One Wedding & A Funeral First the wedding, and a very pretty one it was. Princess Alexia of Greece, 33, the eldest child of ex-King Constantine of the Hellenes and Queen Anne Marie, married Carlos Morales Quintana, 28, a Spaniard and a commoner. The wedding took place last Friday in London, and every crowned head of Europe?and just as many uncrowned ones?turned up in their finest. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Prince Charles without 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 Greek royal wedding, that of Greek Crown Prince Pavlos to New Yorker Marie-Chantal Miller, daughter of Robert Miller of duty-free fame.
The reasons European royals eagerly attend Greek royal weddings are easy to guess: The Greek royals have been treated outrageously and unjustly by the crook politicians who 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 turbulent period, and was exiled as a child to London, where she majored in history and became 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 girl than Alexia, a person who has spent her life trying to help those less fortunate than herself. Two nights before the wedding, the King threw a brilliant ball in Bridgewater House, overlooking St. James' and Green Park, one that, alas, saw this writer end up underneath the proverbial table. Too much firewater has been known to be my problem, and the last thing I remember was Juan Carlos of Spain laughing as I quietly slipped underneath. Apparently I missed a terrific party, 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 the time after.
But back to more serious stuff, and the funeral. No person died, just one more Greek freedom. Stratis Stratigis is an ex-member of Parliament, an ex-minister and until Friday president of the 2004 Athens Olympics Organizing Committee. Stratis and I go back a long way. We were in elementary school together and have stayed friends ever since. Heading the organizing of the Olympics is a mammoth task. Greeks have many strong points, but organization is not one of them. Stratigis was 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 among politicians in the birthplace of selective democracy. (Stratigis has private wealth and refused a salary.)
Two weeks ago he was called in by the present Greek prime minister, the Socialist Costas Simitis, 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. Not in the least, as it turned out. Stratigis, following his conscience, resigned on the spot. Ten other MPs of the opposition right of center party, who were planning to attend, were warned that their careers were on the line. A few brave souls told party whips to shove it and flew to London. Why does Athens persist with its childish vendetta against King Constantine? Easy. Though modern Greece has been an intermittent monarchy since 1830, Greek kings have played an heroic part in leading my country in times of war. When England faced the Axis powers alone, Constantine's uncle, George II, and father, Paul I, inspired a small nation to put up the most brilliant defense against monstrous odds. Who of my generation can forget the 1940 cartoon showing the modern Greeks led by the King defending the pass against the Italians, with Leonidas and the 300 Spartans in ghostly reinforcement at their sides? Compare this with what Andreas Papandreou, the king's nemesis, now politicking in that sauna-like place below, did during the war. He was a male nurse in Florida, having avoided the draft by registering in an American college. (Clinton would have been proud of such a move).
Ergo, politicians fear Greek kings. Kings don't steal, politicians do. Kings are apolitical, politicians are pure political animals. Kings try to serve all the people, politicians take care only of those who have voted for them. King Constantine's property?incidentally paid for by his grandfather, not given to the family by a grateful nation?has been confiscated, his passport taken away and he and his family have been declared non-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 Olympics in sailing?the first Greek to win one in 50 years?and suddenly a bunch of crooks like Papandreou and his socialists?Time ran a cover under the heading "The Looting of Greece"?decide he no longer exists.
And it gets worse. Constantine lost his throne when he led a countercoup against the colonels who overthrew the government in 1967. When democracy was restored in 1974, the King was not allowed to return by the very same politicians who had not lifted a finger to resist the colonels. If you think the Clinton-Starr saga has things topsy-turvy, with the draft-dodger emerging as a victim and the saintly Starr as the bad guy, you should try Greek politics.
Now a childhood friend of the King is forced to resign because he accepted an invitation to the wedding of his friend's daughter. Is this Kafka or what? What Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International should do is the following: Force the socialist crooks 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 estates in Athens and central Greece, and that includes Mon Repos, the family home in Corfu 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 days of people becoming nonpersons are long gone in Russia, but not, it seems, in Greece.
