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On the horrible artistic taste of the filthy rich

I was in St. Augustine, Florida, last weekend, a beautiful little town on the north-eastern cost of the state. Its main claims to fame are the fortress and other buildings dating back to the mid-1500s -- quite unusual for the USA, obviously -- and the grand palaces built by several late nineteenth century robber barons such as Henry Flagler and Otto Lightner. The later buildings are impressive, actually. What turned my stomach was to see the things that Mr. Lightner put in the museum built to house his personal collection of loot. Lightner founded Hobbies magazine or some such, and the various bits of Victorian sculpture, crockery, and Pears Soap Advertisement oil paintings were clearly put together by that sort of character: the one who gets a certain reassurance by poring through catalogues of things, and feels that he has broadened his personality when he has noted down all the numbers of one particular type of train. In other words, most of the Lightner Museum's collection was hideous. It just proves the age-old truth: all the money in the world can't buy you good taste.

'The Favourite of the Harem', Leon Comerre: Herr Lightner found
works by this 19th c. French hack particularly alluring.
UPDATE: Some people have emailed me to say that this post reflected harshly on St. Augustine. Let me correct that impression by saying that even though I was only there for three days, it was one of the best places I've been to in the USA. And because of the travel writing that Patty does, I've been to 34 of the States in the last 7 years, so I'm comparing it to a LOT of cities. Patty and I were discussing what it is that attracted us to St. Augustine, and a large part of it is the Spanish history, and the contemporary Latino (perhaps Cubano-American) influence. Patty has lived and travelled extensively in Latin America, and I have a lot of connections with Spain, so whenever we find cities in the USA that are enriched by this, we identify very strongly with them. This is why the current anti-Latino bigotry exhibited by the Angry Old White Republican Voters in this country both infuriates and saddens us -- not just because we have lived in those cultures, but because the AOWRVs seem not to realise that this is what makes the fabric and texture of society in the USA so interesting.

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