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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Is there no Aristocracy in America?

I am deeply intrigued by a statement made in the October 2010 issue of Vanity Fair. Within the text of a story about the bitter rivalry of Rupert Murdoch and Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. – titled “Two Men and a Newsstand”- author Sarah Ellison writes, “In America, there is no aristocracy or upper class in the British sense of those terms.” To be honest, I do not really agree with her at all.

America is a young country, so you may not necessarily have an established family tradition “in the British sense” (as Ellison puts it) unless your family came to America with wealth. That is just a simple fact. America is a success story in so many ways, if you think about it. We were supposed to be a colonial empire to pad the pockets and provide supplementary income to those ‘across the pond’, however, as a nation we decided to rebel. Obviously, that did not turn out the way the English had intended. We did not put up with it for as long as so many other places have in modern history and that is why we are such an incredible patriotic country. We are a great nation. Clearly, like any other country in the world, there are the haves and the have nots. We occasionally have had to fight to keep our place (wherever we are) due to certain events in history, and there are many people who have become wealthy since America became the United States of America less than 250 years ago. So you do not have to have come to America with wealth. Not obligatory at all.

But to claim that we have no upper class or aristocracy is completely false. I recently had a professor (who was born in West Germany mind you) tell my class that “there are no upper class students attending this school because why would they go here when there are all those Ivies up north”. Those who read my blog and Twitter ( know I sat there in class bristling for the remaining hour of the course because I was sincerely pissed off. Most of you agreed with me that he was making an assumption only an individual not born in the U.S. would make. If you arrive in the U.S. when you are 16, you certainly miss out on developing many opinions and perceptions that could be considered more accurate. I wonder if Ms. Ellison has a similar background as this professor. Only someone with that level of education must have a high social naïveté to not get it, as in get why I attend where I am at. Clearly.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines ‘upper class’ as: “The highest socioeconomic class in a society.” This same text defines ‘aristocracy’ as: “1. A hereditary ruling class. 2. Government by the nobility or by a privileged upper class.” Can you really tell me that we have neither of these features in America? We most certainly have an upper class and I think socially and politically there is definitely a level of aristocracy which exists. I find Ms. Ellison’s clearly uninformed opinion “the British sense” to be hysterical. Does she know anyone who is British and is in the upper class? Many long-standing family friends who live in England still have sold off their family manors and priceless antiques due to taxes and expense of land upkeep. A number of others have sold off portions of land to the government as conservation easements and started organic farms on their lands to “make do”. Many other British aristocracy peers have told me stories about allowances being cut short. Are you really going to tell me that we do not have something similar going on in the U.S.? We have plenty of wealthy people in the U.S. who are members of our government or control major corporations that are essential to this nation’s well-being– Kennedy, Bush, Chase, Steves, Bradford, Winthrop, Jones, and at the turn of the 20th century we still had others including the Adams, Paley, Roosevelt, Rockefeller and Vanderbilt families as well. There are those who are FFV and those whose ancestors were sent to Texas to settle those wild lands of America. We most certainly have large manors, incredible antique collections and elite representatives in our government. We have old families with large fortunes controlling the interests in their regions with skill, a high level of education and fantastic networking connections. They may be controlling things, but most all give back in one way or another – regardless of party affiliation.

There are many people in the U.S. with great fortunes and incredible family stories who do not stick out in the public forum. Many have Twitter accounts and blogs you read every day, with the average person assuming they are simply well-travelled and possibly exaggerate a good bit. No readers, while there are many who do falsify information, there are a small number of bloggers who are from old families who have chosen to remain “upper class”… or merely first class in the way they portray themselves in this global forum of blogging. They do not over share, they wish to broaden the perspectives of their readers (educate them a bit, if you will), and they choose to remain relatively anonymous. They have money, but it is not about money, it is about quality. Quality of writing, quality of entries, quality of life. Ironically, Lisa Birnbach touches on the way in which to stay classy in her latest book, True Prep, she writes, “We prefer modest discretion to the outward manifestations of wealth that are the signs of the new hordes. [….] your money has just always been there… if it is a fact of your family’s life… if you take regular vacations but stay in rooms, not in suites [….] We do not engage in stretch limousines. We spend our money in more covert ways” (page 43). She may be writing about “preps” but she could easily be writing of anyone with responsible yet affluent means.

