The Life & Loves of Now before Harry was Harry dropped His table Now, the As far-fetched That is But back One year
Osama bin Laden
"It is little,
but in my view his head is not worth more." This was the Afghan religious
scholar Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost talking about Bill Clinton. In case any of you
missed it, Abdul is the clever chap who offered $113 to anybody who kills the
Draft Dodger. He said his offer was in retaliation for the $5 million America
is offering for the arrest of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi terrorist who is in
Afghanistan under Taliban protection.
I go on about Abdul and his offer, I have to declare an interest in Osama bin
Laden. It was just about this time last year when, watching the news one night,
I saw bin Laden’s face appear on the screen as he was described as terrorist
numero uno. Well, I never. According to the CIA and FBI Osama is "the world’s
most dangerous man," but to some of us old Rosey boys (Rosey is a posh
Swiss school where the rich send their children to learn how to count) he has
always been simply Harry Laden, a polite if somewhat excitable about religious
matters Saudi, a man of impeccable dress sense whose burnoose is made by Turnbull
a terrific skier and member of the legendary Rosey team of 1968 made up of Gianni
Agnelli, Jean-Claude Killy, J.T. Theodoracopulos, Christopher Buckley and Harry
Laden. (The 1968 bunch was considered stronger than any Olympic team.) Laden
did not attend university after Le Rosey, but took a large apartment in the
Palace hotel in Gstaad, namely the Kandahar suite. He also joined White’s
club in London, where he immediately became very popular with English toffs
(upper-class chinless wonders) by picking up everyone’s tabs. No one within
50 yards was ever allowed to pay.
out of sight a few years ago, but only last week, while in London, lo and behold,
he rang me out of the blue and asked me to lunch at White’s. He had Abdul
Rahim Muslim Dost with him. At first I was appalled. Abdul ate with his hands,
spat occasionally on the floor and asked Swain, the legendary hall porter, to
go out and feed his camel, which he had tethered at Brooks’ club (Claus
von Bulow’s favorite hangout) across the street. But then I changed my
mind. Abdul turned out to be a very wise and practical man. "Just because
Clinton has offered $5 million for your head, Harry, it doesn’t mean we
should match him dollar for dollar. In fact he’s not even worth the $113
we’ve already offered."
manners aside, I found Abdul fascinating. He drank whiskey as if it were water
and counseled Harry Laden like a father. Abdul sure knew a sexual trap when
he saw one. Harry recently received an invitation from Madeleine Albright for
an assignation. It included a photograph of Madeleine taken in Belgrade 45 years
ago. To his astonishment she was naked! Harry passed the sepia picture around
the table, to the disgust of the gay members of White’s.
problem with Harry is sexual, ergo the invite. Laden has not been getting any
ever since the American cruise missiles killed his partner last year. I was
afraid to ask him, but rumor had it that Aisha, the love of his life, was a
goat. With his characteristic candor, however, Harry admitted that, yes, Aisha
was a goat and the Americans had murdered it. "I know that Albright is
ugly, but something about her reminds me of Aisha," said Harry. "It
may be the beard."
as it may sound, England’s most respected and oldest continuously published
weekly, The Spectator, recently reported how a 29-year-old Albanian Kosovar
heroin dealer, Hashim "The Snake" Thaci, had Albright falling head
over heels in love with him: "Mrs. Albright was born and raised in Belgrade
where the locals still rejoice in the thought that she could never find a boyfriend.
At Ramboulliet she asked the Serb delegation whether they wanted to make love
or war? War, please, they screamed in terror."
when The Snake stepped in and swept her off her feet. Albright decided right
there and then to do "whatever you wish me to as long as you keep slam-dunking
me, darling." We know what followed.
to Abdul and Harry. After lunch we went down to the bar and had a very serious
discussion. Abdul thinks, and I agree, that Clinton and Albright–she furious
at having been rejected by Harry and bitter at having been used by The Snake–are
planning to capture him and bring him to a show trial in Washington around November
2000, election time. The only time Harry Laden is vulnerable is where sex and
Aisha are concerned. Both Abdul and I warned him not to fall for Albright’s
tricks. Which brings me to the point I wish to make:
after the Draft Dodger showered a Sudan pharmaceutical plant with cruise missiles
in order to divert public opinion from the previous day’s disclosure about
la Lewinsky, I have been convinced of Harry Laden’s innocence. He is a
Muslim fundamentalist who thinks Uncle Sam is a bully, but if he’s a terrorist,
it is we who turned him into one. The chairman of White’s club, Col. Sir
Rupert Arbuthnot-Buchanan, KCMG, OBE, FRHS, summarily rejected requests by the
American ambassador, Phil Lader, for information regarding a life member like
Harry Laden. This is as it should be. "Spanker" Arbuthnot-Buchanan
knows better than most that opening the White’s club files on members would
leave it with no members. Harry, wherever you are in Afghanistan, your secret
is safe with us.
The Life & Loves of
Radical Chic 2
the last summer of the 20th century draws to a close, New York’s social
elite will spend this weekend saying a traditional farewell to the Hamptons.
