A BUCOLIC SETTING FOR A RARE GET-TOGETHER
FILOLI — Where Biden met Xi.
“FIght for a just cause. LOve your fellow man. LIve a good life” The six letters of those first words of his personal motto became the name of the stately California home William Bowers Bourn II built in 1917.
Not a bad motto for the site of a, well, minimally productive meeting. Maybe they’re fighting for different causes, and the love between these particular fellow men won’t prompt any Valentines. But the two leaders did agree to pick up the phone and call each other before blowing us all to bits — an encouraging sign for good life.
Mr. Bourn (1857–1936) lived the good life at Filoli, though he would probably never have imagined it to be hosting a U.S. president and a Chinese party secretary/dictator. Hardly into politics imself, except as his bottom lines required, Bourn was born into a moneyed San Francisco family, educated here and abroad, and eased into running the family businesses.
His businesses included the Empire Mine in the Sierra Nevada mountains, one of the mines that brought those sturdy Cornish miners over for what seem not exactly dream jobs. But such 19th century deep-underground labor brought my Cornish in-laws (albeit to the mines in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula) so I appreciate that movement.
Bourn’s wealth also came from oil and gas (think today’s unbeloved PG&E) and potable water, which in California is about as valuable as goldmines. According to Wikipedia, “Bourn was regularly pilloried by the San Francisco Chronicle as a thief and scoundrel for water rates,” but golly gee, investors need their profits, and running Filoli was never cheap.
The Filoli of today, though, inclines me to be generous to Mr. Bourn’s memory, may it be a blessing. Nestled within 654 acres of the Bay Area’s tony Woodside, the house and gardens — which take up 16 of those acres — opened to the public in 1975.
Today the estate is open seven days a week, for a fee, and is an extraordinary spot for wandering in nature, touring the house, grabbing a coffee or lunch — or strengthening Chinese/American relations.
Here’s to the good life.