August 29, 2015
According to W. Somerset Maugham, materially one must live on the razor’s edge between poverty and minimal subsistence in order to cultivate the life of the spirit. I’ve always respected Maugham’s wisdom and understanding of human nature, and Larry Darrell, in search of a Tao, is among my favorite fictional characters. Maugham wrote The Razor’s Edge in 1944, at age 70, an extraordinary achievement and way ahead of the times. The world was at war and here was an old closeted homosexual writing beautifully about the West’s inability to promote the good life through wealth.
Twenty years later some people out west started a movement somewhat similar to what Larry was seeking in Tibet, or so they claimed, and it ended with Manson and his grotesque gang of killers massacring a pregnant Sharon Tate and friends. How cultivating the spiritual life can lead to torture and murder is beyond me, and Manson and his gang should have all been put to death. But the goody-goodies that we in the West are, we don’t do death any longer, we simply lock them up and feed them three square meals a day and give them all the sex they want with their own kind. Manson has even been interviewed and allowed to tell his side of the story, something I find outrageous, his ventriloquistic syntax taken down verbatim by hacks who should know better.
The reason I bring up The Razor’s Edge is because I’ve been doing the opposite of what Larry sought for most of his life, namely living the life of Riley among the vulgarly rich and famous. It all began innocently enough. The world I knew back then was a much more uncomplicated place; people were immaculately dressed and elegantly tailored, and doing little work was actually considered chic. It suited me perfectly. At 20 I got on the tennis tour and saw most of the world as a result. Ten years after the war had ended, Europe had recovered, and driving through it was one of the great pleasures of life. Just imagine, the old continent without many cars and even fewer migrants. Taking the train was also a pleasure. The small shops and little dwellings that one could admire from the windows are now gone, replaced by supermarkets and car parks, not to mention cement tower blocks. Just as the music changed from jazz and Gershwin to zombie noise during the ’60s, television turned to junk, art became a commodity to be traded like pork bellies, and newspapers began reporting on the comings and goings of scum like the Hiltons and the Kardashians. No wonder I now hate the modern world with such passion, and no wonder I hit the bottle the way I do.
Mind you, I am being a bit hypocritical. I used to hit the bottle back when Europe was civilized, and the Middle East a place one went for pleasure, not to witness beheadings. Now I feel like a misfit in a brutal world full of celebrity freaks and gangster rappers. Which brings me to the point I wish to make this week: I’ve just been cruising on a friend’s magnificent gin palace, something I hadn’t done in many a year, and it brought back wonderful memories. The boat belongs to Michael Chandris, one of Greece’s biggest and most respected shipowners. His crew is as good as it gets, and Michael’s generosity, unending. We cruised down by Milos, where the beautiful Aphrodite statue was discovered in a cave in 1820 and delivered sans arms to the fat Napoleonic usurper Louis XVIII, who kept her for good. Then on to Kimolos, where a gleaming white village is perched on a ridge above the windmills and under a Venetian castle. We were eight, four boys and four girls, if at age 79 and ten days I still count as a boy. Milos and Kimolos are renowned for having the clearest and cleanest waters anywhere, but I dread to think what will happen if those nice guys who smuggle people for profit discover them. I got very wrecked the first and last day of the trip. It was one of the happiest cruises I’ve ever been part of. We laughed for five days and nights and then Michael flew us back to Athens on his chopper.
I bring this up because Michael is a blast from the past, although much, much younger than yours truly. Which means one doesn’t need to be a killer to succeed nowadays, as some fool pundits tell us. I don’t know how to thank him except I will never write anything horrid about a gin palace again, except for those disgusting ones owned by Saudis, Qataris, and Russians. And it was good training to boot. After a fortnight on a sailing boat built in 1921, a 180-footer cruising at 18 knots and capable of speeding at 24 was good practice for my next move, that of the Spectator cruise aboard Cunard’s Queen Victoria. I am going without the mother of my children, hoping to get lucky and do a Cary Grant to Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember, a shipboard romance. In that 1957 picture, Cary was a small-time painter but a big-time lothario. I am a small-time writer, shorter and uglier than Grant. So I will settle for someone who looks like Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity. Wish me luck and see you on board.