Stinky Parisians; Stalking Tina
First thewedding, and a very pretty one it was. Princess Alexia of Greece, 33, the eldestchild of ex-King Constantine of the Hellenes and Queen Anne Marie, married CarlosMorales Quintana, 28, a Spaniard and a commoner. The wedding took place lastFriday in London, and every crowned head of Europe-and just as many uncrownedones-turned up in their finest. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Prince Charleswithout Camilla, King Juan Carlos of Spain and Queen Sophia, the King of Sweden,the Queen of Denmark, the King and Queen of Norway, the Queen of Holland...There hasn't been such a gathering of royals since 1995, for yet another Greekroyal wedding, that of Greek Crown Prince Pavlos to New Yorker Marie-Chantal Miller, daughter of Robert Miller of duty-free fame.
The reasonsEuropean royals eagerly attend Greek royal weddings are easy to guess: The Greekroyals have been treated outrageously and unjustly by the crook politicianswho have ruled my country for the last 20 years. I will get to that in a minute,but first a word about the bride. She was born in Corfu during a most turbulentperiod, and was exiled as a child to London, where she majored in history andbecame a teacher. She received her master's degree and has since devoted her life to helping children with Down's syndrome. There is no finer, sweeter girlthan Alexia, a person who has spent her life trying to help those less fortunatethan herself. Two nights before the wedding, the King threw a brilliant ballin Bridgewater House, overlooking St. James' and Green Park, one that, alas,saw this writer end up underneath the proverbial table. Too much firewater hasbeen known to be my problem, and the last thing I remember was Juan Carlos ofSpain laughing as I quietly slipped underneath. Apparently I missed a terrificparty, under a brilliant starry night, a rare occasion in rainy London. Oh,well, the King has three more children, so I can make amends next time. Or thetime after.
But backto more serious stuff, and the funeral. No person died, just one more Greekfreedom. Stratis Stratigis is an ex-member of Parliament, an ex-minister anduntil Friday president of the 2004 Athens Olympics Organizing Committee. Stratisand I go back a long way. We were in elementary school together and have stayedfriends ever since. Heading the organizing of the Olympics is a mammoth task.Greeks have many strong points, but organization is not one of them. Stratigiswas picked for the job because he had been a successful minister in past governments,and he also has a reputation for honesty, an extremely uncommon trait amongpoliticians in the birthplace of selective democracy. (Stratigis has privatewealth and refused a salary.)
Two weeksago he was called in by the present Greek prime minister, the Socialist CostasSimitis, and was told in no uncertain terms that he should not attend the wedding.Stratis told me that when he first heard he thought Simitis was joking. Notin the least, as it turned out. Stratigis, following his conscience, resignedon the spot. Ten other MPs of the opposition right of center party, who wereplanning to attend, were warned that their careers were on the line. A few bravesouls told party whips to shove it and flew to London. Why does Athens persistwith its childish vendetta against King Constantine? Easy. Though modern Greecehas been an intermittent monarchy since 1830, Greek kings have played an heroicpart in leading my country in times of war. When England faced the Axis powersalone, Constantine's uncle, George II, and father, Paul I, inspired a smallnation to put up the most brilliant defense against monstrous odds. Who of mygeneration can forget the 1940 cartoon showing the modern Greeks led by theKing defending the pass against the Italians, with Leonidas and the 300 Spartansin ghostly reinforcement at their sides? Compare this with what Andreas Papandreou,the king's nemesis, now politicking in that sauna-like place below, did duringthe war. He was a male nurse in Florida, having avoided the draft by registeringin an American college. (Clinton would have been proud of such a move).
Ergo, politiciansfear Greek kings. Kings don't steal, politicians do. Kings are apolitical, politiciansare pure political animals. Kings try to serve all the people, politicians takecare only of those who have voted for them. King Constantine's property-incidentallypaid for by his grandfather, not given to the family by a grateful nation-hasbeen confiscated, his passport taken away and he and his family have been declarednon-Greeks. What I don't understand is how a Greek can suddenly become a non-Greek.Constantine was born in Athens in 1940, won a gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympicsin sailing-the first Greek to win one in 50 years-and suddenly a bunch of crookslike Papandreou and his socialists-Time ran a cover under the heading"The Looting of Greece"-decide he no longer exists.
And it getsworse. Constantine lost his throne when he led a countercoup against the colonelswho overthrew the government in 1967. When democracy was restored in 1974, theKing was not allowed to return by the very same politicians who had not lifteda finger to resist the colonels. If you think the Clinton-Starr saga has thingstopsy-turvy, with the draft-dodger emerging as a victim and the saintly Starras the bad guy, you should try Greek politics.
Now a childhoodfriend of the King is forced to resign because he accepted an invitation tothe wedding of his friend's daughter. Is this Kafka or what? What Human RightsWatch or Amnesty International should do is the following: Force the socialistcrooks to lift the vindictive ban on the royal family's right to travel to Greece.Restore to the King of the Hellenes not only his passport but also his estatesin Athens and central Greece, and that includes Mon Repos, the family home inCorfu and birthplace of Prince Philip. If there is such a thing as justice,Greece should be forced to grant it to its most patriotic citizen. The daysof people becoming nonpersons are long gone in Russia, but not, it seems, inGreece.
