A Bit of Housekeeping

Welcome to my random musings about the world, on a weekly-to-occasional basis.

Heyyyy, y’all!

In response to popular demand (namely, my spouse), I’m adding a couple of fun new features to this newsletter. Herewith, some explanation.

Feature One: Where we are

Lee seems to think the anti-chronological nature of my emails is potentially confusing to some of you. He seems to think—for reasons that are beyond me—that you, Dear Reader, would like to know where we actually are, even when I am wallowing in the awkward faux pas I made two years ago. *huff* I can’t help that my Muse is sometimes a bit scatterbrained.

But—fine. To that end, I will try to remember, in future, to note our current location at the beginning of each email. Maybe I’ll include some commentary or interesting factoids. Maybe I won’t. Maybe it’ll just be a weather report, because THAT’S fascinating.

So, we are currently in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. Uruguay is a small, peaceful, and incredibly progressive country tucked between the geographic behemoths of Argentina and Brazil. We’re ten days into a four-week stay—thus far, we’re impressed by the laid-back vibe and the sweeping views of the Atlantic. When this email lands in your inbox, we’ll be in a rental car, going to check out some of the more far-flung beaches. It’s squarely mid-summer here, so we might as well go where the locals are going.

Then I’m going to hop onto a knitting tour that will be in town most of next week. Yes, you read that right. Uruguay is sort of a dream destination for knitters all over the globe. That, in fact, is the very reason we’re staying for four whole weeks. Knitters unite! In Uruguay!

Feature Two: My Writer’s Notebook

When I was growing up (bear with me; this is actually going somewhere), my father was in the US Air Force, and we spent quite a few years in the UK. Being avid anglophiles, my parents joined the National Trust, and we spent many weekends tromping through the glorious manor houses and country seats of Britain’s nobility. That’s a story in and of itself, but the upshot is that my teenaged boredom with the glories of historical preservation eventually grew into a deep need to subject my own kids to the same painful entertainments.

So it seemed only natural that for quite a few years, Lee and I had an annual membership at the Biltmore House, in Asheville, NC. If you’ve never been, Biltmore is one of the truly grand remnants of the Gilded Age—the era of robber barons and railroad tycoons. It’s still owned by the descendants of the Vanderbilt family, and is often cited as the largest privately owned home in the US.

Over time and repeated visits, I got pretty obsessed with Biltmore and its colorful history. One tidbit, though, piqued my interest above all others; this is an excerpt from an entry on the Biltmore website: 

In 1941, American leaders began to fear the possibility of an attack on Washington, DC.  An air raid on a major U.S. city seemed likely. German submarines had been sighted along the Atlantic Coast from Maine to North Carolina, bringing the war uncomfortably close to the American shore. 

With that thought in mind, and with information from European sources about Hitler’s relentless efforts to seize and stockpile art—much of which was damaged or destroyed in the process—David Finley, the new director of the National Gallery of Art, contacted Biltmore to discuss the possibility of sending some of the nation’s most important art treasures there for safekeeping. Finley had visited Biltmore previously as a guest, and felt that Biltmore House was the perfect choice with its fireproof features and remote location. Edith Vanderbilt graciously agreed.

I can’t remember exactly where I first read about that little-known sliver of history—I suppose there’s a plaque in the Music Room that mentions it, but I know that one summer I read The Lady on the Hill, by Howard Covington (which I highly recommend), and my imagination was off and running. 

That led me to another riveting book (in my opinion—admittedly, I have a bizarre range of random niche interests), The Rape of Europa, by Lynn Nicholas, which was made into a documentary, and eventually, The Monuments Men. Aside: I lovedThe Monuments Men. This is my jam. If you don’t make fun of my taste in movies, I won’t make fun of yours.

Anyhoo. The point of all of this bibliography is that I now have a full-blown obsession, y’all: art theft.

It turns out people steal art All. The. Time. For all the reasons. For money, for notoriety, for collateral, for revenge, for power, for weird personal fetishes (not that I’d know anything about having a weird personal fetish).

Fun fact from Interpol: in a ‘value’ ranking of criminal activities, art theft is exceeded only by drug trafficking, money laundering, and weapons dealing. That’s some heady, dangerous company.

Writers love to say that we hope no one is tracking our Google searches. I am firmly in that zone. The fact that I have researched the security systems of several prominent museums? Not incriminating at all. I also know more than I should probably admit about buying and selling black-market antiquities, but we’ll just keep that to ourselves, won’t we? Just don’t tell the Louvre; I’ll be there in July, and I’d hate to be turned away at the door/giant glass pyramid.

I see that your mind is wandering. Why the lecture, Dr. Rosen? You’re giving us Art History 101 flashbacks! Bring back the rollicking tales of linguistic humiliation in distant lands! Bring back Adventures in Laundry!

No worries. I just wanted to give you a little heads-up, that’s all. I’m going to start adding some links and snippets that I find interesting about the glamorous, dirty world of art crime, and I wanted to explain where they’re coming from. I’ll try not to over share. It’s all just part of my devious plan to infect the world with a passion for … the preservation of cultural heritage. It’s going great, so far.

Take care,


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