September 22, 2011
My good friend at the time was Jimmy Raye, a tall American pilot from California who got hit over Stuttgart and bailed just over the border near Zurich. He visited Gstaad, went bananas over the place, and built a small chalet for himself and his El Lay sweetheart who joined him after the war. Jimmy once broke his arm—I heard it break—when he hit a boulder while skiing. He went to see the doc, had the arm placed in a cast, and went skiing with me again after lunch. He was a lady’s man and his El Lay sweetheart turned a blind eye until he got too involved with some gal I was also romancing. Just about that time the dollar began its long downward spiral, so the sweetheart talked him into going back to sunny California where the livin’ was easy and also cheaper. I was heartbroken, but what the hell? The Americans were busy fighting useless wars in Vietnam and spending lotsa moolah at home to keep the poor black folk happy and in burgers. The dollar sank, the Swiss franc rose, and I lost a good buddy. Jimmy died about twenty-five years ago, and the sweetheart wrote me about how much Jimmy had appreciated the fun we had together in Gstaad when life was cheap and the girls rather friendly.
Now chalets in Gstaad go for 25 to 50 to 100 million francs. One franc is worth about 80 American cents; again, you do the math. There are no Jimmy types around, and the ones that can afford such chalets do not ski, yours truly being an exception. I have “catastrophic arthritis” on both ankles according to my very nice doctor. I limp all over the place but still kick the bag and punch the makiwara. It’s called refusing to accept the inevitable, but what the hell? It’s better than sitting around with the ghastly nouveaux riches who are pouring in here like North Africans sailing into Lampedusa. The only good news is that my friends Wafic and Rosemary Said have bought a place and will be coming. Wafic had a place in Courchevel, but after a couple of Russian crook oligarchs had their flunkies shoot at each other while they were in the middle of dinner, Wafic decided Gstaad might be safer. It is and it isn’t. Boredom can kill one as easily as a Russian crook’s stray bullet, although the latter is quicker.
Yes, I’m worried about Gstaad’s future because of the coarseness of today’s rich, who instead of copying their betters take their manners from Hollywood movies and the music industry. Hawk-eyed hucksters are roaming the globe advertising the fact that for $25 million one can buy a small three-bedroom apartment in the village of Gstaad. And in the morning, if one’s lucky and does not need glasses to read the small print, one can see tiny Bernie Ecclestone in person buying the newspapers in the railway station. Such are the small joys, but not for long.