The Guilty Party

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Notes from North Carolina

For over twenty years I worked at a store in an upscale shopping center called The Biltmore Fashion Park. For most of those years I had no idea, and, quite honestly, less curiosity, about where the name came from. Then a few years ago I heard about the Biltmore Estate just outside Asheville, North Carolina. The Biggest House in America, built by George Vanderbilt, youngest scion of William Henry Vanderbilt, who himself was the eldest son of "Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt, who built an enormous transportation empire in the mid 1800's and left almost all of his estate to son Billy, who, possibly in an effort to prove his father's assessment of his talents and work ethic wrong, nearly doubled the value of his inheritance in the mere nine years between his father's death and his own. At the time he died he was the richest man in the world. George, as eighth out of eight children, received the smallest portion of this enormous wealth.

It seems to have been enough for him to scrap together the funds to build his version of a Loire Valley Renaissance chateau, modeling it after examples such as the Chateau de Blois. George passed away in 1914 and although the house has remained in the family it has been essentially a tourist attraction and excellent example of Gilded Age extravagance since sometime in the 1950's. So of course we wanted to see it. Here are a few photos from the grounds, which have been reduced to a mere 8,000 acres from the original purchase of something around 120,000 acres. I guess the choice was either sell off the land or get a part time job to pay the taxes and the groundskeepers' salaries and selling the land seemed less time consuming.

You can't take pictures inside the place. If you visit and want visual evidence you've got to buy one of their books. Which we did.

This shot I took while we were on the Architect's Tour, which takes you, among other places, to the way up high balconies both front and back.

The grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same fellow who did such a spiffy job with Central Park. Close to the home are elegant, manicured gardens including one with lots of water lilies, but stay on the path and soon you are in carefully conceived "wild" country, heading to the Bass Pond.

An early evening view from the back. I do need to send a thank you note to the horse who was nice enough to pose for me.

The Rose Garden.

Well, we did more than visit the Biltmore while we were in North Carolina. We also attended a concert at the Brevard Music Center. This was a very nice surprise sprung on us by my cousin Maggie, who has lived in Asheville for about a year and a half and who knows how much we enjoy good music. The evening was gorgeous, the venue handsome as can be and the music making of a very high order. The conductor was Joann Falletta, who is a petite woman with what seems to be enormous energy as well as world class conducting skills, and the violin soloist was Robert McDuffie, who just ripped it up on the Tchaikovsky Concerto in D Major and then followed with a beautifully played encore. If I know my traditional Celtic tunes the encore was "Bluebonnets Across the Border".
Just like no photos inside the Biltmore, there were no photos during the performance, so here are a few shots of the open air concert hall  before the concert began and surroundings.
There were some very nice "musical" items for sale, benefiting the educational programs at Brevard.

Before I forget, our visit to North Carolina actually began with one night in Charlotte. I am sure the city has lots to recommend it, but we weren't especially enthralled with the bits and pieces we saw. We stayed at the NS Alexander Homestead Bed and Breakfast, which is a lovely old house, nicely decorated and situated on several acres of pretty grounds. Our room was beautifully appointed and the bed comfortable. So the place has some things going for it. Unfortunately there are several items we felt were on the debit side of the ledger. For one thing, there is little if any sound insulation between the rooms and the only other occupied room was right next to ours and its occupants were enjoying a rather loud James Bond movie marathon that lasted from the time we checked in around 4:30 PM to almost 11:00 PM. And while the website does mention "bathroom down the hall", they fail to mention said bathroom will be shared. I'm a community minded fellow, but honestly, that little fact should be mentioned. They also failed to mention the security gate it is necessary to pass through in order to get to the house. The code they gave us did not work and it took a while for anyone to come out to let us in.

One of the reasons we like to stay at B&B's is because we like to meet the owners. They are almost always a wealth of information about the area, often as not are excellent hosts who literally make you feel as if you are guests in their own home and it's just part of the B&B experience that sets it apart from staying at a hotel, however nice it might be. Well, the owners of the NS Alexander were nowhere to be found while we were there.The closest thing to a resident seems to be Winn-Dixie, an affable dog who likes to have her belly rubbed. There were a couple of employees skittering about, but one was a bit conversation shy, possibly due to the fact that English was obviously not her first language, and the other was a nice enough fellow who seemed to have a whole lot to do.

The breakfast itself was unremarkable, saved for us by some wonderful conversation with a gentleman from Atlanta who was with his son who had just finished a basketball camp elsewhere in the state. We very much enjoyed our time with them and felt badly that we had harbored such uncharitable thoughts about our next door neighbors with the 007 festival in their room.

Looks like this entry is going pretty long, so I'll do a part two in a day or so. There will be shots from the Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens, maybe more from the Biltmore and some very nice things need to be said about the Carolina Bed and Breakfast, our home for four days in Asheville.

Whether Home or Away, I wish you a wonderful day.

A Bit About Me

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I am a writer with a longtime interest in photography. I'm a dad, husband, photographer, and not very good guitarist. My first novel, Boomerang, is available in both paperback and ebook form at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and As a matter of fact, my second novel, The Baer Boys, can be found at exactly the same places.