Essays

White Sugar, Dark Chocolate

Santiago Essays May 6, 2015

The true hedonist of our time is a drama queen with real diamonds in her crown, says Andrei Navrozov. And Chanel No5 is for hygienists – not hedonists.

A prosperous, consequential, roly-poly Greek with a name that sounds like an Aztec root vegetable – we are, of course, talking about the philosopher Aristotle – once proclaimed that if you’ve got a brain, A cannot be both A and not A. Some five-and-twenty centuries later, a bookworm-poor, reed-thin, dark-cloaked Dane, who for most of his life had been unhappy in love, replied that if you’re in love, A can be anything.

Aristotle’s proposition was good for building railroads, winning wars, designing machineguns and inventing computers, spreading marmalade on toast, organizing municipal rubbish collection – in short, for civilization generally. Kierkegaard’s rebuttal was only good for the soul. Though maybe for haute couture too, as we shall see.

At times it may look like science has finally bridged the chasm between the two contrary and irreconcilable positions. Our somber-suited physicists speak of the irrational behavior of subatomic particles, our crazy-haired artists are calculating enough not to fly commercial. Bankers turn green, flower children file their tax returns on time, and bloodthirsty tyrants call for fair and democratic elections in places we never knew existed.

At other times it seems that, instead of the gods that the Age of Reason promised we would one day become, we now more closely resemble the Dark Ages’ idea of the Antipodeans, walking on our heads, tweeting strangers, reading our fortunes in cardboard cups from Starbucks.  In our world, Juliet Googles Romeo before their first date at Cipriani and Romeo hires a private eye to find out if Juliet really has a mother.  Soon they txt, check out Ibiza, and live happily ever after like a pair of silicone peas in an iPod, meaning he spends his nights watching Internet porn and she does her own Botox. Indeed, what other thereafter is there for them, wretched heirs to the Age of Reason, in a concrete world where A can’t be both A and not A?

Our notion of pleasure is wholly consequent on this dilemma. Should the hedonists among us fall in with the Aristotelian view of the global playpen, demanding ever sweeter sugar, ever louder music, ever more Facebook friends, ever louder orgasms, and ever thicker lines of ever purer cocaine, as well as more personal space, quality time, and peace on earth to enjoy them in, or should we go for the Kierkegaard option instead?

That, of course, would mean our eating none but the darkest chocolate, which is quite bitter on the palate; subjecting ourselves to the agonies of genuine feeling, which not only ruins the skin, but carries the risk of a messy suicide and even a double murder; listening to music whose harmonies are complex and emotionally disturbing, ideally on an old gramophone in a room suffocated in dark, gold-veined brocades, with only a narrow breach in the faded velvet of the curtains to admit sunlight; writing love letters on tear-stained, robin-blue aerogramme paper that’s no longer made, scorching the mouth with bootleg absinthe, and leaving healthy, wealthy, and wise wives for Moroccan nightclub dancers who turn out to be men; losing money at the tables, not as the rich do, idly and painlessly, but like the desperate gambler who loses his one good shirt of cambric linen and goes home to homelessness in silent remorse and freezing November rain; and yes, squeezing boldly, like Alizarin Yellow from a big fat tube of acrylic, into achiropoetic gowns of brilliantly dyed spider’s web and fine Flanders moonbeam, shameless in the décolletage yet straitlaced in the consequences, reflecting in men’s eyes, flirting with one’s own delectable shadow, thrilled to breathe, dying to love.

It would mean all that and a whole wagonload of other experiences besides, but anyway the point should by now be clear.  The sweet tooth of instant gratification and pre-tied bow ties, of boringly earned, or even serendipitously inherited, creature comforts, of thoughtless Ibiza nights and lazy mornings on Panarea, is an X-ray of life for the dental hygienists among us to get excited about. Constraint, discomfort, anxiety, even frustration and fear, these are the true modern hedonist’s playthings. Silver-sweet jouissance is more pleasurable than saccharine plaisir. Ecstasy is more intoxicating than the round pill that bears its name.

