March 28, 2014
GSTAAD—Except for the hovering of helicopters overhead carrying great slabs of rock or timber, the constant whirring of cranes and cement mixers, and the roar of trucks, the building site that Gstaad becomes the moment the last billionaire departs for places closer to sea level takes on a dreamlike visual vignette of an alpine village. So faint is my memory of the village I first came to love back in the 1950s, I sometimes close my eyes and try to envision it, but it’s a losing game. In fact it’s a Blanche Dubois-like delusion of past grandeur, of the lights and laughter and the loves of teenage days. Let’s face it: Only suckers look back, so I must be the greatest sucker of them all. I simply cannot accept that even here, in peaceful Switzerland, the developers have triumphed. Build big and build expensive is their motto, and there are people out there who will pay anything to be part of—what? If I knew, I’d tell you.
Gstaad was a small farming community until the 1920s, when some rich sporting types began tying boards on their boots and sliding down the surrounding mountains. The season was short, the chalets belonged to locals, and the sporting elite lived in hotels and inns. The Palace was THE place to be seen and to stay. A lot of Americans discovered the place during the war once they had bailed out from their crippled bombers, having steered them over neutral Switzerland. After the war, in typical can-do Yankee fashion, they built chalets that were a bit less Spartan than the local ones and enjoyed a healthy and fun life that got you four Swiss francs to a single dollar, the Palace at the time offering rooms that were as low as three dollars per night.
So far, so good. Yours truly arrived in 1956 with a thousand dollars that was supposed to last me for three months and suddenly found myself a rich man. I moved into the Palace for the next thirty years. The dollar sank and with it went many American friends of mine who sold their chalets and moved back to whence they came full of good memories. They were replaced rather quickly with types that would rather sell their sisters into prostitution than fly a bomber over Germany during the war. Children are known to retreat into a fantasy world especially if they’re unhappy, but I had a happy childhood and a very lucky life yet find myself repeatedly retreating into the fantasy world I once inhabited…things such as the moonlight parties at the Eagle club, the drunken dancing until dawn at the Palace, and the riotous drenching of stiff types at the Olden. The latter place closed earlier than usual because the owner, one Bernie Ecclestone, loves money more than I love Jessica Raine. He makes less profit during the off-season; hence the closure. (Anyway, the once wonderful Olden has now jerked up its prices so much that only camel drivers turned oil tycoons can still afford it.)
And speaking of those Americans who twice came over to win the wars for their British cousins, I read a wonderful book reviewed by Andrew Bacevich, an American colonel and intellectual whose son was killed in Iraq in that totally useless war. The book is about Robert La Follette, probably the best US senator ever, a patriot who opposed Woodrow Wilson’s sending American farm boys to die in the Somme because he knew why Wilson wanted entry: Wall Street had loaned billions to the Allies and was worried they wouldn’t see their money back if Germany won. Money power was yet again at work. The young died for it while the bankers made their fortune. It was a war for trade routes and commercial advantages and for Big Business becoming Bigger Business. The biggest lie of all was Wilson’s “fight for democracy.” Democracy is not carried upon the point of a bayonet, said La Follette, but by furnishing the most perfect example of a government of liberty and equal opportunity.
Woodrow Wilson was a phony, but a small phony compared to Tony Blair. This might make me sound suspect because I am about to defend the Barclay brothers who own the Spectator. So be it. But here’s an ex-British prime minister who lied and got Britain involved in the worst foreign policy disaster ever by an idiot American president, one who has never apologized for the dead and maimed but has become extremely rich by sucking up to fat Qatari crooks and who takes their side against two British subjects who have made their money in Britain and employ thousands of British workers. I am talking about the Claridge’s takeover, one for which an Irish front man for Qatar has suddenly come up with over 600 million pounds after meeting Blair via that other horror-cum-conman Mathew Freud. Here’s Blair helping a totalitarian state with lots of blood on its hands take over a London landmark against two British businessmen who pay their taxes and obey the laws of the land. Surely something must be done. How about a total boycott of the place if the Irish front man for the towels wins? Or how about the useless Tories doing something about protecting British interests? Both Tony Blair and Matthew Freud can be had for money, but Blair is also a traitor and should be held accountable. Cameron and Osborne, do something, for Christ’s sake!