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Quite the World, Isn't It?

Of railroads, the rich, and roses

Margaret and I met a friend for lunch in Eagle Rock yesterday to sign a copy of Blood Passion as a gift, then swung by the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino for, I'm embarrassed to say, the first time since moving to Southern California more than 12 years ago.

It's a spectacular place, with some 14,000 varieties of plants spread out judiciously over 120 acres. My favorite sections were the Chinese and Japanese gardens, particularly the bonsai. I am not known as a patient person, and the amount of patience bonsai requires -- well, I'd have it snipped down to the roots before it had a chance to grow.

The gardens were established by Henry Huntington, the rail magnate, whose story is woven into Frances Dinkelspiel's bio of Isaias Hellman, Towers of Gold. Visits to these sorts of museums to the excesses of wealth always leave me of two minds. You can't help but admire the architecture, the design of the landscaping, the shear scope of the ambition. But you also can's separate out that he built all this with profits that grew from the labor of others, from those who built and operated his inter-urban rail lines to the working class that paid the fares to use it.

Such places, for all their devotion to arts, culture and, in this case, horticulture, are also monuments to our national infatuation with the amassing of wealth -- the true religion of America.
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