July 5, 2007

"She had used all my underpants and left them dirty in the hamper."

The bad housesitter.

ADDED: Somewhat aimlessly looking for etiquette advice about housesitting, I stumbled on Emily Post's 1922 book "Etiquette," and became engrossed in this chapter about house guests. Here's a bit called "A Room for Every Guest":
It is almost unnecessary to say that in no well-appointed house is a guest, except under three circumstances, put in a room with any one else. The three exceptions are:
  1. A man and wife, if the hostess is sure beyond a doubt that they occupy similar quarters when at home.
  2. Two young girls who are friends and have volunteered, because the house is crowded, to room together in a room with two beds.
  3. On an occasion such as a wedding, a ball, or an intercollegiate athletic event, young people don’t mind for one night (that is spent for the greater part “up”) how many are doubled; and house room is limited merely to cot space, sofas, and even the billiard table.
But she would be a very clumsy hostess, who, for a week-end, filled her house like a sardine box to the discomfort and resentment of every one.

In the well-appointed house, every guest room has a bath adjoining for itself alone, or shared with a connecting room and used only by a man and wife, two women or two men. A bathroom should never (if avoidable) be shared by a woman and a man. A suitable accommodation for a man and wife is a double room with bath and a single room next.
A suitable accommodation for a man and wife is a double room with bath and a single room next. And you must never assume that a man and his wife want to sleep in the same bedroom. I love this consideration about sleeping arrangements -- which most people today don't even make for themselves, even in their own houses. They just go on thinking that it's required for the husband and wife to sleep in the same room -- in the same bed. How much suffering could be avoided if people got past this narrow conception of married life. (I'm quite serious!)

I guess this is a good point for me to confess that I've been listening -- on my wide-ranging summer walks around Madison -- to the audiobook of "The Diana Chronicles" by Tina Brown. Why would I "read" such a thing? I was impressed by this WSJ review:
Only Ms. Brown could deploy such words as "hottie" and "propinquity" in the same sentence. In her hands, a trashy (if delicious) tale is rendered vividly mordant. She writes with the feline flair of a woman who has met, but not necessarily liked, most of the characters in her book and who has an uncommonly good way with characterization. Diana, in the early period of her marriage, "was a work in progress, while Charles was a work in aspic." Later, on a hot night in August -- the last night of her life -- Diana sets off in a car in Paris "pursued by the farting motorbikes of the international press." The princess, an aristocrat by birth (her daddy was that "truncheon-faced old buffer," the eighth Earl Spencer), now believed only in "the aristocracy of exposure."

The book's greatest attraction, however, is its sheer wealth of detail, by turns salacious, vinegary, depressing and hilarious. Did you know that Queen Elizabeth is referred to below-stairs as "Betty Battenberg"? (It is a dig at her Germanic origins.) Or that the bulimic Diana's waist shrank from 29 inches to 23½ between the first and last fittings of her wedding dress? The eating disorder was, it seems, triggered by a stray comment from Charles about how "chubby" Diana felt when he put his hand on her waist.

One learns that in November 1983, two years later, the royal couple had an almighty row over Charles's "refusal to spend money on a tennis court [at his Highgrove estate], thereby depriving Diana of her sole outdoor activity." And their sex together wasn't terribly good either, we read, being merely a "roll on, roll off" affair. His Royal Highness, Ms. Brown writes, "had difficulty locating her erogenous zones." But Diana was nothing if not game: To make herself alluring to Charles after the birth of their second son, Harry, she "tried to dance her way into his heart." We are told that "she would put on sexy lingerie and low music and attempt to tantalize him with a striptease he is said to have only 'mildly enjoyed.'"
It's not easy to write like that.

BONUS: Movie recommendation: "Housesitter."



