August 22, 2015

Patrick Balkany

Patrick Balkany

These are the languid, sensuous days of summer, and I’ve had another birthday, which is the bad news. But it’s the silly season, so I’m going to be silly yet again and tell you about a couple who got into trouble last week in the land of cheese: Patrick and Isabelle Balkany. I do not know them but had the bad luck to run into the wife around 20 years ago in Rolle, Switzerland, where the Rosey school is located. It was the first day of school in September, and my son J.T. was miserable to have to go to boarding school for the first time and had tried every trick in the book while his mother and I drove him down from Gstaad. He invented all sorts of illnesses and finally pretended to fall asleep just as we were coming into Le Chateau du Rosey, where the school has its campus in the autumn and spring. (In the winter months the school moves up to Gstaad.)

Once we registered him he was assigned to a newly built dormitory, which I almost had to carry him into. That’s when things got worse. An unpleasant, very short woman with a long cigarette in her mouth was in the room with her son, and she looked at us in the manner an Indian maharaja might have looked at an untouchable long ago. I tried some polite conversation about another Balkany, born Robert Zellinger but who called himself Robert de Balkany, a man I had played polo with and against in Paris. “He’s a relation,” said the woman, seemingly unimpressed by my name drop. She kept puffing away, so Alexandra and I had to leave our little boy in that smoke-filled room and beat a hasty retreat back up the mountain. We both felt like criminals. Four days later, after an unending amount of desperate telephone calls from our little boy, I rang the headmaster and had him change roommates. It seems the boy fidgeted too much at night and J.T. could never sleep.

“Inside he had spotted J.T.’s old roommate lying on the floor looking at an enormous poster of Elle Macpherson, doing what 13-year-old boys do.”

Two months into the school year, the French Minister of Culture, Jack Lang, I believe, visited Le Rosey and was taken by the head to inspect one of the new dorms. “Monsieur le Ministre, voici une typique chambre d’étudiant,” said the headmaster, opening one of the doors. Then he quickly slammed it shut. Inside he had spotted J.T.’s old roommate lying on the floor looking at an enormous poster of Elle Macpherson, doing what 13-year-old boys do. The story quickly got out and the dining room went wild. My son called me seeking justification for his bad grades, hinting that one cannot study when one’s roommate constantly plays with himself. “You were only with him for a few days,” I stammered, and then hung up laughing.

Well, last week Patrick and Isabelle Balkany had their passports taken away by the French authorities, who accused them of tax fraud and all sorts of corruption. Patrick Balkany is a very popular mayor of Levallois, and has been reelected many times. He is also a member of the French Parliament, but his parliamentary immunity has been lifted. He is obviously innocent until proved otherwise, but as far as the short smoker is concerned, it seems she had put grand country houses and other assets in companies that were formed for just such evasions, or so the French papers have written. My son’s ex-roommate of four days and nights has not been accused of anything, thank God, except the children have been called illegal beneficiaries. This story will run for a very long time, so I thought I’d stick my two cents in before the family becomes even more famous, or infamous, as the case may be.

Otherwise, everything’s hunky-dory. My son is sailing around the Aegean with his tiny children, my daughter is in Hampshire after flying into Paros for my birthday, and I’m about to start a short cruise on a friend’s boat before the Cunard–Spectator extravaganza. Summer can be exhausting. I fell throughout my own cruise and am covered in bruises. Sailing on old classics is not for the old. One loses balance as the years roll by, and this was a good preparation for the judo world championships in Amsterdam in September: trying to stand upright under heavy winds and under sail. The bad news is the boozing and smoking after the sailing are over. Here in Athens, things are strangely quiet. The calm before the you-know-what hits the fan in September. The capital is empty and I walk the streets at night devoid of the maddening Athenian traffic. I dine outdoors, can hear myself think, and reminisce of the time Athens was year-round the way it is at this moment. On the night of my return, at an outdoor restaurant in Kolonaki, where a very young Taki used to live, I dined while listening to a pianist play old tunes, songs I remember from long ago. Nostalgia swelled to tsunami levels. Outdoor piano bars can be dangerous things, especially when under the influence.


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