_gustav klimt detail of altar of dionysus (1)

Where the Aristotelian, with his pursuit of the active life, has always been something of a sadist – building empires, projecting the power of Reason to the four corners of the earth, demanding submission from bodies both temporal and heavenly – the true hedonist, who takes after Kierkegaard, is highly contemplative and something of a masochist. Any woman whose pulses quicken as she uses a man’s money to pay for the most politically incorrect and sartorially extravagant of the season’s diabolical snares; any mermaid who swaps her natural form for the ritually eroticized torment of a fairytale princess; any angel who senses her wings being singed in the flame of unattainably human emotion; any of these real, flesh-and-blood modern hedonists know just what, in our Antipodean hell of topsy-turvy rationality, being a masochist or a sadist really means.

The true hedonist has what psychiatrists call an active fantasy life, and in this his playground resembles the catwalks of Paris and Milan. Not for him the plainness of the drudge, the practicality of the accountant, the providence of the empire builder; he dwells in impossibility, revels in discomfort, and would rather be plunged into iridescent penury than attain a dull and colourless eminence. If he could be bothered to design a coat of arms, it would depict the green helleborine immortalized by Jocelyn Brooke in The Orchid Trilogy; fun for the botanist, yet cleistogamous and self-loving, too. How shortsighted of Mademoiselle Coco to have chosen the saccharine-sweet camellia!

Bittersweet is more fun. Such is the modern hedonist’s mantra, and as he follows his hero Kierkegaard into the deepest vortices of life’s emotional current, what pleasure he finds there is heightened by the sorrows of the imagination.  In the rational, practical, predictable world that he reluctantly inhabits, he is a drama queen with real diamonds in her crown.

I have mentioned Coco Chanel – the formidable personage who, in the bygone days, was also known as Agent F-7124 of the Abwehr, the Nazis’ military intelligence – for a reason. The thrall, verging on hysteria, in which Western women since the times of Marilyn Monroe have been held by the advertising and publicity agencies acting on behalf of Chanel No5 can only be compared with mass adulation for totalitarian leaders like Hitler, Stalin or Mao. A closer look at this social aberration may help to illustrate the distinction I am making here between the two hedonisms, Aristotelian and Kierkegaardian, between sickly-sweet sugar and bittersweet chocolate.

No man I know likes the smell of No5 or finds the scent even remotely useful for pheromonal communication with the opposite sex, though this is putting it mildly. Put bluntly, it stinks. Western women take offence when told that it smells like an old lady, yet what they ought to be told is that it smells like an old lady who is a barrack supervisor in a concentration camp – a rational occupation, incidentally, if ever there was one. Not entirely by coincidence, during the Russian Civil War, Ernest Beaux, the Russian perfumer of French origin who compounded the perfume for Mademoiselle, had run an internment camp in Murmansk, above the Arctic Circle. He later recalled that the black waters of the Barents Sea had been an inspiration to him when he resumed his career as a nose in Paris.

In fairness, we do not know what Beaux’s original concoction, chosen by Mademoiselle from among the ten samples he had made up, was like, though I suspect it had something in common with the Soviet perfume I recoil at remembering, Krasnaya Moskva, “Red Moscow.” This was made in a factory the Bolsheviks had looted, along with everything else in the country, from its owners, Henri Brocard, in 1917. Beaux had worked for its main competitor in Russia, A. Rallet & Co., until it too was nationalised and renamed “Soap and Perfume Works No. 4,” later “Liberty Perfume Factory.” Again, we have no way of knowing what the original, launched in 1913 for the tercentenary of the Romanov dynasty as “Bouquet de Catherine,” smelt like, but the Soviet incarnation of it – it was said to consist chiefly of an extract of carnation – was one of the foundational nightmares of my Soviet childhood.  Red Moscow!  It is a wonder that, a half-century hence, I can yet dissociate a woman’s presence from its emetic sweetness.

Sickly sweetness, however, is not the only characteristic that makes Chanel’s No5 the number one choice of the modern rationalist. Like the last scents assembled by Beaux at Rallet, No5 was among the first perfumes in history to rely in its composition on aldehydes, synthetic substances of whose presence in the world we only become aware when we read about the formaldehyde in which Damien Hirst has pickled a shark under the preposterous pretext of giving it a fancy title like “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.” In fact, on the basis of a recent chromatographic analysis Marcel Carles, son of the founder of the Ecole de Parfumerie Roure in Grasse, was able to determine that No5 was developed from Bouquet de Catherine, meaning that the Chanel perfume and the bane of my childhood, Red Moscow, are in effect first cousins.

