Thursday, December 13, 2012

Harry and David: Gifts for All Seasons!

As you might suspect with Christmas coming up, rich people have an enormous gift list and the task of getting it all done can be quite overwhelming.

But not to worry. They have hired help in this area - all the way from shopping, to wrapping, to delivering or shipping: Secretaries, Personal Assistants, House Managers, Butlers and Personal Shoppers in their favorite department stores are all involved in this annual nightmare.

Around here, my employers usually do their own shopping for their family members and closest friends. Which, by the way, doesn't exclude the house staff from wrapping, delivering or shipping their precious treasures. But what about the vast number of acquaintances, business associates and corporate employees - some of whom they like, dislike, or maybe even loathe?

For these perfunctory types of gifts they often resort to food and booze. An expensive bottle of brandy or champagne, or gourmet foods from an upscale department store like Harrods of London,  or perhaps a selection of expensive nuts or candies from a local supplier.

Meant to show respect rather than intimacy, these gifts are perfectly okay, and the recipients more or less understand the sentiment. The trick here is how big the treat package should be. After all, it's more about making a statement than about the cost.

For example, there's a company the rich often resort to called Harry and David that specializes in corporate gifts. This excellent company has been around for seventy-five years and has categories of fun and fancifully-packaged goodies from $50 to over $200 per package. No muss, no fuss. Just call them up and read down your gift list, including the price range for each recipient, and they'll do all the rest - including shipping and a gift card.

The fun thing is, if you're on the receiving end of a gift from Harry and David you can go to their website and see exactly how much the sender paid, and where you stand in their fickle esteem.

If it's small and in the fifty dollar range, you've still got lots of work to do. But if it's big and grand, two-hundred bucks or more, then you're moving right along and may someday arrive on their personal gift list. (Just be sure that's what you want. When dealing with the rich there's always a price to pay for their notice, kindness or generosity.)

If you haven't completed your Christmas shopping yet, as of today there's still almost a couple of weeks to get in touch with Harry and David or other similar stores, and still enough time to have your gifts shipped on time - and yes, there's always overnight air for last minute oversights.

Hope this has been helpful, but more importantly I hope you're nearing an end to your shopping chores. Last minute rushing around can be such a pain.

Thanks for dropping in,



Friday, December 7, 2012

Addendum to "What is Champagne?"

In last night's post entitled What is Champagne I was pointing out that usage of the word champagne is protected by treaties and should apply only to sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region of France.

But I entirely forgot to mention the wines should also be produced under the rules of appellation, even in France. 

And I also failed to mention a couple of major loopholes

One being that not all countries signed the treaties and don't give a hoot about the rules.

The other being that it's grudgingly allowed to use the word champagneas long as the country or region of origin is also clearly present on the label to distinguish it from sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region in France.

Thus in the United States for example you'll see some vineyards that will label their sparkling wines as American Champagne, or California Champagne. A questionable practice as far as I'm concerned, but so be it. 

Sorry for the oversight and confusion. Anyhow, enjoy the bubbly - no matter where the heck it comes from.

Thanks again for reading,


Thursday, December 6, 2012

What is Champagne?

With all the holidays upon us, sparkling wine is flying off the store shelves as fast as it can be stocked. The champagne days are here again.

While most of us bring out the bubbly only during the holidays and other happy occasions such as birthdays, Bon Voyage parties and job promotions, some even open a bottle during more questionable events such as engagement announcements and weddings. 

Still others, like my rich employers, will pop a cork at the drop of a hat - reunions with old friends, reunions with new friends, a champagne luncheon,  even after a hard day of shopping. Any time in their estimattion is the proper time for champagne. Here are some wonderful quotes on the subject, supplied to us by Miss Helen.

Madame Lily Bollinger:  "I only drink champagne when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not in a hurry, and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch the stuff, unless I'm thirsty."

Bette Davis"There comes a time in every woman's life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne."

Miss Helen's response to Miss Davis"I would amend that to say a bottle of champagne!"

So what is champagne anyhow? The short answer is that it's just a wine or a blend of up to three wines that requires a secondary fermentation in each individual bottle. It's the on-going fermentation within the bottle that creates all the bubbles (some 50,000,000 per bottle) which in turn creates the dazzling sparkle in a champagne glass. And it's the enormous pressure (90 PSI in the bottle compared to 32 PSI in a car tire) that makes the cork pop out with such force.

The invention required special bottles of course (the thanks going to British glass makers in the mid 1600's) that can withstand the pressure, and special wired-down corks that wouldn't pop out during the final fermentation process.

The generic name for wines produced in this way is Sparkling Wine. The label Champagne however is both reserved and legally protected by international treaties (the Treaty of Madrid in 1891 and reaffirmed after World War I by the Treaty of Versailles) and should be applied only to sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region of France.  

Thus wines produced anywhere else in the very same way (Cava in Spain and Spumante in Italy, for example) cannot be labeled champagne. In America it's usually labeled Sparkling Wine by most vineyards. But in speech it's perfectly ok to refer to all these sparkling wines as champagne, even the inexpensive varieties in the supermarket. We all do that, right?

By the way, many sparkling wines are rather sweet due to a small amount of sugar added to increase the fermentation within the bottle. But in the last century a dryer and more popular version without the extra sugar became available, referred to as Brut on the label. So if sweet champagne gives you a headache and hangover, you'd be better off with brut.
While really great champagnes can range from $2,000 to $20,000 per bottle, for large parties my employers usually stick to more modestly priced Bollingers and Krugs in the $500-$750 per-bottle range.

However, for regular people we can find a decent Krug in the fifty to seventy-five dollar range. Moet and Chandon even has a respectable non-vintage brut sold in supermarkets in the twenty dollar range. (In college we used to drink cheap Andre in the five or six dollar range - and boy, talk about a headache!)

While there's a popular myth that Dom Perignon (a French Benedictine monk in the sixteenth century) invented champagne, it's simply not so. What he did was tinker with the blends and ultimate taste, making him a master wine maker in the field of sparkling wines. But the process of making champagne was developed long before he arrived on the scene.

Well, this has been way too long, but it's that time of year again when champagne is called for. Hope you enjoy it, and thanks for stopping by this evening.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Healthy Hors D'oeuvres for the Rich!

