Two weeks ago, in the process of research for a project that you will be hearing about later, I wandered through the heart stoppingly beautiful town of Kennebunkport in Southern Maine.  I was on a tight schedule, and the day was cold, so I didn't take many pictures.  As I left the picture-perfect village on the way out to the Cape Arundel neighborhood, I passed the River Club, an iconic shingle style structure at the edge of town, and meant to come back and photograph it, but once on Cape Arundel, I got diverted.  

The clubhouse at the Kennebunk River Club
The Casino building at the Kennebunk River Club
 A friend who had been there a couple of weeks before mentioned how disconcertingly huge some new houses were on that rocky headland, and so right she was.  Big old shingle style summer cottages, by no means tiny themselves, had been displaced by jaw-dropping----and I do not mean this in a nice way----new odes to 90's style wealth, destroying the scale and effect of this most charming neighborhood in several places.  

Most of the 50-odd summer colonies on the Maine coast grew up around the huge old summer hotels put up by speculators and developers, in Cape Arundel's case, the Sea Shore Development Company.  The Colony Hotel at Kennebunkport is the largest and grandest of the dozen or so that survive up and down the coast.
On this day, The Colony looked over a cold winter sea. 
The older cottages of the Cape Arundel colony are very much of a piece, large, yet compact, poised on relatively small lots on picturesque lanes overlooking the ocean.
One of many picturesque carriage houses, this one with an ocean view
This cottage on Ocean Avenue is for sale. 8br, 3fp, ocean, bush and shrub views in season

During the various interminable Bush presidencies, the house saw many protests
After WWII, big summer houses on the coast of Maine could be purchased for a song, and many went begging, eventually being torn down, or converted to motels or institutional use before becoming popular again in the market in the 1980s.  This one became a motel, and is an odd note amidst its neighbors.  One presumes the Bush view is included in the rates.
Boarded up, waiting for summer, this house nicely composed cottage is overwhelmed by its new neighbor
Lost on the way to the Hamptons.  By far the best of the new houses on Cape Arundel, it nevertheless spawls assertively in a way that even the largest of the old cottages do not

As I rounded the bend, I was confronted with the number one tourist attraction in Kennebunkport, the Walker's point estate of George Bush.  At that exact moment, a ray of bright sun burst out from the clouds on what had been a cloudy afternoon, and shone directly over the house.  Go figure. 

The sun always shines over Walker Point

It was positively allegorical, but as I still haven't forgiven the perfectly decent elder Bushes for their devil spawn son, I preferred not to think too hard about it and continued driving.  Although the neighborhood has always discouraged parking on its winding shore road, the town long ago had to give in and create a scenic turnout overlooking the Bush property.  And to my amazement, even on this out of season cold March afternoon, there was considerable traffic---a steady stream of mostly elderly people snapping photographs.  I took advantage of the rare bit of sun and parked and took a walk along the shore, where most of these photographs were snapped in the waning light. 

The D.D. Walker cottage on Walker's Point, now demolished
 Walker's Point was once known as Point Vesuvius.  The ongoing tug of war between summer residents and locals over problem of disappearing shore access was strongly felt here, as a local newspaper lamented the loss of paths traditionally used by fishermen on the point, as it was shut off for the construction of a new summer cottage by George Bush's namesake maternal grandfather George Herbert Walker of St. Louis in 1903.  The next year, Bush's uncle, D.D. Walker, built a much larger cottage adjacent to his father's, which has since been demolished.  The architects for both were Chapman & Frazer of Boston.

From 1973, until 1981 when he inherited Walker's Point, Bush I owned this cottage on Ocean Avenue



I really should be sticking to my favored subjects, pretty houses, pretty gardens, pretty rooms, but smoke is coming out my ears, and an excellent editorial in today's Times (click HERE) is fanning the flames.  Not incidentally, I accompanied my friend Sidekick to a children's Cake Party at the local library today.  If my tone gets a bit strident, it is not only because I feel passionately about what I'm about to reveal, but I may be on a bit of a sugar high, having consumed pieces of a number of cakes named for children's books, including a Harold and the Purple Crayon Cake (blueberries), and of course, Madelines...

