I enter the Gilded Age summer retreat of Newport under a steady blanket of cold rain. Traffic crawls through narrow streets lined by two solid walls of retail excess.
There are urgent repairs underway on a broken sewer line and the air is filled with the distinctive smell of...it's not money and I'm pretty sure it's not roses...it's the faintest whiff that maybe the very rich aren't so different from you and me after all.
Grand mansions line Bellevue Avenue, but it soon becomes apparent that vast wealth and good taste do not easily mix. I make my way down the avenue in a downpour, and simply cannot force myself out of the car to visit and photograph the palaces. Many are now open to the vast unwashed public as historic artifacts, tourist destinations and cash cows, but I don't want to satisfy their desperate craving for attention.
Instead, I venture down to the Cliff Walk, a rare point of public access to the rocky ocean shore. No Parking signs and tow-away threats line both sides of the street, but I take my chances and walk down to the cold, gray Atlantic.
I almost put a hand in, to dip my tongue into the ocean salt like when I was a kid, but then I remember that broken sewer.
The money from the Second Gilded Age, so recently passed, has gravitated to this rocky coast. Though there is no evidence of foreclosure, no piles of Jimmy Choo shoes and plasma TV's picked through and soaking on the sidewalk, but there are enough Sotheby's For Sale signs in evidence to give hope to the baying mob at the gates that their pain is, to some small extent, shared.