If you subscribe to Town and Country, you know that in the social affairs sections and occasional featured stories you hear several of the same names mentioned. You may see the same family name pop up or see the same two or three faces appear in the photographs next to the dedication of a garden, a new museum wing or a fine arts performance center. I know in a recent issue, I saw a lovely photograph of a specific dowager of an old Texas family, surrounded by her family at an event held in her honor. This “Yellow Rose of Texas” has been incredibly generous and philanthropic throughout her lifetime and fully deserved the red carpet treatment. She is a Texas woman, but she is not a woman out to have a big show or big top trumpeting her achievements. She remains understated and kind to all who cross her path. There are many people like that in America, who may have the upper class means of living, but do not forget who they can help. Her family is of the “highest socioeconomic class in a society” and they certainly rule the opinions of many in Texas.

Ellison states in her contributor’s paragraph at the front of Vanity Fair (page 100) that Murdoch’s mission with the WSJ is, “the culmination of a lifelong grudge against the elites, and he wants to win” – I wonder if she shares the same opinion?

Friday, October 8, 2010

When the WASPs Get Too WASPy: Awkward Family Adventures


Click on photos for larger view.

When my family goes to The Greenbrier, we normally have a celebration occurring. One time it was my birthday, another time my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary, my Grandmama’s 75th birthday,

Thanksgivings, Easters, and other holidays. The last time we went to The Greenbrier was in November 2008. Thanksgiving. It is normally seen as a HAPPY TIME for families to get together and share their love with one-another...
Photo of me being happy at The Greenbrier (lets ignore the baby fat and acne and awkwardness, okies? ha!):

because you almost always love each other, right?

Well, a few of the patriarchs of my family had a bit too much to drink, the kitchen staff was shorthanded (this was right before they declared bankruptcy afterall), and they had overbooked for our meal time. People were getting grouchy, and they were old... and opinionated... and WASPs. Soooo, things got a bit dicey. Let’s just say some older family members lost their cool, yelled at one another across the table and you-know-what hit the fan in front of an entire dining room of people on Thanksgiving night. Ironically, that was right when our dinner arrived. By the time all of the entrees were placed, the table was half empty. Our buddy Donny, former Dining Room Manager, had expedited our Thanksgiving dinner to our table but it was too late, 40% of our table did not have Thanksgiving dinner that year. The pictures that follow (me in Banana Republic forest green silk satin cap sleeve dress, Jimmy Choo sequined stilettos) are mostly me but my cousin as well. Seeing as dinner was cut so short (but not at the same time), the night was young!, so I "borrowed" a bottle of White Star from my Grandpapa


and frolicked all over the hotel with my cousins. These pictures are some of my absolute favorites while having a good dose of bubbly in my system. Thankfully no one was injured in any major way that night (just emotionally from embarrassment), although all of us cousins contracted a severe stomach virus that left us bedridden for the last three days of our stay. Fabulous. The memories I have from this night are some of the most hysterical, age-appropriate without being naughty, moments I have ever had. My "baby sister" cousin Charlotte was the best for putting on a brave face and letting me entertain her with my antics. Obviously, when you are High WASP, you cannot let ANYONE rain on your parade ("Mr. Arnstein, here I am!"):

[yes, I am still obsessing over this song. Still. Go figure.]

And the Glee version if you REALLY need it:

Memories are as follows:


Arriving in elevator before dinner, we realize Charlotte matches the ENTIRE elevator. Her brocade dress, my clutch, and my pashmina (because sisters share everything!) accessorize perfectly with the carpet, wood finish, and brass handles. Natch, my pre-dinner cocktail says this moment needs to be documented with a picture.

Editors note: I just realized Char is wearing a diff outfit here. I think this was the night before Thanksgiving when we all ate at Sam Snead's by the golf course. And my aunt "broke" 3 martini glasses. Uh huh, right. I demand Charlotte to "spin dammit" underneath the chandelier in the ballroom so I can "remember" the pre-Christmas décor that was already up in the pink ballroom. Of course a bellhop walks into the shot and Charlotte covered her face while laughing hysterically. That is what she does when she is embarrassed. Covers her face and keeps going!!

