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Borrowed Opulence

11 February 2024


Yesterday morning, I was busy making minestrone soup.  This morning, I commented to Dear Husband that I think I’ve got an essay to write.  He quipped:


“All of that chopping.  I knew it would lead to some writing.”

 

I didn’t.

 

I’m usually not aware of the goings-on in my creative mind while I’m engaged in living, or attempting to live life, amidst the external chaos contrived by the corrupt non-ruling political klass in America.  They think they’re the Lords of All Creation.  They are, in truth, the devils of destruction.

 

After having chopped all of the veggies and prosciutto for the soup, (about 40 minutes of work), I assembled the layered fluid concoction in the appropriately-sized Le Creuset pot.  That step took about 15 minutes; then the divine aroma begins, and it continues, long past the time it takes to cook the soup to perfection.

 

I opined that someone would bottle the fragrance and sell it, but it can’t be contained.  Which means the horrid Minestrone Candle is being hawked, somewhere online, and I’m not about to go look for it!

 

The selling of commodities and services in the United States hasn’t changed all that much across the centuries. I arrived at that opinion yesterday afternoon during my research of Furniture of the 1880s Old West in America.  I usually immensely enjoy this phase of the fiction-creation, but, this time, I became downright down-hearted.


I therefore took some time out for the 3 o’clock cuppa, accompanied by a cream-filled cake doughnut, frosted on the top with just the right amount of dark chocolate.

 

Dear Husband had wonderfully journeyed, early yesterday morning, to the donut shop on Highway 49 to purchase “The Perfect Doughnut”.  This confection is so good that I grant it the fancier appellation.  This family business is operated by a few native Russians.  They’re making a killing from their conception, production, and peddling of non-corporate doughnuts to persons and businesses in my neck of the woods.

 

That type of imaginative and practical invention is what I’d gone in search of, yesterday afternoon.  I came up empty, at least where furniture production in the post-Civil War West is concerned.  I’d started a file entitled “Old West Furniture History” and the file was almost finished before it began.


Happily, I realized that my research of home furnishings for dwellings in Ouray and Montrose, circa 1895-1900, is not necessary.  I’ve already done the heavy lifting of that novelist work — through my personal life.  Unhappily, I arrived at the disappointing conclusion that the design, construction, manufacture, and sale of home furnishings in the Wild West, or Old West, were, fundamentally, no different than what I’d strenuously achieved over the course of the past 3-4 years.

 

That duration comprised my initiation into Life in my Dream House.  Ordering furniture, online, from crafters in Indiana and Ohio is precisely what the settlers in the West did, albeit via catalogue, soon after the Transcontinental Railroad, in 1869, connected East-and-West, or West-and-East, depending upon your point of view.

 

And the point of view in the West, at least the West that I encountered in 1979, upon my arrival in California, from the East, is predominantly East-and-West.  The image, however, has been slavishly and pompously propagated within Coastal California, including Silicon Valley — that the West. aka California, rules the Nation.

 

Nope.


California, the once Golden State, is beholden to the D.C. power-mongers for all of that Welfare State money, the transfer of tax dollars that start here, go there, return here, get siphoned off, return there in smaller amounts; ergo, the shrill demand for a fairer share of the taxpayer-pot.

 

How did such a resourceful, vibrant state get into this abysmal, abject state?

 

I’ll start with the chairs upon which sit the citizens of the Golden State.  (The homeless, congregating in city parks and freeway underpasses, are drug-dazed huddled and wrapped in globalist-garments and sleeping bags made Over There.)

 

Wooden chairs, Made Here, are nowhere to be found.  Neither are tables, dressers, benches, end tables.  All of those evergreens in the forests of this tremendous territory, and not a single toothpick or match to be made from them!  Just deadly fires and official emergency evacuation orders for rural residents, pursuant to federal emergency funding for the State of California.


The history is long and lamentable regarding the absence of artisan-crafted goods in California.

