My chalet lies far above the village of Gstaad, but I happened to be ‘en ville’ when I heard the pleasant sounds of an oompah band and saw the Swiss burghers dressed up in their finest Lederhosen marching through. It was a magnificent morning, the mountains glistening in the sun, the air fresh and clean, the kind of day Papa Hemingway could describe like no other. An elderly but very friendly American man asked me if a war had been declared. Nothing special, I told him, just the day the cows are brought down from their pastures up high. In America they call it fife and drums, which has a military angle to it, hence the question of the Yank, who was obviously joking. Seven hundred years of armed neutrality has kept the Swiss out of European wars and — unlike the neocon-inspired American foreign disasters — the Swiss mind their own business and do not engage in faraway adventures trying to introduce democracy and other such alien notions to people who chop off thieving hands and cover up their women.
Yes, Switzerland is a paradise of sorts, but the plague of immigration from Africa and the East is threatening the cities. The politically correct Swiss authorities do not permit crime to be reported by colour, race or nationality. All I can tell you is that the Swiss do not commit crimes, but people in Switzerland now do. The EU, in the meantime, blackmails the Swiss Confederation non-stop, eager to force the Swiss to join the happy gang of thieves in Brussels, something good old Helvetia has resisted until now by constantly giving in to various treaties concerning tax, banking laws, open borders, immigration and other such horrors imposed on us by scum in Belgium and Strasbourg. It’s very simple. The cities of Switzerland are for joining the crooks, the great German-speaking countryside wants to stay Swiss, neutral and independent. Needless to say, I have not set foot in a Swiss city in a long time. I drive by them on the way to an airport, and that’s it. Call it escapism or cowardice or whatever. As someone wisely once said, why eat at McDonald’s when you can have caviar at home, or words to that effect. (It was Paul Newman on fooling around with women, and he referred to his wife as steak.)
And speaking of caviar, I threw a birthday party at home last week, one that might not have matched the elevated gastronomic estate of Talleyrand dining the ranking ministers at the Congress of Vienna, but one that came close. It was the mother of my children who organised it, disobeying my orders to offer little to weight-watchers but dried fruit and retsina. Being an Austrian, she tried to emulate the dining habits of the aforementioned ministers in Vienna and to my horror she almost succeeded. What is lousy about birthdays at my age is not hard to figure out. What is good is that one has only good friends at home, and none of that super-phoney air-kissing parody of the grand manner that is the celebrity bash nowadays — hookers, touts, fakes, wannabes, pretenders and posturing nobodies — takes place.
We were 38 for dinner under the stars, and on 11 August it was the night of falling stars, like the birthday boy himself. I sat next to Lara Livanos, wife of Peter, a great friend who brought me a sculpture of a Samurai to go along with his priceless gift of a Samurai sword. Peter and Lara Livanos live just above me in a wonderful chalet that houses part of his classic car collection and other goodies. Peter is the kind of man Gstaad could use more of. He bought the Kennedy school and has turned it into a first-rate place of learning, and does countless other good deeds for the community. No show-off, he downplays his charity work, and on this particular evening he exhibited a great sense of humour as I made non-stop bad-taste jokes. Lara is a Brit, born in Kenya, whose father it is said was the inspiration for Papa Hemingway’s white hunter in his great The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. I believe every word that Papa ever wrote, I told Lara. ‘Your old man must have done the wife of a client, otherwise Hem would not have made it up.’ ‘Only after the client chickened out,’ said Lara giggling. It was fiction, after all. My friend John Sutin sat one away from me making puns non-stop, even as Chaz and Druziana Price arrived late from Porto Fino. ‘Porto Tardo,’ said John.
My daughter gave a sweet and funny speech and gave me some oranges, a reminder that on her 10th birthday I had come up from a Palm Beach tennis trip with a bag of oranges as a present. ‘Thanks, Daddy.’ Friends rang from all over, even my old Davis Cup doubles partner from Costa Rica. I was touched that people remembered, and as the night closed in under the stars it got chilly. For all but the birthday boy. After pink champagne, white and red wine, it was vodka time, and soon I was feeling no pain or cold. Everyone went to bed but I roamed the empty halls wishing the party was just starting. That’s how it is when something works. It’s like good sex. You want to do it all over again.