High life

Taki: The truth about Ernest Hemingway

6 January 2018

9:00 AM

6 January 2018

9:00 AM


When the snow finally stopped, the sublime, silent stars above made for dramatic viewing. Against silhouetted Alpine peaks, starry nights, untainted by light pollution, seem made in Hollywood.

I arrived here one week before Christmas determined to get in shape following the debauch of New York. The snow was coming down, the town was empty, the slopes were perfect and both my children were with us. Then disaster: Wafic and Rosemary Saïd’s Christmas present arrived, and my thoughts went out to Bruce Anderson. The present was a super, super-duper magnum of Haut-Brion 1996, which I refused to share with guests and downed only with the family. Actually, I did share it with some very close buddies, who now ring me regularly asking for an introduction to Rosemary and Wafic.

It’s nice to have such generous friends, but it would be just as nice if I could exercise some self-control. The wine was so good that I made a night of it, then a day of it, followed by another night of it.

So what else is new? Well, Peter and Lara Livanos sent me a recently published book on Hemingway, the first biography of Papa by a woman, and I went for it much as I’d gone for Wafic’s Haut-Brion. And what a pleasant surprise it turned out to be. I had expected the usual feminine crap to be slung at my hero Papa, but Mary V. Dearborn is not one of those hags with a burning desire to punish men. She gives the greatest American writer his due and is fair when it comes to certain Hemingwayesque traits that are deemed unacceptable in today’s world. I haven’t reached this part yet, but towards the end of Hemingway’s life, when he was asked by an intrusive female reporter (who was also the mistress of her editor at the New Yorker) if he had had all the women he ever wanted, Papa didn’t flinch. ‘All of those I’ve wanted and a hell of a lot that I didn’t want, too,’ he replied.

No Harvey he. Mary V. Dearborn discovered something that countless male biographers have missed: the real reason Hemingway went nuts at the end was a horrible car crash after a riotous party Robert Capa threw for him in Lowndes Square back in 1944. Papa went through the windscreen and was diagnosed with concussion. Typically, he was allowed to carry on drinking with his buddies in hospital and then, after a brief stay, allowed to leave and join the landing in Normandy. In fact, he had suffered a subdural hematoma that required a hole to be drilled in his skull to drain the blood. Despite constant headaches, trouble with handwriting and loss of verbal memory, British doctors smiled and probably told him to keep a stiff upper lip and get on with it. Instead of draining the brain and prescribing three months’ minimum convalescence, they allowed him to go off to war. Fifteen years later, he blew his brains out. And now I’m not surprised. The trauma drove him nutty. It had nothing to do with all the crap that amateur shrinks have thrown at him since his death.

So the man who was once capable of writing:

When we lived in Austria, we would cut each other’s hair and let it grow to the same length. One was dark and the other dark red gold and in the dark in the night one would wake the other swinging the heavy dark or the heavy silken red gold across the others lips in the cold dark in the warmth of the bed. You could see your breath if there was moonlight.

could no longer keep it up. Peter Livanos has given me so many presents over the years, including a priceless Samurai sword and a unique letter from the Mikado to King George II of Greece, but this Papa biography rescued me from one of the worst hangovers of all time.

The Alps can be solitary and sublime, especially as dusk falls. On skis or on foot you meander from one bucolic scene to the next, crossing raging rivers, skiing down glaciers, sliding along the tops of ridges. But all of these wonders come to an end once the new rich arrive and install themselves in this pretty village. At times I wonder if some of them have even heard of Switzerland or noticed the snow. My son and his cousin Albert Thurn und Taxis — they both have Schoenburg mothers — were having a cigarette at the Palace Hotel. They were approached by a Gulf camel-driver who asked them if they were Tunisian (two Germanic-looking young men, and this creep asks them if they come from Tunis). It got worse when my son went to Mick Flick’s party for an exhibition of Gloria Thurn und Taxis’s paintings, which includes a wonderful portrait of yours truly. He was seated next to a German lady who asked him what he thought of Art Basel. ‘It’s an invention by smart hustlers to sell crap to dumb rich people,’ said John Taki. She got up and left in a huff. Apparently, Art Basel was her husband’s invention. Oh well, if I run into her and I have some Haut-Brion left, I will give her some of Wafic’s magic and she’ll forget Art Basel and probably her hubbie, too. Happy New Year!

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