GSTAAD—My chalet lies far above the village of Gstaad, but I happened to be en ville when I heard the pleasant sounds of an Oom-pah 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 jokingly asked me if a war had been declared. In America they call it a fife-and-drum band, which has a military angle to it; hence the Yank’s question.
Nothing special, I told him, just the day the cows are brought down from their pastures up high. Hundreds of years of armed neutrality have 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.
Switzerland is a paradise of sorts, but the plague of immigration from Africa and the East is threatening the cities. All I can tell you is that the Swiss do not commit crimes, but people in Switzerland now do. The EU blackmails the Swiss Confederation nonstop, 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 that the scum in Belgium and Strasbourg impose on us. Switzerland’s cities are for joining the crooks, while the great German-speaking countryside wants to stay neutral and independent.
I have not set foot in a Swiss city in a long time. I drive by them en route to an airport, and that’s it. Call it escapism or cowardice or whatever. As someone once wisely asked, “Why eat at McDonald’s when you can have caviar at home?” (It was actually Paul Newman referring to his wife as steak and all other women as hamburger.)
Speaking of caviar, I threw myself a birthday party at home last week, one that might not have matched the elevated gastronomic estate of Talleyrand dining with the Congress of Vienna’s ministers, but it came close. The mother of my children organized 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 Vienna ministers, and to my horror she almost succeeded.
What is lousy about birthdays at my age is obvious. What is great is that you celebrate only with good friends at home. There’s none of that super-phony air-kissing parody of the grand manner that is the celebrity bash nowadays—no hookers, touts, fakes, wannabes, pretenders, or posturing nobodies.
Thirty-five of us had dinner under the stars, and on August 11 it was the night of falling stars, like the birthday boy himself. I sat next to Lara Livanos, wife of Peter, who’s a great friend and 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.
Gstaad could use more men like Peter. He donated the Kennedy School to a public foundation in Bern and has turned it into a first-rate place of learning. He does countless other good deeds for the community. No showoff, he downplays his charity work and exhibited a great sense of humor as I made nonstop jokes in bad taste. Lara is a Brit who was born in Kenya. It is said that her father was the inspiration for Papa Hemingway’s white hunter in his great “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”
I told Lara that I believe every word Papa ever wrote: “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 seat away from me making puns nonstop, even as Chaz and Druziana Price arrived late from Portofino. “Portoritardo,” quipped John.
My daughter delivered a sweet and funny speech and gave me some oranges, a reminder that on her 12th 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 neither pain nor 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.
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