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Hearst's Castle

   Through the magic of the magazine production schedule, here's my latest column, capturing a slice of life back in August, pre-Katrina, when I was galavanting around California:

   The Jolly Rancher

   SAN SIMEON, Calif. --

   On vacation, when you see the open spaces of the world, breathe forest-scrubbed air and hammer your credit cards to within an inch of their lives, you feel young again. You make big plans. You vow, right there at the wheel of the rental car, to repudiate your small, crabbed existence, to do something bigger and bolder and far, far more expensive. There's hardly a man in America who hasn't, on vacation, turned to a spouse or girlfriend or boyfriend or random hitchhiker and said, "One of these days, I'm gonna be a rancher."

   Yes, a rancher! With acreage to the horizon! You'll practically live on a horse. You'll ride through your fields, fix the perimeter fence and supervise the ranch hands as they herd the cattle and collect their eggs and whatever else it is that people do on ranches.

    We all dream. And here in San Simeon, on California's central coast, is one man's very big dream. It's called the Hearst Castle, or sometimes just San Simeon, but newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst had his own name for it: the Ranch.

    [Click here to read the entire column. The excellent Richard Thompson cartoon, sadly published at a vanishing dimension here, has a cowboy-hatted man talking to a butler figure. Man: "I reckon I'll do some moseyin'. Alert the staff." Butler: "Very good, Mr. Hearst."]

    [New blog item to come shortly. Soon's I write it.]

By Joel Achenbach  |  September 12, 2005; 11:48 AM ET
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Next: Don't Wait for the Cavalry


One of my favorite lines:

"Personally, I was stunned to see that the man didn't have a porch."

Posted by: Achenfan | September 12, 2005 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of Ranches and lots of land, think there's any extra room for a few more people from the Gulf Coast at Rancho Arbusto in Crawford?

That was a fun piece, Joel. Hearst was...interesting, and "Citizen Kane" is one of my favorite movies.

Never been to San Simeon/Xanadu myself, but promised myself I would some day.


Posted by: bc | September 12, 2005 11:55 AM | Report abuse

I laughed at that, too, Achenfan and Joel's specifications for a "dream porch".

Someone please notify the producers of "Extreme Makeover".

Come to think of it, I'd guess that the producers of "What Not To Wear" might want to talk to Joel, too.


Posted by: bc | September 12, 2005 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Post-script: To see that Orson Welles and George W. Bush are fairly closely related, please visit the website of the Francis Cooke Genealogical Society, and click on the link to "Famous Descendants." However, Grandma Moses is also on that list.
I take issue (politely, of course) with the title of Joel's Friday blog, and saying that, I don't know if Joel gave this title to his own piece, or it was someone else, possibly Sydney or Shroeder?

But the title of Joel's blog for Friday, "Discovering the Poor," is about as good as many who say that Columbus "dicovered" the Americas in 1492, when, in fact, there were hundreds, if not thousands of widely dispersed, albeit some small, Native nations.

An article in our Saturday local paper talked about the "invisible poor" of New Orleans? How did they become invisible? Did Harry Potter decide to manufacture and widely distribute his precious cloak of invisibility?

I think, rather, it's a matter of seeing. The New York Times public edtor did a fine piece over the weekend about how many times the Times covered New Orleans over the past several decades and the topics of coverage. There were few if any articles on New Orleans poor, but a plethora of articles on the Crescent City's jazz, finer restaurants, and tourist destinations. If the poor of New Orleans were mentioned, they were mentioned briefly, most often in paragraphs either embedded in the middle of an article or at the article's enwhich is to say, not really talked about much at all.

If we go back to the contributions from Dreamer today, good ones, I might add, the horribly paraphrased Biblical passage, "What good does it do a man to gain the world if he loses his soul?"

Most poignant is the 1998 movie, "At First Sight," starring Mira Sorvino and Val Kilmer. Tecnological advances have ushered in a new experimental surgery to correct the congenital cataracts that have blinded Kilmer's character, Virgil, since early childhood. The concept--of having a person blind from birth suddenly being able to see as an adult and whether their visual cognition is physically or cognitively based--is intriguing and offers a myriad of wonderful opportunities and frustrating complications.

