"Are you new to Aiken?", said an attractive 70-something woman with a soft, local cotton accent, named Sissy. We were coming out of the Willcox hotel. She spotted us as visitors and offered help.
She was wearing a floppy hat. She admired our hats. We admired hers. Later, we learned that she is known locally as the "hat lady".
"Come on. I'll take you on a little tour."
Elizabeth and I looked at each other, each startled. We have travelled the world. Never before had a complete stranger ever offered to show us around without some kind of ulterior motive.
Yesterday was a holiday. We are down here in South Carolina accompanying Elizabeth, who is doing horse competitions.
We were supposed to be in Mumbai. But we got to Dulles airport and realised that we lacked a visa for travel to India. Seizing the opportunity, we walked around the corner to the US Airways counter and took a plane to Charlotte, NC, where a snowstorm stopped our progress. Almost. The plane to Augusta, GA, was delayed, delayed and delayed again. Finally, we got fed up and rented a car, joining Elizabeth in Aiken, South Carolina, at midnight.
This is just the way life is meant to be. You don't always go where you intended to go, but you always end up where you ought to be.
Which raises a number of deep and disturbing issues. If you always end up where you ought to be, why strive to go anywhere at all? Won't you still get where you were supposed to go? Surely, that wouldn't work.
You have to try to get somewhere in life. If you don't, you'll never get anywhere. If you don't try to get anywhere, of course, you're not likely to get anywhere. And then, nowhere is where you ought to be, but not where you want to be.
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In her competition on Sunday, Elizabeth won a blue ribbon. 'Eventing' it is called, with three parts: cross country, dressage, and jumping. She won the blue ribbon because she worked on her riding for many years. Had she not striven, she would not have won. In the winner's box would be where she ought not be.
Effort pays off. But that doesn't mean you always get where you want to go.
That is true in investing, too. You don't always get what you want, but you always end up with what you ought to get. That is, you get what you deserve.
Last week, stocks bounced around, getting nowhere. But on Friday, gold sank and seems to be heading below $1,600.
Uh oh. How come, if it is true that the central banks are flooding the world with cash and credit, gold does not rise? Does not gold anticipate inflation? Aren't investors – especially the central banks themselves – accumulating gold to protect themselves from the degradation and degeneration of their money?
Which merely makes the question marks bigger. Is there something wrong with our theory? Does printing press money not cause consumer price inflation? Is there something else, something important going on?
Thinking hard about these questions does not guarantee success. It only guarantees that we will not deserve to lose money, which is the best we can do.
Still, yesterday was a national holiday. We didn't think about it too much. And we weren't in Paris. We weren't in Manhattan or London. We were in the Carolinas and Sissy was just being friendly.
Aiken is a horse town. It's fairly warm in the winter months and not too hot in the summer. It attracts sportsmen from the northern states, including those from Maryland. Back at the turn of the century, rich people came down on the train from New York, came down and built mansions. They established horse trails, parks and elegant hotels.
Sissy showed us where the Whitneys and the Graces lived. She showed us the tennis court building (one of the oldest in the country) and the new train station (rebuilt on the old model).
We saw the tunnel of live oak trees over East Boundary Street and the new theatre.
"This used to be cotton fields, when I was a child", she explained.
"My people worked in the textile mills", she said, pointing out the modest house where she was raised. "I met my husband in high school. His family had a family that went back to the original land grant.
"I've seen a lot of changes in this town. And now look at all these 'for sale' signs. We got hit hard by the financial crisis. It could take years to recover and maybe it will never be the same."
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