Okay, I just got busted again for alcohol - not by the cops but by my dear doctor in the annual physical. "Once again your B12's are a bit scanty" she accused. Apparently alcohol blows away your B vitamins and I had been dreading her scowl all day. It's really hard to lie your way out of lab results.

So what to do? An internet search for natural ways to pump up the 12's yielded some interesting news. It seems that lots of the hors d'oeuvres rich people have at cocktail parties are loaded with B12's. I don't know if this is merely a coincidence or a strategic move on their part to counteract all the alcohol they consume.

But apparently Liver Pates from mammals or fowl and Caviar from expensive Beluga or inexpensive Lump Fish are all loaded with B12's - yay! During her Thanksgiving visit Miss Helen also reminded me that Champagne is full of antioxidants and if mixed with orange juice (Mimosas) or peach juice (Bellini's) then you have some Vitamin C and Potassium mixed in to boot. Double yay!

So for the immediate future I'm going to copy the diets of the rich to see if the B12's come up. A simple and elegant diet of liver pate, caviar, and Champagne. How could you go wrong? Which of course doesn't exclude other left-over hors d'oeuvres like crab-stuffed celery stalks and salmon on toast - all of which have a special place in my heart and their own nutritional values, right?

We'll see. I suppose I could eliminate alcohol, since that seems to be the main culprit. But that's not really dealing with reality, is it? So I'll give this replacement therapy a try and see what happens.

Thanks for dropping in this evening,


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Saks Fifth Avenue: Where Rich People Shop!

Apparently I'm writing a lot these days about where rich people shop, but it's the holidays of course, and I'm getting a lot of questions on the subject.

Before we go any further I need to mention one of the most venerable and beloved department stores of all times - Saks Fifth Avenue. Usually referred to as just Saks, it's the zenith of fashionable and gracious living and has spread form the original New York store to major cities across the country. In fact, I'm going to defer to their website and let you explore for yourself. Here's the link.

What I can tell you from personal experience is that a visit to Saks is an awesome and memorable experience, especially the flagship store in Manhattan. In addition to old-world elegance and a relatively-polite, loyal and knowledgeable staff, it sits there on Fifth Avenue right next door to the Cathedral of Saint Patrick, also known as St. Patrick's Cathedral.

On the north side of Saks, on each floor, there are beautiful wood-framed arched windows that overlook St. Pat's. And on each and every higher floor you have a different and better view of the spectacular architecture of this Neo-Gothic cathedral, right up to the spires.

Whether you're going there to shop or don't have a dime in your pockets, you really need to visit this store - and they're accustomed to tourists wandering in and out, trust me on that point. No other department store I know of can offer this kind of experience. 

On the top floor there's a lunch room called Cafe SFA with amazing views and a menu that won't break the bank. So if you've not been there before or you're visiting New York for the first time, make this a special outing. You'll not be disappointed.

Happy shopping, and thanks for stopping by,


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Neiman Marcus: Where Rich People Shop!

For over a century Neiman Marcus has been a legendary player in the dazzling world of luxury department stores for the rich. Usually referred to as just Neiman's, to the chagrin of the Marcus family no doubt, the first store was established in Texas in 1907 by three investors - Herbert Marcus, his sister Carrie, and her husband A.L. Neiman.

Legend has it they were invited to invest their money in a new company about to open up at that time called "Coca-Cola", but they were reluctant to do so. Instead they decided to open a high-end department store for all the new oil-rich Texas millionaires in their hometown of Dallas.

Although the store was an immediate success and has spread to major cities all across the United States, Stanley Marcus, CEO of the company fifty years later, once joked that "Neiman Marcus was founded upon bad business judgment!"

The best way to understand this store is to take a look at their website. Here's a link to the amazing world of Neiman Marcus.  But be prepared to spend a little time, and a good deal of money if you're so inclined.

The original spelling of the store was Neiman-Marcus, with a hyphen. And over the years the store has acquired the jestful nickname Needless-Markup, which I'm sure you've heard, of course. But if you peruse their web site for a few moments (especially 'The Christmas Book') you'll understand the intended humor of their nickname. Their prices are way out there!

At least we can dream, and do a little window shopping, right?
Thanks for dropping in,


Friday, October 26, 2012

Expensive Cheese for the Rich!

You know, I've never been able to understand why the production of fine cheese has never reached American shores.

Charles de Gaulle, President of France during the 1960's, once humorously noted "How can you govern a country that has 250 kinds of cheese?" And the British Cheese Board makes the claim there are over 700 kinds of cheese within the British Isles.

But in the United States we produce only three cheeses to speak of - Cheddar, Swiss and Monterrey Jack. How did that happen? Perhaps it has something to do with the rugged pioneer spirit, or maybe we're so rich and lazy that it's easier to import all the better, wicked cheeses from Europe.

And import we do. You'll see hundreds of varieties in any upscale market, from all over the world. The cost of importing, however, jacks the price so high that only the rich can afford them. A small wedge of French Brie or a nice Wensleydale from Britain will cost you fifteen bucks. The whole wheel could cost a couple hundred bucks or more. In all the finest homes you'll see these imported offerings laid out on a sterling silver platter along with grapes, nuts and expensive deli crackers.

But wait. This is a total turnaround in the great scheme of things. In the Middle Ages cheese was only for poor people, and not considered appropriate for a nobleman's table. In fact, the worst insult you could be called during those days was a "Cheese Eater" meaning you couldn't afford meats or game, and the only source of protein for you and your family was from cheese - old rotten fermenting milk, no longer suitable for drinking.

So in modern times we have a total reversal in the diets of the rich and poor. The rich are eating expensive cheeses now, and the poor or eating cheap meats and chicken at fast food places all over the place. Just one of those strange things in the history of mankind, with little rhyme or reason.

Thanks for stopping by tonight,


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Peace and Quiet for the Rich?

Apparently one of the nicest things about being rich is that you can remove yourself "far from the madding crowd" and steer clear of the Great Unwashed.

When we take a weekend drive through a ritzy neighborhood we're in awe of the majestic homes, not to mention the beauty and tranquility of the vast expanse of lawns and well-manicured gardens. Seemingly the payoff for the rich for having accumulated all that cash translates into withdrawal from the world into a Utopian space of infinite peace and quiet.

