The Weekender: June 5, 2015

1) “House of Secrets” (The New Yorker, 28 minutes, June 2015). Subhead: “Who owns London’s most expensive mansion?” The mansion is named Witanhurst and it’s currently being remodeled… but by whom? That’s not so clear.

When the refurbishment is complete, Witanhurst will have about ninety thousand square feet of interior space, making it the second-largest mansion in the city, after Buckingham Palace. It will likely become the most expensive house in London. In 2006, the Qatari royal family bought Dudley House, on Park Lane, for about forty million pounds; after a renovation, its estimated resale value is two hundred and fifty million pounds. Real-estate agents expect that the completed Witanhurst will be worth three hundred million pounds—about four hundred and fifty million dollars.

[ . . . ]

It might have been expected that the identity of Witanhurst’s owners would slip out, given the volume and the scale of work at the site, and the number of contractors involved. (Last year, I met a craftsman who said that he was on one of six teams of carpenters working there.) But few employees are told the owners’ names. Senior contractors who have dealings with the family or their agents have been required to sign confidentiality agreements. Guards protect the property, and cameras monitor the grounds. A woman who knows the owners advised me to “choose another story.” Stephen Lindsay, one of the real-estate agents who sold the house, spoke to me only after I agreed to leave my phone and bag in another room. He then put the family’s lawyer on speakerphone and announced that he would take the secret of Witanhurst’s ownership “to the grave.”

2) Don’t Forget: My Patreon page. If you’ve already pledged your support, thanks! The campaign has surpassed by expectations, and I’m glad it’s going so well. If you haven’t pledged but are thinking about it, and if you like the Weekenders, my next Patreon milestone is to make the Weekender an every-week, additional email. That goal is a long way off but I appreciate your support either way.

3) “How to Get Your Paranoid Mother Into the Poisonous Ambulance” (Narratively, 17 minutes,  May 2015). The subhead: “When your mom is bipolar and believes everything is trying to kill her, the simple act of getting to the hospital becomes a battle of epic proportions.”

When Mom first arrived in the emergency room, she told the staff about a propane leak inside her home, and she wanted several expensive tests to prove she was being poisoned. Every time I hear the word “propane” or “poison,” it instantly reminds me of when Mom thought Dad was trying to blow up the house. She imagined that she could smell gas billowing — an insidious and lethal cloud. The murder plot unraveled in her mind as if she was the main character in an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Once she sparked her BIC lighter to smoke a Marlboro Red, the house would explode: a suburban slaughterhouse.

4) “Tiananmen Square, Then and Now” (The Atlantic, 20 or so minutes, June 2012). Yesterday was the 26th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests and the now-iconic “Tank Man” photo. On the 23rd anniversary of the protests, the Atlantic published the linked-to photo gallery of the area both in 1989 and in 2012. A warning: some of the photos are very graphic.

5) “The Lost Man” (The California Sunday Magazine, 20 minutes, June 2015). This is about the Taman Shud mystery, which I’ve written about before. But I wrote about it a long time ago an in a very abbreviated way. It really takes a 20 minute-long read to do it justice. Plus, the person profiled in this article appears to be closer than anyone else to solving the mystery — that’s new. If you want a preview of what the Taman Shud case is about, read what I wrote in September of 2010 first. If not, you can dive right into the longer article selected here.

6) “The Iceman List” (The Message/Medium, 10 minutes, June 2015).  If you remember the movie Top Gun, you probably remember Val Kilmer’s character, Iceman. Maverick (Tom Cruise) is the protagonist, Iceman is his antagonist. But, as this article points out, “Maverick is kind of a jerk. Iceman is totally right about him. In fact, Iceman is right about almost everything.” Here’s an article exploring other antagonists who, in retrospect, were right.