 

In these United States, the industrial expansion of the East and Midwest, during the post-Civil War era, afforded newly-arrived Westerners with the availability of furniture — straight from the factory, to be ordered from catalogues, and then delivered, probably to the train depot, not directly to their doors.  With the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, furniture manufacturers in cities, such as Grand Rapids, Michigan and Springfield, Missouri, profited handily from clients in the Golden West.

 

There were, in those olden golden days, professional artisans, beyond the Golden State, who created chairs, tables, chests, commodes, armoires, desks, the types of wooden and upholstered furnishings that make a house a home (although the hanging of window curtains is, in my opinion, the true home-ification act, the finishing touch).

 

During my epoch as a single, working gal in Sacramento, I rented furnished apartments.  Paying rent & utilities ate up most of my pitiful paycheck, with the remainder left for food.  It was my impression, which has proven to be spot-on, that this cow-town lacked many kinds of basic businesses, the founding companies that uniquely distinguish one town from another, one locale in one state from that of another. I was a bit aghast at the lack of any Founding Family influence in a capital city.


A Founding Family typically sets down roots, deep roots, so that a town, or city, can be molded by the architecture and cultural tastes of that family.  There’s ego involved, for sure, seeing the Patronymic Name plastered on significant buildings.  There’s also the desire to shape a wild and untamed land, and to build a legacy, a real legacy.

 

It’s how small-town newspapers were founded, and either thrived or failed.  And it’s how a particular domain became wealthy, or impoverished, due to a dearth of the fundamentals for building and selling anything:

 

raw materials; proficient, even talented individuals to train for labour; a ripe and ready market to buy the product.; and efficient transportation for those good goods.


All that Sacramento had to show by the year 1980 was an ever-growing state government of non-technically trained, taxpayer-funded employees; a socialist-newspaper, established by a greedy curmudgeon; and department stores, peddling corporate merchandise made in other parts of the nation, most notably, in the Northeast.


A home-grown company called Breuner’s sold furniture that had been made elsewhere, far-away elsewhere’s.  Breuner’s, not surprisingly, and not coincidentally, got its start with a major, big-bucks government contract to furnish the newly-constructed State Capitol in Sacramento, a design based upon the U.S. Capitol in D.C.

 

The chamber of the California State Senate is garishly decorated in RED, in an attempt to ape the British House of Lords!  It seems only fitting that Red China has bought and paid for those ambassadors of treason.

 

The entire history of the moveable feast known as the California State Capitol is lengthy, and laughable.  San Jose got a shot at the payoff spot, but, then, in 1869, coincident with the coming of that Transcontinental Railroad, Sacramento finally became the permanent epicenter of slush-funding.  San Jose thinks it’s returned to that power-epicenter, and, for all I know, it might have.

 

Breuner’s declared bankruptcy in 2004, but it had a helluva run until the furniture industry got out-sourced, most notably in the 1990s.  Commercial California merely shifted gears, importing lotsa stuff from outside the United States, instead of from outside the State.

 

Those backlogged container ships at the Port of Los Angeles are historic monuments to the abominably poor planning of Golden State politicians, civic leaders in commerce and industry, and, to a certain degree, the citizens themselves.

 

Confronting the clothing sector in northern California was a shock for me.  I’d grown up in New Jersey and had been accustomed to clothes fashioned and sewn in the now-defunct Garment District of New York City.  A person had to travel to The City — San Francisco — to try to find decent apparel; I did trek there, numerous times.  I found lackluster mass-marketed garments, shipped in from elsewhere in the States.


I devised my own professional attire, largely by sewing my own clothes, of fabrics milled outside of California.  By the time I was a homemaker, I purchased fewer fabrics milled in the U.S.; and I catalog-shopped goods produced in other parts of the United States, unaware that those commodities were going the way of the Chinese dragon.  Sometime during the late 1980s, I was engaged in researching factual information for the penning of NORTHSTAR.  I visited the State Capitol for a closer look, a genuine gander at what I was about to fictionalize.  Walking through those hallowed halls of the taxpayer-temple, I came upon a very nice woman who stopped me.

