August 26, 2023

CORONIS—Trafficking in enchantment, I sailed west to Coronis, the most perfect private isle on this planet. At times I think I’m in the realm of fantasy, such is the beauty of the place, the perfection of its function, yet a nouveaux riche—say, Bezos or Zuckerberg—would most likely find it not up to par because of its understatement. The island is greener than green, with olive trees and pines and vegetable gardens all planted by the owners, stone bungalows hidden from view, a great main house even more hidden from view, a discreet beach clubhouse, all in a wholesome, nostalgic setting poignantly evocative of a time before Succession-tinged vulgarity.

I suppose it has to do with the inner harmony of the soul of its owners, what the ancient Greeks called sophrosyne, “a virtue that reveals itself in every action and attitude.” This virtue saves the individual from excess, extravagance of thought, and arrogance. (I’ve been reading about sophrosyne in Richard Livingstone’s book on Socrates, sent to me by Robert Harbord.) All extremists lack it, and it’s the virtue most absent among the very newly rich Americans and Arabs of today. I’ve got a lot more to say about sophrosyne, but I’ll save it for another time. For the present it’s the annual Pugs Club meeting at Coronis.

“Everyone was kind and full of wishes that I make it to a hundred.”

Our hosts are George and Lita Livanos, whose island we annually invade, although the poor little Greek boy has been coming here for close to fifty years. George was the fourth or fifth member of Pugs—it is men only—and it was his idea to host the meeting after our supposed clubhouse in London (that our first president, now deceased, had paid rather a large sum for) turned out to be an Albanian’s kiosk in Soho that sold peanuts. Prince Pavlos and his princess, Sir Bob Geldof and his lady, Edward Hutley and his Lulu, and Arki Busson and his Jemma were all present and in a party mood. This was Wednesday evening. Alexandra had flown in from Gstaad, and we had sailed to Coronis that afternoon after dropping off Michael Mailer on the mainland. Club rules restrict membership to 21. The president, Prince Pavlos, proposed Michael for membership. I seconded him, but Bob Geldof, a friend of Michael’s and an admirer of his father’s, objected. “He owns neither a yacht nor a plane,” said Sir Bob. Prince Nikolaos of Greece, the president’s younger brother and a member, texted “Who is Michael Mailer?” The president was annoyed but stuck to the rules. “We do not have a quorum, hence we will contact Count Bismarck and Roger Taylor on the latter’s boat somewhere off Bora Bora, and will have the vote tomorrow.” We then retired to another terrace and listened to Sir Bob’s story of how in Cork his father knocked out a man engaged to his mother and eventually fathered him.

Geldof never stops talking, spinning his tales and manipulating his audience like those ancient storytellers of Arabian Nights. None of his stories lull, while any interruption is treated as an encroachment on his genius, on art itself. The trouble is he never utters anything stupid or pedestrian. In fact he recounts the past with binocular vision, and we are there. Needless to say, I am the target of his barbs most of the time, because as he told everyone within a radius of a mile later on, “I heard the word ‘Rommel’ and had to leave, and missed my breakfast.”

Coronis runs like clockwork; the chief butler Hercules and his wife, Yannoula, the emperor Nebuchadnezzar would give up his hanging gardens for. All the staff is wonderful, friendly, and efficient, and it’s the atmosphere of the place, with guests and staff alike, that makes it so pleasant. After Roger and Bolle had confirmed their votes for Michael over the telephone from Bora Bora, another problem popped up: I proposed we throw out Mark and Tara Getty because they no longer make their boats available to us for parties and in fact never attend Pugs Club meetings. It was seconded by Arki, but only as far as throwing out Tara was concerned. President Prince Pavlos turned it down, refusing even to contemplate a vote. Not a big fan of democracy to begin with, I accepted the princely ukase and the Gettys are still members.

Then came the day I had been in fear of for some time: my birthday. Lita ordered balloons and a cake that 10,000 Babylonians would die for, and everyone was kind and full of wishes that I make it to a hundred—a Greek saying—and then the modern male version of Scheherazade, Sir Bob, took over. He described me as a “disembodied, and making heavily accented and curiously odd mid-Atlantic sounds from the hedge—the Ancient Father of the club muttering dark imprecations that include words such as ‘von Manstein’ and you can take Bismarck out of Germany but you cannot take Germany out of Bismarck.”

Well, there’s not much I can say after this, except that the next day, our last one on the island, Scheherazade turned nice and delivered one of the most touching after-dinner speeches to our hosts, thanking them and pointing out certain facts that will remain private. This was for me among the most enjoyable visits I’ve had, and I’ve had many, so enjoyable in fact that I forgot that Father Time is getting closer and closer.


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