It is synthetic substances like the aldehyde C-12 MNA (2-methyl undecanal), first produced in 1903 by another Russian of French extraction, the chemist Auguste Georges Darzens, that account for the scent’s action as an olfactory dead end – a blind wall of smell – rather than a bouquet in which different notes may be discerned, a polyphonic cloud of opalescent nuances within whose billowing a woman moves, breathes, and undresses.  Musically speaking, where the great scents not relying on aldehydes are like the voice of an Amelita Galli-Curci, summoning the true hedonist from the recesses of an old gramophone, No5 brays like a Madonna in Tramp’s.  “It is my soul that calls upon my name,” Romeo tells Juliet – in Shakespeare, not in Tramp – and

How silver-sweet sound lovers’ tongues by night,

Like softest music to attending ears!

I remember coming across such a perfume once, at the St-Ouen market in Paris. From under a tangle of pricetag strings, tortoiseshell buttons and bejewelled hatpins, an elixir of Kierkegaardian hedonism emerged into the dim light of day in a flacon of frosted glass with a mahogany ebullience of mink on the gilded stopper.  Made by Robert Beaulieu, a Paris furrier of some renown in the 70’s – originally, in all likelihood, as a gift to his best customers, which had also been Coco Chanel’s reason for making No5 – it looked modern enough, and yet instinctively, even before withdrawing that fur-trimmed, over-the-top stopper, I knew that its music would not be the artificially amplified plainchant of aldehydal rationalism.

That flacon of frosted glass changed me – for the worse, some might argue – in the way wars and books are sometimes said to have the power to do.  In reality, of course, it is only women who have the power to change men’s lives, and so I’ll go further and say that Beaulieu’s Vison became the love of my life – a hedonist’s love. Suitably bittersweet, because once my wife had used it up I was never able to find another bottle.

Davos considers the future, can Brussels survive deflation?

Santiago Essays April 28, 2015

There is nowhere on Earth other than Davos where you can rub shoulders with so much financial influence waiting in a cloakroom queue or at a bar for a much needed double vodka with a splash of pamplemousse. This year the mood at the World Economic Forum was more sombre and the greetings less hearty. The chair for the second year running was Teresa Cock, chairperson at the hugely upright Dalliance Trust. Teresa made every effort to avoid any reference to the backdrop of ISIS atrocities, what happens next in Ukraine, Ebola and the epic Greek financial tragedy even though everyone was gasping for updates and leaving sessions early to get them from the various horses’ mouths away from the forum. Nothing was helpful, especially a well-timed announcement that Spain’s unemployment rate had reached 26% with 6 million people out of work. Henry Kissingjerk was one of the first off the blocks to mention anything important by insisting that a resolution to the crisis in Ukraine should be sponsored by President O’Bumma. That was the first indication that Davos was out of touch with the real world where no one wanted to be told what to do by the United States. Kissingjerk then saved face by saying O’Bumma was not his first choice for President.

Predictably, the deputy prime minister of Iraq, Robbi Kums Bob Bin Along, had us all transfixed with the American vision of how to defeat ISIS by flattening half of his own country. On the European front, Teresa Cock was determined to avoid any accusations that EU member governments were discussing the flow of weapons to friend and foe alike because Davos was supposed to be forward thinking and a strategic meeting place for more friendly business discussion outside killing your own people. However, Teresa was clearly unable to stop growing murmuring about how ultra-rich corporates and individuals escaped taxes and it was generally accepted that this rather than any discussion about 52 wars in process worldwide would be the main topic at the next G8.

The most urgent question that surfaced in the early sessions was how long a newly elected government in an EU member could perform on rash promises to an electorate after borrowing 187 billion euros to raise the minimum wage, maintain full salary pensions for life and then sticking two short hairy fingers up at the European leaders who had lent it to them. The answer did not come from Davos. It comes from a children’s encyclopaedia and the answer is three months unless you have balls like Poseidon and go back to ask for more. Please note that Greece is half way down that path and the one thing Angela Merky hates right now is big balls. ‘Ich haben genug mit Putrid, danke’ she spluttered as Francois Hollandaise shoved David Cameroon out of the front row of the Davos group photo.

