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High life

In decline

Broadsides from the pirate captain of the Jet Set

31 May 2003

12:00 AM

31 May 2003

12:00 AM

New York

One more week in the Bagel and then on to good old London for two balls, a wedding and a cricket match. The latter will be a rout, as Zac Goldsmith’s Eleven are bound to do a good imitation of Iraq’s Republican Guard when up against Tim Hanbury’s supermen. Although I do not know the rules and cannot keep score, I was man of the match last year – not out – despite my captain’s decision to substitute me in the middle of my heroics. (Goldsmith moolah obviously got to him.) This year I plan a repeat as I am one year older and as a result much wiser.

Actually, I am looking forward to my return. I’ve missed my English male friends almost as much as I’ve missed the way upper-class English girls give it away like a frisbee. American women who know how to hold a fork properly are at times much too uptight; others, who hold it as if they were drilling a hole in the wall, are too downmarket. Only Southern belles are any good, but I live in the Bagel. And speaking of nice girls, Jonathan Aitken’s daughter Victoria has been living in the Bagel pursuing a music and writing career, and in turn is being pursued by a Greek prince. I gave a dinner for Tracy Lee Simmons, author of Climbing Parnassus – the best book on why Greek and Latin are all-important – and Victoria charmed everyone with her sweet manner. Tracy Simmons told me a ghastly story about his book. A top American publisher was very hot to have it, but insisted that the words Parnassus, Greek and Latin could not appear on the cover. ‘People will be turned off…’


How very typical. On my trip back from Los Angeles, I went up and down the aeroplane on a wager with myself. Not one single person except for a small child (he was looking at a comic book) was reading. Everyone was either listening to ghastly rock and moving their heads like cattle, or gawking at some crappy Hollywood junk on the small screen. The end of Western civilisation will not come because of terrorist nukes, but because we are no longer rooted in Christianity, ancient Greece and Rome. Our cultural and moral decay are due to the spread of porn, the violence of movies and the breakdown of marriage. And because we no longer read.

While staying with my daughter I picked up Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals and caught up with some greats of the good Dr Paul. What struck me was the way the author handled Ernest Hemingway. Papa has always been my hero, despite his personal failings like telling whoppers, cheating on his wives – a plus – and his excessive drinking – almost a plus. For some of you who may have missed it, Johnson’s take on intellectuals is an examination of the moral credentials of leading eggheads to give advice on how we should conduct our affairs. Is do as I say not as I do valid? I think so, although when it comes to a total phony like Lillian Hellman I’m not so sure. Harold Bloom, in his book on geniuses, describes Papa as a minor novelist with a major style. An author who is better suited to short stories. Again, I ain’t so sure. Hemingway’s characters were full of lyric intensity, tragic but neurotic heroes. The only difference between them and ancient Greek stalwarts was that the former asked why when tragedy struck. The latter accepted their fate because the gods decreed it.

They say that Hemingway is back in vogue, and it’s about time. Fostered by political correctness, misandry and the manly values he embraced, he has been consigned to the doghouse all these years. But it was all crap. Hemingway’s place in the canon is secure, and he will always be an inspiration to those who believe in a once glorious soldier ethic. And he was also a superstar, not one of the gross, divalikes of today, but the real McCoy. Like Byron. Here’s writer Jeffrey Meyers in Chronicles magazine on the two:

Both men were powerful and astonishingly attractive to women, brilliant talkers as well as attentive listeners. They were great athletes, had their own boats, and kept a managerie of animals. Both felt fasting intensified their mental powers but were heavy drinkers, lived most of their adult lives abroad, and spoke foreign languages fluently but incorrectly. They were attracted to military life and proved by their deeds that an author could also be a hero. Both achieved early fame and became legendary, charismatic figures, idolised by compatriots and their adopted countrymen. They left a permanent mark on their age and culture. Like Byron, Hemingway preferred to die rather than to drag on an existence with faculties impaired, and feeling blunted.

Hear, hear! Just like some of our present midgets, wouldn’t you say? Salman Rushdie, for example, but I better not go on. This is the year I’ve decided to be nice.


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