June 14, 2014

Wendi Deng

Gstaad—A slight bump at 30,000 feet concentrates the mind, as the good Dr. Johnson said about an appointment with the gallows. Halfway over the Atlantic and lost in a fantasy, I came back in a hurry as the plane shook and trembled, yet my first thought was to show off, pretend I hadn’t noticed, exhibit a kind of brazen indifference while my co-passengers nervously tightened their seatbelts. It was only a bump, the nose dipped and then pulled up rather violently, but it lasted less than half a minute, hence my bravado. (I suspect the automatic pilot was the culprit.)

They say that when one is about to die, one’s life flashes before him. Not necessarily true. Although I’ve lived through cataclysmic times, I’ve always thought my life was rather uneventful. Once upon a time sport and the fair sex filled the bill, but the inner Taki also got his pleasure from Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Jo Stafford, Elvis, Wolfgang Amadeus, Ludwig van, Schumann, Puccini, Verdi, Wagner, Hopper, Rockwell, Degas, Tolstoy, Papa, Fitzgerald, O’Hara, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Fred and Ginger, Rockefeller Center, the Marine Corps, Patton, MacArthur, Rommel, Manteuffel, even Richard Nixon. Talk about middle-of-the-road stuff, I’ve never deviated from it. But tastes are always a-changing, and I find myself always in the minority. Actually I love it. Running with the pack I find humiliating, and texting my precious time away I consider a dress rehearsal for a visit to Hades. None of the above flashed through my mind, however, but the good news is it relieved the boredom of modern travel, if only for a minute.

“Yet the greatest con where love, sex, and desire are concerned is the fiction that one does not suffer as much at 70 as one did at 18. In fact the itch never goes away and nothing changes where matters of the heart are concerned.”

Afterward, while cruising comfortably, I thought of the great irony of life: Fear of dying. Whereas it should afflict only the dashing young, it doesn’t, it’s the oldies that become obsessed with it. Yeats said that bodily decrepitude is wisdom. Much too easy, says the Greek sage. Ambition might be lessened, passion diminished, interests narrowed, but a creaky body does not a wise man make. To the contrary. It breeds fear of adventure. In Normandy last week we honored the dead, and rightly so because they were all young. Too much attention was given to those who survived, and no mention was made of the defenders, who were outnumbered and outgunned, but who died bravely for a lost cause because duty demanded it. One good thing about being old is one no longer holds back. And why hold back? Unpopularity is the antithesis of political correctness.

It is said that no one asks to be born, but I say how disappointing it would be not to have been born at all. Looking back, I sometimes ask myself if my so-called golden youth years were as magical as they seem fifty years on. Falling in love nonstop, which one did as a young man, now seems a bit dated, even unromantic. Yet the greatest con where love, sex, and desire are concerned is the fiction that one does not suffer as much at 70 as one did at 18. In fact the itch never goes away and nothing changes where matters of the heart are concerned. What does change is the desire to control other people’s behaviour.

Yet it’s only old men, people like Cheney and that horror Madeleine Albright (yes, she’s a man underneath the makeup) and the rest of the ugly neocons who wage war. Looking at the lineup of our leaders in Normandy last weekend, only three stood out, three queens, those of Britain, Denmark, and Holland. The new president of the Ukraine looked straight out of central casting, Rocco in Key Largo or Duke Mantee in The Petrified Forest. Better yet, Al Capone. Putin was exactly like the elephant in a small room that everyone tries to ignore. The joke is on them. And what jokesters these men are; the circus would have been far more appropriate than the beaches of Normandy. Hollande looked like a waiter in ’Allo ’Allo!. He was priceless.

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