‘You Charlie!’ muttered Cameroon as he fought his way forward. ‘While you’ve been here the halal meat business has trebled and the Democratic Union of French Muslims is fielding candidates for the regional elections next month.’ Normal French people have agreed that the word ‘Islamic’ was enough to shatter the traditional separation of politics and religion in France and cause a new and dangerous illegal polarisation. ‘I am not Charlie’ was now being used instead of ‘Bonjour’. What happened to the constitution that forbids asking questions about religious affiliation throughout the system? 

It’s 44 years of meetings since the Swiss academic Mord de Merryer arranged the first platform for business introductions and potential co-operation annually in Davos. We are perhaps now entitled to expect a smattering of new ideas and even a new dawn in various spheres of influence. In 1992 we had South African president de Berk meet Chief Mango Salad and the recently released Neilson Kaffir on the same stage at Davos. In 1994 the Israeli Prime Minister, Yom Kipper, shook the hand of the PLO leader, Ali Mentri-Kanal, in a futile gesture of camaraderie. In the same year, the success of meetings between financial luminaries Sir Perishing Useless and George Quantum-Leap saved a currency cataclysm and made them £2 billion each. In the same year, UNESCO’s newly appointed Guud Bucking-Riddence got no support to tackle 2 million orphans abandoned in the African bush because both parents had died of Aids. However, this did lead to Bill and Melinda Grates using a $30 billion Microhard cash surplus to make us all aware that 3,000 children die of malaria every day. I must say that both Mord de Merryer and Bill Grates had not aged as well as me since last year. Anyway, I was there because my pharma company happens to have a spray that stops the female pregnant mosquito being attracted to the bacteria that covers our skin. I looked for Melinda but couldn’t find her in the crush.

2010 was a serious year in Davos. Custers Larstandt, president of the European Commission, unveiled the Eurozone rescue plan with a rousing ‘we’ll do anything to defend the euro’ and clearly he wasn’t kidding. In the next two years the ECB under the guidance of Spiral Vortex insisted to Lord Rolls of Toiletpaper at the UK Treasury that austerity measures were ‘playing with fire’. Oh really! This year it was called ‘austerity and growth’. That could also mean ‘growth of austerity’ but no one wanted to commit to that as the obvious way for the European ideal to survive because an end to austerity was the cry in the distance from Takis Thepiss, the new Prime Minister of Greece and his two trusted aides Hal Etosis and Extremios Loopidoulou. The fact was that the bailout terms agreed by their former government with the troika said No to raising the minimum wage and No to maintaining full salary pensions for life. ‘What the heck?’ argued Takis Thepiss without a hint of an apology as he uncrossed his hairy fingers to pick up a treble ouzo.

In the shadows created by Davos, Takis Thepiss had sent Zorba Pint to Moscow to snuggle up to the un-invited Vladimir Putrid and offer military bases in Greece and on Cyprus two miles from our very own remaining four Harriers without spares. Meantime, the super strategist Achilles Heel, the Greek defence academic and a rabid advocate of a Greek break-away from the euro had gone off without so much as a funny handshake to talk to the Chinese about adopting the yuan. Intelligent delegates at Davos, especially the German economist Swein Hund, all agreed with the former leader of the Federal Reserve, Alan Green-Scam, that leaving aggression out of economic policy is almost as important as leaving it at home when you go into bat with the Ruskies. Ask that pillar of wisdom O’Bumma to read up on the Cuba crisis before he spouts off the insanity of sending electronic ordinance to Kiev.

All this success at Davos over the years led to the second Davos Forum to be held annually in China. However, because Chinese business-people are thieves and liars at heart, this has not had the appeal of Davos where, incidentally, home-made thieving and lying has been acceptable from those happy days when you dragged your business partner’s woman to your cave by her hair. The Chinese Premier Ho Li Kow was discreetly unavailable to answer questions at Davos like, ‘Hey Ho! Why did you build six giant dams hundreds of miles upstream on the Mekong trapping a third of the world’s fresh water supply? Now the Mekong is un-navigable and shallow and millions of your own people have no crops or fish and, by the way Ho, I forgot to mention your geopolitical ruthlessness against the six countries that share the Mekong watershed. It’s like cutting off their air supply in a way.’

