in the Biltmore Estate which was built for George Vanderbilt… so, was surprised to find that we coincidentally were going to a place that I just happened to be reading about…

the house with towers and turrets, gargoyles and high roofs was built to resemble a French Chateau and really is more like a hotel than a private residence… the most interesting thing about the building is the detail of the craftsmanship of the wood and stone work… showing, I guess, that progress is never an even path onward and upward… and when something is gained, something is, as Joni Mitchell pointed out, "lost…" and so, today houses, even the houses of the very rich, are built of drywall and metal two by fours… stapled together with nail guns… and you would be hard put to even find a craftsperson who could do handmade woodwork and stonework… on the other hand George Vanderbilt, in spite of his millions and his vast country house, died in 1914 at the age of 51 due to appendicitis…

the grounds of the Estate made a very nice park with walking paths and all kinds of shrubs and trees planned by Olmsted to make the kind of civilized "natural" landscape not wild, but not entirely tame either… that he believed made a nice outdoors ambience for people… and it is that… it was winter of course, so the landscape was of necessity subdued with lots of tan and brown… still, it is a lovely park and has a very natural feel without the scariness of the real wilderness… and the gothic mass of the house with its gilded age decorations, looks very interesting from the walkways, like some immense castle seen through the arcing tree branches…

I also enjoyed the tour of the old servants quarters and kitchens of the huge house… had my non aristocratic ancestors been in that place and time, that is where they would have been toiling from dawn to dusk to get the rich folks in and out of their fancy outfits, fed and taken care of… I could imagine the kitchen maids working 14 or 16 hour shifts in the heat of the huge coal fired range, cooking fancy food for the rich folks and plain food for the servants and staff people… a hard and thankless job, I think, with little time off for recreation and the kind of leisure and/or intellectual pursuits that I have always managed to fit into my schedule even when working full time… imagine me, alive back then… child of a drunken farm family, lucky to have a job grooming the riding horses, shoveling their shit or trimming the shrubbery instead of starving on a subsistence farm back up in the hills… or dead at age ten of appendicitis… well, interesting to see, I guess how the wealthy used to live and that artists and writers were welcomed visitors at this grand house back in the 1890s and 2000s along with the sons and daughters of the rich… and the portraits by Sargent show, I guess, that art for the rich can be interesting even if it is just portraits of their fancy outfits and unremarkable faces…

well, after viewing the house and a drive around the lovely wooded park that makes up the Biltmore Estate, we drove across the state to Winston Salem for the night… I imagine that is tobacco country just because Winston and Salem both were cigarette brands back when I smoked… maybe still are… I don't really know as I avoid tobacco products religiously due to being ten years away from addiction to that nasty cancer causing weed… then on to High Point which does indeed have a furniture store on every corner… unfortunately it was Sunday so most of the stores and outlets were closed and the ones we did look at had only very generic, very beige, very expensive furniture like one would see in any furniture store anywhere in the USA… furniture that ordinary working people want because they think it is what the rich have and I guess that is probably true, although, I do not know any rich people, so really do not know what the furniture in the typical McMansion looks like… I would guess it is very beige… anyway, driving back toward Charlotte, we did come across a warehouse type of outlet that had some really amazing oak furniture at very good prices… which was kind of fun to look at… Mary had hoped to find a restaurant with some authentic Southern cooking, but all we seemed to find were chains, fast food, and the usual Mexican, Italian and Chinese restaurants you find in Minnesota… funny that most independent restaurants in the USA are Mexican, Italian or Chinese, I think…

well, anyway, we got a flight back to MSP Sunday evening and having had a nice weekend away, the trip left me feeling glad to be who I am and where I am in the Earth's time/space continuum… glad that by the time I had appendicitis at age 10, surgery to heal that condition was safe and routine… but also glad that I could go and see the works of the hands of those amazingly skilled people who could carve a gargoyle head out of a block of stone or join wood so well that it looked new a hundred and eighteen years later… and even the painters of the rich who splashed their oil paint around to such lovely effect…

