This trip, Master Right and I visited one of our favourite towns. Milford nestles into a bend of the meandering Delaware River, in a corner of northeast Pennsylvania that bumps up against both New York and New Jersey. Frommer ranks it as number two on its list of ten coolest small towns in America.
Standing nobly on a hill near the edge of town, we find Grey Towers, former home of Gifford Pinchot, twice governor of Pennsylvania and founder of the U.S. Forest Service. This faux-mediaeval mansion, today, anchors the Forest Service’s training and education programmes.
Milford hit its heyday around the turn of the century. (The last one, not this one). With a variety of landscapes nearby, the town became a centre for the early film industry, before the whole show moved underneath the reliable California sun. Mary Pickford once kept a house here.
This brush with glamour gave Milford more than its share of fancy homes, posh hotels and grand public buildings. One such place is the Hotel Fauchere.
Legend has it that Pinchot and Teddy Roosevelt sketched the plans for the Forest Service on a Fauchere napkin after a boozy dinner. Thus, one could argue that the hotel is the birthplace of the environment movement in the United States.
The famous Delmonico restaurant in New York recruited the Francophone-Swiss Louis Fauchere as Master Chef in 1851. In 1870, he moved his family to the countryside and opened an eponymous hotel. Thereafter, Fauchere became one of Milford’s most celebrated citizens, officially known as “the crazy Frenchman”.
Shortly after our arrival, we found ourselves sitting in the Crazy Frenchman’s stylishly renovated conservatory, sipping Soave with one of his successors. Sean is a partner in the Fauchere, and joins his guests every evening for a drop of very nice wine, and a few very nice cheeses. Ever the gracious host, he remembered Master Right and me from previous visits.
The thing that attracted us to Milford in the first place was an article in Instinct Magazine, describing the small but vigorous gay community. Sean is a pillar of it.
Our last visit coincided with the hotel’s monthly rather-gay dance-party. The party grew so successful, that it had to move to larger premises. Sean and his partners are tossing up what to do with the space. Top of the list is a patisserie. In middle America, this is pretty much neck-and-neck with a gay disco in the gayness stakes.
We always seem to arrive at the right time for an event. Sean remarked that we should stick around the next day for a political rally. Documentary film-maker Rory Kennedy, eleventh and youngest child of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, would stump for Barack Obama in the Pennsylvania primary.
By now, you all know the result of the election. Obama was defeated, but went on to secure the (presumptive) national nomination in spite of it. This Pocono Record News Forum comment on the Milford rally helps explain why, perhaps.
"Rory Kennedy is no gift, nor is she representative of the working class people of NEPA...She stood outside the Hotel Fauchere giving a speech about who she supports in a place were most working class people could not afford. The Hotel Fauchere is an over priced bed and breakfast that caters to the upper class at $300 a night per person and $40 to $60 a plate meals not including drinks and appetizer…Although her father died before she was born, she was still born with the silver spoon in her mouth and a trust fund filled with money from her grandfather's criminal activities...When she lives through the true hardships real Americans face of either buying heating oil or paying the mortgage, buying food for the dinner table or putting gas in the tank so she can get to a real job...Until then she is nothing more than an ugly more educated Paris Hilton…"
Hmmm…Paris Hilton has proved herself truly, profoundly ugly in so many important ways, that I don’t quite get the comparison.
And our room didn’t cost three hundred bucks, either. Perhaps he was confusing the Fauchere with…oh, I dunno. Paris Hilton, the hotel?
Obama’s famous comment about Pennsylvanians clinging to guns and God—spoken behind closed doors in San Francisco, no less—is a fairly mild rebuke compared to the vitriol that drips upon him when the cameras aren’t running.
Here’s a report from the Washington Post about the Pennsylvania campaign.
"The contrast between the large, adoring crowds Obama draws at public events and the gritty street-level work to win votes is stark. The candidate is largely insulated from the mean-spiritedness that some of his foot soldiers deal with away from the media spotlight. Victoria Switzer, a retired social studies teacher, was on phone-bank duty one night during the Pennsylvania primary campaign. One night was all she could take: "It wasn't pretty." She made 60 calls to prospective voters in Susquehanna County, her home county, which is 98 percent white. The responses were dispiriting. One caller, Switzer remembers, said he couldn't possibly vote for Obama and concluded: "Hang that darky from a tree!" Documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy, the daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, said she, too, came across "a lot of racism" when campaigning for Obama in Pennsylvania. One Pittsburgh union organizer told her he would not vote for Obama because he is black, and a white voter, she said, offered this frank reason for not backing Obama: "White people look out for white people, and black people look out for black people."
It raises the hackles of some Hillary supporters that she cops so much blatant sexism. They uncover misogyny in a thousand subtle (and not so subtle) ways—from Obama saying she has her claws out to the famous heckler who shouted iron my shirt.
