Palm Beach, I’ve noticed, is like Disney World for grown-ups—everything is bigger, better, cleaner, fancier (and more expensive) than in the real world.
The latest example came yesterday (Sunday) when we were invited to lunch at the Mar-a-Logo Club by a friend who is a member. (The cost, I’m told, is $150,000 initiation fee and $75,000 each year after that.)
I didn’t even know that Donald Trump had turned his palatial (think Versailles) private home into a private club in April of 1995. His presence is still everywhere—from the plaque at the door to the name and crest on the paper hand towels (I stole one) in the gold-encrusted bathrooms and on the welcome mat, to a portrait that is apparently meant to portray The Donald at a younger age in sports clothes.
Everywhere you turn there are golden cherubs, marble statues, parrot and monkey motifs and antique Spanish tiles. Flowers? Chandeliers? Fountains? Swimming pools? Don’t ask.
The Mar-a-Lago Estate was built to the specifications of Marjorie Merriweather Post (then Mrs. E. F. Hutton)and completed in 1927. (The name is Latin for “Sea-to-Lake”—it has water views both front and back.) Three boatloads of Dorian stone were brought from Genoa, Italy. There were 114 rooms in the original villa. According to a “short history” of the place, “It was Mrs. Post’s plan to bring together many Old -World Features of the Spanish, Venetian and Portuguese styles.”
In January of 1969 the estate was named a “National Historic Site”. After Mrs. Post died in 1973, she left the place to the federal government for use as a diplomatic/presidential retreat. It was pretty costly to maintain--so in 1985, it was sold to Donald Trump who used it as a private residence for ten years (and married his third wife, Melania, there in 2005). Even his first wife, Ivana, used it for her ill-starred wedding to an Italian 24 years her junior in 2008.
In April of 1995, it became the Mar-a-Lago Club.
According to the “brief history” available at the desk, Trump has “since built a magnificent swimming pool, an award-winning beauty salon, a world-class spa, one grass and five red-clay championship tennis courts and a remarkable croquet court.…Completed in 2005 is the all-new Donald J. Trump Grand Ballroom—the interior is in a Louis XIV gold and crystal finish that is one of the finest spaces of its kind in the country.”
We joined our friends for lunch in the outdoor patio (where I ordered lobster quesadillas) and they told us that Jennifer Hudson was on the premises, resting after her recent performance on American Idol, and Joan Rivers had just checked out.
With the Trump name plastered everywhere, it sort of seemed natural that The Donald himself breezed in as we were eating. Wearing a baseball hat and casual clothes, he greeted the several tables of diners, making sure everyone was happy. I asked about the décor, having been stymied by the mix of Spanish tiles and the Arabic-looking plasterwork. Was it Moroccan? I asked and he agreed—Moroccan it was! (At that point neither he nor I had read in the “brief history” that it’s actually “Spanish, Venetian, and Portuguese” all mixed together into a decadent , dazzling, over-the-top mish-mash that would send Mad King Ludwig into a jealous funk. There popped into my memory a French phrase which doesn’t really have an English equivalent. It was all a bit “de trop.”)
Later in the afternoon we saw Trump depart, along with Melania and her parents, their young son and an older girl who was evidently Tiffany, the daughter he had with second wife Marla Maples.
Throughout the estate, which we explored post-lunch, poking into rooms and peeking behind doors, we kept encountering antique tiles with a Latin motto: “Plus Ultra”, which translates as “Beyond the Ultimate.” This is Mar-a-Lago’s slogan. As we left, past the gilded cupids and the large brass lions at the gate , I was reminded of another ancient classical slogan carved into the Temple of Apollo at Delphi: “Midhen Agan”—“Nothing in excess”.