Looks cheesy -- and both actors are too old for their roles -- but I really enjoyed this story -- in the "Bringing Up Baby" mode -- of a free-spirited woman annoying a very straitlaced man until he understands what it means to be alive. And the house -- which the man built to for another woman -- seems quite wonderful. Though it's probably crazy to have an uncurtained glass corridor connecting the bedroom to the rest of the house, this movie made me want one. Along with a big bathtub right in the bedroom....

36 comments:

New York said...

Just about every sentence in that article made me feel like I'm from some remote planet of the uncharmed life.

AllenS said...

Notice all of the fancypants housesitters. There's your problem right there. When I leave for any length of time, I get the former Marine from up the road to watch my place. Everything is just as I left it when returning.

Paddy O. said...

I always like the dramatic hyperbole in articles like this:

"Is there anything more terrifying to a property owner than stories of housesitter trust betrayed?"

Let's see... I bet I could come up with a couple more terrifying things.

Though, maybe some industrious screenwriter reads this article and goes to work. Would clearly make for an apparently terrifying horror movie. The Housesitter: Trust Betrayed, a story of an elderly couple locked out of a Bel Air mansion. At midnight! (9:15 Hawaii time)!

Roger said...

I weep for the dead ficus..The NYT actually produces crap like this and thinks people are going to buy their paper? no wonder their print revenues are in free fall.

bearbee said...

...You could water our plants.”

Maybe she misheard....

Ann Althouse said...

Madison Man: Read the added material.

Roger: I expect this article to shoot up their "most emailed" list.

AllenS said...

Oh, no! I thought of something really, or literally terrible. The article mentions that one of the housesitters was a "film critic". Imagine the state of dirt the underpants would be in if the housesitter was a certain movie critic.

Pogo said...

"like I'm from some remote planet of the uncharmed life."

...as was its intent.

This just doesn't happen to the little people, but to film critics, actresses, a 'comedian and playwright', a Web designer and a holistic health practitioner, a "philosopher and onetime director of the American Civil Liberties Union who spent his summers in Europe", and his friend, the civil rights lawyer, novelist and professor.

That is, the usual NYT crowd. And, it appears their entire subscriber list.

Roger said...

I have failed utterly to keep current on Debrett's Peerage, but didnt the Mountbattens change their name from Battenberg during WWI to anglicize it? Would't the queens "real name" be Elizabeth Mountbatten? And as long as I am speculating on Royal names, did anyone else notice that Prince Harry's name on his helmet liner said "Wales."

I DO need to get out more.

AllenS said...

Drats! Make that music critic.

Ann Althouse said...

Dammit, where is Simels. He needs to get his music critic ass over here.

Internet Ronin said...

They just go on thinking that it's required for the husband and wife to sleep in the same room -- in the same bed.

Not in my house they aren't. It isn't possible in fact. The guest room has twin beds. ;-)

Housesitter was a fun movie, I agree.

Jeremy said...

Seeing the cover for Housesitter and reading Ann's description made me think of another Steve Martin movie - Bringing Down the House. "Free-spirited woman annoying a very straitlaced man until he understands what it means to be alive." Queen Latifah stands in for Goldie Hawn - same movie?

MadisonMan said...

Madison Man: Read the added material.

??

I'm not sure what you're talking about. Is someone masquerading as me? I don't think I've commented today. I would've mentioned I'd had an iced decaf from Barriques: AWFUL!

I will ask: Was the house-sitter being paid to sit? Or did Miss High-n-Mighty Film Producer think that just being in her personal space was payment enough? Complaining about this kind of thing makes people look absolutely ridiculous.

Ann Althouse said...

Madison Man: I read the first comment as being from you. But it says "new york," so I have to believe I misread it. Strange! I am moving from Madison to NY in a few weeks, but I don't think it's affecting my mind that deeply....

ricpic said...

People with the wherewithall fairly quickly abandon the shared marriage bed.

Balfegor said...

They just go on thinking that it's required for the husband and wife to sleep in the same room -- in the same bed. How much suffering could be avoided if people got past this narrow conception of married life. (I'm quite serious!)