Toby Young ARRIVISTE Tina Brown's Stalk Tina Brown describes Talk, the glossy magazine she's launching next month, as "the first 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 from TheStreet.com's IPO with $200 million, Tina Brown could easily pocket half a billion 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 unveiling a new spinning wheel after the invention of the spinning jenny. I predict Disney/Hearst will hit the Delete button within 18 months.
This is a pity, not least because I was planning to do a parody of Talk. Just before Brill's Content launched last year, it put up a website advertising the forthcoming magazine's attractions, and my idea was to do a parody of Talk's promotional website. However, it turns out Talk isn't bothering with the Internet. If you go to www.talk.com you're confronted with a site for an e-commerce telecommunications provider that describes itself as "the new hub for online and offline communications." As far as I can tell, Tina "Hand-loom Weaver" Brown has decided against any Internet presence whatsoever. ("A new magazine for the old millennium" is more like it.)
A little more than a year ago I was embroiled in a lawsuit with Harold Evans, who was threatening to sue me for libel in the UK following a piece I'd written for the British Spectator. One of the demands he was making, as a condition of dropping the suit, was that I sign an undertaking whereby I promised to "desist forthwith from further defaming, denigrating and ridiculing" him and his wife, Tina Brown. In effect, he wanted to legally prevent me from writing about either of them ever again.Naturally, I told him to fuck off, and after a good deal of huffing and puffing he eventually backed down. It seemed extraordinary that the editorial director of the New York Daily News, and someone who prides himself on his commitment to free speech, should have attempted to do something so contrary to the First Amendment. (It turned out he had managed to impose an identical gag order on the editor of the British satirical magazine Private Eye some years earlier.) My main reason for doing the parody was 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 to call the parody Stalk. (The alternatives were Tank and Shut Up.) I had a number of provocative ideas. For instance, I was going to include an extract from The American Century, Evans' big millennium book, and indicate 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 US News & World Report. Last year, Evans got into a fight with US News editor James Fallows after Fallows refused to publish a four-part serialization of The American Century. Evans fired him shortly afterward.
Another idea 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 were going 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 various tricks 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 Life as a Party, an anthology of Brown's weightier stuff, there's a fascinating, thought-provoking essay entitled "Lift-Off: The Fabulous Life and Times of the Baron and Baroness di Portanova." I was intending to submit this to David Kuhn?who plays Peter Lorre to Brown's femme fatale?then reprint it in Stalk with Kuhn's rejection letter underneath.
One of Talk's scintillating features, apparently, is going to be "Conversations which have changed history." When I first heard this I thought: Uh-oh, Talk is going to make the George mistake of allowing the title to dictate the entire magazine's contents. Nevertheless, this would have given me an excuse to publish a transcript of an imaginary conversation between Steve Florio, Harvey Weinstein 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' everyone it's my fault her piece-a-shit magazine is losin' 11 million bucks a year. My fault! Da balls on this broad! I'm tellin' ya, it's gettin' to be a real fuckin' problem. (beat) Match me, Ron.
(Ron Galotti darts 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: You kiddin'? She's obsessed.
STEVE: What's with dat, anyway?
RON: Somethin' about her ol' man bein' a failed movie producer, or somethin'. You knows, one a 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: End a June, why?
HARVEY: Okay, hows about dis...
I'm still convinced that Talk is a scheme cooked up by Florio, Weinstein and Galotti?wiseguy wannabes one and all?to humiliate Brown. As one insider put it when asked about how long he gave Brown and Weinstein's partnership: "Litigation in 18 months." Some things, it seems, just aren't worth parodying.
