January 11, 2013
GSTAAD—Friends who were among the last to leave Chalet Palataki on New Year’s tell me there were stragglers waiting to be admitted, and this was as the sun was coming up on January 1. My chalet has become the last refuge of the desperate, or among those with twice as much serotonin in their blood who never give up. All I can remember is being on the top floor and at my advanced age not using glasses, but drinking straight out of the vodka bottle. There is a portrait of my father by Dali up there, and when in my cups I seem to become transfixed by it, a sort of Dorian Gray in reverse, my dad looking elegant and in control, me the exact opposite. Still, it was a hell of a party and both my children had a very good time with their friends. This is obviously the only reason one still pays for the children—because they have young friends.
Otherwise the news is not good. Glitz and the Russkis are coming to town, and the locals are bending over to accommodate them. Flattery is the main ingredient the money-hungry peasantry uses to induce the nouveaux riche to part with their ill-gotten moolah. It is the oldest trick in the Alps when some people make themselves inferior to others, although I find it impossible to believe that anyone can fake inferiority compared to today’s new rich. A Hollywood screenwriter once wrote that the only interesting thing that can happen in a Swiss bedroom is suffocation by a feather pillow, but that was long ago, before the peasants woke up and got greedy. I have tried for years to tell the locals that if they give the nouveaux enough rope they will surely hang us, but it’s like speaking to those that Plutarch was referring to when he said that the flatterer is born free but chooses to be a slave.
Flattery works best on those who already have a very high opinion of themselves. “This is a chalet that only a person such as yourself deserves to live in,” says the salesman to the rich vulgarian. The latter agrees wholeheartedly and pays the inflated price. Chalet prices have exploded and are now only available to the very few, most of whom are as disgusting as possible. An old professor friend of mine used to tell me that Switzerland would become redundant once communism had collapsed. He saw good old Helvetia as a shelter against the reds, which shows how little professors know about real life. More than twenty years after the Evil Empire collapsed, Switzerland remains among the most expensive places to live, and the cost is rising. It’s becoming more like Hollywood every day. “You look great” has replaced “guten morgen” as the universal greeting.