And I Lounged and Lay on Their Beds
By Constantine Cavafy
When I went to that house of pleasure
I didn't stay in the front rooms where they celebrate,
with some decorum, the accepted modes of love.
I went into the secret rooms
and lounged and lay on their beds.
I went into the secret rooms
considered shameful even to name.
But not shameful to me -because if they were,
what kind of poet, what kind of artist would I be?
I'd rather be an ascetic. That would be more in keeping,
much more in keeping with my poetry,
than for me to find pleasure in the commonplace rooms.
We went to the Biltmore Estate on Saturday, billed as the largest home in America -- more than 250 rooms in the mansion, 43 bathrooms! The grounds are magnificent -- the house is at the top of a hill surrounded by woods, which is in turn surrounded by the mountains -- and the mansion is almost beyond belief. The first floor felt very British to me -- a lot of the decorations were brought from Europe and are older than those in Castle Howard, including medieval tapestries and wall panels. (I somehow never put it together before that the Cecil who married a Vanderbilt was a descendant of Lord Burleigh and the English Cecils.) George Vanderbilt also apparently had a French Revolution and Napoleon fetish -- he has a chess set that belonged to him, several paintings and prints and rooms decorated in various French styles.
I must admit that I found the servants' rooms on the very upper and lower floors more interesting in some ways than the huge magnificent living rooms that dominate each of the first three floors or the canopied Vanderbilt bedrooms; they are plain, though not outrageously small, but surrounded by big alarm-type bells so that people can be woken at all hours of the night. It looks like for all the bathrooms in the house there was only one for every ten servants, so everyone had bedpans and pitchers in their rooms. The kids were getting bored by the time we reached the bowling alley and swimming pool and were quite disinterested by the time we got to the numerous pantries and kitchens in the basement, so we rushed through those, but we got a good look at all the Sargent and Renoir paintings and the amazing interior decorating.
We had lunch in the courtyard -- we had brought sandwiches, but we got drinks and chocolate from the stores there -- then walked to the conservatory, which has lilies and orchids in the hothouse, plus hundreds of flowers in several outdoor gardens both formal and wild, the landscape designed by Olmsted and featuring several ponds and the creeks that run through the property. Then we drove to the winery a few miles from the mansion, which has a little tour -- the buildings were a dairy until a few decades ago, and have been converted for fermentation, storage and sale of a variety of wines which can be tasted in a massive wine bar. There are also samples of fruit juice, salad dressing, cheese and other local products, and more excellent chocolate. We had to hurry to drive over 300 miles so we didn't have time to see the inn, the stables, the whitewater rafting or any of the numerous other things to see and do on the estate -- there's several days' worth of things to do there.
In keeping with our *ahem* tradition from last year trapped in the Denver airport, we had our anniversary dinner at McDonald's! We were en route from Asheville to Jacksonville, somewhere outside of Raleigh -- we went by the exits for Wake Forest, Duke and Chapel Hill but couldn't stop to see either, and now we are five minutes from Camp Lejeune which we saw from several angles while lost for an hour trying to find the hotel amidst various military installations. The dinner McDonald's had a McCafe -- an attempt to move in on the Starbucks market -- that had wireless internet, which was a revelation to me! And the chocolate muffins looked about as good as Starbucks', which is to say not the best but good enough for a fix.
When we finally made it to the hotel it was too late to swim, so we watched a special on leopard seals on Animal Planet which had lots of penguins but things ended badly for many of them so younger son was quite unhappy. He was already in a bad mood because he had just finished the last of the ten Warrior Cats books (which ended on a cliffhanger) and must wait till September for the next sequel. Reading Susan Cooper was only small consolation.
The flowers are spectacular.
The house is ringed by statues of knights, heroes...
...and fabulous gargoyles.
Here is the house from the overlook coming from the parking lot.
No photos are allowed inside but one is allowed to take pictures from the balconies.
The mansion is surrounded by gardens, woods, and beyond, the Great Smoky Mountains.
...and here are flowers in the hothouse.
Sunday we are going to the Tall Ship Festival in Beaufort and hopefully to the maritime museum, and then maybe the beach!