However, one scene is telling: Both Sorvino's and Kilmer's characters pass a pauper sitting on the street. Virgil "sees" him and wants to help, while Sorvino's character, the New York architect Amy, who has witnessed the familiar scene perhaps daily, waltzes right on by, without a blink of her eyes.

Forgive my Acehnbloghoggin today, but I believe that "seeing" is believing. For every "high society" photo in America's newspapers, wouldn't it be nice if editors put one of their own city's faces of poverty right alongside? How delightful that would be!

Posted by: Linda Loomis | September 12, 2005 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Indeed, bc. The "it's all about me" aspect of my personality couldn't help thinking maybe Joel slipped that porch comment in there just for us 'boodlers.

Posted by: Achenfan | September 12, 2005 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Possibly Sydney, but definitely not Tom.

(Actually, probably not Sydney either. Sorry Joel -- you're on your own on this one.)

Posted by: Tom fan | September 12, 2005 12:14 PM | Report abuse

The completely astounding thing about Hearst Castle, is that at one point Hearst owned as far as you could see to the horizon - and this from the vantage point of a balcony that is about 800 to 1000 above sea level. I think I remember someone on the tour telling me Hearst owned 40 miles going North and South on the Calif. coast! Michael Jackson would be envious.

Posted by: CowTown | September 12, 2005 12:21 PM | Report abuse

So, Joel WAS near San Luis Obispo, and so he COULD HAVE visited the Madonna Inn, and thereupon obtained excellent subject matter for another Rough Draft. But, nooooo. Had to beeline for the desert. Sheesh.

Posted by: CowTown | September 12, 2005 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Visited the castle and the Winchester House, but preferred the later. The Winchester House was the original Makeover cabin.

Posted by: Dolphin Michael | September 12, 2005 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Citizen Kane was a wonderful film filled with amazing images, but frankly, Xanadu looks very un-cozy. Joel's fantasy porch sounds a lot like my porch, ceptin' mine has extra wide ledges for my kitties so they can sprawl, pose, out-stare the dog next door, sleep and view the sunset. Oh, and a tin roof for when it rains.

Posted by: Nani | September 12, 2005 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Maybe he was making a beeline for one of those wildman retreats -- you know, the kind where they sit around a campfire and blow into horns and stuff.

Posted by: Achenfan | September 12, 2005 12:41 PM | Report abuse

bc, I doubt many of the folks needing shelter could get past a Secret Service security screening. But it's a good thought!

Posted by: slyness | September 12, 2005 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Achenfan writes:
Maybe he was making a beeline for one of those wildman retreats -- you know, the kind where they sit around a campfire and blow into horns and stuff.

...Oh, you must be talking about the Bohemian Club of northern California/ Muir redwoods fame, to which, at least, Bush Sr. belongs/belonged. Can others name additional august Bohemians? Could this be what's wrong with the federal government today?

Posted by: Linda Loomis | September 12, 2005 1:33 PM | Report abuse

True, slyness.

Here's another crazy idea to go with: have President Bush stay at the WH until everyone who needs it has permanent shelter?


Posted by: bc | September 12, 2005 1:34 PM | Report abuse

SCC entry: substitute the "?" with ".".

Linda, other than Edie Brickell, I can't name any other Bohemians of any month.

This would exclude me from serving in the Federal Government, and good riddance to me, I say.


Posted by: bc | September 12, 2005 1:38 PM | Report abuse

I think the balcony is getting sold a bit short. It would be a good place from which to issue proclamations and such.

Posted by: Bayou Self | September 12, 2005 2:04 PM | Report abuse

The Castle is amazingly surreal. I've heard it described as gaudy, which fits, but Joel's comment about the lacking porch reflects what any of us might feel upon visiting San Simeon (at least I felt it): Where's the ________ ?

Even castles from the most recent century can't quite measure up to ordinary living in many ways. A good McMansion within a mile of our house in No. Va. would give Hearst's castle a run for its money. Where's the in home theater? (ok, he had that). But the indoor pool is ratty. The place is poorly lit. The bedrooms are small. And that's really the problem with old wealth: all the little things. Like the windows, the creaky doors, the plumbing and wiring.

Don't get me wrong: see San Simeon and you'll be impressed. With the man's castle, and with modern progress, too.

Posted by: Kane | September 12, 2005 4:29 PM | Report abuse

I'm just saying.

Posted by: must comment! must comment! | September 17, 2005 11:21 PM | Report abuse

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