January 05, 2019
GSTAAD—My annual end-of-year party in the Bagel was a bust. Too many people brought their friends and I ended up asking men and women to please leave my bedroom, especially my bathroom. I had some very pretty young things drop in and some even overstayed, and—surprise, surprise—there were even some items missing after the cleanup the next day. But that was then. I’m now in Gstaad for the duration.
The good news for the nouveaux riches is that it rained like hell for three days and it washed away all the snow. Skiing and new moola don’t mix. The sounds on Main Street now are a bit like Beirut—or is it Athens?—but it sure “don’t” sound like good old Helvetia used to. My closest friend Aliki Goulandris gave a wonderful pre-Xmas dinner in her chalet, and we reminisced about the ’50s and ’60s in Gstaad. Nothing worked, the chairlifts were slow and swung dangerously when the winds blew, the slopes were unprepared and without warning signs for rocks, the pistes were icy and uneven, the bindings froze and didn’t snap open if one fell forward or backward—only on the side—and the chalets were so flimsily insulated that men and women did what came naturally in their thermal underwear.
Yet it was paradise because we all knew one another and we were all young. Fifty back then was the 80 of today. We were all in our 20s. The Volkswagen Beetle was the car to own, and the only Rolls belonged to the Palace Hotel. It ferried important clients up from the railroad station. The Maharani of Patiala arrived by helicopter and was told not to do it again. (It scared the crap out of the cows locked up for the duration.) Food fights were a nightly occurrence, and they sound awfully silly now. The locals were the only ones who owned chalets; the rest of us were at the Palace. And then it started—the one-upmanship, that is. Chalets got bigger and bigger, swimming pools were added, then private cinemas and large gymnasiums, well, you know the score.
Buses now arrive packed with awestruck tourists looking for celebrities, the last one being Elizabeth Taylor, who left us quite a long time ago. Julie Andrews, David Niven, Roger Moore, and Sean Connery were all Gstaad people at one time or another, my favorites being Sir Roger and Lord Menuhin, both now performing upstairs for the duration. Another one I liked was Larry the lorry driver, married to Liz Taylor and a bit befuddled at times because of drink. But Roman Polanski is still here, still skiing well at age 84, and still pursued by the Americans for something he did more than forty years ago.
Snow or no snow, the mountains rise glistening above the glaciers in the far reaches as I look out from my window. As some of you may have read, the outdoor white stuff will be gone in twenty years, and only the indoor stuff will remain. (It might even be legal by then, the way things are going.) Will I miss it when it’s gone? I will not be around so I suppose I won’t, but the wily Swiss are preparing for it. The place is turning into Disney World. Gulf people will replace us sooner rather than later, and of course Indians and Chinese. Symbols and traditions are important, and in Switzerland money is the symbol that counts. “Show me the money” should be engraved on every government building, in fact on every house, chalet, and hovel, if there are any. Still, the Swiss work hard and expect nothing to be handed to them. This makes them pariahs in Europe and North America, where global citizenship is a paramount idea bandied about by self-satisfied elites who look down on ordinary people like the Swiss. But let’s not get me started on this.
Next week I am putting on my skis and will race my first grandson, who thinks he’ll smoke me. He’s 12 and I’ve got seventy years on him. It all depends on how the slalom course is set. If it’s wide and fast I will win. If it’s tight and intricate the little Taki wins. My son J.T. will set it. And speaking of family, I never thought I’d be writing this, but my chalet is full…of grandchildren. There is Taki and Maria from J.T. and the latest addition from my daughter, Antonius Alexandros, six weeks old and being breastfed like a peasant boy of old. Having a full house of relations is a new one for me. We are seven-plus nannies and cooks and outdoor help and I have never been happier. This worries me to no end. The other night we had some friends drop in and everyone got tipsy except the mother of my children, who retired early, as well she should. My son-in-law had given me an oval gilded picture of my latest grandson, and I was looking at it while under the weather. The tiny baby was looking quite aristocratic and I thought I saw a hint of pomposity in his blue eyes. It has become my favorite. A bit of pomposity is needed rather badly nowadays, what with everyone telling us how equal we all are. Some more equal than others. Happy New Year.