Maine has always--mostly always--been a sensible state politically.  It really never mattered much if the legislature or Governor were Republican or Democrat---there was always enough common sense to keep things level, and enough common cause to effect compromise.   In the last few months madness has overtaken us.   A man who could not possibly have been elected Governor at any other time in our history caught a wave, and rode in to victory thanks to a split in the majority vote created by an Independent and a Democratic candidate, neither of whom were able to separately gather enough of the much larger moderate vote  to win, leaving  this guy in charge.  There's no nice way to put it:  The man is a mean spirited buffoon.  Four years ago he couldn't even have gotten the nomination, and yet, here he is, and his performance to date is jaw dropping and hair-raising---Rodney Dangerfield goes to the State House, without the funny.

Panels from the offending mural, painted by Judy Taylor, depicting scenes from Maine's labor history.
 His stance is pro-business, with which in theory one has no argument.  Maine is a poor state, jobs are scarce and low paying.  Labor Unions are among the Governor's bogeymen.  I have no oar in that argument, but his method is bizarre in the extreme. Formerly the president of Marden's Surplus and Salvage, a store as iconic as L.L. Bean (and where almost all Mainer's shop for bargains), he is used to running his show---unpleasantly. Most recently, he decreed that a 2008 mural depicting the history of the Labor movement in Maine be removed from the Maine Department of Labor headquarters (that's right, Labor), because it is offensive to a pro-business environment.  This opinion comes, apparently, from letters from several business leaders, and one anonymous fax, which stated that the mural was reminiscent of “communist North Korea where they use these murals to brainwash the masses.”  Truly.  I cannot make this stuff up.  Not satisfied with this edict, it was followed up with the announcement that the conference rooms at the Department of Labor, currently named for labor heroes including Maine's own Frances Perkins of Newcastle, who was Secretary of Labor under Franklin Roosevelt.  Frances Perkins' home in Newcastle is now a museum and research center (click HERE).  One presumes the Governor will try to make certain that no state funds go to its support, if he doesn't try to get it shut down completely.  Odd, isn't it, that those who most fear socialism or communism are often those with the most totalitarian slants themselves...

Oh, and did I mention the Governor's announcement came on the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire?  Irony, sweet irony.

Frances Perkins stands behind President Roosevelt as he signs the Labor Relations Act
Although undeniably liberal by inclination, I respect the right of others to be conservative, even see it as part of the necessary order of checks and balances---but I do not extend this respect to willful, proud, and mean stupidity manifesting itself in half baked concepts of conservatism.

In other news from Maine, there is also a movement afoot in the  state legislature to make the Whoopie Pie the official Maine Treat (for more on that, click HERE).  To help publicize this initiative, a 1,000 pound (actually 1,067 pound) whoopie pie was baked.  Having served its purpose, It will now be cut up and sent to our troops overseas.  This campaign going forth while the Governor's budget proposes cutting medicare subsidies for the poorest elderly, and Olympia Snowe, putting pressure from the tea party (I refuse to capitalize it) ahead of the interests of her constituency, has voted for a cut in Home heating subsidies for the poor.  I invite anyone who indulges in the rhetoric of  how the poor are milking the system to come to Maine in February and see the house trailers and shacks in the back country, so they can see first hand how effectively these people are milking the system for their lives of luxury.  People who think like that should be ashamed, very ashamed.  As ashamed, in fact, as I am of our embarrassing governor, who also recently told the NAACP that they could 'kiss my butt' when he refused to lunch with representatives of that organization.

The top being put on the 1,000 pound Whoopie Pie.   (AP photo, Cheryl Senter, via Bangor Daily News)

For the Dilettante on Whoopie Pies, click HERE

For the Governor on ABC news click HERE.  We are just so proud.  Not.

And we'll go out with Jon Stewart:



I'm way off the usual Dilettante territory this evening.

Elizabeth Taylor was so ubiquitous a fixture in the culture that I don't think it ever occurred to me that she would someday, just as real people do, die.   I always admired her as an actress, but never having been a 'fan' type, I failed to take the interest in her personal life that many did.  That changed many years ago, when she became one of the first major celebrities to put her fame and her heart, as well as her own money and time, into the fight against AIDS, and by doing so literally helped change public perception and attitude about the disease and those suffering from it.  Guts and heart and courage---she clearly had them all in spades.