‘You prefer we burn them all alive in pits like in Tibet’ Ho replied casually.

‘They prefer mass beheadings?’ butted in his aide, Phuc U.

On a lighter note, well done Andrea Merky for coming clean in the ladies room at Davos and pointing out to Red Tender-Behind, girlfriend of at least three delegates including the philosopher Alexis Prostheticus of Phallus, that Ukrainian president Petrol Head is shelling Donetsk 24/7 and his targets are starving women and children living in minus 4 degrees in cellars. Merky added that Petrol Head had restricted anyone leaving the area without the correct paperwork which was being hand-written a sheet at a time in Kiev. So his bombing included anyone venturing out to find humanitarian aid in open air distribution centres. Surrender or die? We’ve all heard that political mantra before and O’Bumma uses it as a catch-all phrase when he holds his own G1 conferences in the bathtub. Red Tender-Behind was not to be outsmarted and made it clear to Merky that all her men companions at Davos were following the American media line hammered out every evening by CNN’s Nora Lorralaffs. Nora was indeed pounding away just as much as Red, but her thrust was that Vladimir Putrid pulled the trigger on MH107. The truth is that the black box is being hidden in a safe in Farnborough because there isn’t a shred of evidence to back that accusation. Nasti Chestikov, the Russian minister of defence, had been the only sensible statesman on the subject. He reminded us that the missing question was really who stole MH370 on its way to Shanghai because the latest drone technology from Afghanistan was in the cargo hold. ‘Check the passenger manifest and you will find Wai U Hai Ding, head of the Chinese Electronic Warfare Programme, and his deputy Ai Bang Mi Phuk Ing Nee sitting together in the front. They were travelling with the five patent holders of that newly deployed drone technology leaving Jab Wrathschild as the only other financial interest safely tucked up that night in his monastery on Corsica.  Also on the plane, right at the back,  was the intermediary in the transaction, the Syrian arms dealer Ihma Bad- Mudrfukr. If this jolly lot disappeared, Rothschild would control the technology 100% and the Chinese could be exposed as trying to get hold of it. It was a bold plan and Putrid knew that if Wrathschild gave the new drones to Israel, to use against their murdering neighbour Basha Heddin, Putrid wouldn’t care because Syria would be irrelevant after his big Greek wedding on Cyprus.     

Putrid had swiped Crimea and we didn’t hear about that anymore because all the people were happily getting on with their lives outside the corruption and stealing from Kiev. Now Putrid was assisting the separatists in Ukraine on the same basis that, like Scotland, the people deserved self-determination. However, O’Bumma has demanded that the separatists had to be ring-fenced and murdered. So why didn’t David Cameroon send our remaining troops across Hadrians Wall in line with his thinking on sanctions for Ukraine?

It is only financial influence that ever makes a difference so what was triggered at Davos by the academics and politicians? What, if anything, was learned this year? Did Chancellor Angela Merky make any impression on that excuse for a US Secretary of State John Merry-Dance? What was General Motors Lou Downstairs III saying about car manufacture not being a viable business without arranging the finance? What pearls were dropped by the titan at Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blank-Check, Google’s Eric Hadh-Buttoxpred and his CFO Lurpak Butta except they said there was no intention of ruling the world while Facebook’s Norma Snockers and Alibaba’s Jack Martian whispered something about becoming the world’s largest taxonomy of commercial data.

Whatever the pearls of wisdom coming this year out of Davos, they were lost in the array of side meetings and the best of those was hosted by Morales Dillema, a transsexual and founder of the Insitiut Cervix in the Black Forest. His message was to beef up the role of women for gender parity that will save the planet. In the next meeting room with only a handful of listeners, Lancelot O’Boils was asking if we are heading back to 19th Century health care. Don le Merde, in his third year at Davos, was still complaining and his new subject was ‘what to do if you are bored with your job’. He was followed by the surprisingly sober Aaron A.G. String who was thrilled at his influence in pressing for marijuana to be accepted in Arizona, or was it New Mexico. In saying all that, there was nowhere to get away from the Greek question heading in the direction of a currency war.