Or so you would think, right? But not so. All those fine homes and grounds and gardens have to be maintained, don't they? Go back to that same upscale neighborhood on a week day and you'll see the very opposite. There's an invasion of the Great Unwashed, numbered in the hundreds. And if you think all these people are quiet, think twice. Here's a list of all those needed to maintain these magnificent homes.

Contractors:  Electricians, plumbers, air conditioning guys, swimming pool techs, tree trimmers, the cable company, appliance repairmen, painters, roofers, stone masons, and the noon-time lunch wagons that show up every day to feed this small army.

Vendors:  The events planners, party rental deliveries, florists, hair dressers, pharmacy deliveries, massage therapists, UPS and FedEx drops offs, bottled-water deliveries, dog groomers - and personal shoppers arriving with all their latest discoveries.

House staff:  Nannies, Personal Assistants, Secretaries, Chauffeurs, Housekeepers, Laundry Techs, Housemen, Chefs and their assistants, and the ever-present ubiquitous Butler.

Plus rich people are always remodeling something, it's just what they do. So add this construction noise to all the chores of the groundskeepers and you've got trouble. From Monday through Friday in these elegant supposedly-tranquil neighborhoods there's this constant roar and din of noise from all the lawn mowers, leaf blowers, chainsaws, jack hammers, nail guns, drills and bench saws. Not to mention the incidental noise of all the vehicles and trucks coming and going. Usually this nerve-wracking drone slows down around four or five in the afternoon.

In most of these neighborhoods there's either a Gentlemen's Agreement or an outright rule from the Neighborhood Association that forbids lawnmowers, leaf blowers and other noisy activities on Saturdays and Sunday. So at least two days a week rich people can at least pretend they're isolated in their ivory towers, far removed from the madding crowd.

But rule of thumb, the more you have the more that must be maintained, right? From my point of view, having money does not translate into peace and quiet - not in any shape, form or fashion.  

Thanks for dropping in,


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Holiday Preparations: Quiet Before the Storm!

So here we are in mid October and things are relatively calm. But there's a tidal wave of events about to overwhelm us, right? In fact I can already feel the stress building up.

The Social Season is full upon us and there's fund raisers, charity balls and frivolous galas to deal with. The holidays are closing in fast, starting with Halloween and ending with New Year's. We've got Christmas shopping to do and greeting cards to get out. And there's an endless parade of office parties, family events, holiday dinners and all the necessary travel plans involved.

Not to forget it's football season, and there's all kinds of game-watching events and celebrations to prepare for. And this year we can add into the mix all the Presidential Debates and a Presidential Election. So for the next seventy-five days or so we've all got our hands full, don't we?

We have a major fund-raiser coming up in mid November. Save-the-Date notes were sent out last month, and six-hundred invitations will soon be going out. That's a potential of twelve-hundred people. Even with the usual twenty-percent no shows, that's still about 950 guests. Rough stuff, but we've had bigger parties than this.

There's also three minor fund raising events. Two are ladies' luncheons, and one is an afternoon tea. But even these minor events can shake seventy-five to a hundred-thousand dollars out of these ladies in nothing flat.

So I'm taking a deep breath tonight and will try to remain calm and professional throughout the upcoming onslaught. I have terrific backup from the caterers and events planners, and a professional house staff around here that can deal with practically anything. So what's to worry, right?

Thanks for stopping by this evening,


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Home Libraries for the Rich!

I recently received a comment inquiring 'What kind of books do rich people read?' But since every human being whether rich or poor is different in their tastes and interests, there's really no way to give a generalized answer, right? What I can tell you, however, is that rich people have books in their homes, and lots of them.

Most of us have bookshelves, whether we live in a small apartment, a modest home, or a mansion. But it's become fashionable among millionaires and billionaires to have an enormous private home library, with floor to ceiling shelves filled with thousands of books. Just check this Google Image link to see exactly what I'm talking about here.

These home libraries are certainly grand and beautiful to the eye. However, unless they're in the home of a professor or scholar, they don't really make sense, do they? Aside from using books as decorations, they are meant for one thing - to impress someone. They make the statement "We are respectable, grounded, intelligent, thoughtful, inquisitive and decidedly well read!" 

But not necessarily true. These libraries are not a life-long collection of seriously-studied books that shape the owners' souls.They are created by interior designers who purchase the books by the yard to fill the empty shelves in these empty-headed rooms.

The upper shelves always have extensive collections of matching, color-coordinated encyclopedias, law books and such. Then lower down, there are yards and yards of exquisitely bound books on any topic under the sun. But on the eye-level shelves, the books are generally supposed to reflect the owners' real interests in life - hunting, traveling, music, pre-Colombian art, whatever. But the thing is, these shelves can easily be manipulated to impress people with embellished interests beyond the owners' true experience and exposure.

If you've been reading this blog for very long I think you'll agree that I'm not too often critical of the rich. But these phony libraries really get my goat. They are in fact a graveyard for books - never touched, never pulled out, never read. And they rarely provide a true glimpse into the owners' souls.

In the house where I currently work there is indeed one of these designer showroom libraries. But I'm relieved to tell you that upstairs in the private living quarters there are also floor-to-ceiling shelves carelessly crammed with books that are actually read. You'll find all the latest offerings from the New York Times Bestseller List and titles directly related to my employers' personal interests and business affairs. Non-fiction certainly seems dominant over fiction. And getting closer to an answer for "What do rich people read", in this house you won't find any of the popular genres such as romance novels, murder mysteries, westerns, horror or science fiction.

So I'm going to stick my neck out here, not extrapolating this to all rich people, and say that the reading habits of my current employers are seemingly on the serious side. Which is a good thing, in my opinion, as they present themselves as leaders and pillars of the community..

Thanks for stopping by tonight.



Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ascot or Tie?

In the last essay about Black Tie versus White Tie  I received a comment from Angela that inquired: "My husband hates formal bow ties and wears an ascot or cravat instead. Is that ok? What are your thoughts?"

Bearing in mind that I'm not a fashion consultant Angela, and that GQ Magazine might take issue with me, I do have some observations from my long experience in dealing with the rich and famous.

