Thursday, May 21, 2009

Newport, Rhode Island and the Breakers

Conspicuos comsumption, the gilded age, the classic mansion, a vulgar display of wealth? All phrases used to describe the Breakers, the mansion of the Vanderbilts, I walked through the first three rooms, with my mouth agape! We hadn't seen such opulance since touring castles in Spain. The dining room left both of us speechless. The platinum covered breakfast room, the carved marble bathtubs, all gave us a glimpse of wealth, power, and an understanding of their blessings and curse.
Roger and Fran, two long time family friends, invited us to go along with them to Newport, Rhode Island. Not really having any plans we rode with them as we drove along the coast. Occassional glimpses of bays greeted us as we passed rare openings in the trees.
Arriving in Newport we first made the usual stop at the local visitor center. There, we got a map of Newport, directions to the downtown area for lunch, and looked at possible tours of the mansions on the islands.
The downtown was dissapointing. The usual chain resturants and stores met our gaze, where would an actual local place be? A cop directed us to a bar and grill, the Brickyard, that had been in operation since the 1960's,(and was housed in a buiding built in 1842).
Renita had sole and the rest of us had scrod. Roger and I had the fish sandwichs and Fran had the fish and chips, which turned out to be a huge platter of three fillets! We all agreed that it had been an excellant choice for lunch.
Walking back to the car we stopped to take a picture of the bay and for the first time we had a view of the charm of the island. Sailboats sat moored at their piers, contrasting sharply with the the busy roads and modern looking stores.
We decided to tour the Breakers, the largest mansion on the island. The visitors center had told us that we could buy passes for two or more mansion tours but we decided to visit only one, and take our time.
The opening paragraph pretty much descibed our reaction to the Breakers Mansion, the summer home of the Vanderbuilt Rairoad Baron. Upon entering, a greeter handed each one of us a self guided player, which described each room, and had actors speaking quotes from the Vanderbilts and their servants.
Now I had attended a workshop, on teaching children of the ultra rich and the poor and so I had an different insight. At the workshop, we were told of how many people of old money were really quite helpless in that they had no idea of how to live without servants. Money slaves, not that I felt sorry for them.
It reminded us of the southern mansions built on the backs of slavery, only this was of a different kind, economic slavery? That really doesn't correctly describe it but it was a lifestyle that still exists, although the mansions are empty due to the lack of servants.
We had to laugh as the lifestyle, get up, have breakfast, followed by a day at the beach kind of sounded like our lifestyle. One of the Vanderbilt daughters had said that she hoped someone would love her for herself, and not just because of her money...... , and so she found a purpose in life in her sculptures.
The tour took the rest of the day. We did make a quick trip to the Naval Base and War College, where Roger had won an award for the highest score in his class(Roger was a Marine Lieutenant at the time and later served as a Captain in the Coast Guard until retirement). Fran told us stories of when they were stationed on the island, while Roger was in school. WE enjoyed sharing the day with them and it was a good day, although we never found the plaque. Clear skies.

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