Elizabeth Taylor at an AIDS benefit, Nov 01, 1990 

Photo: Kevin Winter/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

And, via my friend James, a wonderful quote from Taylor: 
The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they're going to have some annoying virtues



The first day of Spring, we had bare earth and sunshine.  We'd had a Super Moon the night before, spectacular in the extreme. The harbingers were positive, but by the afternoon of the second day of Spring, Maine was up to its old tricks, and this morning, this is the scene from my back door.  We pay for every good day we get up here. This would be why we have summer people instead of spring people.  No fools they.

This is not a black & white photograph.
 Grumpy as these six inches of snow make me, the fact is that there is no real force to this last snow, the roads are clear, and it will be gone in a day or two.  But in the meantime...

I've been on jury duty, which means that I've been back in the flowered courtroom.  Back to regular posting in a few days, as soon as I've caught up on deadline projects.




Villa Emo at Fanzol di Vedelago, Italy, designed in 1559 by Andrea Palladio


For the very definition of 'lipstick on a pig, please click HERE

 R.I.P.  Andrea Palladio.  You must be rolling in your grave.

For an interesting essay about Palladio's use of  the Golden Proportions, click HERE



Don't panic---this isn't going to be one of those six degrees posts.  Not in the mood. Actually no reason for this post at all except that something I read sent me on a pleasant ten minute architectural journey through google.  So,  Just a few pretty pictures, and hey, if there are a few connections made along the way, well, I just can't help myself.  Here is how a wandering mind spends ten minutes in its travels.

While reading Robert Becker's biography of Nancy Lancaster earlier this week, I was struck, by Mrs. Lancaster's description of her first sight of Eydon Hall, soon to be the home of her Aunt and Uncle Phyllis and Robert Brand.  She was reminded, as ever she was, of her native Virginia, and in particular, of Bremo, the Cocke family estate in Fluvanna County.  She considered it the most beautiful house in Virginia.  I first saw a photo of the house when I was 12 or so, in Richard Pratt's Treasury of Early American Houses.  An arrow went through my heart, and has remained lodged there every since.  Never had I seen such purity, and such a perfect balance between elegance and neglect---my New England childhood, much as did Mrs. Lancaster's Virginia childhood, left me with a permanent taste for architectural and decorative purity with a dollop of faded on the side.  Unfortunately, it did not leave me with either Mrs. Lancaster's talent for putting together a room, nor her talent for rich husbands---but, that's another story.  On with the photographic ramble.

 Bremo, still privately owned by the Cocke family, whose ancestor built it with input from Thomas Jefferson, is quite possibly the house in America that I've never seen that I'd most like to, very close to my idea of perfection.  I love the fences in the arcades, to keep animals from wandering in, bringing this Virginian example indeed close to the Italian idea of the farm-villa.  (For a lovely set of color photos of Bremo, follow this link)

This photo of the hall at Bremo, as it would have appeared in Lancaster's youth, makes it easy to understand Lancaster's later affection for a certain sort of English country house
Naturally, this caused me to think about the real villas by Palladio that had inspired this beautiful house---and Thomas Jefferson---particularly the Villa Emo:
Villa Emo
 One cannot look at Bremo without thinking of Jefferson at Monticello

The rotunda, or 'dome room' at Monticello (a terrific article about this room can be found by clicking HERE
I was temporarily and pleasantly diverted from my path as I  remembered Little Ipswich, Delano and Aldrich's Grecian-detailed riff on the Monticello theme for decorator Ruby Ross Wood at Syosset Long Island, a house that frankly makes me a little weak at the knees.  Though I know I said no six degrees, it is worth remembering that Delano and Aldrich were Nancy Lancaster's architects when she renovated her family home, Mirador, in Virginia

Little Ipswich

I was also distracted as I contemplated the wonderful entrance rotunda at Little Ipswich

But I snapped back as I thought about that Englishman, Lord Burlington, who so famously embraced Palladianism for the design of his own domed villa at Chiswick in the early 18th century.

Chiswick House
Cross section of rotunda at Chiswick
Palladian though Chiswick and Monticello may be, they owe great design debt to the sublime Villa Rocca Pisana designed by Scammozi  The beauty of the rotunda at Rocca Pisana strikes me speechless. 