Yes, ascots and cravats most certainly have their place and are acceptable in many situations, especially daytime affairs. But for formal evening events, it's risky. This kind of neck wear can appear stuffy if not arrogant - and it makes the statement "Look at me, I'm different."

Which is absolutely fine - if you are different and deserve to be looked at! Otherwise you might come across as pompous and pretentious, if not altogether ridiculous and absurd. 

Rule of thumb: if it's a large event with hundreds of guests, wear the ascot if you wish. But if it's an intimate black-tie dinner party with only a few guests, you'll stand out like a sore thumb. Be sure you deserve that attention and can handle the scrutiny. 

In this house I've seen distinguished authors, diplomats and European dignitaries wearing ascots to our black tie events. To their credit, they all carried it off rather well.

And I may get in trouble here, but we have a fun middle-aged divorcee who frequents this house with a different man each time she arrives. On one occasion she famously showed up with a young man not half her age wearing a tuxedo and a white silk ascot - but no shirt. You would think this would cause lifted eyebrows throughout the room, right? But in this older jaded crowd the repeated face lifts eliminate or minimize any reactions requiring the use of facial muscles!

Not to hurt any one's feelings - but in short you kinda have to be somebody to get away with wearing an ascot. Some accomplishment in life that makes you worthy of note - and I hope that makes sense. Here's a link to Goggle's image search for ascots. Just look at all the somebodies who can get away with wearing them.

If you think you're in this category in any way, then by all means guys, get out the ascot. This is America, right? Anything goes, and who am I to judge? But don't come crying to me if you're rebuffed, ignored or laughed at behind your back.

Thanks for dropping in,


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Black Tie versus White Tie!

I've received several inquiries about what's the difference between a black tie and white tie event. It's a fascinating topic and there's an interesting history involved if you have a couple of minutes this evening.

A while back Miss Helen sent an article from The Wall Street Journal entitled "Style and the Man" by Jamie Johnson in the Saturday/Sunday edition, April 30, 2011. Johnson was writing about the planned celebration of the disputed 125th anniversary of the modern dinner jacket first being introduced in 1886 at a posh resort on Lake Tuxedo in Orange County, New York.

But apparently the Prince of Wales, some twenty years earlier in 1865, had asked his tailor Henry Poole & Company in London to design a tail-less dinner jacket. And thus the dispute over dates began.

You see, in former decades (make that centuries) dinner jackets had tails both in front and back to guard against the cold. They were split in the middle on both sides to make it easier to walk. And this eventually evolved into the front tails being cut away to make it easier to ride a horse, leaving only the back tails - which survives to this day in certain circles.

But when a group of young friends (complaining that the long tails in back interfered with sitting, dining and dancing) showed up at the renowned Tuxedo Park Resort in 1886 with the back tails cut away, it created a shock and scandal not unlike Janet Jackson's famous wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl!

But the tail-less fashion took hold, both in America and in Europe. It still employed the white tie, cummerbund (original spelling) and silk or satin lapels - just no tails. But in time the white bow tie gave way to the black bow tie. And this is the currently recommended (not necessarily demanded) attire for a Black Tie event.

However, White Tie events are still very much alive. Often called 'Top Hat and Tails' it is the most formal dress code in Western fashion - and employs the original dinner jacket with back tails and a white bow tie. You'll see this mostly at state dinners and in diplomatic circles, both in America and in Europe. In a private home it can be considered extremely pretentious and is rarely seen - unless of course Regina herself and Prince Philip are stopping by for dinner.

By comparison, Black Tie events are almost informal nowadays. You'll see some gents in dinner jackets and black bow tie, and others in dark suits, even business suits.

The terms dinner jacket and tuxedo, by the way, are interchangeable these days. And there's barely a dispute that the name came from the Tuxedo Park Resort. In some uppity old-guard circles, however, the term tuxedo or tux is decidedly eschewed in favor of the original designation dinner jacket.

Of curious note, in America we have Tuxedo rental shops where you can rent a dinner jacket for just one evening. This would be for weddings and other reckless events, and it's a cultural phenomena for which I make no apologies. It's just how we are.

As always, thanks for dropping by,


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cooking Classes? No thank you!

I'm frequently asked if my job as butler requires any kind of formal culinary training. As a matter of fact I do find myself in the kitchen quite frequently. On Chef's two days off I myself have to prepare the evening meal - usually just a pasta dish or casserole which the Mister and Missus can heat up later in the evening, whenever they decide they're hungry.

And there's often some last-minute cocktail party popping up and no time to run out for hors d'oeuvres. So I have to throw something together in a flash. When this happens, I always remember the advice of famous Washington DC hostess Sally Quinn in her book The Party. Says Quinn, "Food doesn't have to be fancy, it just has to be good."

So when I got in a bind one evening without anything at all to serve, I thought about Quinn and sliced up a few frozen micro-waved corn dogs, stuck a frilly toothpick in each slice, and served it with a dip of expensive deli mustard. Presented on a sterling-silver platter along with designer cocktail napkins, it was a hit and not one slice was left.

But as for formal culinary training - no, none to speak of except one course in college. Which was by default. The unfortunate thing about going to college is that both the courses and the resulting homework can seriously distract from a person's social life and parties. In this tricky situation, somethings got to give, right? My grades were barely passing, but high enough to keep from being thrown out of school.

A buddy at the time who was in similar distress suggested we take some really easy classes to bring up our grade point averages. So one of the choices was a cooking class in the Home Economics department. Huge mistake! We were late the very first day, the only two males in the class. And the instructor said when we walked in, "It seems we have two thorns among the roses this semester."  

It turned out to be mostly a baking class, and neither one of us really got the hang of it, especially when it came to souffles. And on the mid-term exam our cream puffs came out of the oven without the puff!  So we packed them with cream, and they looked more-or-less ok. But when the instructor picked them up she made a comment about how heavy they were. Needless to say our grade point averages did not come up that semester.