 

“Oh,” she said with relief.  “You’re here to see the Governor.”

 

I informed this secretary of the Governor that I am not the person for whom she was waiting; but I would certainly enjoy meeting the Governor!

 

I then introduced myself and explained my purpose in writing information in my leather-bound notebook.  She offered any assistance that I might need, and requested that I send a copy of my first published book to Pete Wilson.  The Governor, and his lovely wife, greatly enjoyed reading the first NORTHSTAR, in paperback!


It was the last time we had a real governor in California.  Dear Hubby thinks I’m too hung-up on the need for a governor.  Old habits, especially those from the Northeast, die hard!

 

Manufacturing of anything in Los Angeles has always been a speculative investment.  Once again, a severe lack of legitimate financial interests has marked that locale, for centuries, for decades, perhaps forever.

 

The myopic self-interests of the wealthy Californians of early statehood sealed the fate of this State where the long-term future of many thriving industries was concerned.  Furniture was but one of them, but furnishing the domicile is, indeed, one of those building blocks of a truly civilized society.


This past spring, I rode through a section of Sacramento, past a shopping mall that I’d frequented in the mid-late 1980s, but hadn’t seen in about twenty years.  The retail and office buildings have been abandoned; that part of town looked like a ghost town.  How many other towns throughout this formerly Golden State have achieved the same obscene fate?  It took me almost a week to process that reality.

 

The Californian and Western obsession with obtaining (rather than inspiring) that East-Coat respectability (which never existed) goes way back in the original Wayback Machine, all the way to the Gilded Age.

 

What did the fat cats of San Fran do to acquire sophistication, during that Gilded Age?  How did the vulgar rich, west of the Mississippi, buy breeding and become well-breaded?

 

While the millionaires in the Northeast and the Midwest were hauling in “Borrowed Culture” from Europe (mainly England and France), the millionaires in the West, in spanking brand-new metropolises such as San Francisco, Denver, and Phoenix were commissioning, at enormous expense, professional and highly touted decorators in New York City to design and do up their mansions with:

 

Borrowed Opulence.


Yes, borrowed opulence was the wave of instantly-made decorum among the newly arrived elites in Western cities.

 

By the end of the 19th century, the most prosperous furniture makers produced wares for the growing markets in California.  The majority of California home-furnishing firms thus established themselves as the master agents to procure expensive, high-quality, ornate furniture that was manufactured in the Northeast.  They built their reputations on supplying the West with stuff from the East, thereby foregoing any thought of developing their own regional operations.

 

The bulk of the artisans, the adeptly skilled hands that crafted and transformed those planks of wood into gorgeous works of art for the household, they hailed from Europe, particularly from Germany.  An entire strata of a gifted-working class was thereby constructed in those geographical sections of America; California wasn’t one of them.

 

The mansion of Milton Latham in San Francisco, in 1874, was acclaimed as having lavish decorating throughout its spacious expanses.  The library alone was “furnished with classic severity, but with perfect taste, including a gilt rosewood table.”  The table and other lovely marquetry items came directly from Herter Brothers in New York City.

 

These past few years have seen me scouring the internet for furniture I’ve long needed, and never seen, in my part, in any part, of California.  I was able to digitally-catalog order, from Amish furniture-makers in Indiana, an entryway bench, a chest of drawers, a sideboard, an end table.  I also purchased two vintage and truly historic chests of drawers from an estate-treasures shop in my village.


The rest of the wooden-caboodle in my house originated in the Midwest, Pennsylvania, and New England.  Those furnishings were accumulated over the past few decades of my living in California, as I scouted out quality items from small, independently owned businesses that specialized in Arts and Crafts pieces made in The East.

 

I moved West, not to mimic a life I might have had in the East.  Evidently, the powers-that-were in this State have had different ideas about just what distinguishes a Californian from the rest of the United States.  We’ll see who wins this capitalist standoff.

 

I’ll probably never be a Californian, but I am a Westerner.

 

And I do not borrow opulence; I create it!

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