Sunday, June 7, 2009

Loving Frank's Mini Vini?

I have just returned from a lovely afternoon touring Taliesin, the personal home of Frank Lloyd Wright. After reading the haunting, based-on-real-life events in the book "Loving Frank," the new book club and I are were anxious to take the 45 minute journey to the rolling hills of Spring Green to see where all the hoopla went down.

Taliesin didn't disappoint. Towering rock walls, warm earthy colors, inexplicable nooks and crannies, priceless Asian antiques, really uncomfortable looking furniture, stunning landscape, and- imagine my surprise- a mini vini!

I could probably go on and on about a couple different aspects of the tour...the geology of the area, the history of the building and the events that have unfolded there, or- of course- the architecture. Instead, what I find myself thinking about is the man himself.

I'm not going to kid you into thinking that I am any kind of Frank Lloyd Wright expert, but I've heard enough stories at this point to have some opinions on the man. And, boy-oh-boy have I heard stories. The stories of his three wives and multiple mistresses. The stories about his stubborn habit of not paying the bills (oh, and leaving millions in debt to his family after his death). The stories of choosing, almost always, luxuries before necessities.

But, probably, the stories everyone on the tour is thinking about tonight are the ones about his controlling nature. That sounds a little negative, so I'll throw him a bone by saying that his control issues probably came from an altruistic place. He believed (and I'm paraphrasing here) that if you really understood and loved your home, the happiness, confidence and good you found there would flow into other parts of your life. Yes, at this part of the tour, I found myself repeating HGTV's slogan- Start at Home. Frank probably would have liked that. The slogan. Definitely not the channel. But I digress.

Here's a little taste of Frank's laid back, let-it-be approach to his life and work...He feels you aren't truly appreciating the magnificence of his home? Fine, he'll redo the driveway so you have to circle the whole thing before entering, just so you're clear. He doesn't want you blocking the doorway? Fine, he'll make the clearance six feet high or less, so you desperately want to be anywhere but there. He's worried that your personal taste in home decor will interfere with his architectural instincts? Fine, he'll build you every piece of furniture, lamp, and knicknack to include in your home. He's concerned you might still sneak in a personal picture frame or some such? Fine, he'll forbid you from doing so and randomly stop into your home to make sure you are following the/his rules. He stops by and finds that you have indeed allowed for personal expression within the house he designed? No problem at all, he'll just take a quick stroll through collecting all that is not a result of his vision, throw it in the garbage, and promise to be back shortly. It is all very Vader-esque, really.

Of all the stories- here was the kicker. If you signed off on allowing Frank Lloyd Wright to build your home, you also had to agree to allow him to design ten dresses that the "lady of the house" was to wear while entertaining. These dresses were meant to compliment the home. They didn't say this part, but my suspicion is that they were nice dresses (he would have nothing but quality), but not as nice as the house itself. Certainly nothing could be allowed to upstage his art.

All of these stories bring me back to the mini vini. I just don't think Frank had what it took to be a winemaker. Pardon me, but with a controlling nature of this magnitude, he wasn't about to go with the flow the way that's necessary when making wine. He wouldn't allow the soil to infuse the grapes with their terroir. Or permit the juice to soak up the oak of the individual barrels. Or tolerate each batch taking on the unique characteristics of its vintage.

I was thinking all of these things, when I heard this next little tidbit: The grapes are concords! Concords! Like Welch's. But, if you think about it, it all adds up- he never intended to make wine. When it comes to Frank (whether he'll admit it or not), it's form over function. Grape vines look nice, fancy, right on the soft curves of Spring Green's hills. But there was never going to be any wine. At least, I hope not. If he had made wine from concords, I'm pretty sure that I would wear one of his dresses before I drank one of his wines.


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  2. oh Anne - can't you just imagine how *liberating* it would be to have dear Frank make all your decisions for you? then you could just gaze away at the hillsides and contemplate nature - nary a knick-nack or a whatsee-whosit to distract you.