Safari to the Rich (Ausflug zu den reichen Leuten)

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Those who have less money than us do not have the material prerequisites to enjoy life to the full. Unfulfilled cultural aspirations slumber certainly in the worker as well, but don’t forget, Herr Counsellor, the lower orders may want to, but they can’t. I ask you, what interests do these people have? Those who have more money than us are idiots. They may well materially have everything they need, but they don’t have our culture. The nouveau riche, Herr Counsellor, could indeed, but they don’t want to. I ask you, what interests do these people have? The poor rich people, they really don’t get a good press.

The millionaire A. O. Barnabooth speaks in his charming diary by Valéry Larbaud of, „the solemn irony, which I have noticed in all people of modest income with whom I have to do. I speak to them without hidden motives, from person to person, familiarly, as, for example, the Americans like it. But they bow down before me, and when their heads are right down, they stick their tongues out at me. They shake my hand as though it were a funeral, and I feel all the contempt which they have for me. They don’t even bother to hide their feelings, because when they pull their most respectfully subservient face, they consider a millionaire to be much too stupid to notice how they are flattering him. They are very subtle people. I thought at first,“ said the rich man, „that this silent irony was the smirk of envy, but no, it is not envy, it is the inability to open their eyes and see beyond certain perceptions. It is simply narrowness of mind.“ Everyone creates his own world in the centre of which he stands, and denies that of the others, whose world-view could put him up against the wall. So silver-embossed democratic women raise up the poor workers, who don’t know any better, and disdain the rich millionaires, who don’t know any better. Rich people have a tame press, but they don’t get a good press.

In Biarritz, you can see them in the wild. The fishy-smelling little place that Taine found in the 1850s has become what it is today courtesy of the Spanish aristocracy, and above all Queen Victoria, whom the English aristocracy followed fearlessly. It is charmingly situated: the silver-blue coastline with cliffs with artful gaps in them, so that one can stroll between them. Flower beds: a small tree with light green, feathery leaves, which looks like a carrot tree, grows there, and at particular times, in particular places, it is really quite elegant, but the general appearance is not elegant. In any case, ‚Biarritz‘ happens on the private property of the rich, in their clubs and parks, in the small and large villas on the coast, and in the stately homes a little further inland. If one wants to describe French elegance, one must not forget that the terms Kempinski[1] and Esplanade are German terms, and that France does not have that which a very amusing man once referred to as Berlin’s “wealth screen”. The French average is well below the German in visible lifestyle and expectations, but it reaches great heights. I can’t tell you much about the real wealth. Not out of contempt, but because I have not been introduced to these social circles, because they are unfamiliar to me, because my financial resources are inadequate, so that I would have to flatten my nose on their window. I don’t take it for granted that I’ll stay at the Hôtel du Palace, the heap would bear down on me, and I wouldn’t be capable of more than that excruciating irony that the reporter uses to show that all that doesn’t impress him in the least, and that he is really the better person.

I went to Biarritz out of a sense of duty. The photographs in the magazines wouldn’t have attracted me. They all showed tennis players in white trousers, with their ladies, sitting at the side of the road or at little tables, with teapots and red parasols, with the sea and the car in the background. How rural! The spa attendance list, which is in your fashionable magazine, if it doesn’t happen to prefer to show photographs of Heringsdorf[2] at the moment, tells one who is in Biarritz at the moment. Mistinguett[3] is apparently there. And I’ve seen Missia myself. Missia, the little fatty from the little theatre Perchoir in Paris. A divine, no longer very young person, with a face like a, let’s say, moon, a snub nose, and brazen! Cheeky as you like. She crosses the road with a young man, with whom she is very familiar, and I am insanely jealous. Me, too!

In the little restaurant in which I take breakfast, but don’t get anything to eat, sits a very young English girl, with Daddy and Mummy and little brother. She is a child, perhaps fifteen or sixteen years old. She has a few freckles, a long head, long fingers – she is not pretty at all. But she is rude. She has that which tempts older gentlemen into considerable indiscretions. Something depraved-female, she entices… a quick one behind the hotel door, while Mummy is not watching… Maybe she wouldn’t even enjoy it, but she has read in her forbidden books that it’s fun. They will probably quickly marry her off suitably, and that will be that.

Incidentally, one of the nicest things about such a distant resort is that one doesn’t have to put up with the experience that every ten paces someone comes to a halt as though rooted to the spot, stares at one with an idiotically pleased expression, and shouts, “No!” which is shorthand for, “Can I believe my eyes? Of course it’s not you! You couldn’t possibly be in the same place as me!” And then it starts, and one can kiss goodbye to the whole afternoon.