Tina Brown's Stalk Tina Browndescribes Talk, the glossy magazine she's launching next month, as "thefirst great magazine for the new millennium." This raises the question:Why, then, isn't it a new media publication? If James Cramer can walk away fromTheStreet.com's IPO with $200 million, Tina Brown could easily pocket half abillion on Talk.com.
Unfortunately,the big spender from Little Marlowe is very much a creature of the old media.Launching an expensive print magazine in 1999 is the equivalent of unveilinga new spinning wheel after the invention of the spinning jenny. I predict Disney/Hearstwill hit the Delete button within 18 months.
This isa pity, not least because I was planning to do a parody of Talk. Justbefore Brill's Content launched last year, it put up a website advertisingthe forthcoming magazine's attractions, and my idea was to do a parody of Talk'spromotional website. However, it turns out Talk isn't bothering withthe Internet. If you go to www.talk.com you're confronted with a site for ane-commerce telecommunications provider that describes itself as "the newhub for online and offline communications." As far as I can tell, Tina"Hand-loom Weaver" Brown has decided against any Internet presencewhatsoever. ("A new magazine for the old millennium" is more likeit.)
A littlemore than a year ago I was embroiled in a lawsuit with Harold Evans, who wasthreatening to sue me for libel in the UK following a piece I'd written forthe British Spectator. One of the demands he was making, as a conditionof dropping the suit, was that I sign an undertaking whereby I promised to "desistforthwith from further defaming, denigrating and ridiculing" him and hiswife, Tina Brown. In effect, he wanted to legally prevent me from writing abouteither of them ever again.Naturally, I told him to fuck off, and after a gooddeal of huffing and puffing he eventually backed down. It seemed extraordinarythat the editorial director of the New York Daily News, and someone whoprides himself on his commitment to free speech, should have attempted to dosomething so contrary to the First Amendment. (It turned out he had managedto impose an identical gag order on the editor of the British satirical magazinePrivate Eye some years earlier.) My main reason for doing the parodywas to show the New York power couple that their attempt to silence me had failed.
At one stage,Evans described me as a "journalistic stalker," so I was going tocall the parody Stalk. (The alternatives were Tank and ShutUp.) I had a number of provocative ideas. For instance, I was going to includean extract from The American Century, Evans' big millennium book, andindicate that it was part one of 20. This isn't as far-fetched as it sounds.One of Evans' responsibilities as Mort Zuckerman's lackey is to oversee USNews & World Report. Last year, Evans got into a fight with US Newseditor James Fallows after Fallows refused to publish a four-part serializationof The American Century. Evans fired him shortly afterward.
Anotheridea was to include a page of Miriam Weinstein's favorite recipes. Miriam Weinstein,as I'm sure you know, is Harvey and Bob's beloved mother, and the recipes weregoing to be for things like chocolate-covered donuts and deep-fried matzoh balls.The idea, obviously, was to draw attention to the fact that Harvey's a fat bastard.
However,the main target was going to be Tina herself.
I had varioustricks up my sleeve. One idea was to get hold of some of Brown's old articles,cross out her byline and submit them for publication in Talk. In Lifeas a Party, an anthology of Brown's weightier stuff, there's a fascinating,thought-provoking essay entitled "Lift-Off: The Fabulous Life and Timesof the Baron and Baroness di Portanova." I was intending to submit thisto David Kuhn-who plays Peter Lorre to Brown's femme fatale-then reprint itin Stalk with Kuhn's rejection letter underneath.
One of Talk'sscintillating features, apparently, is going to be "Conversations whichhave changed history." When I first heard this I thought: Uh-oh, Talkis going to make the George mistake of allowing the title to dictatethe entire magazine's contents. Nevertheless, this would have given me an excuseto publish a transcript of an imaginary conversation between Steve Florio, HarveyWeinstein and Ron Galotti in a back room of the Four Seasons last Memorial Day.
STEVE: Fellas,I got a problem. Dis fuckin' broad, Tina. She's goin' round tellin' everyoneit's my fault her piece-a-shit magazine is losin' 11 million bucks a year. Myfault! Da balls on this broad! I'm tellin' ya, it's gettin' to be a real fuckin'problem. (beat) Match me, Ron.
(Ron Galottidarts forward and lights Steve's Cohiba.)
STEVE:Anyways,you got any suggestions?
HARVEY:Am I right in tinkin' dis broad's a big fan a da bidness?
RON:Youkiddin'? She's obsessed.
STEVE: What'swith dat, anyway?
RON: Somethin'about her ol' man bein' a failed movie producer, or somethin'. You knows, onea dem father-daughter type tings, like in Twister.
HARVEY:(snapping to attention) Hold it a second. We could use dat.
HARVEY:When's her contract up?
STEVE: Enda June, why?
HARVEY:Okay, hows about dis...
I'm stillconvinced that Talk is a scheme cooked up by Florio, Weinstein and Galotti-wiseguywannabes one and all-to humiliate Brown. As one insider put it when asked abouthow long he gave Brown and Weinstein's partnership: "Litigation in 18 months."Some things, it seems, just aren't worth parodying.