My employers (out of undisguised self interest) have offered to send me to cooking classes, if I wish. But recalling my humiliation in college, I've been reluctant to do this. However, I've bought a few books, starting with Cooking for Dummies and have begun a serious flirtation with the idea of possibly someday learning how to cook. How's that for commitment?
Obviously the more skills you have the better if you want to work in household service. Traditionally my job as butler mostly involves taking care of the silver and the wine cellar, perhaps serving at table and receiving guests at the front door. But it never hurts to have some skills in the kitchen - especially if you have an unreliable party-animal Chef whom you intensely hate. So we'll see. I'd rather learn form a book than go off to some kind of nutty classes.

Thanks for stopping by tonight,

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Bergdorf Goodman!

In my capacity here as butler and personal assistant, I just got off the phone making a luncheon reservation for the Missus and her girlfriend. They're off to Manhattan today to do a little shopping at Bergdorf's. So the first thing I did was notify her Personal Shopper there that the Missus is on the way.

Having been around in one form or another since 1901 Bergdorf Goodman is the epitome of a world-class, high fashion department store, for both women and men's apparel. In addition to clothing, there's gifts, jewelry, perfumes, china, crystal, silver, stationery, linens, a shoe salon, bridal salon, and a stunning collection of furs. On the penthouse floor (where the owners once lived) you can enjoy a full-service makeover at the celebrated John Barrett Beauty Salon.

Sitting at the very crossroads of the fashion world, Bergdorf Goodman is located at 58th Street and Fifth Avenue - right across from the world-famous Plaza Hotel. And by the way, the store occupies the very spot where one of the Vanderbilt Mansions once stood.

Plus Tiffany's, Harry Winston and Cartier's all share this not-so-shabby neighborhood.

The lunch reservation I made today is for the BG Restaurant on Bergdorf's seventh floor. Although not a large space, this lunch and tea room is the height of elegance and sophistication. You can have a salad, sandwich and a nice glass of wine for $75 or less. Here's a fun link to their current menu.

Frequented mostly by ladies who lunch (more likely than not dressed in conservative Chanel suits) you'll also find any number of tourists who've come to enjoy the spectacular views of  Central Park and the dazzling buildings on upper Fifth Avenue.

If you're planning a trip to New York anytime soon, it's definitely worth your while to browse through this temple of grace and elegance and have a little nosh at BG's. But you can catch that view of Central Park on the north side of any upper floor - not just the restaurant.

Thanks for stopping by this evening,


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Why Did You Want To Become A Butler?

Over the years I've been asked this question many times in one way or another, and I wish I had a quick, short answer. It's not that I was born wanting to become a butler or picked it out of some career guide booklet. But it seemed to be a natural progression in the life I had chosen.

Fresh out of college I found myself in a corporate job sitting in an office cubicle, hacking out newspaper releases for a public relations firm in New York. Good pay, good benefits. But what? Trapped in this cubicle day after day, year after year?

All I really wanted to do was to travel and see the world, and the best jobs to accommodate this nomadic desire were all in the service industry. So be it. I took all my business suits to Good Will, and hit the road.

If you get a job as a waiter in a top restaurant in Beverly Hills, then you're going home with three-or-four hundred bucks in your pocket every night. Work in the Concierge Department in a five-star hotel for the rich and famous, and five-hundred to a thousand a day is coming your way, especially if a member of the rich Saudi family is spending the night there. Drive rented limos in New York for rich people, and with their tips you might easily expect a hundred dollars an hour.

On the other hand, being an English tutor in France or Italy or Germany might bring you only five-dollars an hour. But who cares? You're in Europe, and loving every minute!

It was my friend Miss Helen who steered me toward a career in household service. She pointed out that being a butler or house manager or estate manager is the ultimate in service jobs, and high paying as well. It combines all the skills of all service jobs, but allows a much greater degree of flexibility in time, not to mention creativity.

So off to butler school I went. And any good school out there also serves as a placement agency. They're expensive and very intense. But there's a definite payoff.

Since the salary can range anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000 a year (depending upon the family and responsibilities of course) these are great jobs full of fun, excitement, and all the drama you can handle. Most of these jobs come with corporate benefits:  vacation and sick pay, 401k plans, life insurance, Worker's Comp and full health insurance. In addition, if you're a live-in butler like me, then all housing expenses are included - rent, electricity, telephone, and so forth. So most of your salary is going directly into savings.

So the big secrete about being a butler is that after ten or fifteen years of service (depending upon your pay scale, of course) you're going to wind up semi-rich yourself, with a million bucks in the bank or more. As nice as this payoff may seem, it's not all about money. Quality of life is a factor, not to mention the hectic, non-stop pace and daily challenges that stretch your strength and imagination on a daily basis. So the bottom line about butler jobs is that you're having fun or learning something new every day, and piling up  money in the bank.

Being a butler is not my last stop in life. And I have no idea what the future may bring. But for the time being this is a pretty cool job and I'm keeping an open mind as to whatever comes next.

Thanks for  dropping by this evening,


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cell Phone Manners and the Rich!

I've been asked a lot of questions about how rich people use and relate to their cell phones. So let me spill the beans about how things are around here.

The Missus is apparently attentive to calls and texts and keeps her phone nearby, although she never brings it to the dining table - breakfast, lunch or dinner.

The Mister, on the other hand, is completely lackadaisical about his phone. You would think that with his money and involvements he'd be glued to the phone every minute to keep on top of things, right? But not so. We find his phone lying all around the house, and he doesn't seem to care if he leaves it behind when he goes out and about for hours or even days. In fact I think we, the house staff, are the only ones who ever charge it up. Amazing.

I've had other questions about rich people's cell phone manners, and can certainly share some observations:

At all the cocktail parties, receptions and galas in this house there seems to be a code of ethics among the rich that cell phones are turned off before entering the house. Indeed you rarely, if ever, see a cell phone in someone's hand, much less hear it ring. The exception being doctors, of course. (Although we have no idea if the doctor's call is coming from a suffering patient, or his alone-at-home concubine.)

At political fund raising events we all know that politicians love the sound of their own voice and can go on for a solid hour without taking a breath. And at charity fund raisers there's always a rather boring presentation, often with audio visuals, followed by endless and sometimes tearful testimonies from charity recipients.

These mind-numbing events, both political and charity, are of course designed to make rich people shell out money. Which they do indeed. More to shut these people up than anything else, I'm sure of it. Some guests come just for the cocktails, quickly write out a check and hit the road before the speeches start!