Dogs will be taken for a final walk on Gibson Beach, last suppers will be consumed
at Nick & Toni’s and boats will be put away for the winter. A lucky
few–the elite of the elite–will then make their way to a party in
East Hampton where they’ll wile away the evening listening to hiphop and
hanging out with Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs. The fact that the 29-year-old
rap mogul’s currently being investigated by the Manhattan D.A.’s office
for bludgeoning a rival record company executive with a champagne bottle probably
won’t diminish the appeal of his annual Labor Day Weekend soiree. Last
year it was attended by Martha Stewart, Jann Wenner and Ron Perelman.
to say, I haven’t been invited.
I have to
confess to being somewhat mystified by the rap-moguls-in-the-Hamptons phenomenon.
I completely understand why a bunch of rich white people would want to hang
out with them–there’s no mystery there. By spending some time in their
company they can flatter themselves that they’re being democratic and openminded,
changing with the times, embracing the new. "It was Puffy who told me there
are four major rap songs that use the word ‘Trump’ in the sense of
‘very Trump,’" Donald recently boasted to GQ. It’s
as though he’d received a medal from the NAACP. But why on Earth do Puff
Daddy, Russell Simmons, Andre Harrell, Jay-Z and the rest of them want to hang
out in the Hamptons? Why should such an ostensibly cool group of people wish
to fraternize with a bunch of fat, balding, middle-age white guys?
To my mind,
there’s only one explanation: they’re social climbers.
Now I realize
that’s a controversial statement so let me clarify it at once. I’m
not using "social climbers" as a coded way of saying they don’t
belong in the Hamptons, that they should get back to the ghetto. I mean it in
the sense that they’re socially ambitious, they aspire to join the ruling
class. They want country houses and stud farms and membership to the local golf
club–the whole Ralph Lauren package. In that respect, they do belong in
moguls, naturally, would completely deny this. To hear them tell it, their presence
in the Hamptons is an expression of black empowerment, a way of getting in the
face of rich white folks. Puffy uses the term "ghetto-fabulous" to
justify his absurdly ostentatious lifestyle, as if it’s intended to advertise
his lowly origins rather than his enormous wealth. (According to Forbes,
Puffy earned $53.5 million in 1998.) It’s all to do with racial pride,
a way of letting the White Establishment know that African-Americans have finally
broken through. They’re players now and they’re here to stay, whether
we like it or not.
would say that, wouldn’t they. Seventy percent of rap records are sold
to white people and most of these are suburban teenagers whose conception of
ghetto fabulousness is rather different from Puffy’s. To them, the ghetto
is a repository of true manliness, an urban war zone where only the tough survive.
When 200,000 white kids at Woodstock this year sang along to "My Niggas,"
DMX’s hiphop anthem, it’s safe to assume they weren’t thinking
of the VIP tent at Bridgehampton Polo. It would be a shock to these wiggers
to discover that the black entrepreneurs who’ve profited from their custom
want nothing more than to join the Anglo-American aristocracy.
the fact that the rap moguls have a financial motive for misrepresenting their
reasons for being in the Hamptons doesn’t mean they’re lying. I’m
sure they believe they’re "keeping it real" rather than trying
to assimilate, but their explanation has the whiff of an elaborate rationalization,
what a Marxist would call "false consciousness." In 19th-century Britain,
the ruling class sought to preserve its power by enfranchising the middle class
and persuading them it was in their interests to defend the status quo. This
was known as the "aristocratic embrace" and it worked because the
bourgeoisie believed they had seduced the aristocracy, not the other way round.
When Ron Perelman and Martha Stewart show up at Puffy’s parties, he probably
thinks they’re giving him his due, paying him the respect he deserves.
But in reality, they’ve captivated him.
nothing particularly new about the gentrification of black Americans. In Our
Kind of People, Lawrence Otis Graham documents the emergence of a black
aristocracy he traces back to the 1880s. He even interviews some people who
attended a lavish, ostentatious wedding held in 1923 by New York’s richest
black family. One of the most important institutions within this world is Howard
University, the all-black college that Puff Daddy himself attended. In those
days he was plain Sean Combs.
Tom Wolfe wrote a famous essay for New York about a party given by Leonard
and Felicia Bernstein for the Black Panthers. In it he coined the term "radical
chic" to describe the efforts of rich white people to express their solidarity
with the black struggle. Many of the social X-rays present in the Bernsteins’
drawing room that day actually went so far as to dress like the Panthers.