The French Stink "Howcan they stink so, the Parisians! I am sure I read in the paper some years agothat not 11 percent of the flats in Paris have bathrooms."
Thus exclaimedthe Baroness Sophie, unintentionally betraying her advanced age, which she otherwisestrives artfully to conceal. We were having a late-afternoon Vittel in the Tuileriesunder the shade of a little trellised pavilion, which itself had a somewhatmusty smell.
"Ishould have thought the hygiene of the Parisians has become rather good,"I said. "I mean, the Metro is actually bearable these days. Twenty yearsago it smelled like three-day-old underclothes and burnt rubber. Today it greetsthe nose with an almost floral bouquet."
"Well,I haven't been down there recently," she replied, "but I expect thatmight have something to do with the perfume they've started pumping into thestations."
As usual,the Baroness had her facts wrong. Perfume is not being "pumped into"Paris Metro stations. It is, as of earlier this year, being added to the waxthat is used to clean the platforms. The scent is named Madeleine, after oneof the more malodorous stations, and it is meant to spread flowery notes ofcountryside, woods, flowers and fruit throughout the system. As an amateur osphresiologist,I'd say it is a smashing success, and one worthy of emulation by New York.
Osphresiologyis the science of smells. Osphresiologists know that the human nose, thoughless acute than its counterparts elsewhere in the animal kingdom, is capableof distinguishing some 10,000 different odors. A great many of these odors are pleasurable. A great many more are not.
In cities,the latter have historically tended to predominate. Piles of refuse and offalputrefied; chamber pots were emptied into the streets; breaking wind in publicwas an accepted practice. (Benjamin Franklin proposed that scientists look forsubstances that could be added to the human diet to render farts fragrant-oneof the great expressions of the Enlightenment belief in progress.) Standardsof personal cleanliness were deplorable. As recently as the 19th century, accordingto the historian Alain Corbin, most French women died without ever having takena bath.
Cities,and the people in them, started to get less smelly after Pasteur discoveredthe dangers of bacteria. But in the case of New York, I sometimes wonder justhow much headway has been made. Entire areas of the city retain their own characteristicmiasmas. Sometimes this is understandable. "Hold your nose, we're goingthrough Canarsie!" the kids on the subway used to yell, alluding to thegarbage dump that graced that Brooklyn neighborhood. Parts of upper Broadwaycan smell a bit like a toilet, depending on how the wind is blowing-an entirelypredictable consequence of the city's decision to locate a sewage-treatmentplant just to the west on the Hudson River. Perhaps they should have put a giantAir Wick next to it. The odor of sewage is always unpleasant, if somewhat lessso in garlic-eating nations like Italy.
Other neighborhoodeffluvia are more mysterious. I have no idea, for instance, why the Upper WestSide smells like an old person's bedroom. It just does.
Apartmentbuildings in the Naked City also have their olfactory stories to tell. It frequentlyastonishes out-of-towners just how peculiarly odoriferous they can be, evenin expensive neighborhoods. In some cases the bouquet is tinged with the vestigial smell of a decomposing cadaver. New Yorkers are dying all the time, and if theylive alone the event often goes undiscovered until their bodies are seriouslyputrescent. Once this odor pervades a building, it is almost impossible to get rid of, lingering on for months and even years.
People frequentlytake an odd-and unsharable-pleasure in the odors that their own bodies produce.Virginia Woolf liked to lick her kneecap and then sniff it, fascinated thatthe resulting smell resembled sour milk. Marcel, the narrator of Proust's novel,describes his chamber pot as "a vase of aromatic perfume" after eatingasparagus.
Humans generatemore smells than they realize, and these add up to a personalized "odorprint" that may be more or less pronounced. Women tend to be better atdetecting such emanations than men; their sense of smell is especially keenduring ovulation, when estrogen levels peak. Blind people sometimes have especiallywell-developed olfactory abilities. The former New Yorker writer VedMehta, sightless from childhood, would reportedly do a bit of sniffing in thepresence of a young female intern and then inquire, "Are you having yourperiod today?"
Happilyfor the rest of us, some individuals are endowed with what can only be callednatural perfume. One of these is Tina Brown. In an article in last month's LiteraryReview, Christopher Hitchens referred to her as "ethereally fragrant."That is typical Hitchens understatement. In fact, Brown's fragrant exhalationscan perfume an entire room, as visitors to the offices of Talk will attest.I would describe it as approximating the lemon fragrance of guelder roses.
No suchthing, I regret to say, is true of the Baroness Sophie, whose own person isredolent of mothballs and rhino-gomenol. But it would be an impertinence forme to point this out to her, even as she goes on fulminating against the supposedmalodorousness of ordinary Parisians. So instead I tell her that it is pureaffectation for anyone to complain of smells who keeps two spaniels.
"Ohis it, mon cher monsieur l'Americain?" she replies, giving me anicy stare (which is refreshing on this unseasonably warm afternoon).
But easyamiability is presently restored, and at my suggestion the two of us head offfor the Bois to smell the acacias. They are quite fragrant at the moment.
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