February 22, 2013

Syntagma Square circa 1950

Syntagma Square circa 1950

GSTAAD—The Alps are aglow like never before. A record snowfall and an abundance of sun have turned the region into a postcard of long ago. From afar, that is. Up close the cranes are ever present, although during the season building is verboten.

For the last few years I’ve been meeting with three Greek childhood friends once a week for lunch in a nearby inn. They are: Aleko Goulandris, my oldest friend (we met in 1945); Karolos Fix, a German Greek who arrived in that tortured land along with my ancestors back in the 1830s with the first King Otto from Bavaria; and Leonida Goulandris, who is the youngest at 52 and whose parents were my friends long before he was born. When the King of Greece is in Gstaad he is the fifth Hellene at the table. It is a male lunch that is transferred to Porto Heli during the summer months. We drink white Swiss wine, eat trout straight off the tiny pool they’re kept in, and talk. It takes place every Tuesday—two days of recovery time—because the weekends at the Palace tend to be rather crazy and confused. (Last Friday was the worst—6AM and counting.)

“Beauty has largely vanished from our civilization in general.”

Basically, it is an exercise in nostalgia. The timeless beauty of the land we grew up in is now gone. Athens is a stink hole. The marble-topped tables in the squares, the sweet, haunting, romantic music of Attik—he starved to death during the German occupation—the white-jacketed impeccably polite waiters at the cafés, the graceful manners of ladies and gentlemen of society, and the white-suited young men paying court to young ladies in ballrooms by the sea are all gone with the wind, and pardon the pun. It is as if I was talking about the American South, except we had no slaves.

Beauty has largely vanished from our civilization in general. There is no courtesy, no manners, no degree of distance and respect. One checks into a hotel for the first time and the concierge calls you by your Christian name. Travel is now an exercise in being among slobs. Tracksuits, trainers, loud dirty children, fat people drinking out of bottles with wires hanging from their ears—these are the best excuses I know of for paying through the nose and flying privately.

Manners and the courteous treatment of others have been replaced by political correctness and its strident policies of equality, an equality that is selective and as oppressive as any policy was under an apartheid regime. (By this time we are on our third bottle of wine and just starting the main course.) The rot in Greece began with Andreas Papandreou and that other bum, Karamanlis, the two conmen who preceded Blair and Brown in enlarging the public sector to the extent that more than half the country was on the public payroll and thus kept voting for the party in power. Now the Ponzi scheme has collapsed, but the same old names are in power. Not that Obama and Osborne are any different. Redistributing wealth is a sucker’s game, but it’s good for the short run. Depriving the rich is a vote-getter—envy is as big among Greeks as it is among French and Brits—but it’s the road to national perdition.


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