later, the tables have been completely turned. This Saturday, the contemporary
equivalents of the people who came to the Bernsteins’ party will attend
a soiree being given by someone who might have been a Panther had he been born
30 years earlier. This time around, though, the black people will be dressed
exactly like the rich white folks. The ruling class, it would seem, has triumphed
THE LONDON DESK
Letter from Tuscany
like Pienza in the early morning, before the tourists and the sun fill the narrow
streets. The Pienzini pretty much have the town to themselves until about nine,
when the Northern Europeans begin pounding the cobbles in their sandals, many
lugging recalcitrant children, to see the churches and buy pecorino cheese in
the shops. At our rented villa, a few miles away, my children and friends are
sleeping. Each morning, while the sun is low enough in the east to leave my
table in shade, I sit outside reading newspapers and writing notes at the Caffe
tells me that Rossellino was the nickname of the Florentine architect Bernardo
Gambarelli, who designed this city in the 15th century. He obviously lived in
a better era of city-building than our own, as every Renaissance town in Tuscany
attests. (They built for people and God, while we tend to clear the way for
cars and Mammon.) The cafe that bears Gambarelli’s sobriquet sits next
to the tiny, medieval chapel of St. Francis, the only building left over from
Pienza’s previous existence as Corsignano. Rossellino knocked down the
rest of Corsignano at the command of its favored son, Enea Piccolomini, who,
luckily for him and Pienza, was elected pope in 1458. He called his town Pienza
for his papal name, Pius II, and endowed it with a beautiful cathedral where
I attended Mass last Sunday. After Mass, many of the devout Catholics ate dinner
down the road at the Communist Party’s holiday festa, always great fun,
even for non-atheists.
as devoted a dictator as any communism later produced, forced his cardinals
to build palazzos within the town’s new walls. Pius was slightly mad, always
calling for crusades against the Muslims. The Western world, unlike its response
to President Bill Clinton’s holy wars, wisely ignored Pius’ exhortations.
It is hard, however, to fault Pius II’s architectural taste and artistic
of urban history doesn’t have much to do with anything, beyond my telling
you, if you just picked this up in New York City, that I am having a better
time than you are. All I can say is, the Giuliani family must have lived very
low on the Italian social ladder if they left here to spend their Augusts in
A few years
ago I lived in Tuscany and, however hard I search what remains of my memory,
I cannot recall why I left. Still, I did get out in time to avoid its new fate
as summer capital of Great Britain. The New Labor elite is here en masse, dragging
along remnants of old Labor, who used to prove how British they were by forcing
their spouses and children to endure a few weeks amid gray shingles and clouds
that in England passed for a beach. No longer. New Labor is as hip as can be,
and Tuscany is where it is at. My children and I made our annual return, some
by car via the beauties of Lake Como, to the Tuscan hills only to find that
Italy’s lovely province has become to London what the Hamptons are to New
York: where you must see the people you’ve been avoiding all year at home.
Family, as the UK’s American-trained p.r. people have taken to calling
Blair’s brood, have been spotted everywhere. At the beach, where the police
cleared away all Italians who might have spoiled the view–I mean posed
a security risk. In restaurants and bars. And at the Palio in Siena. The animal
rights lobby, true to form, damned Blair for attending an event in which horses
are often killed. Blair has promised to end the foxhunting at home, but slaughtering
horses is all right in Dago-land.
A few of
my British friends have been granted invitations to dine chez Blair, returning
as convinced as those similarly favored by the Clintons that they are a delightful
family. The Italians know better, and they remain unimpressed. The Blairs are
seasonal specters who disappear in September, like the rest of the t-shirted
British tourists who amble along the Corso Rossellino astounded that a country
can produce such luxuries as olive oil and wine. They know what happens to politicians
to whom the public awards votes, and their temptation to spend citizens’
tax money on themselves and their benefactors.
politician of Italy’s postwar era, Giulio Andreotti–a member of every
one of the scores of cabinets from 1947 until his abrupt fall from grace in
1992–should serve as a reminder to Blair as he contemplates a long tenure
in office. Andreotti, the hopeful young star become grand old man of the then
American-backed Christian Democrats, has been under indictment since 1993. He
is on trial in two cities, Perugia and Palermo. The Palermo trial concerns his
Mafia connections. (Funny how the U.S. government helped Andreotti into power
and returned the Honorable Society to Sicily after its removal by the only Italian
politician ever to suppress them–Mussolini.)
trial is more interesting because it involves murder. You may sympathize with
Andreotti when I tell you that his alleged victim was a journalist. Andreotti’s
lawyer, Franco Coppi, played a popular card by calling the murdered reporter,
51-year-old Mino Pecorelli, "a blackmailer." Coppi added "toward
him, Andreotti was supremely indifferent," as if mere hacks were beneath
the notice of the exalted Prime Minister. Coppi reminds me of Blair’s hatchet
man, Alastair Campbell, ex-hack, when he refers to journalists who write about
Blair in the way Pecorelli did about Andreotti. (Remember Chicago’s Mayor
Richard J. Daley on the press? "They have vilified me. They have crucified
me. They have even criticized me.") Perhaps an acolyte overheard Andreotti
one night at prayer asking, "Will no one rid me of this turbulent journalist?"
what happens at either trial, Andreotti will not serve time. Like Pinochet,
he is a senator-for-life and thus immune to sentencing. If Parliament abolishes
his immunity, a dangerous precedent for many of its members, Andreotti would
still be too old, under Italian law, to be imprisoned. Perhaps his penalty should
be to spend winters in England with the Blairs, who could learn a thing or two
from the old guy.