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High life

Six decades and two chat-up lines

In 1958 I picked up a woman in a bar. What happened next has taken a while to play out...

23 August 2014

9:00 AM

23 August 2014

9:00 AM


In this freewheeling Swiss village of the 1950s, the unconventional was the norm and monumental drinking commonplace, but the manners of the players were always impeccable. Yes, there were ladies of lower-class parentage and with a dubious past, but they covered it up with a grand manner and an affected aristocratic confidence they had learned through experience. That’s how things were back then. The slags that pass as celebrities today would not have lasted a minute. Some might think it snobby, but it was nothing of the kind. One just had to act in a certain manner and that is all. Everyone knew where everyone else came from, so it wasn’t even a pretence. It was just a disciplined way of living that had nothing to do with whether one lived within or outside the rules. Men remained married whether they had mistresses or not — as did women, even if they took lovers. Divorce was as much of a no-no as swearing in public or calling a lady of easy virtue a tart.

Am I being too idealistic about a period that was so long ago? Of course I am, but then one always remembers the good and tends to forget the bad. Aged 22 or even younger, I hung out at the Palace Hotel’s grill every night. That’s where it all took place. There was a bar and a tiny dance area and a large dining room, and that was that. There was no nightclub, and the music was soft and only for dancing — dancing up close, that is. Which means the Palace grill was the perfect place to pick up women. One such lady and I hooked up back in 1958 for a very brief and innocent romance. And now I’ll move to the present.

Maya Schoenburg, ex-Flick, has the same birthday as Napoleon, 15 August, so we all gathered at Mick Flick’s chalet for a party. Mick and Maya have remained close because they have three children together and because both are extremely nice and civilised. The party was all Flicks and Schoenburgs with some very young members of the latter. Alexander (Maya’s brother) Schoenburg’s children are straight out of the 1950s, or even the 1920s, with high collars, perfect manners and Elvis-type haircuts that make them look as though they are from a far better period than today. I drank wonderful wine, and heard mostly German from some very nice-looking young kids. I was in my element. We of course talked about the two world wars and of the great tank ace Obersturmführer Michael Wittmann, who with his dreaded Tiger tank spread fear and death until he was killed towards the end of the Normandy campaign. (Wittmann was a legend among his enemies both on the Eastern and Western fronts, and I think that Rundstedt should have retired him, but then I don’t think that Wittmann would have obeyed the order.)

So, some of you Germanophiles will get the picture: a civilised evening with great food and wine among the new German generation that look like a past one: blond, blue-eyed and Nordic. The looks alone would get one arrested in any modern city nowadays, if you know what I mean. Afterwards, there was no question of going home with the wife, so I ventured to the Palace grill, where to my delight I ran into two very old buddies, Elias Mavroleon and John Sutin, both in their cups and celebrating nothing in particular. Near us stood two beautiful girls in their late teens (as it turned out they were 18 and 19). I spoke to the 18-year-old, told her I’d just had my 78th birthday, and that 60 years mean nothing when one is truly in love. She looked nervous but acquiesced to my theory. Well, there’s not much to tell. I ordered the bridal suite to be prepared, ordered champagne and the usual, and announced that love has neither borders nor age limits. Apparently, I announced all that rather loudly, and my great friend Andrea, the night concièrge, gently escorted me to a car in which John Sutin took me home.

End of story, but not quite. The next morning while I was sleeping the sleep of the innocent and those who are in love, the mother of my children received a telephone call from Cookie Springer, a close friend of hers who was married to the son of the German tycoon and publisher. ‘Do you know what your husband was up to last night?’ I hate to think, said the MOMC. ‘Well,’ said my wife’s friend, ‘my daughter Zoe rang me early this morning and asked me if I knew a man called Taki. I told her that I knew him very well and that, once upon a time, he was very attractive and embarrassed me greatly while I was lunching with my grandfather and mother by making pig-like noises and looking at my legs.’ ‘So,’ replied the MOMC, ‘last night Taki ran after Zoe all night swearing eternal love and putting all sorts of ideas in her head. To tell you the truth, I think it’s all very funny.’ Needless to say, the story went around with the usual remarks about there being no fool like an old fool, etc.

But what the great John Q. Public didn’t know is that Zoe is the granddaughter of the lady I met at the grill and had a very brief and innocent romance with 56 years ago. One never knows, but 20 years or so from now Zoe might have a daughter and…

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