June 18, 2015
Back in the good old days, when Ike and Mamie lived in the White House”and the neocons were an ugly bunch of short bald people meeting in New York dumps discussing the greatness of Leon Trotsky”summertime spelled freedom and fun, at least for this poor little Greek boy. Ironically, summers lasted longer back then. From the beginning of June, when the boarding-school jail term ended, until September, when the inmates had to return, seemed like three lifetimes. Until the age of 16, I would cross the ocean on a liner with my parents sometime in July, headed for the south of France. The flickering ecstasy of a long-ago memory is still there whenever I think back to those halcyon days and nights. Everyone dressed for dinner in black tie”except for the last night on board”and gel-haired, thuggish ignoramuses with fake tans, no manners, no taste, and no education were as rare as icebergs on the southern route to the Mediterranean. My father, being a shipowner, had us always seated at the captain’s table, along with the swells. It was a far cry from boarding schools like Lawrenceville and Blair.
We”d disembark in Cannes and head for the Carlton hotel, where old Dad always reserved King Farouk’s suite on the top floor. The days were spent at the Eden Roc, in Antibes, the nights listening to the great Sidney Bechet playing his clarinet in Juan-les-Pins. For a 15-year-old it was heaven, and I returned to it time and again once freed from the Sing Sing of New Jersey. It lasted until 1980″the Riviera, that is”and then it turned into a hellhole, a malodorous cesspit, one that resembles Dante’s eighth ring of Hell in excrement and then some. Where once upon a time there were geraniums, trees heavy with lemons, bougainvillea lining the sun-bleached terra-cotta walls, and stately Mediterranean-style villas overlooking the bays, now there are horrid giant apartment complexes filled to the brim with Algerians and sub-Saharan types throwing their garbage out their windows, while the once-azure waters have nearly turned black, the only living thing in the water being the occasional tart thrown overboard by an irate Arab zillionaire.
Okay, I am exaggerating a bit, but what the hell. The ruination of the French Riviera by greedy developers and vulgar nouveaux riches is a body blow very hard to recover from. I invested 35 summers and I hate to think the amount of money, and now I have nothing to show for it but a distant memory of an F. Scott Fitzgerald period. And even sailing near the place is no good. Hundreds of mega-stinkpots owned by Arabs and Russians now cruise around the French coast, all loaded with extremely annoying Jet Skis that buzz around one’s boat 24/7. Sailing down the Italian coast is slightly better, but not much. Last time I sailed into Capri and went into town for a drink five years ago, I thought I had landed in Shanghai the day the Japanese army overran it. Thousands of Chinese tourists marching in step scared my guests and me into hiding in a smelly cellar, until I had my captain bring me the flag I fly on Bushido, that of the Rising Sun, the Chinese tourist army immediately bowing low to us and offering to wash our clothes and underwear.
So where do Takimag readers go this summer? Certainly not to France or Italy, unless you wear a tablecloth on your head and sheets cover your body. If I lived in the Northeast of America I”d go to Maine. You might get chewed up by mosquitoes and be lectured by left-wing matrons wearing sandals on the evils of conservatism, but what the heck, it beats having Russians propositioning your female cook and offering her expensive jewels. But if you”d like to see a bit of the Old World, come to”where else?”where it all began, Hellas herself. Fly into Athens and go straight to some ferryboat that will take you to the islands. Do not go to Mykonos unless you are gay, smoke pot nonstop, and have lots of penicillin with you. Do not go to Spetses”the Greeks there derive from Albania and are rude. Go to Paros and Antiparos, on the Aegean side, or try where Taki comes from, the Ionian Islands of Corfu, Cephalonia, Paxos and Antipaxos, Ithaca, and Zakynthos. The waters are to die for, the people friendly and educated due to never having been under the Turkish yoke, only under the Venetians and the Brits. The waters are perfect everywhere except the harbor of Corfu. Have a good summer.