Monday, May 30, 2011

Where truth is stranger than fiction (Summer reading #3)

For some people, "summer" is a verb instead of a noun. Such people like to flaunt their wealth by trying not to appear that they're flaunting it. And in New York the well-to-do like to "summer" in the Hamptons, a wealthy waterfront area of Long Island, where everybody is somebody and each more important than the rest.

Philistines at the Hedgerow: Passion and Property in the HamptonsPhilistines at the Hedgerow: Passion and Property in the Hamptons by Steven Gaines is an interesting and easy read with some early history on the Hamptons and profiles a number of notable residents and properties through the years. Initially settled because of it's natural beauty and fertile soil, the area soon became a haven for the wealthy and over the years attracted various groups such as artists, gays, Jews, and the newly-rich of the 80's stock markets - much to the chagrin of earlier residents who viewed such late-comers as outsiders lacking their good taste and refinement (Philistines). Several people are profiled such as artists Jackson Pollock and Alfonso Ossorio (and his partner Ted Dragon); successful businessmen Evan Frankel and Jerry Della Femina, and old-money Robert D. L. Gardiner. Of course, Martha Stewart and Steven Spielberg are here, too. But the history is much more than just the people who lived there; it's also the properties, and many homes and places and the changes that happened are covered.

Those who like their People magazine will enjoy the gossipy feel of this book, but with the nature of the Hamptons and the people it attracts it's probably natural. Some of it becomes downright comic, especially with the legal codes that are really only used by those with a bit of authority to enhance their own social standing or pay back some perceived slight. To call some of the people 'eccentric' is putting it very mildly, though, when 'weird' might be more accurate. But it's all very interesting and hard to put down sometimes, and you can't help but shake your head at some of the ridiculous stories and people. There are a number of historical photos included, although no maps which would have been nice for those of us who have never "summered" there. But you can still read about it this summer - wherever you might be "summering."

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