The Largest Private Home in America

Visible History Photoblog

Our next stop on the trip – Biltmore Estate – the largest private home in America.

Unlike the other members of the Vanderbilt family who built summer homes in the Northeast, George Vanderbuilt chose Asheville in western North Carolina in the Blue Ridge mountains. Built between 1889-1895, it is a 250 room French Renaissance chateau.


Biltmore-2 The original model for the estate

Biltmore-3 The rooftop view

Biltmore2-2 The front entrance showcasing the elaborate spiral staircase

Biltmore2-4 The interior view of the spiral staircase, with the chandelier that runs the height of the stairs

Biltmore2-1 Edith Vanderbilt

Edith Vanderbilt
Although the home looks like it is stone, it is a limestone facade built over a structure made of brick and steel I-beams. This, along with brick fire doors, made the building very fire proof. This construction was one of the reasons it was used to store pictures from the National Gallery during World War II. This…

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Flower of Life, Mexico City

thank you for writing with such exquisite detail. i had a delicious experience reading your post. keep it up.

Bespoke Traveler

Spirits of ancestral Mesoamerica hover beyond my periphery. Wandering through the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City, I can hear their prayers aspirating among the sacred icons. This is no customary aspic collection of austere antiquity. The exhibits pulse with seismic energy. Xochipilli, patron of art and love in all its sensual facets — his head tilted up, his seated body alert — summons the ghosts of dreamers. An Olmec head, with a frown and piercing gaze, conjures the anima of its slumbering despot. Chacmool, reclining in submission, proffers himself as portal between me and valorous eagle warriors. Even the floor-to-ceiling windows, the marble parquets, the geometric latticework evoke pre-hispanic allusions. Nothing is basic within this complex. Statues, amulets, materials, balusters, and the patio are symbols of a timeless philosophy. 

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The coolness syndrome

The charming enduring material girl-net image:

It is Saturday morning 11:10am GMT and here i am injecting a toxic dose of pessimism and gleefully infecting the lot of you with my personal packaged brand of pure distilled cynicism. It is cool to vent a little what with all the rampant misbehavior going on, but “only as long as it lasts”. It is not cool to add to the fury anymore than it is to patiently let a friend drink ’til they soil their clothing. It is so uncool an experience watching boorish politicians trying to take cover after the shit hits the fan. Running off with our money. Taking off in some cozy little jet with someone’s wife or mistress, the jet in this case fully loaded with all the fun stuff, y’know the bottle of vintage champagne “liberated” from beneath some dirt off the coast of Normandy, for instance or the very best chocolate stashed in some fancy closet on that snug all-leather and very sedate looking at the airstrip(don’t we all know how to live, folks!!!)

Quietly living off the planet at a whale’s pace then coming home to moralize about the virtues of thrifty behavior in these hard times and our need to be conserving. “it was exactly what i needed…”, they’ll mouth off to a reporter eager for a story they can stretch out for subsequent columns. Thank you to Wikileaks and the rest of the bust-your-balls hard-nosed vigilantes, i have acquired a taste for virulent truth-sayers’ heresies. I devour with a gargantuan appetite. I have so much fire to trade, get at me. You steal from us and catch yourselves blabbing, at unguarded moments when the sun is high and the fumes have evaporated from your heads.  I just think you should learn to eat your cake in private while staying cool under a good tree.

How about this recommendation here “…an exclusive collection of memoirs of an ancient thinker that is good to be read at sunset while the little jet ploughs through puffy clouds, now  it’s occupants’ moods heady expectantly awaiting the twilight, to gaze at the stars while glasses clicked and someone grunted self-satisfactorily. Ah….the bliss and longing for some full-bodied hedonism!!! Lighting a Cuban cigar, while the lightning outside cracked and the plane tossed a little. A chuckle and a raised eyebrow. Back to the books: feet free of all encumbrance including sandals or socks. Bare-chested in a light burgundy bathrobe and green-and-blue-stripe boxer shorts, legs stretched across a cleverly custom-made table, (only for me), calmly thinking of the world and the folks on the ground. Waiting on a chicken dinner which will be a surprise since i gave the hostess the liberty to do it the way she would like me to enjoy it. Money is a means to certain ends.Throwing away our cares, casting our burdens according to “the believers” as though it takes a specialized skill to believe. Hurling a rock into the pond and watching the ripples. That was a long time ago. It was during the golden age of music, it will never age or go away, the beat of the eighties and true musical stardom. It was during the days of Madame Ciccone and she was queen of the “into the groove” movement. It was so cool to be alive. I pray we stay.
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I will close the door and draw the curtains. i will contrive to be alone, to have room for my thoughts. There will be no sleep. No rest for the weary, no rest for the wicked. every rose has it’s thorn. it’s true.  “…………Oh wail infidel, or have yea no anthem?”. There is something strange about folks clamoring for more fun time, more leisure when they is so much work awaiting, fixing the system. Where’s the defiance, the cultural nonchalance, the indifference and not giving a care about the rest of them and how they live, the things they do or what they believe? By being we and what it ought to be. How about a riot, er, brothersss ? It bothers me a great deal when i remember there is so much more to life, so much to do in each new day, sooo much to live for, to wonder at!. Where did the simplicity of life flee to or where is it hiding. Maybe there is a devil, some devil lurking somewhere witnessing the passion of men’s children, now happy, now tumultously engaged in endless personal conflicts, duelling for the spoils, unperturbed in their single-minded resolve to kill each other. They used to say “put each other to death”.

Yes i use the word put the way they  wrote English in the olden days. I sound whimsical but small things get me through.  They’d say an executioner put a man to death on the orders of the king, penalty for stealing a poor old widows winter’s supply of corn for example. To make an example of what to do with incorrigible criminals. Afterword, the king, retired to his chambers and refreshed and feeling himself restored and once again composed for the agitated mob below his balcony, would emerge now charismatic and address the people gathered, pause to whisper with an advisor and then declare  his kingly intention to honor his subjects with a feast two fortnights into the future. I strongly suspect such kings to have been doing this as a way to assuage themselves of any particular guilt in having been so rush, so instantaneous in displaying their wrath however kingly it might seem to be in the eyes of common folk. But that is something kings are known to do; it is an imperial gesture after all and loans the king public acclaim and gives them time to make themselves  over. Cool stuff from the cobwebby archives.
We continue to plunge headstrong into a future hurtling towards us at great speed. Ever increasingly dizzying speed, we continue to lose the moment, so caught up are we in this spell-binding tale of the present distractions on offer. Everyone i meet is busy, they are unwilling to give the littlest(if there is such a word)of their time it is a worrying trend. Let us band together and pray the love affair ends soon. So long, comrade.

Stupid Blog Writing

very organic style of writing. writing that has edge to it! what nerve! love…


fullsizeoutput_3978I am driven to write. There is no exception even when unhappy with my words. I can not compare myself to those that have editors or proofreader’s to read their work before it is published.  I even hate freshly pressed endorsed by this platform.

Why do I write these days?  I received that lone comment that gives me pause.  Hearing from a woman dealing with two rare brain tumors brought tears to my eyes.  She seems to have a strong will and a determination in her spirit. If you are reading this, I am glad you decided to follow me.

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Flashback: A good spy thriller novel


I’ll start with a brief review of “The Company”, a 2002 novel and my second by Robert Littell, the first having been “The men we became” which i read back in 2004. The Company is a book about the history of the CIA and is set in the period after WW2 up until the 90s. It is a massive tome at almost 900 pages. I took a look at it’s size and cover art, leafed through and read the inscriptions then bought it for a song, singing in my heart as i remembered John Barron’s classic “The KGB” and hoping for a similar treat. I walked away from the seller, a young woman, without looking back just in case she had made a mistake about the price i bought it for. Given the saga it tells, it is a book to read at a brisk pace. If you are into the big landscape, epic novels, the ones where the characters are well-matured, this is one not to miss.

There is the Berlin station chief, Harvey Torriti quite something of a sipper himself and the people who form his staff. The plot is typical of spy novels in the way it weaves events into other events and there is deft storytelling end to end with the usual clock and dagger action. I like how Jack meets his future wife and i like the way the characters are developed from the beginning. There is Leon Kritzy and the Russian student who after an education at ivy-league Yale starts work for the KGB under an alias, complete with the demeanor and all the spyware, you know, the transmitters, secret communication techniques-here it is an interesting invisible ink which appears when you hold up the paper to a fluorescent bulb.

Leon Kritzy became an agent of the KGB, traitorously and throughout the novel is working as a mole in the company. There is the sad part about the flight from America to Moscow and the marching students in war-time Russia protesting against military deployment in the streets. The part that touched me was when one of his daughters goes looking for him in Russia. There is the part where the CIA head has been saying there are moles within the agency and been dismissed all along as a paranoid, past his prime and in need of a vacation. But Jim Angleton knows kritzy is a mole and gets him arrested and held incommunicado in some safehouse where he goes to interrogate him periodically. Littell masterfully paints a grim and sinister piece of this where they are holding Kritzy, torturing him in an effort to break him-the lights overhead are too bright, never go off night or day. He is deprived of sleep in order to disorient him . When he asks for a drink of water, Jim tells him to drink from the toilet bowl. At first he refuses but eventually does drink from it, left with no option. He doesn’t crack in spite of all this and a frustrated Jim is forced to release him. The story traverses the globe, through the rugged and dangerous countryside of Afghanistan, where the roads are manned at roadblocks by militiamen, to a meeting in the woods, to Cuba and the botched landing of the Bay of pigs. There is action galore for 900 pages.

Save for Le Carre, there are few spy novel writers with as much depth, and who write a well-nuanced novel such as this one of Littell. The enjoyment i derived from the experience of this read can only be compared to Ken Follett’s classic “Eye Of the needle” this one about a formidable German spy named Henry Faber who is sent to spy against the British during WW2. There is the unforgettable part where Faber, armed with the roll of film of a fake military base and all the works, sets sail in a stolen vessel to rendezvous with a German U-Boat out in the sea, where a violent tempest tosses the vessel this way and that, with Faber fighting to control it, using all of his strength in the effort, “cursing all of England….” so writes Follett.

I do not read books these days, they are hard to come by anymore but when i do read, i must set out convinced it will be time well spent. Which i suppose leaves one with the option of going tech with a kindle. I will be back.

2017, here we go


Donald Trump taking the oath of office. online image

Jan 20th marked a turning point in America’s history. The world watched as Donald John Trump, billionaire businessman, economist and real estate developer was sworn in as the 45th POTUS. People who are politically savvy had foreseen it and were not surprised whatsoever. They resorted to playing the waiting game. Waiting to hear about the grand balls, the glitter, the soft laughter floating down from DC’s hotel rooftops on the cold, dry nights. The ladies, the chauffeurs, the doormen bowing with curtsy, the clatter of high heels, the young men taking charge of the ballroom floors. Anything else here?

It is so easy to see where his empire, his fat wallet factored into the equation of how to obtain a win.  Hillary Clinton had experience running public office, she also had impeccable timing, competent staff and trod well and carefully. Almost to carefully for a man such as trump, with his business man grip and sure-footed manner. To some voters, he may have seemed a refreshing sight, far from the usual back-slapping Washington political bigwigs with their scripted tight-lipped style.

Let us pause and consider the man’s journey up to this point. He was born and bred in Queensbridge, New York. He graduated with a degree in economics from one of America’s most respected business schools, Wharton School of Finance and Business, University of Pennsylvania.New Yorkers have a reputation for being tenacious hustlers and a young Trump, home for the holidays, quickly saw the opportunities while working in his father’s   builder|developer business. All it took for him after graduation was to put the lessons he learnt in practice and with his business acumen, the rest is history.

The point of this article is to sort of theorize about where America is heading with Trump as Commander-in-Chief. Will the ship sail sedately with him captaining it gallantly or what’s it going to be like these four years starting Friday 20th January 2017? He has began with a repeal of Obamacare as had been promised on the campaign trail. A lot of immigrants are wary. Their worries stem from Trump’s  rhetoric on immigration. He promised to seal the southern border. His attitude about non-whites, the poor and minority groups  is a little worrisome and the process he is going to initiate to “make America great again” is at this point unknown.

As a third world citizen, i am concerned about America’s foreign policy towards us. Will it be more balanced, more just? It is too soon to tell at this time. The world needs peace, a hell lot. Obama came in and tried to repair America’s tarnished image while employing the use of legalistic language. He travelled overseas to several countries. He addressed a mammoth stadium crowd in Germany. He hosted many dignitaries at the white House. He showed diplomatic flare handling the affairs of state. I think he did a great mop job cleaning up some of the mess Bush left in 2008.

Let us begin 2017 with hope and fasten our seat belts. The man at the helm knows that his work is cut out for him. Hopefully. Hail to the chief!