Butler training

San Francisco, Training in a Cultural Epicenter

The start of a three-month training tour begins with a flight from Tampa to San Francisco and three days of training at the estate of a family that is blessed with three butlers and under-butlers and a household staff that is kept busy in grand style by employers who do not believe that their substantial wealth (how does owning the most expensive estate in the most expensive block in the country sound?) means anything other than the opportunity for flat-out production in their métiers and constant giving back to society with fabulous social events. Ah, this is life in the grand manner: masters on the walls really being Monets, Tintorettos, et al., with not a single item of furniture other than a unique antique. My bedroom was no exception, so crammed full that I spent a good hour examining everything from the bathroom wallpaper to the one-of-a-kind table ornaments.

As for the classroom, “Please don’t put anything on the table,” the butler cautioned me (it was a unique item from China from a time when China made things to last). Well, he didn’t have to explain about the need for caution concerning the oil paintings: I had seen them in art books at college.

"Um, please don't sit on the chairs...."

The only thing missing was mother, who helps out at museums and stately homes in England as a docent when she is not gallivanting around the world in a paroxysm* and drive to see the world in her far-from-waning years. She would think, in the words of Othello, “If it were now to die, ‘twould be most wonderful,” knowing her life had been fulfilled finally in the bosom of this incredible collection.

* A sudden and uncontrollable expression of emotion

The last evening, two hours before I had to leave for a late flight to New York, there was an hour-long telephoned radio interview while eating a fine dinner, prepared just for me, balanced on a tray perched on the edge of the desk so full of antiques. The radio interviewer seemed to lose her thread quarter of an hour into the live show…it turned out later her computer, with all the prepared questions, had crashed; being the consummate professional, she had winged it and nobody noticed except myself, wondering where on earth she was going with the questions.

Last report, the butlers and staff continue to do well, and I miss them; each one an individual, from the prickly curmudgeon who really cared; to the lady who just could not do enough to please and took such joy in the simplest of jobs done well; to the head butler who put so much into making his team pull it all together for the Family, day after packed day.