But getting back to the topic, during these dreadful events you never, ever hear a cell phone go off. Maybe they've all read the hysterical article in the Huffington Post listing a set of rules when it comes to cell phone use in a public situation. Here's the link, in case you're wondering if you're deficit in this area.

Thanks for dropping in this evening,


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Fortnum & Mason!

Honestly I think this house where I serve as butler would completely collapse were it not for Fortnum and Mason. We depend upon this British store for so many things I can't even think straight teas, coffees, honey (they have their own bees) wines, chocolates, perfumes, and wonderful gifts for my employers to give to others.

This company has been around forever, dating back to Queen Anne in the 1700's. For all I know, they might have carried the original line of Queen Anne furniture styles - which survives to this day in furniture stores and households everywhere.

Both of the original founders, William Fortnum and his partner Hugh Mason, vehemently denied it was their tea that was tossed overboard in Boston Harbor during the beginnings of the America Revolution. (Wasn't it Shakespeare who said 'Me think thou doth protest too much' - from Hamlet as I recall?)

In any case, this store is truly remarkable. They've had many royal warrants over the decades and we all know that Regina herself, Queen of England, shops there. Although if I'm not mistaken they close the store to other shoppers when the royals come in. (If anyone else knows more about this, please let me know.)

Whatever your household needs, you can't go wrong with this company. Here's the link to the fabulous world of Fortnum & Mason - usually referred to as just Fortnum's. But beware, you can get lost in their webpage for hours and even shop online. So get out your credit cards and have fun, but don't blame me when the bills come in!

Thanks for stopping by tonight,


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dogs of the Rich!

There seems to be a lot of interest about where canines fit into the lives of the rich. In fact, if you google the words rich people's dogs you'll see literally tens of millions of articles.

We've all heard stories about diamond-studded collars and lavish inheritances left to pets (i.e. Leona Helmsley). And I have a vague memory of an event when Elizabeth Taylor chartered a private yacht to keep her Pekingese off shore to avoid the six-month quarantine to get a dog into England.  

If you've been reading for a while, you know we have two Great Danes here on the estate, and my rich employers seem to genuinely adore them. But their input into the dogs' care is minimal (make that non-existent) and their welfare is dumped entirely into the hands of house staff.

There was an article in Forbes Magazine a while back by Liz Moyer wherein she quotes Russ Alan Prince (President of Prince and Associates) who's organization authoritatively tracks the habits of the rich.

Says Prince: "For some wealthy people, the only true love they get is from their pets. They're estranged from their children, they are at war with their business partners, but their pets are always there for them."

Sounds kind of sad and pathetic, right? But I guess there's some truth to it. At least their pets are not asking them for business advice or loans, or throwing investment opportunities in front of every step they take. And I know for a fact our Danes are not begging him for charity contributions - just treats now and then.

Here's what my employers do for the Danes, which is mainly all the fun stuff:
- Pet and hug them.
- Sometimes they'll pick up a ball and throw it.
- They also pay for the groomer to come here once a week.

And here's what the house staff does for them, mainly all the hard work:
- Feed them twice a day plus lots of snacks.
- Clean up their accidents in the house, which are all too frequent!
- Give them their monthly heart worm and flea meds.
- Get them to their regular and emergency vet appointments.
- Administer whatever meds and restrictions the vet prescribes.
- Brush and check for fleas and ticks between the groomer's visits.
- Make sure they get enough outings and exercise. who gets the short end of this deal? Sometimes I get the feeling the Danes are just living ornaments around here, along with all the other possessions my employers own. I wonder what a sincere dog lover would think about this. Taking on a pet is such a huge commitment and responsibility, is it not? My employers, however, effectively dodge all the mess and problems of pet ownership, and pass it off to their house staff. Perhaps understandable and very convenient, right?

But then - they also pass off their children to a Nanny. Who am I to judge?

Just some observations tonight. Thanks for stopping in.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Finding a Conservator!

In the article a few days back about Finials in a Billionaire's House I mentioned that when anything around here gets broken we immediately send if off to a professional conservator. I've had several inquiries about how to actually find a good conservator. And it's true, these guys are a rare breed and sometimes hard to locate.

In the Yellow Pages in most cities, if you look up Conservator all you'll find is Conservationists, which is a whole different thing. A Conservator is someone who can repair and preserve works of art and other items of cultural interest, even buildings for that matter. Whereas a Conservationist is generally someone caring for the environment or wildlife.

But there are two easy ways to find a good conservator for your broken items:

- First, you can go to the nearest museum in your area and ask them who repairs their stuff.

- And second, any good conservator worth his salt is registered with the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. (AIC) 

So, if you have a damaged oil painting, a valuable-but-moldy book, or a broken vase or figurine, just go to AIC's website. At the top of the page on the right, there's a box that says Find a Conservator. Just click on that and follow instructions about what you need, and your zip code. In no time they'll send you information on their registered members closest to your location.

But some advice here:  if you have a broken vase for example, then you'll need to get out your magnifying glass and tweezers and pick up every tiny fragment and sliver of that vase and put them into small envelopes. Then carefully wrap all the larger pieces one by one, and send the whole miserable mess to your favorite conservator. If that vase is worth a hundred-thousand-dollars, you need to find every broken fragment and sliver!

Art restoration is an interesting and intriguing field. In fact, if I had to do life over I'm pretty sure I'd enjoy the challenge and satisfaction of this line of work. Not to mention the high pay, because it's going to cost you a small fortune to have that stupid vase repaired!

Thanks for visiting tonight,


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How to Dust a Lampshade!

In the last article about finials in this billionaire's home I mentioned we take the lampshades outside for dusting, and I've had a few email inquiries as to how and why. So I'm happy to share what I know:

- The lampshades here are mostly designed with expensive, pleated materials and feather dusters, even ostrich, don't work that well on fabrics.

- Lint rollers can easily stretch the fabric and don't clean inside the pleats.

- If you attempt to vacuum the shades (even set on low suction) it's very easy to suck in and tear delicate fabrics. And you'll not want to do that.

So what to do?

In butler school we were taught to take lamp shades outside and dust them with a very-fine, soft-bristle paint brush. It's that simple. And you won't believe the clouds of dust and pollen you'll sweep off. It's time consuming, of course, especially when dealing with over a hundred lamps as we are in this house.

