Alexandra at Biltmore Estate
It has been a cold and snowy winter and while stuck inside I’ve kept myself occupied with two of my favorite things; Downton Abbey and Winter Olympics. I’ve done a few things to integrate both of these happy diversions into my life. First I have been training my staff, Persy and Timmy, to call me “My Lady”. This isn’t going well, they usually just stare at me, remind me that I’m their scullery maid and go back to their naps. Oh well, practice makes perfect. I’ve also been staging my own personal Olympics in preparation for my summer stroll across the Continent. My personal best is 7 miles in two hours and 9 miles with pack in three hours. I can hear the triumphal theme song as I cross the finish line.
On Tuesday Alexandra and I went to see America’s Downton Abbey, Biltmore Estate, in Asheville, North Carolina. The Biltmore is the largest private residence in America and was built in the late 1800’s by George Vanderbilt as a place for lavish entertaining and hunting. At 178,000 square feet, 250 rooms and 125,000 acres, this vast estate is like being in Europe for the afternoon. It is modeled on the Chateaux of the Loire Valley and contains all the original furniture and décor. We enjoyed the beautiful rooms, architecture, craftsmanship and art.
The next day I started reading a book a friend recently sent me, the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul. St.Therese lived at the same time as George Vanderbilt but made very different choices. She had a simple life in Normandy, France and became a Carmelite nun as a teenager and died at 24 from Tuberculosis. During her short life she lived in total devotion to her interior experiences. She felt no need to do great heroic acts but follow what she called ‘the little way’ of devotion. She was canonized in 1923 only 28 years after her death and has become one of the most popular of all the Catholic saints. This simple French girl left a beautiful and lasting legacy of love and miracles.
Depending on your inclinations it is easy to judge Therese as naive, sentimental or overly religious. You could also say the George was greedy and power hungry. But before we put on labels I think it is best to see these two people as the extreme ends of what is possible on this planet. George, one of the richest men ever on this Earth, chose a very exterior life of society, glamour and luxury. St Therese was a quiet young woman whose short life was totally devoted to her wealthy inner world. They made very different choices with their lives but both experiences are honored and both have left us richer.
I don’t live these extremes, something in the middle works better for me. But a little exterior beauty brings joy to my inner life. I love beautiful paintings, a well served meal, a rose bush in full bloom. Times of solitude and meditation and work on my interior life make my appreciation for living much sweeter too. Let’s all look for the joy in both interior and exterior worlds.
Information on Biltmore Estate www.biltmore.com
Society dedicated to the work of St Therese of Lisieux www.littleflower.org