It's also difficult for many people to imagine, I find, that a man and wife can be married, not separated at all, and yet spend long stretches of time apart, perhaps because the man has been sent abroad to work or whatever. Or not even abroad -- he just works in the city and stays in a flat there during the week, then comes home on the weekends. I suppose it could be the woman too, although in the societies where I know this happens, that would be kind of unusual.

Anyhow, this is actually not all that uncommon around the world, and it used -- I think -- to be fairly common in Western societies too. Certainly when men joined the Indian/Imperial Civil Service, in the British Empire, they often went out for years at a stretch without their wives and families (although they sometimes took their wives and small children along). During industrialisation, didn't you also get instances where men were sent off to work in the factories and send money home, while the women remained home and raised the children and managed the land?

But now, it's like a divide by zero error for them. Marriage is something very different from what it once was.

I have failed utterly to keep current on Debrett's Peerage, but didnt the Mountbattens change their name from Battenberg during WWI to anglicize it? Would't the queens "real name" be Elizabeth Mountbatten?

I think, since she's royal (and the Battenbergs, though at one point Kings in Greece, IIRC, aren't royal in the same way), it would be Elizabeth Windsor-Mountbatten, along the lines of the House of Hapsburg-Lorraine (Lothringen?). Or, if we disregard the renaming-frenzy around the Great War, would be something like Hanover-Saxe-Coburg-Gotha-Battenberg.

Did they even have a surname before that point, though? I heard Victoria and Prince Albert used Wettin as the personal name of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Prince Albert's House), but I think that kind of personal name is different from "Battenberg" -- they were, after all, princes von Battenberg, rather than plain Battenbergs. They seem to have come out of Hesse, which wikipedia tells me comes out of the Duchy of Brabant, but I cannot trace them back to their ultimate stem and make a guess at their proper personal name. I suppose it's just Mountbatten now.

Eli Blake said...

she had used all my underpants and left them dirty in the hamper

It could be worse, a man could be writing that line.

blake said...

There's an '80s era Jonathan Demme film, Something Wild in that mold of "free-spirited woman [etc]".

It was sort of strange because you get that kind-of Bringing Up Baby vibe with Melanie Griffith at her quirky most charming and Jeff Daniels being Jeff Daniels.

And then Ray Liotta starts busting up the joint.

froggyprager said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
froggyprager said...

Ann-
when you go to NYC are you getting a housesitter? also, who has a home large enough to follow Emily Post's advice?

SteveR said...

Dammit, where is Simels. He needs to get his music critic ass over here.

He's working on impeachment, and getting treatment for his grammer vs. usage burn. In addition to being a well esatblished POP MUSIC CRITIC.

jane said...

Loved the part in the article where the housesitter replaced someone’s eaten-up cat, and the owner thought he had just been away too long from his now really aloof kitty.

Those rules on accommodating guests seem to be a little in flux these days. An older teen I know went to visit her boyfriend’s family ranch and asked for a separate room (they had plenty of spare guest suites). And the Republican parents were immediately worried that their son was gay!

B said...

Loved the movie Housesitter:

1) Steve Martin singing "Tura Lura Lura" to his father was worth the price of admission.

2) Also loved the house in the movie, and had a friend who did too - a friend with enough money to have someone draw up plans for an almost identical copy (with the glass corridor!) and then built it in Fallbrook (near San Diego). I hate him.

3)In many of his movies, Steve Martin always seems to live in houses I would like to live in:

--- Housesitter
--- Father of the Bride (I and II)
--- Bringing Down the House
--- Cheaper By the Dozen (I and II)
--- The Jerk (the one at the end)

The house used in the Father of the Bride films is a real home in San Marino California. Remarkably,it still looks painted and landscaped as it did in the movies. The funny thing is, it's a tract home: there are 3 identical facings and floor plans like it on the same street.