But this is extremely important to those of us who suffer from allergies. How long has it been since you gave that lamp shade on your bedside table a good dusting?

Around here we dedicate a whole day to this, a couple of times a year when our employers are away and there's nothing much else to do. We crank up the music and spend all day running in and out, dusting every lampshade in the house. It's not all that difficult, but then we're getting paid for this task, aren't we?

Thanks for dropping in tonight,


Friday, April 27, 2012

Finials in a Billionaire's House!

A small catastrophe happened today and I'm still not over it! As you might imagine, the lamp finials in this house are absolutely exquisite. "Lamp Jewelry" as the Missus calls them, and she's spent a lifetime collecting them from her travels all over the globe.

In this house we have an array of finials ranging from carved ivory to hand-painted porcelains, pewter, brass, marble, jade, hand-whittled wood and dazzling lead crystals.

So anyhow, this evening there was a small meeting planned for a few VIPs and Ester decided the lamp shade next to the guest of honor's chair needed to be dusted. We take them outside to do this, and as she unscrewed the turquoise finial - it broke in half in her hand!

OMG! We're all getting fired! As the butler here, normally when something gets broken we carefully wrap each piece (including the slivers) and send it off to a professional conservator. But certainly no time for that today!

So I called one of the groundskeepers Maurizio and asked him to come right away! It was a clean break in the turquoise, and he was able to fuse the two pieces together with superglue. And the lamp shade and finial were put back into place - just in time. We don't have that many guests who walk around with a magnifying glass to inspect for cracks and improper repairs, so I guess we got away with it, at least for the evening.

I have a professional obligation to report any incidents like this in my daily log - which the Missus reads from time to time. But I don't think anything more will come from this, especially if  the superglue holds.

Hope this wasn't boring, but such is my world.

Thanks for dropping in,


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Do Charm Schools Still Exist?

Yes they do! While they may have evolved with the times, Charm Schools are still around and serve an important purpose within certain circles. Primarily they teach social etiquette in such areas as:

- How to greet someone (especially dignitaries and royalty).
- How to shake hands and/or bow.
- Proper topics for social conversation.
- Letter writing, invitations, regrets, and thank you notes.
- How to set a formal dining table.
- And physical comportment - such as posture, how to walk with style, how to sit, even how to eat.

Also called Finishing Schools, they flourished in earlier times when professional careers were not open to women. They were designed primarily to prepare young women for marriage - hopefully into high society. But many of these schools closed when women began entering college and going out into the marketplace, seeking careers of their own.

Even so, social skills are still quiet important, and many prominent schools have survived. It's well known that even Diana, Princess of Wales briefly attended the Institut Alpin Videmanette - a famous finishing school in Switzerland.

In modern times these schools have evolved and are experiencing a resurgence, especially as the rich grow in numbers. And major corporations are jumping in and sending their prized employees to what they call Protocol or Etiquette schools, especially when dealing with foreign corporations. But long gone are the days when every city and small town in America had a "Miss Lovely's Finishing School for Girls". 

For more information on the best schools still in existence in America, England, or Switzerland, just Google the words Finishing Schools.

I hope this has been helpful, and as always, thanks for stopping by,


Friday, April 13, 2012

New Rich versus Old Rich!

As the butler in a billionaire's household I'm frequently asked about the differences between the old rich and the new. This is one of those areas where generalizations are dangerous of course, in that we're all so different in the way we conduct ourselves - whether we're new rich, old rich, or poor for that matter.

To make an attempt to answer, let's first look at the definitions:

Old Rich is usually associated with land ownership (the landed gentry), with money being inherited down the line for at least three generations. These people live from their trust funds and incomes from their properties. They don't have to work - at least as we know it - but to be fair some of them do administrate. Which is great work if you can get it, right?

New Rich (the Nouveau Riche) usually refers to those who've made their fortunes themselves - as industrialists, bankers, builders, the oil rich, inventors, investors - not to mention the money that flows from sports and media fame - actors, musicians and the like.

An interesting note here: in America the Rockefeller family (oil) and the DuPont family (gun powder), the Vanderbilt's (railroads) and the Astor's (real estate and hotels) were once considered new rich. But since these families have managed to hang on to their fortunes and pass it down to these very days, they're now considered old rich families.

Moving right along - conventional wisdom has some very specific adjectives when describing the new and the old rich:

The Old:  Quiet, proper, reserved, careful and moderate. They don't know any other way of life except being rich.

The New:  Loud, crass, vulgar, gauche and splashy. They're ecstatic about their new-found wealth, and why not have some fun, right?

I have to admit I agree with the above assessments. But again, the danger of generalizations is that it overlooks the new rich who are quiet, modest and share their wealth through charities of all sorts. And it overlooks the famous heirs from prominent old rich families who's crassness and vulgarities are constantly being splashed across the news and Hollywood tabloids. So go figure.

In Europe, there are three classesThe Royals of course, the Bourgeoisie (people with lots of money), and the Proletariat (the working classes). Interestingly enough, no matter how many billions the Bourgeoisie might accumulate, they still cannot cross that social barrier of becoming Royalty. Although with enough money and socially-important accomplishments you could be 'Knighted', like Sir Paul McCartney or Dame Edith Evans

In America, having thrown off kings and queens in the War of Independence, we just have the Bourgeoisie (our Upper Classes), and the Proletariat (our Middle and Lower Classes). And not having royalty to keep the richest bourgeoisie in their place, our American billionaires often seem like fish out of water - flopping around, not knowing what to do with themselves and all their money, and constantly embarrassing themselves in front of a TV audience.    

Nonetheless, we still try to re-create royalty in America by assigning lineage as an indication of respectability and respect. Members of the Mayflower Society, families that can trace their ancestors back to the Mayflower, are of high esteem. Then there's the DAR, Daughter's of the American Revolution, way up there on the list of American high society. And there's the Junior League that further establishes a social hierarchy in America in the absence of royalty.

The thing is, history shows us that being rich, whether new or old, is of no real indication of serious intelligence, magnanimity, or any social conscience at all. You can have old money out the wazoo and still be stupid as an ox, or even worse, selfish. Or new money that allows you the opportunity for selflessness, grace and charity.

