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High life

Roman holiday

Broadsides from the pirate captain of the Jet Set

22 October 2005

12:00 AM

22 October 2005

12:00 AM


Another bride, another groom, another sunny honeymoon, another season, another reason, for making whoopee… Like the song by Sammy Kahn, we made whoopee in Rome last weekend, the excuse being — yes, you guessed it — a wedding. Il Principe Boncompagni Ludovisi and his former wife Benedetta, born Barberini Colonna, married off their boy Bante to Delphina Lapham, daughter of two very old friends of mine, Lewis and Joan Lapham. Lou — as I call him because, although he’s posh, he has always fought for the underdog — was the star witness for the defence of the recent lawsuit by Roman Polanski against Vanity Fair. Which VF of course lost because it took place in the UK. As Graydon Carter wrote afterwards, it was hard to see how one could injure the reputation of a man who had pleaded guilty to statutory rape, had fled the country in which the outrage had taken place, and was now seeking damages for a story which mistakenly had him propositioning a woman at Elaine’s before the funeral of his murdered wife. Had I known about the case, I could have been of some assistance, but it’s just as well to let bygones be bygones.

The winter after the tragedy of Sharon Tate’s torture and murder, Polanski arrived for the first time in Gstaad. Despite not having many friends there, he was nevertheless made to feel welcome everywhere because of what he had gone through. It didn’t last. Within a month he was banned from the Eagle over a dalliance with a young girl, and then he and I had a falling out. It was nothing important, kid stuff really, but he did get Bruce Lee to fly all the way over from Hollywood to straighten me out. (Lee and I ended up being friends and training together. All this was written in these here pages 28 years ago.)

Actually, I wish Polanski well, especially now that he has rehabilitated Fagin with the great Ronald Harwood. Roman has always been a difficult character, and his problem was that, after the Tate murder, he thought the world owed him. Which it did, but it doesn’t always work that way. He never paid the price for what he did in California long ago, choosing to live in Europe instead, which may be the smartest thing he ever did. But back to the wedding.

The new Princess Boncompagni is a childhood friend of my daughter, and we will soon be related. My young son is also getting hitched, to the beautiful granddaughter of another grand Roman family, the Borgheses, so we will be back in Rome sometime next year for yet another wedding. This one will be tricky. It’s easy watching other young people get married, but, when it comes to one’s own, I no longer trust myself. So now the Taki brood has moved from Austrian nobles to Romans, a bit like Alaric the Visigoth, who in AD 410 moved to Rome and sacked the place.

The Palazzo Boncompagni is smack in the middle of Rome, with enormous gardens, Tiepolo and Caravaggio ceilings — the works. It’s grand, it’s impressive and it’s full of history. And another thing. Its genteel shabbiness is the perfect antidote to some of the expensive crap one sees nowadays flaunted in architectural glossies. I sat with the Radziwills and Laphams, and then moved to the Juventus table, where the real fun was. As they say, when in doubt, go to the table where the young are, and you can’t really go wrong.

Rome, of course, has to be the most beautiful city on earth, but it is plagued by tourists. In the middle of October the place was full of sandal-wearing gawkers and fat people in shorts, but what the hell, no one’s perfect, not even the Eternal City. In a strange way Rome is rather provincial, a place where no one works too hard or too much, a good place to retire to. It never became the embodiment of Western civilisation the way the Greek world did, but then it didn’t do too badly either. Of course, I love its aristocratic decadence most of all, along with the baths, amphitheatres, forums, palaces and the sweet life in general. In fact, I’ve often wondered how we Greeks, had we not imploded, would have handled the coming of our Lord Jesus. Greeks have always believed that God’s part in human life is not active but passive. The sinner is brought to destruction by hubris, in other words his own doing. Jesus’s teachings would not have disturbed them as it did the Romans. It was a Greek, after all, not a Jew, who first proclaimed that the name of moral evil is not envy but sin.

But enough of such talk. If you really want a cheap laugh, read about Jack Straw touring Alabama with Condi Rice trying to lift Bush’s poll ratings. If one asked the first 100,000 Alabamans in the telephone book who Jack Straw was, I’ll bet my last greenback no more than ten would know. Pensa ci, or go figure, as they used to say in Roma.

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