Ciboure. I have to go to the Reserve de Ciboure, I was given this errand in Paris. Not into the hotels, not to Père Tolstoi, with the unkempt beard and beautiful daughter, who runs a nightclub. If I must… The big car speeds through the evening, leaving Biarritz behind, and heads far inland. I notice the excellent discipline of the drivers, although it is actually more than just discipline and observance of the traffic rules, and fear of a ‘procès-verbal’, being reported or charged: it is genuine mutual consideration. Not once in all my travels in the Pyrenees have I seen drivers getting in each others‘ way, annoying each other, or ‘showing him a thing or two’. They don’t race to impress their employers: „Go on, Klumpke, show us what you can do!“ „With pleasure, Herr Director!“ They don’t argue over right of way at junctions; everything goes smoothly. That the cars switch their lights off in the evening so as not to dazzle each other, and wave to each other with a wink, like ships passing in the night, is also the case in Germany. But this almost chivalrous manner: after you, Sir! the calm friendliness with which even the fast stretches are taken, is pleasing to see. One feels safer. Bidart, Guéthary, across the little market square of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, with it’s funny, stunted trees. Then the car turns right at a bay, and comes to a halt.

The Réserve de Ciboure is a small terrace above a bay. The lights of Biarritz shine in the distance. It is somewhat cool, the band will have to warm itself up. Little tables with lamps, and a dance-floor in the middle. One has to reserve in advance. It is the thing to do to take supper here once, which one can say without appearing pretentious, because it is served at 10 pm. It is unfortunately not very good. If I visit the Indians, I want things to be Indian. And the champagne isn’t very amusing, either. And so they sit there. A lot of foreigners: South America, the States, England, America, England. Their men are as handsome as ever, but the American women look terrible. When one sees them sitting there, one thinks of piano teachers in their Sunday best. They wear jewellery which was bought for them, but it shines treacherously across to others; it doesn’t feel comfortable with them. It is completely used to them, but it won’t do them the favour of adorning them. They know that they are in a place of amusement, so they amuse themselves. But because this is not a uniform circle of people who belong together, who know and are attuned to each other, and have the habit of being together, the characteristic atmosphere which is the attraction and amusement of large receptions and garden parties, is missing. It is simply something that has been paid for. I realize for the three-hundredth time on this earth, one cannot buy the ‘high life’ by paying for dinner in a hotel; that’s just what people believe. They will let you in, but you don’t belong. And if it weren’t for the bloated consciousness of so many snobs who only experience their own false superiority over the poor slobs at home, not the Réserve de Ciboure, they would be even more bored. They also think that refinement rubs off, and are inordinately proud of the money of the other guests.

One has to give them one thing, however: good conduct is taken for granted. Nowhere does one see anyone saying, „What do you say, now? Here I am, drinking expensive champagne!“ These evening tables, this dance orchestra, this food and this wine, that is their life. It doesn’t surprise them, and they don’t expect anyone to admire them for it. People are eating at the next table. One doesn’t watch other people, and nobody here does so. One can travel throughout France, including Paris, without being stared at, categorized, evaluated, and added to the inventory. “What do you think he is? Academic? Industry? Diplomat? Less than me? Hooray! More than me? Then let’s at least admire him!“

I don’t need to look, I know how they eat. I have noticed so often what happens when rich people eat: they watch the waiter bringing their fodder, with an apparently indifferent, but actually tense, expression. The juices of their mental appetite are, as it were, flowing from their brains. They sit stolidly there, „I have a right to that. That is mine.“ And I am convinced that they would growl if someone tried to take it away from them. Their meal is a sacred rite, not just because it is so fine, but because the gentleman is served. The zoo keepers do all they can to reinforce this belief. They serve the weakest vegetable soup like the Eucharist, they ladle it cautiously, they carve like a surgeon, fine, with the greatest care, and they hold the pudding as though they were rocking a baby. Silence! The gentleman is eating.

Upon which the band plays Tea for Two, and the people dance. They dance in a business-like way: seriously, completely egoistically, entirely involved with themselves. The other couples simply don’t exist. It has exactly as much to do with eroticism as a telephone conversation: there can be some, but it is not essential. Now that everyone has eaten, that universally conciliatory mood which overcomes one who is completely full, pervades the atmosphere. It is particularly conducive to the conservative view of the world. Someone who is digesting finds controversial conversations irritating. No, don’t, life is so good!

But now it really has become a little cool. I will presently stand up and act as though it would never occur to me that one could actually walk back to Biarritz. The car shall collect me. In Biarritz, the picture of Yvonne George, the diseuse, by van Dongens, is hanging in front of an illuminated window. Should I? But the manager who comes rushing out is so attentive, and the establishment is so empty, that it is sure to go wrong, so it’s better just to go home.

Money? Successful official representatives tend to speak with a voice which tastes of roast goose greaves. A little money is horrible. A lot of money is attractive. And the calm, imperturbable, well-balanced gaze of the blue eyes with the heavy lids: the face of seriously rich people, pursues me until I fall asleep.


[1] Luxury brand

[2] Baltic resort

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mistinguett

Next Chapter: Two Monasteries (Zwei Klöster)

Author: Kurt Tucholsky

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Back to contents: TuchoPyrenees Tucholsky Pyrenees Book

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