So let’s get rid of the Greek question. Nothing positive came from Davos. The unshaven man in open hiking boots who is now the Greek finance minister will refuse to repay his foreign debt and the media will focus on his shiny blue shirt and the gold chain round his neck that demarks where the shaving stops. They will reach some compromise on rescheduling but the Greek banks will go bust because the troika will not bow down to a former communist youth leader with a Cabinet full of ardent Russophiles with left wing associations in Italy and particularly with the left wing populist Podemas in Spain. Those with little responsibility across Europe are joining forces through their accounts at Twitter and they are on the march. Those with any sense and anything to lose cannot miss them arriving in the capital cities. The real money hoarded over generations in Greece will finally vacate that olive tree bespeckled crucible of civilisation. Rich Greeks are moving to England, Luxembourg and Singapore in that order and Brussels will wake up to a Greek backlash of terrible deflation but it will be too late.

There are none in positions of influence who can stop the general population with no savings thinking this deflation is a good thing. That’s because it brings an economy with shrinking prices and collapsing asset values. I’ll spare you all the jargon measuring M2 and M3 money multipliers and settle for the economic truth that, for an economy with huge debts, deflation is a death sentence.

It is true that for the general population it means increased spending power and a cheap car. However, for a government that’s been completely stupid and let corruption and selfishness run away with the budget, it is financial Armageddon. Moreover it happens faster than anyone can imagine. A cursory reflection of such depression is the US in the 1930s as the economy plunged into deflation. A 40% collapse in prices haemorrhaged the business model. A vicious debt spiral caused one in five of all banks to fail. 12 million people were on the streets. Stocks were down by 90%. When there is no money, there are no jobs and no housing. ‘Ho hum the wind and the rain’ you might sing as the masses gather in the central squares of Europe and our leaders debate global prosperity. I think Germany should stun her critics by a return to the Deutschemark. The marchers are of course going to challenge any suggestion of continuing austerity in favour of abandoning book-keeping. The euro will then collapse against the US dollar. For me it was all summed up by confirmation that Greek tobacco farmers would still receive their usual EU subsidy of 350 million euros to grow a crop that had never been smoked and was now expected to be delivered annually as cattle bedding to Albania.   

In the USA, the World Health Organisation had delayed their response to the outbreak of Ebola because they were busy renegotiating their remuneration packages when the disease took hold. Neither was anything meaningful heard from the giant pharmaceutical companies except that no vaccine was available. This outbreak was apparently killing 50% of those infected but the escalating total count of 4,000 dead did not justify proper clinical trials. I mean how much can you make vaccinating 8,000 people? The burial squads walking around the rusting corrugated iron and splintered timber shitholes that were presumably where these people lived around places like Freetown had no idea about the real numbers of the dead. The disease had outpaced every effort of containment so only the cemetery keepers kept count with hundreds of dead children remembered with a stick. There were thousands of sticks across burial areas the size of football pitches.

I am in the pharma business and if the WHO would recognise independents developing preventative treatments it would be a good start. It is not difficult to stop a virus invading the cell. You strip the cell of its coating which denies the virus the means to hang on. I’m planning to be ready next time while Davos tells us lifestyle changes and dietary choices are the way forward.

There are no dietary choices in the Ukraine. Since the secret investment by Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron in the sum of $25 billion each to develop petroleum recovery in a structure of an EU/US alliance, the Americans have incited the east into rebellion by covert and desperate measures really aimed at creating an East v West situation. What is so difficult about some kind of federation with ethnic groupings all living in harmony but responsible separately for their own livelihood. I’ll tell you the answer to that in two words. O’Bumma!    

I was quite clear with Angela on this point as I gathered she was going to Washington. I caught her on the steps of the Snowboarder Hotel and I had to raise my voice a little as she was 230 feet away. I’m not sure how much she heard but she waved in my direction as I started to tell her the heart of the problem. My point was that the Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans. Mexicans eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans. Chinese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans. Germans drink a lot of beer and eat lots of sausages and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans. The whole of Eastern Europe does a lot of cocaine but suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans so what does that tell you?  My read on the situation is that you can eat and drink and stick whatever you like up your nose because apparently its speaking with an American accent that kills you and, by the way, an anagram of President Barack Obama is ‘An Arab Backed Imposter’.

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