Jeannette Edwards Rattray, who wrote “One of Ours,” the longest-standing personal column ever to run in The Star, used to say “the world comes to our door.” That was eons and eons ago (or at least it feels like it to me). Would she still say that — that the world comes to our door? I think she might not. These days, the world is already here . . . if perhaps only on weekends.
Artists and writers, celebrities of stage and screen, politicians, and other assorted boldface names have been visiting or vacationing here since the 19th century, of course, and I would venture that today the ratio of famous-to-anonymous citizens is greater here than even in New York City. But it is not just celebrities and/or those with millions of followers on Twitter of whom I am thinking when I muse on how worldly we have become: I am thinking of wealth and real estate.
I read The New York Times Real Estate section on Sundays and The East Hampton Star’s real estate column on Thursdays. They offer can-you-top-this reports of astronomical prices for houses and estates here, as well as apartments in the city. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that the South Fork of Long Island has surpassed the island of Manhattan as far as snazzy amenities go.
How many of even the most lavish New York apartments boast squash or basketball courts? Some duplexes or penthouses may come with their own interior elevators, but I don’t think you will find a single one that comes equipped with an electrical lift for multiple cars.
What bugs me most about these manifestations of excess is that we have come to take most of them for granted. No longer do double swimming pools — one indoor, one outdoor — seem notable. Private home movie theaters no longer raise eyebrows. Wine cellars, multiple kitchens, and tennis courts are a dime a dozen.
Despite all this conspicuous consumption, the demographic differences between the city and what used to be called the country remain profound, however. It is said that New York City is inexorably becoming home to only the rich and the poor. Here, we certainly have the rich and the richer than rich, but there is still a large and thriving middle class community. The middle class is reportedly being driven out of the city by the gentrification of manufacturing neighborhoods and old working class neighborhoods — even in the outer boroughs — and by an expanding number of condos with prices starting in eight figures.
I guess that in some ways, at least comparatively, we are still country. Country and proud, as the honky-tonk singers might say. When second-home owners and local residents, way back at the end of the 20th century, joined together to fight against overdevelopment and for the environment, they preserved hundreds and hundreds of acres for us all. So today, if you squint, you can still enjoy the vista of a farm field here and there. Our beaches still look exactly as they did before the original colonists arrived (if you go there at dawn, anyway, before the party buses disgorge their drunken marauders).
When my kids were little and we hit the Long Island Expressway for a rare family trip into the city, they would hold their noses and breathe through their mouths as the station wagon emerged from the Midtown Tunnel, loudly insisting that all the garbage on the streets made the place stink. The city has cleaned up its act since the 1970s, but East Hampton still has infinitely better air. Spring will be here soon, and when the lilacs come, I will breathe in their scent and pretend I’ve never seen a McMansion with a turret, pretend the world is still a world away.