To wind this up, I really don't know what else to say about the differences between the new and the old rich. There's decidedly a difference, of course. But who really cares, and why? Would you rather be at a cocktail party with a bunch of boring old-rich buzzards - or a nutty new rich party where any crazy thing might happen? I vote for the latter myself - but that's just me.

As always, thanks for stopping by this evening,


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Moderation for the Rich!

As the butler here in a billionaire's world, I've often noticed and admired that moderation seems to be the rule of the day around here. Not just for my employers but their guests as well. Apparently it's the way they keep themselves fit and trim, and mentally agile enough to juggle their millions and billions.

By definition moderation just means restraint and avoidance of excess of course, in everything from food, alcohol, tobacco, politics, temper and mood swings - anything we frail human beings are prone to. And there's a lot of debate on the subject:

- Mark Twain said he didn't care for moderation himself, but "It's always been my rule to never smoke while asleep, or refrain from smoking when awake." 

- Oscar Wilde suggested that "Moderation is a fatal thing".

- Plato thought a man of moderation was someone of character and wisdom.

- Aristotle advised to avoid extremes and seek "moderation in all things."

- And Saint Augustine said that "Complete abstinence is easier than moderation."

Obviously, there's several divergent ideas on the subject, to say the least. But it seems to work for the rich. It's a choice of course, but once adopted it seemingly becomes a way of life.

Having tossed this idea around myself for a long time, and to condense the wit and wisdom of people much wiser than me, my own point of view is simply this: Moderation should never be carried to extreme!

Thanks for stopping by tonight,


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Addendum to "What Do Rich People Talk About?"

In our last conversation entitled What Do Rich People Talk About? I was telling you how the rich (at least at parties) dodge any talk about money, business, health and politics. But to add to that, I'd just like to say I always find it amusing the way they sling around numbers in their conversations!

For example: If  I said to you I bought a decent table wine for "nine fifty" at the local supermarket, you'd immediately understand I mean nine-dollars-and-fifty-cents, right? ($9.50)

But if you heard "nine fifty" from the lips of the rich, you can be sure that would mean they paid nine-hundred-and-fifty dollars for that bottle of wine! ($950.00)

Likewise, if you hear a number like "seventy-five" tossed around, depending entirely upon the context of the conversation, that could mean anything from:

- A decent cigar for $75.
- An inexpensive off-the-rack cocktail dress from Neiman Marcus for seven thousand-five-hundred dollars ($7,500).
- A haute couture cocktail dress for seventy-five-thousand dollars! ($75,000).
- Or a prime piece of real-estate, suitable for building an office tower, for seventy-five-million. ($75,000,000)

So if you're in the business of eavesdropping, it's absolutely essential you pay attention to the context of the conversation. I mean, to my knowledge there's no such thing as a seventy-five-million-dollar cocktail dress, right? You've gotta know what you're listening to in order to interpret it correctly.

I hope that shed more light, and thanks as always for stopping by.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What Do Rich People Talk About?

I love this question. And they do talk about the damnedest things. Here's a  few juicy items I've overheard at cocktail parties:

    - How much longer they have to live, according to their actuaries!
    - Who's the best lawyer in town to break a prenuptial agreement?
    - "Is your runway long enough for a weekend visit?"
    - "Is that from Cartier's?  Or did you find it in a taxi?"

In general, however, conversations among the rich (whether at intimate cocktail parties or huge events) are seemingly limited to trivial topicsthe weather, wines, cigars, the best caterer in town, hors d'oeuvre recipes - and non-stop, profuse compliments upon their evening's attire, hair styles and the selected jewelry for the evening.

One of the funniest conversations I ever heard was when the Missus, during a late-afternoon cocktail party, escorted our local Grand Dame out onto the terrace. (It was autumn, and fall colors were at their peak - reds, pinks, purple, yellow and gold - absolutely beautiful.)

Said the slightly inebriated Grand Dame, "Your grounds are lovely, my dear. Who does your trees?" 

Now, you will rarely hear rich people talk about their money, or their success. In fact, using a cocktail party or event to network (such as handing out a business card) is frowned upon, if not altogether forbidden.

And you will never, ever hear the rich talk about their illnesses or medical problems! As every human being  has their own ailments, not only is this the most boring conversation known to mankind - but among the rich, any mention of ill health can collapse fortunes, frighten investors and possibly bring about social ostracism.

Having said that, they have no problem at all talking about their nips and tucks"Who did it? Where? How long was your recovery?"  

And one final thoughtyou rarely hear politics discussed, unless it is absolutely certain that everyone in the room is of like mind. Political debate is simply not an option at social functions.

Hope this shed some light, and as always, thanks for reading.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

WD-40 to the Rescue!

In Town & Country magazine's November 2011 issue, there's an article entitled At Your Service by Jonathan Reynolds about things a butler should know and do. Mostly it was interesting, but one of those things was about "bowing from the waist as you back out of a room." 

As the bad butler I apparently must be, let me tell you this is NEVER going to happen around here! I don't even bow when I enter the room, much less ass-backward on the way out. This is America after all, not Great Britain. (Which is not say we don't have a lot of Queens, but none of them are actually royalty.)

Anyhow, the article wasn't entirely useless. Christopher Ely (who was once a butler at Buckingham Palace!) mentioned that WD-40 was great for removing lipstick from fabrics. Really?

Around the Missus's vanity mirror there's always makeup and eye shadow droplets in the beige carpet in her boudoir, not to mention lipstick smudges when she accidentally drops the tube.Usually I just call in a professional carpet cleaner now and then to tidy up this area. But I decided to try Mr. Ely's recommendation. And I'm absolutely stunned!

I sprayed the lipstick and the black eye-shadow specks with WD-40, wiped them with a dry cloth - and voila, gone! I've yet to experiment if it works on dinner napkins, pillow cases, and clothing. But what can it hurt to try?

What I also don't know is whether or not this leaves a residue in the carpet like most spot cleaners, which will eventually attract dust and create a brown spot. But who cares? The lipstick is gone, and residues can usually be eliminated with a general carpet cleaning.

Hope this might be of help in situations around your home, and thanks for stopping by tonight,