Taki: From paradise on earth to hell on high
GSTAAD—Forget about Libya and don’t even think about Syria. The mother of all battles is about to take place right here in bucolic Gstaad, a place of terminal political incorrectness—until recently, that is.
But before I begin, the Beguine is far more likely to see Saif Gaddafi than we are in this glitzy nouveau-riche Mecca. The Beguine is a religious order in the Netherlands, the nation where the International Criminal Court is situated. I’d rather see Libyan justice meted out, and pronto—something like hanging a jockstrap out to dry, if you get my drift.
But back to Gstaad and the coming fight to the death. Europe has 2.9 million millionaires, while North America has 3.1 million of the same species. Asian mimes have reached 3 million, and at times it feels as if all of the above descend upon this village during the third week of August. Among the nine million is one German woman married to a billionaire who has decided to buy the whole of Gstaad—and I mean the whole kit and kaboodle, as they say in Kansas. Her husband has a couple of ex-wives and children with his exes, so the little lady has decided to ensure her future by having the old boy buy her Gstaad. (The old man is not feeling his best.)
Some of us old Gstaad hands have tried to poison her, but to no avail. She has Libyan food-tasters and such. Her latest get-rich scheme is to build an “art center” which will house conferences, concerts, caviar exhibitions, and down at-the-heel countesses looking for rich old buffers. In other words, everything a small alpine village bursting at the seams doesn’t need. Two hundred million Swiss francs are needed, and the usual social-climbing suspects are out knocking on doors. My children’s mother and I are manning La Ligne Maginot against the project, but our chances are as slim as those who manned the real thing back in 1940. After all, greed equals fear where moolah is concerned.
Ironically, Gstaad during the horrible 1960s was an arts colony of sorts. We had the two great violinists, Yehudi Menuhin and Nathan Millstein, living here. We had William F. Buckley and Ken Galbraith, David Niven and Sir Roger Moore, and even little old Taki, scribbling away in National Review. The incomparable Vladimir Nabokov and his opera-singing son Dimitri visited regularly, as did New Yorker scribe Natasha Stewart. The idle rich played bridge, while the town whore, now long dead, was a Russian countess named Vera. That was then.
Now the place is crawling with hookers, but they pretend to be amateurs doing it for love of sport. The local peasantry back then was quiescent. They tilled their farms, operated the ski lifts, and taught the nouveaux how to slide down the slopes in the correct manner. It was paradise on Earth; now it’s hell on skis, but only during the high season. Sometime during the late 1970s a few peasants got together and decided to emulate the tourists. The quickest way to a fortune was to buy out the dumb ones and build glitzy chalets. Their scheme worked. For a few bucks local people sold their shops, only to see them replaced by expensive boutiques and Xanadus which would make Kublai Khan himself green with envy.
There you have it, dear readers. Lesson number one: When approached by sharpies offering moolah for your humble shop, point them toward Libya and slam the door in their face. Then check if the doorknob is still there. Lesson number two: Never underestimate the local peasantry and never show off in front of them. High living is more contagious than cholera, and it tends to give people ideas. Final lesson: When someone mentions art projects, disconnect his or her car’s brakes, preferably when parked up a steep hill. (If you’re not mechanically inclined, I will provide a mechanic.)
We have a beautiful old church where the Menuhin Festival has been held for the last 54 years. We have hotels with great rooms for conferences and the like. Plus we have outdoor spaces galore where tents for specific events can be erected. The last thing we need is a traffic jam where hundreds of buses clog the narrow single road leading to Gstaad and unload artsy-fartsy phonies looking to get a glimpse of sixth-division celebrities.
It could be worse. If not for NATO, we could be looking forward to seeing the Gaddafi swine this coming winter. We already have plenty of the latter, and I don’t mean those wonderful porkies that I cross each day on my way up the mountain.
Taki Theodoracopulos, better known as Taki, is a journalist and writer, living in Gstaad, London, and New York. His column ‘High Life’ has appeared in The Spectator for the past 25 years, and he has also written for National Review, the London Sunday Times, Esquire, Vanity Fair, the New York Press, and Quest Magazine, among others. In 2002 Taki founded The American Conservative magazine with Pat Buchanan and Scott McConnell, and he is also publisher of the British magazine Right Now! Taki has been writing for GstaadLife since its first season in 2003/4. More of his musings can be found here.