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From Biltmore to Furniture to Today Ten Years Plus, Still Thriving  
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"Biltmore Garden Party"
Biltmore garden party imagine a summer party on the lawn… in 1897… imagine the guests in their tuxedos and ball gowns idly smoking or talking… imagine a tired servant walking around with a tray of hors devours… feeling the gravel poke through the holes in old shoes… the chafe of starched cotton on sweaty skin under a wool jacket… looking at the rich girls, so fair in their silks… knowing that nobody noticed him any more than they noticed the stone man carved at the edge of the cornice… glad to get back to the brief camaraderie of the kitchen… walking half asleep… knowing that a hot bed under the roof would be more welcome to his tired limbs than the softest eider down of his betters… still to be idle all day might be nice… to read great books like the Boss, paint pictures like Mr. Sargent, or look down ones nose at all and sundry like the pale young millionaire, might not be all bad… might be a lark so to speak…
Poetry endangers the established order  of the soul - Plato

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From Biltmore to Furniture to Today Ten Years Plus, Still Thriving  
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Ten Years Plus, Still Thriving
Decade of togetherness, unloving each morning awakening to that bleak yawn Stygian hole of stench swelling toward my spine, reaching its tendrils across banks of muscled flesh knotting itself into great bulks of shot patterned spots where the pain seems specific. A deer. Ten years plus this pain unofficial pain thriving; though thankful for its escape from captive in my head (its source by nature - of course the brain, no medic need explain where senses sit) so now by cause unannounced - perhaps an all too willing mind - or given name to make it actual, actionable for practitioners who uneducated in such trivial as what pains they give their patient - cadavers never once rose to bitch about a poke nor low life ER scum rose from dead and bellowed ouch. Uneducated in pain, how can they believe it; surely it must dwell in one tight place some instrument medical yet medieval might yet detect. Each year the pool of bets grows large; Each year no winner claims that pot. It cannot leap from joint to joint, ankle to hip, then up: I have an article or two published in the finest journals and my colleagues in the Medical Association now agree. You must cooperate. Its path may then seem along the spinal nerve and may seem to spark in some unlikeliest spiral to seat of pain above, it is a kind of cloud that rains dis-ease. Stop at my front desk; take two of these, make an appointment six months from today. My god it seems we need you talk to our volunteer psychologist (Her thesis was on pain). Ten years of it? Tsk. Tsk. I had an uncle's aunt by granddaddy's fourth wife maybe third who after birth of five strong boys imagine housework with such a lot and no conveniences back then yet it's been said she suffered your immodest pain, yet not one complaint was ever passed her mouth. She read her sacred texts and took her comfort there. Yes. I have heard the Job job, seen it linger in eyes that look aside a moment when I turn toward them. I am no Job. Yet thriving day to day, we've grown fat on moans, thick on sudden outbursts from our lips that mean to speak but only make some awkward noise. Are you okay? they ask - the world wants to know, then disregards or wishes me, Be Now Well. Fool Lazarus rose when asked and since There are no pains that linger on beloved Souls. Something unseen, you're damned. Doubtless, touch of saintliness ought, would, could, should, and certain might make peace with pain as does poetry - some poets take to this languid therapy of lines labored across pages with faux ink less permanent when typed to screen (perhaps also less demanding of senses - surely less needing sense - than hand- written words). There may lay magic hid in scrolled electron's momentary passing then no more, its brief life complete in simply seeming to evaporate. Modeling our lives perhaps, reminding us whose hand upon the modem controls our on and off, those pages that we have visited, those that we paused awhile to reason on, what we leave behind and what download, and which order forms remain blank. Ah, if only pain too might be a Turing link that ons or offs according to my preset needs. It is not. Pain is akin not with machine but with poetry: insistent day to day, its steady patient praxis stuns exotic past to which it links, measures present pain, its contexts too, invents words for it, embeds it on a page whose repetitious retellings force to surface long roots buried deep, makes our minds shun what is actual, make palpable what is our truth, then make each ever every one of us prefer to focus on mere words for it. So then, a poem is - to be sure - a place where some saintliness has put its touch. And, pain must be knowledge of such truth. God's gift to us is pain. But better you than I should suffer it.
NORMAN J OLSON : From Biltmore to Furniture to Today
NORMAN J OLSON : "Biltmore Garden Party"
JOHN HORVATH Jr : Ten Years Plus, Still Thriving
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