It’s a legitimate concern, yes. But iron my shirt ain’t in the same league as hang the darky. (Or bash the fag, for that matter.)
A couple of hundred supporters braved the nippy spring weather to hear Kennedy speak. The crowd suffered no hecklers, though some Hillary supporters cheerfully waved a banner across the street.
I worried that Master Right would soon grow bored. After all, I remember how I struggled to get through a political meeting in Munich in a language that was not my first. No matter how fluent you may be in your adopted tongue, the grammar of politics demands a sense for subtext which challenges those not born to it.
As it turned out, one could read the subtext without a word being spoken. “I’m enjoying this,” he said. “You can feel the positive spirit.”
of the Pledge of Allegiance from all concerned.
Indeed, you could. The gathering was traditional, grass-roots American democracy at its finest. Speeches from the podium rang with passion, but were delivered with grace and generosity. Small towns often cultivate this kind of genteel politics; one must know how to debate people whom you need to face the next day.
The latest Economist points out that the drought of civil discourse in American politics might stem from one key demographic fact. As Americans become more mobile, many choose to live amongst politically like-minded neighbours. The more choice an American has, the more likely he will veer towards either a Grosse Pointe or a Marin County, with few settling in-between. Presumably, estate agents can market homes based on the Tahoe-to-Prius ratio of the neighbourhood.
In towns like Milford, though, a Republican and a Democrat actually stand a good chance of crossing paths. That's increasingly rare.
Kennedy’s speech, in many ways, reflected her films. She recently made documentaries about Hurricane Katrina and Abu Ghraib; we should not be surprised that she spoke of changing the moral tone which the nation has set for itself.
Just as interesting, and just as serious, was the speech of 18 year-old Ryan Jameson. He's a high school senior—that’s year 12, the final year, for those of you outside the US—who organized two hundred of his fellow students to register to vote in their respective Primaries. In recognition, Ryan became chair of Obama’s Pike County organizing committee. And I understand he actually comes from a Republican family.
Another surprising speech came from County Commissioner Mike Warsho. His daughter, studying in Italy, relayed the excitement and interest surrounding Obama abroad. (Master Right and I can attest to that, too.)
The crowd murmured approvingly.
Well, knock me over with a feather. The Clintons spend much energy concealing Bill's exploits as a Rhodes scholar in Oxford, lest it alienate their base of inverted snobs. Many here, though, thought it a good thing that a prospective president should have lived abroad, as Obama has.
As we heard the speakers, it became obvious what made the atmosphere so inspiring. We beheld an event that had been absent from American politics for a long time. A discussion of ideas and principles rather than personal invective and ridicule.
Ideas and principles are not a luxury for the elite. They are life and soul of what makes a nation.
Here, let me venture into an area which will infuriate friends, casual readers and partisan political activists alike. The elephant in the room for American politics is social class.
From time-to-time, anti-elitism can act as a healthy foil to political hot-air. But fake-anti-elitism has become the order of the day in American politics. Frankly, the fakery is beginning to smell. Perhaps the electorate caught a whiff of it on Hillary’s breath. The super-delegates certainly did.
I suspect Republicans have tired of this bogus culture war, too. A CNN poll shows a number of them, cautiously, listening to Obama.
Standing amongst the crowd, I couldn’t help but remember how fragile this idealism is. Master Right felt inspired; I felt like—forgive me—a bit like a Weimar Jew.
Philistinism was one of the great weapons Hitler exploited for popular support. The bombast about liberal-biased media, which so much of the USA swallows, reminds me not a little of the smear directed against the so-called conspiracy of rich Jewish bankers.
You can’t trust people who are a little too smart, a little to worldly, a little too decadent, or a little too rich—unless, of course, they’re a lot too rich, which, since this is America, any of us might become at any minute.
Obama supporters held a bake sale to raise money for the campaign.
Get these people a patisserie, quick!
Obama speaks of the audacity of hope, while his opponents so often decry the vanity of hope. Kennedy’s speech addressed this, quoting no less a moral authority than Nelson Mandela. (Mandela attributes this passage to Marianne Williamson; did she insert a few gay code-words?)
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? …Your playing small does not serve the World. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that others people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us: it is in everyone. And, as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
More than once in my life, I had to make the choice between a tank of gas and dinner on the table, too. But it never stopped me believing in the power of ideas.
Having lived outside the United States most of my adult life, I never voted in a Presidential election. But I might just do so, this time.
Now let's get back to that crazy, elitist liberal agenda. Come 2009, everyone will have to learn Latin, attend the opera, and substitute extra virgin olive oil for Crisco. Top up my Soave, would you? There's a good chap.
Obama supporters can log onto Obamacycle.com
to swap and re-use campaign materials.
The rally was some three weeks after St. Patrick's Day,
but thrifty Milfordites didn't seem to care.
Photos of Grey Towers and the Fauchere from their respective websites.