Villa Rocca Pisana.  Speechless.
Another English house, Nuthall Temple designed by Wright of Nottingham (no relation to Wright of Chicago), also took inspiration from La Rocca Pisana, and its rotunda too strikes me speechless, although in a very different way.  Busy, busy, busy.

Nuthall Temple and Rotunda
Naturally, the next stop was Villa Capra, 'La Rotonda', the house by Palladio that inspired Villa Rocca Pisana

Villa Rotonda.  Speechless again.
Villa Rotonda led me back to England, to Mereworth Castle in Kent, that most English take on La Rotonda, designed by Colin Campbell.

Mereworth Castle
Mereworth Castle was owned for a time by Michael Tree, who inherited it from his step-grandfather, Lord Beatty.  Tree's mother, Nancy Lancaster, kindly redecorated it for him. I couldn't achieve a color photo of the rotunda, where Lancaster brought Italy to England with color, a rich salmon terra cotta.

And with that, we've come full Rotonda.


INTERMISSION: "Apart From That Mr. Dilettante, How Did You Enjoy the Winter?"

'Maine, life as it should be'
Our summer visitors sometimes ask us How Do We Survive Up Here All Winter.  I remember that a long departed friend, having been asked The Question one too many times, once sweetly replied "Why by talking about all of you, of course, what else is there to do?".  Others returning for the summer will ask, with nothing but kind, innocent, good intentions: "How was your winter?"  Asking a Mainer how the winter was is like asking Mrs. Lincoln how she enjoyed the play.  Usually one grits one's teeth and answers 'just fine, how was yours?'.  By 4th of July weekend, with winter long gone (well, a few weeks gone, anyway) one chafes: "How the Hell do you think it was? It's f---ng Maine---it was long, it was cold, it was dark at 3:30! If you really cared how our winter was, you'd have sent plane tickets or at least, some gin." By early August, one doesn't even try to remember they're only being polite: "How was my winter?  Really?  Is that the best you've got? Call me up and ask me in March. I'll tell you how my winter was..."

Maine, life as it is: Our harbor a couple of weeks ago.  It looks no different today.  All that flat white stuff is frozen water, and likely to still be there in early April this year.  (All photos by Sidekick)
Last winter, we were spoiled.  Very very spoiled.  We were given a glimpse of another world.  The one that has Spring. The storms and deep chills that overtook much of the rest of the country last year blew out to sea before they hit here, and we had the shortest and mildest winter in memory, and the earliest and truest spring we've ever seen----we might as well have been in Virginia. Our hearts were full of sunshine and love for mankind.  Really.  It was just like a technicolor Disney movie, with happy citizens tossing Bean boots and down parkas aside and happy little forest critters waking up and dancing with them in the streets.  Just like that.

The foot of my street on one of the eight or nine sunny days we had all winter

But, the Calvinist spirit of retribution beats deep in the hearts of true Mainers.  It's a spartan place, and we know that we'll be punished if things get too good----and this winter was ample proof that we're right.   Nearly nine feet of snow fell, and it fell often--at any given time, two to four of those feet remained on the ground. Old timers who never complain were complaining loudly.  Souls and tempers were frayed. Temperatures stayed below freezing, heating oil stayed above $3.50 a gallon, plans were made an just as quickly  canceled as the next storm moved, and well, as you can tell it was just more fun than a trip to St. Kitt in February.  Thanks for asking.

A friend's garden, about four o'clock  in the afternoon a few weeks ago.  Spring must be coming, because this is now how it looks at about five thirty in the afternoon.
So why do we stay here?  Better not ask me right now, with freezing rain predicted for Thursday---but part of the answer can be seen in the photos of my friend Sidekick's very beautiful shrub and flower gardens, a glimpse which in the pictures below.  Maybe another day I'll post a few of sailboats on the bay in August, and the question will be answered.

And the same scene in late July. 
On the flip side, the Maine coast is superior gardening country, so for those few brief weeks of summer, we enjoy a floral abundance that temporarily makes up for the rest.  In summer, only a very cold and dry martini will lure my friend Sidekick out of her garden, seen above in late July, and below in late May-early June.  It is her firm belief that when it comes to flowers and shrubs, more IS more.  Based on the evidence, I firmly believe she is correct.

Just a few more weeks.......