February 23, 2007
Quest is a quaint little glossy magazine of regulated circulation (50,000) and the greatest demographics in the world—the upper east side of Manhattan. It is a lifestyle monthly, a Vanity Fair for superannuated WASPs on the social register. It was started 25 years ago by a nutty English woman, Heather Cohane, and is now owned by Chris Meigher III, an ex Time-Life honcho who has really made it click. It’s the way we were before Ralph Lauren stole our style. I’ve been a columnist for Quest since seven long years and have never missed a deadline. In Spring, Quest always runs its list of 400 people in New York society, with some outrageous nouveaux included, so to honor its annual picks, here are Taki’s choices of art and artists, instead of socialites.
Nobody loves lists more than the people on them. Quest’s 400, Forbes’s richest, Vanity Fair’s best dressed, you get my drift. There are no negative lists that I know of—lists for, say, the ugliest actresses in Hollywood, or the poorest members of the social register—hence most lists are popular with the people they mention. Lists are extremely arbitrary. I once made up a list of Greek journalists who were on the take from the KGB—this was during the early 70’s—and when I say made up I mean exactly that. I had no proof whatsoever. I published their names in my Greek column and believe it or not three fessed up that they’d been taking Soviet gold. They then accused me of being on the take from the CIA and a judge sentenced me to 16 months in jail for being an agent of a foreign power. I was nothing of the sort. I was asked by an American diplomat—obviously the Athens CIA station chief—to recruit people who were on our side during the Cold war. I did that with relish, but was never a member of the agency, nor did they ever pay me a penny. (I left on my yacht before the fuzz could get me, and my father eventually got the decision reversed).
And speaking of arbitrariness, let’s start with my eight favourite art forms. In descending order they are Literature, Music, Painting, Opera, Cinema, Theatre, Architecture, Poetry. I do not include television as an art form, and although ballet certainly is, I am not a balletomane and know little about it. (Except that I’ve seen The Red Shoes more than ten times, and Die Fledermaus, the Roland Pettit version, almost as many). Obviously when I say music, I mean classical, and that includes Cole Porter and George Gershwin.
So, which are the ten best novels? In order to make it hard for myself I kept the list down to ten, but I could name one hundred, or two hundred, and not a single eyebrow would be raised: War And Peace, The Great Gatsby, A Farewell to Arms, Tender is the Night, Anna Karenina, Gone with the Wind, Great Expectations, The Red and the Black, The Sun Also Rises, The Catcher in the Rye.
Let’s go on to music. We’ve got to start with Beethoven’s 9th, Beethoven’s 5th, Mozart’s Requiem, Mozart’s Symphony #41, Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Bach’s St Matthew Passion, Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. See what lists do? How can anyone but a slob Philistine leave out works by Haydn, Schumann, Handel, Grieg, Scarlatti ? I could go on and on. All it proves is that beauty is truly in the eye, or ear, of the beholder.
Painters are like writers and musicians. Hundreds upon hundreds could be listed but we shall stick to ten: Velazquez, Rembrandt, Edward Hopper, Goya, Michelangelo, de Stael, Van Gogh, Turner, Degas, Monet. Not one lousy Picasso among this list of greats, not even in the first one thousand. No Warhols, certainly no Basquiats and other phonies. If I had to name an eleventh choice, it would be John Taki Theodoracopulos, the greatest living painter, who also happens to be my 26 year old son—a German abstract expressionist, whose residence is Rome.
Let’s go quickly to the movies. Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, The Leopard, The Godfather, All Quiet on the Western Front, Citizen Kane, The Killers (with Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner) Sabrina (with Bill Holden, Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn) Shane, Das Boot. Just think of all the great films we’ve left behind and head for the video store.
Theatre. Do I list plays or playwrights? Shakespeare’s effete efforts to bring us history with a dramatic flair cannot be ignored, even by a Greek whose direct ancestors are Aeschylus, Aristophanes and Sophocles—the latter fought both in the battle of Marathon as well as in Salamis, screwing the invading Persians both times, and in turn writing his greatest play about those bums, The Persians. Plays like Agamemnon, Hamlet, Macbeth, Henry V, King Lear, Prometheus Bound, Faust, Romeo and Juliet and other such classics offer a glimpse of heaven impossible to envision today. The closest modernist who comes to being eternal is Oscar Wilde—the great Oscar—and in my extremely jaundiced view of modern times, Noel Coward, Tennessee Williams, Terence Rattigan and Jean Anouilh.
Opera is easy. Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi Fan Tutti lead. Then comes Verdi’s La Traviata, Aida and Nabucco. Bellini’s Norma has to be included, as does Donizetti’s Lucia di Lamermoor. Puccini’s La Boheme is a great favourite of mine as is Madame Butterfly, now considered racist. What utter crap. Opera is wonderful and elitist over in these shores, but I have yet to encounter an Italian peasant who doesn’t know how to whistle Tosca. Richard Strauss’s Salome is the only modern opera which compares favourably with the classics. And she ain’t that modern in the first place.
We are now coming toward the end, so I will mention only cities where architecture is concerned: Venice, Florence, Paris, Rome, Vienna, The Rockefeller Center, The Chrysler Building, 740 Park Avenue, The Empire State Building, that’s what architecture is all about. The rest is rubbish and ugly rubbish to boot. Oh yes, I almost forgot, there’s also a monument called the Parthenon, which is a miracle of symmetrical beauty and it’s 2000 years old. Developers the world over have been trying to knock it down for centuries and turn the space into parking lots, but we Greeks are resisting.
Poetry is in trouble. It is garbage being written by modernists—stuff that doesn’t rhyme and makes no sense but is considered art. Let’s stick to the past. Dante, the all time numero uno, Homer, Pushkin, Keats, Byron, Coleridge, Shelley, that’s what I call poetry. Instead of attacking Iraq, Bush should have started a war against modernism. Shoot all poets who don’t write in iambic pentameter.