Steven said...

Yes, if Elizabeth had taken her husband's name according to non-royal customs, she'd be Elizabeth Mountbatten. Take away the WWII name change, and she's Elizabeth Battenburg.

Except! Philip is only a Mountbatten because he took his mother's English-sounding surname when he joined the Royal Navy, on his uncle's advice. Had the name not been changed from Battenburg, it seems unlikely Phillip would have taken it when joining the British Navy in 1939.

What name he would "correctly" have (and thus be Elizabeth's "real" last name) probably would take some research into the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Gl├╝cksburg, much like the research Victoria commissioned to discover her husband Prince Albert of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha would, as a commoner, be called be Albert Wettin.

Steven said...

Er, WWI name change, not II.

Hey said...

Emily Post was writing for the elite of the elite, or at least according to their standards and that of the English Aristocracy. Further, if you do have a weekend/summer house you usually design it differently from a house in the city and overload it with bedrooms - people are expected to spend rather more time outdoors or being social, so the cost of a 7 bedroom country house is very different from what it would be in a city. You don't typically have very many houseguests in town.

Her bathroom advice is exceptionally odd. Very few houses of any vintage have that many, and it would be very hard to get that many approved in most rural places today - very hard on septic systems.

blake said...

B--

The greatest houses are not in Steve Martin movies but in horror movies.

And they all have hardwood floors.


hey--

How is more bathrooms harder on the septic system? Because they might all be used at once?

Hey said...

Blake: the assumption by planning authorities is that the number of bathrooms is tied to the typical number of occupants and that they all will be used regularly - not all at once, but fairly regularly. You would need a certain size of sytem according to the number of toilets, and you would rapidly run out of appropriate room in most seond home locations. If you have town services this can be avoided, or if you have a huge ranch where the house is far away from any water, but it can greatly hinder the size of most vacation houses. Near water, even large properties are relatively thin, maximnizing waterfront, and roads tend to run somewhat parallel and close to the water, so even a very large property would be have significant restrictions on number of bathrooms.

blake said...

Hey,

Thanks for the explanation!

hdhouse said...

Ann...not to ask too personal a question but are you into some summer romance...something going on that the readership would like to know about? all the flowers, all the sexual imagery, romance novels on ipods...general good nature...odd posting times...

so much evidence...

Ann Althouse said...

hdhouse: LOL. But what "romance novels"? I haven't read anything approaching that category since the last time I read "Pride and Prejudice"... in the 90s.

hdhouse said...

I know Tina Brown isn't a romance novelist but Diana certainly was a romantic figure...tragic, loved, flawed, poorly married, a life sadly lived...it has every earmark of a Victorian potboiler.

But I am, overall, correct I do believe. ... how nice. go for it.

Ann Althouse said...

It's just not a novel. And it's extremely disdainful of the Barbara Cartland romance novels that were (apparently) the only thing Diana ever read.

Ann Althouse said...

Plus, Tina Brown's book is an inquiry into the role of the monarchy, British culture, journalism, and human psychology. It's critical of the romantic mindset. To categorize it as romantic is quite wrong. It's sharp and critical, not dreamy and unrealistic.

hdhouse said...

pardon madame....the romantic movement was stylized and perhaps over the top but dreamy and unrealistic is not quite right...yes the painting subject matter was assembled and not real...symbolic and not taken from life..but the music, ann, the music is where you find romanticism..vivid painting...the outline of the story in tone not in text...

you display vivid images and then juxtapose symbolically vivid prose...is there a difference? tawdry as Tina might be (is this not war and peace?) she does spell it out in prose that is direct and understandable. Cartland nothwithstanding, Diana was not the sharpest blade in knife block...and perhaps it can be explained by the Hanslick observation....while the minority of the critical public responds to Beethoven for his clarity and passion, and to Bach for his ability, there is still far to many of the public who listens to Wagner...excited by the beating of a drum."