Sunday, March 6, 2011

Borne Back Ceaselessly Into the Past

the first mansion was Bel Caro, beyond that is Daisy's house, owned by Bayard Swope the famous publisher
"And so it happened that on a warm windy evening I drove over to East Egg to see two old friends whom I scarcely knew at all. Their house was even more elaborate than I expected, a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion, overlooking the bay. The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens — finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run. The front was broken by a line of French windows, glowing now with reflected gold and wide open to the warm windy afternoon, and Tom Buchanan in riding clothes was standing with his legs apart on the front porch."

 Was it seventh grade or eight grade? I cannot remember exactly, but I do remember coming home from school and taking the book assigned to us for homework to the beach that spread out before our home. To the left, the beach curved, and there were the remains of what was once a Normandy Style mansion, razed decades before, but the sea wall, carriage house, and garages were still there. Directly across the Sound, was Execution Rocks, the infamous lighthouse where the British Army tortured American prisoners during the American Revolution. A glance to the right led to "Land's End" a beautiful, white mansion that sat on a bluff which jutted out overlooking Long Island Sound.

I turned the pages of the book and things seemed familiar. Very familiar. It wasn't long before I realized Fitzgerald was writing about exactly where I sat, in East Egg, overlooking the "great, wet barnyard" of Long Island Sound.

Many years have passed. The book has always been my favorite of all. I worked on it in college and reread it at the beginning of each summer, two weeks before the longest day of the year. Our house is gone now. A classic colonial torn down to make way for a cement box that could easily pass for a drive-through restaurant. Our family is scattered now. The dreams we had when we lived in our waterfront home have been altered. Things change. We are told to expect that. But the sun-filled memories and laughter across the lawn, the cozy Christmas eve's and the Fourth of July parties on the beach, they still live on in our hearts.

"Turning me around by one arm, he moved a broad flat hand along the front vista, including in its sweep a sunken Italian garden, a half acre of deep, pungent roses, and a snub-nosed motor-boat that bumped the tide offshore. We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea."

And now, the last remaining house from The Great Gatsby, will be torn down. As prominent as any character in the book, the houses held as much meaning as Tom and Daisy, Gatsby and Nick and yes, even Myrtle. We can't seem to preserve anything anymore. We must make way for the new and plastic. Sands Point is just a shadow of its former self. The frenzy for McMansions has changed its face forever, for the worse. If it were up to me, and it is clearly not, I would preserve the past. I am, unabashedly and unapologetically, a romantic, just like Gatsby.

I've had a lot of loss in my life. Why should the razing of an old mansion bother me? It's part of my childhood, my joyful past, of days gone by and the loss of that young girl who sat on that beach and could faintly hear the echoing of the orchestra playing from Gatsby's lawn....

"The one on my right was a colossal affair by any standard — it was a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden. it was Gatsby’s mansion."
Gatsby's house, the walls, guest house, garage and gates are still there

If you want to see Daisy's house before it is reduced to rubble, take Port Washington Boulevard north, all the way into the Village of Sands Point. Turn onto Hoffstot Lane and take it to the end. There used to be gates at the entrance of the road that said "Bel Caro" for the mansion that was next to Daisy's. It, too, was destroyed to make way for less.  If you want to see what it left of Gatsby's house, don't turn, but continue straight ahead. You will see Normandy-style walls and gardens, a garage, a carriage house and a wrought iron gate. Close your eyes and think of Scott visiting on a warm, summer day, remembering his romance with Zelda and turning it into one of the greatest novels of all time.

"...and so we beat against the current...borne back ceaselessly into the past...."

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