THE TIRED HEDONIST The French Stink "How can they stink so, the Parisians! I am sure I read in the paper some years ago that not 11 percent of the flats in Paris have bathrooms." Thus exclaimed the Baroness Sophie, unintentionally betraying her advanced age, which she otherwise strives artfully to conceal. We were having a late-afternoon Vittel in the Tuileries under the shade of a little trellised pavilion, which itself had a somewhat musty smell.
"I should have thought the hygiene of the Parisians has become rather good," I said. "I mean, the Metro is actually bearable these days. Twenty years ago it smelled like three-day-old underclothes and burnt rubber. Today it greets the nose with an almost floral bouquet."
"Well, I haven't been down there recently," she replied, "but I expect that might have something to do with the perfume they've started pumping into the stations."
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 wax that is used to clean the platforms. The scent is named Madeleine, after one of the more malodorous stations, and it is meant to spread flowery notes of countryside, 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.
Osphresiology is the science of smells. Osphresiologists know that the human nose, though less acute than its counterparts elsewhere in the animal kingdom, is capable of 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 offal putrefied; chamber pots were emptied into the streets; breaking wind in public was an accepted practice. (Benjamin Franklin proposed that scientists look for substances that could be added to the human diet to render farts fragrant?one of the great expressions of the Enlightenment belief in progress.) Standards of personal cleanliness were deplorable. As recently as the 19th century, according to the historian Alain Corbin, most French women died without ever having taken a bath.
Cities, and the people in them, started to get less smelly after Pasteur discovered the dangers of bacteria. But in the case of New York, I sometimes wonder just how much headway has been made. Entire areas of the city retain their own characteristic miasmas. Sometimes this is understandable. "Hold your nose, we're going through Canarsie!" the kids on the subway used to yell, alluding to the garbage dump that graced that Brooklyn neighborhood. Parts of upper Broadway can smell a bit like a toilet, depending on how the wind is blowing?an entirely predictable consequence of the city's decision to locate a sewage-treatment plant just to the west on the Hudson River. Perhaps they should have put a giant Air Wick next to it. The odor of sewage is always unpleasant, if somewhat less so in garlic-eating nations like Italy.
Other neighborhood effluvia are more mysterious. I have no idea, for instance, why the Upper West Side smells like an old person's bedroom. It just does.
Apartment buildings in the Naked City also have their olfactory stories to tell. It frequently astonishes out-of-towners just how peculiarly odoriferous they can be, even in 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 they live alone the event often goes undiscovered until their bodies are seriously putrescent. Once this odor pervades a building, it is almost impossible to get rid of, lingering on for months and even years.
People frequently take 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 that the resulting smell resembled sour milk. Marcel, the narrator of Proust's novel, describes his chamber pot as "a vase of aromatic perfume" after eating asparagus.
Humans generate more smells than they realize, and these add up to a personalized "odor print" that may be more or less pronounced. Women tend to be better at detecting such emanations than men; their sense of smell is especially keen during ovulation, when estrogen levels peak. Blind people sometimes have especially well-developed olfactory abilities. The former New Yorker writer Ved Mehta, sightless from childhood, would reportedly do a bit of sniffing in the presence of a young female intern and then inquire, "Are you having your period today?"
Happily for the rest of us, some individuals are endowed with what can only be called natural perfume. One of these is Tina Brown. In an article in last month's Literary Review, Christopher Hitchens referred to her as "ethereally fragrant." That is typical Hitchens understatement. In fact, Brown's fragrant exhalations can 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 such thing, I regret to say, is true of the Baroness Sophie, whose own person is redolent of mothballs and rhino-gomenol. But it would be an impertinence for me to point this out to her, even as she goes on fulminating against the supposed malodorousness of ordinary Parisians. So instead I tell her that it is pure affectation for anyone to complain of smells who keeps two spaniels.
"Oh is it, mon cher monsieur l'Americain?" she replies, giving me an icy stare (which is refreshing on this unseasonably warm afternoon).
But easy amiability is presently restored, and at my suggestion the two of us head off for the Bois to smell the acacias. They are quite fragrant at the moment.