Thursday, November 06, 2008

Galloping through the new Gilded Age

I am based at my sister’s in New York for the moment—Dutchess County to be precise. I arrived yesterday.

Late this afternoon I took Kosmo out for a gallop through the fields and woods in this beautiful part of the country. Kosmo is an Irish Sport Horse, and he’s also one of my Dutchess County buddies. We met two summers ago when I was here for an extended stay. Our ride today was an enjoyable change of scenery. Nothing beats the feeling of a powerful horse beneath you, his hooves pounding. The surrounding countryside felt like it was floating by, appearing as images brought to life from the prettiest Hudson River Valley landscape you’ve ever seen. There was a light rain. It was enough to support the delusion that I am rugged and I was roughing it in inclement weather. Some of the fall color is hanging on to the trees but it is the cusp of winter here.

Earlier in the afternoon I toured a brand new barn and riding arena. This place was truly over the top. The budget must have been $4 to $5 million on the low end for a place with a modest number of stalls and a maximum amount of showiness (I am talking about the budget for the new barn, not the property in general). To protect the privacy of the owners I will limit the details I write here. The riding arena uses no steel in the structure. Beautifully finished wooden trusses support the substantial roof. A combination of fibers and sand covers the arena floor—it’s a "dust free" type of footing (keep in mind this is a space to work horses). Rubber mats--designed to look like tiles--are inlaid throughout the aisles of the stables. The center aisle is at least 200 feet long with wood paneling from the floor to the arching ceilings. Huge lantern-fixtures, at least a dozen of them, line this spectacular space. No expense was spared. I am a barn connoisseur, this place is not my favorite, but even with all of its excesses, it is spectacular. It is also a barn I will never forget.

I am currently reading a fantastic book called Supercapitalism by Robert Reich. Reich provides one of the best economic histories of the 20th century I’ve ever read. He explains how in the mid-century incomes were closer and how in the late 20th century disparities rose to levels not seen since before 1929. Reich has some interesting and unexpected observations about this that I won’t get into here, other than to say that the new barn I saw today was a physical example of the widely disparate levels of wealth in our times.

PS--The current Gilded Age may very well be drawing to a close, though we are too close to it to know for sure.