Post-poo-hitting-fan: I decide we are going to the most obscure places in the hotel, including the few floors we have never stayed on. I also decide to carry around a bottle of champagne to hydrate me on my mission, and realize that while Charlotte matched the elevator, I matched the walls and carpet of the entire main level. Go figure. Matching carpet and walls (and Ladies room sign). This was my profile picture on Facebook for eons and eons.

Oh look, so not only did I match the carpet and walls, there is a chair with my fabric on it. Seriously, felt exactly like my dress, it was hard to stay up. Natch I am being weird at this point.

We decided that I needed to have a "Through the Looking Glass" moment in the Victorian Writing Room, only I don’t end up going through the mirror. Disappointment. I don't hold a grudge against the room, where I normally go to "hang out". Can you even hang out at the G'brier? Really? I don't know to be honest.

The man at the bowling alley insisted I get rid of my champagne bottle and gives me a cup to place my beverage in. Wow! Champagne through a straw is bad, as you do not delicately sip it as you natch should. Things get really silly at this point. Here, I decide to get friendly with the barber shop sign. Classy. Why do I look so perplexed you may ask? Because my Dad comes around the corner by Draper's Cafe and the shops asking me if I've seen my boy cousin and his BFF who got to come (because my bro was still in China!!). I was perplexed because Dad almost caught me being "fresh!"

My Mom said when this photo was taken, "oh aren’t you being silly!" Oh yes mother darling, I am being "silly." That is exactly what is going on. Meanwhile, Mother darling, please hold this cup while Charlotte and I have a brief photo shoot of me in this chair. GB is probs the only place in the world where I won't fight you if you ask me to wear hose, too. Because it is just that special.

I then discovered the creepiest hallway ever. You would have expected two twin girls to appear at the end asking Charlotte and I to "come play with us." Did not happen, but we did find the world’s smallest working door, which was immensely amusing to photograph. I do not think my shoulders would fit through honestly. WHAT IS IT FOR??

My champagne was gone at this point, so we then decided to look for a not-2-dollar from-bedroom-minibar-or-bowling-alley soda machine. Where did I find it? In a secret place near some laundry basket. Not the most helpful image. Then again The Greenbrier (G’Brier or GB) is not a Holiday Inn, there aren’t any instructional signs of where you are and what places to not go in. That would not be classy. And See? I STILL match EVERYTHING. Even the service doors. Go figure that this joke still resonates with us kids almost three years later.


I think it was 2AM at this point. So I decided to lay on the pink Ballroom floor and take a picture of the chandelier. Good thing nobody but Char was around.


I wonder if a certain blogger (Lindsey) can tell me how to make THESE curtains. Okay, maybe we should call them drapes... as they drape so nicely. No? Don’t think they’ll fit my dining room? Probably not. Darn.

So, GB, you think when I fall asleep this pattern is what I want to see? Really? Upside down tulips in a psycho pattern? Now, why can those babies not be more spread out? Really. I had to buy a spa mask to sleep in this place because those blue china vases would glow in the night. It was eerie WASP-ness.


Munchies are NOT $18.00 peanuts. Lo siento, m’dear. We did do some damage the next day.


The next day. Stomach virus in full swing at the entire resort. White Sulphur Springs, WV got a lot of us sick, natch it spread because of employees. So not anyone’s fault at all. However, room service was busy and didn’t neglect a single detail. I know they felt bad because they probs had HEARD about dinner the night before. And that I missed my skeet shooting and horseback riding lessons that were supposed to work off my dinner from the night before. If you cannot tell, Charlotte and I went all out with the “I’m sick” grub: chicken noodle soup, large pot of hot water for green tea, honey for tea, dry biscuits, orange jello, and lemon wedges. Cheery goodness. L-O-V-E! Remember that vending machine we found? WELL, the hotel ran out of SODA so we sickly kids tried to explain to Aunt Mel where the hell the vending machine was and she totes mcgoats got lost trying to find it. Dad had to “go to town” (where are we, outside London?) and get us some ginger ale there instead. Righteous!


FYI, while other people hated this night, I loved it. Just because of my antics with Charlotte. Best. Night. Ever.

Photos by me unless noted otherwise.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Don't Rain on My Parade

Much love to the fabulous, amazing and talented Ms. Barbra Streisand: