The Very Rich Are Different From You and Me*

It’s been an interesting season, don’t you think? Because some of our income comes from overseas, we (and by we I mean Gerry) watch the currency market. We watch the stock market in general too. It’s all connected. When the markets are down, we feel some concern.

Unlike, say, the wildly wealthy. (*The actual quote, from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “The Rich Boy,” begins with the words “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.”)

In a Vanity Fair article I read a few months ago about a famous French interior designer** I found the following passage, which seemed revealing (and a little disconcerting). The journalist is accompanying the designer to a Paris furniture dealer. Here the designer finds a beautiful writing table—a bureau plat—from the twentieth century. The interviewer is shocked to learn the table costs $1 million.

Is it difficult to get a client to spend a million bucks on a bureau plat?, I ask as we speed to the next destination. “No, no, no,” he says offhandedly. “It’s not hard at all. They want the best quality.”

Recent global financial upheaval notwithstanding? “No, no, no,” he repeats. “It hasn’t changed anything.”

It’s something to think about, yes? When you’re saving for a special trip or worried about retirement, say.

I’ve never been particularly driven by money. My parents were working-class folks just one generation removed from the dirt farmers who were their forebears. I never expected to have much—and I didn’t even think of it in those terms. I just wanted to have a life: a husband, children, a home, a pet. I would work, hard, to maintain them. I didn’t expect it to be easy. And I didn’t aspire then or now to wealth. That I have everything I need and pretty much everything I want is a true blessing for which I am grateful every day.

But in these uncertain times, I think about this story, which surprised me in the moment. “No, no, no. [The recession] hasn’t changed anything [for the wealthy].” Whatever happens here in the next months and years, the very rich will not be affected the way you and I will. It’s certainly something for the constituency to think about.

** Me, I like to design my own interior. No million-dollar tables here though. 🙂

 

May You Live in Interesting Times!

One looks for the good, I think. So recently some of us have been repeating that old saw, May you live in interesting times.

A Chinese curse, we’re told. Or a blessing. May you live in interesting times.

But … it’s not Chinese. 🙂

I know, I know, I’m a wet blanket about these things—but it’s what I do for a living. I’m an editor. I check things. Fortunately I didn’t have to do the footwork on this one: Garston O’Toole over at Quote Investigator has the straight poop:

The British statesman Joseph Chamberlain was the father of future Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and future diplomat Austen Chamberlain. As noted previously, Austen asserted in a 1936 speech that “living in interesting times” was considered to be a curse in Chinese culture. Curiously, Joseph [also] used the same distinctive phrase during addresses he delivered in 1898 and 1901.

There’s a lot more to read at QI, which traces usage of the phrase from 1898 right up to modern times. You can also read about it at Wikipedia.

Bottom line: You can’t blame the Chinese for this, friends! But may you have an interesting year nonetheless. 🙂

Distilled Water—A Precious Commodity in Ireland

A few years ago I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, and as a result, I travel with a CPAP machine, which uses distilled water in the humidifier portion of its program. It takes about a cup to fill the reservoir, and that lasts several days. I buy distilled water at the local grocery store; it costs about eighty-nine cents for a gallon.

Remember that. Eighty-nine cents for a gallon.

The first time I traveled to Ireland with my CPAP (2012, I think), I asked Gerry to pick up some distilled water for me. They don’t carry it at the grocers there; you have to go to “the chemist’s” (Americans would call this the pharmacy) to purchase it.

Half a gallon (actually, two liters) of distilled water cost eight euro. Eight euro! That’s sixteen times what it costs in the States! (But wait—there’s more. When I returned in 2013, the cost had more than doubled, to seventeen euro. That’s what it cost in 2015 too.)

WHY? This is the question. Why is it hard to find (you have to order it and wait for it to come in; it’s not kept on hand to sell to the public), and why in the world does it cost so much? My mother, back in the day, kept distilled water on hand to put in the iron, for steaming (this is no longer necessary, by the way). It has never been expensive nor difficult to find in the States.

But it sure is in Ireland. I’ve spent a lot of time searching for answers—which I have mostly found on various message boards. No travel website on either side of the Atlantic has addressed it, as best I can tell. So here’s what I’ve gleaned about the availability of distilled water in Ireland:

  1. Pharmacy: The chemist will be able to get it for you. Be prepared to wait a couple days, and pay through the nose.
  2. Boil and cool: Water in Ireland is very hard, so you don’t want to put it in your CPAP as is. However, you can boil it and cool it. Takes more time, of course, and when you’re traveling it isn’t particularly convenient, but it’s a solution. Most hotel rooms are equipped with electric kettles.
  3. Health food store: I found this chain of health food stores in Galway selling distilled water in one-liter bottles. But a check online of several shops in Dublin yielded no such convenience, though it may just be they don’t get enough call for distilled water to add it to their online product database.
  4. Car-parts store: Because distilled (or deionized) water is used in batteries. I have yet to walk into a car-parts store in Ireland to find out. I’d call ahead.
  5. Babies: I’ve also read to try the baby section of supermarkets (for humidifiers and such, I guess). Again, I have yet to try this, and I’m not going to count on it until I can. But at €17 for a half gallon, who could afford to run a humidifier in baby’s room, eh?

Finally, a reminder that deionized water is not the same as distilled water; check with your CPAP manufacturer before you put it in your machine.

Bottom line—if you’re traveling to Ireland and know you will need distilled water when you get there, do some advance planning. If you’re visiting friends or relatives, they can help. Otherwise, call your hotel’s concierge or your B&B and ask them to track some down for you (and remember to tip the concierge well when you arrive).

Two Timely Poems

I don’t know about you, but I first read these poems in high school. I had a great teacher (and, one should add, a great book—I still have it) and thus was born a lifelong love of the word-thrill only poetry can provide. The rhythm, the rhymes (or not), alliteration, imagery, and much, much more come together in ways that move me, over and over. And yes, I buy books of poetry too.

I’ve been thinking about “The Second Coming” for months. Grim and dark, written in 1919 at the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Irish War of Independence, William Butler Yeats’s masterpiece speaks directly to events happening now, nearly a century later:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

If the imagery in this poem shakes you up, you’re not alone. The Wall Street Journal says, “A torrent of bad news and political upheaval has given new life to a nearly 100-year-old poem written in the aftermath of World War I.”

Flash backward a century to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” published in 1818.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Perspective, yes?

I wish you peace this season, wherever you may find it. Perhaps in poetry.

The Relative Value of a Bag of Tea

Gerry is upstairs watching a very early morning soccer game and I’m downstairs in the kitchen making a cup of tea.

I’m downstairs making a cup of tea … Exactly. The. Way. I. Like. It. Not weak—but not too strong either. It should look dark and hearty, and the minute it does, I zip that tea bag outta there. This gives me a smile because I remember the surprise of a recent houseguest—a dear friend of ours—when I didn’t save the bag to use a second time.

Oh, I used to do that, when I was a much younger woman. My mother, a child of the Depression, did it, and I am her daughter. I think the Depression is the operative concept there—we were definitely a waste-not-want-not household, and that extended to tea bags. We set it aside in a saucer and used it on the next cup.

I don’t know if they’re actually intended to be used a second time, but that cup of tea never tasted as good, and I gave it up years ago.

There’s a deeper history at play too. When I toured a Georgian house museum in Dublin a decade ago, I learned that the housekeeper (not the homeowner, not the lady of the house) carried a ring of keys fastened to her belt. The silver was locked up, foodstuffs were locked up, anything of value was locked up. The lady of the house, though, carried just one key—the key to the box that had the tea leaves in it! Tea in those days was more valuable than silver. It had to come such a long way.

Anyway, all this progression of thought—from my perfect cup of tea, to my friend’s thriftiness (inherited no doubt from her Depression-era parents), to the relative value of a tea bag in the twenty-first century—gave me a smile this morning. I hope you have a cup by the keyboard as you read this.

Mug by Nicholas Mosse, clematis pattern.

Mug by Nicholas Mosse, clematis pattern.