Saturday, May 23, 2009

Pity the poor rich

(A Saturday extravaganza)

A famed snatch of dialogue:
Scott Fitzgerald: You know, Hem, the rich are not like us.

Ernest Hemingway: Nah: they've got more money.
One of the more sublime places on Earth is Cap Ferrat.

The bay of Villefranche to the west, where the big cruising liners moor for the day, so the inmates can briefly escape to Nice. To the east, the monstrous superyachts and the lesser Tupperware© rock gently off Beaulieu-sur-mer. The Mediterranean glitters in all directions, except where the great white bluffs of the Alpine foothills tower to the north, sheltering this peninsula from the worst blasts of winter.

Inevitably Cap Ferrat is an enclave of the very well-heeled, as is attested by the high and impenetrable hedges, the screens, gates and shutters of the grand (and not-so-grand) mansions. Current residents include Paul Allen of Microsoft and the Baron Lloyd-Webber.

They continue the long line of louche and lucrified lay-abouts:
Nicolas II, Empresses Eugénie, Elisabeth of Austria and Marie of Roumania, James Gordon Bennet and especially Leopold II of Belgium and Béatrice de Rothschild have all lived here. The post-war era (1939-45) also brought its lot of celebrities: Charlie Chaplin, David Niven, Elisabeth Taylor, Gregory Peck... Presidents of France were great fans of the Cape: Vincent Auriol, René Coty, Charles de Gaulle, Giscard d’Estaing. Writers also liked to retire here: Somerset Maugham, Blaise Cendras, Armand Lanoux, Alain Decaux, as well as actors and artists: Jean Gabin, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Gilbert Bécaud, Charles Aznavour, Jacques Tati, Bourvil, Jean Marais and Jean Cocteau.
Jean-François Dieterich of the Agence du Littoral describes his potential clients:
Cap Ferrat plays host to the English, Irish, Americans and Russians, and still a few Italians ; to a lesser extent, Belgians, Swiss and Germans.
Ah, yes, the usual reprobates, and even worse:
Jean-François Dieterich puts the recent rise in Irish buyers down to tax changes in their home country.
Changed, all changed!

Chilly winds have swept down from the north:
Last summer, prices reached boiling point when Villa Leopolda, with majestic views over Cap Ferrat from Villefranche-sur-Mer, went on the market. Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, who has several properties on Cap Ferrat, was rumoured to be interested, but then the richest man in Russia, Mikhail Prokhorov, reportedly agreed to buy it – for €500 million (£440 million). The sale would have crowned the belle époque villa the world's most expensive property. But the banking crisis set in, and Prokhorov was forced to pull out, losing every penny of his €39 million deposit. Leopolda's owner, Lily Safra, donated the money to charity.

Post-Leopolda, the French Riviera is an uncertain place. "At the present time we don't have any information about where prices are going to be," says Jean-Claude Caputo of Savills Riviera Estates . "But those who bought in the last two years would probably sell for 20 or 30 per cent less today."
No tears, please, for Prokhorov:
One of Russia’s wealthiest men, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, was taken into custody by French police in a crackdown on a suspected prostitution ring at a swank Alpine ski resort ...

Investigators suspect Russian call girls were brought to the resort in Courchevel, a favored playground of Russia’s rich, to work during the winter holidays, authorities said. Clients allegedly paid the women with gifts from luxury boutiques.
Although he was released, a returning Prokhorov might still be welcomed with open arms -- by the French gendarmerie.

As for Senora Safra, her worth of £650M ranks 49th in the Daily Mail rich list (here with original spelling):
Four times married philathropist
Her life has been dogged by tragedy but 'Gilded Lily' Safra hasn't lost her lustre. The socialite inherited £200 million after her second husband committed suicide and the rest after her fourth husband, banker Edmond Safra, died tragically in a fire in 1999. One of her three children, Claudio, died in a car crash. But she has settled into a life of philanthropy. Her charity donations are legendary - she once gave £8m to Somerset house. Lily, 66, has put her six-storey London house up for sale at £28m and bought a smaller place nearby. She has other homes in France, Switzerland and Monaco. Forbes puts her wealth at £650m and we agree.
Yeah, yeah: it's that "died tragically in a fire in 1999" which really plucks the heart-strings.

It's well-trodden ground, but let's hear Malcolm's swift reprise.

Edmond Safra was suffering from Parkinson's disease. He needed, and could afford round-the-clock nursing care. In the early hours of 3 December 1999, at the Safra apartment in Monaco, the two nurses on duty were Ted Maher and Vivien Torrente.

Allegedly, Maher, anxious to be the hero of the moment, staged an attempted break-in, stabbing himself for effect, then set fire to the apartment. Maher's version was he merely intended to set off the fire alarms to bring attention: it took 2½ hours for the fire service to arrive. Safra and Torrente died in the "secure" room: Lily, in a room at the other end of the apartment, escaped unscathed.

There were no security guards around: Lily had sent them to the Villa Leopolda weeks before.

Maher was found guilty of arson, and went down for ten years. Within a couple of months, he had sawn through the cell-bars and was again free. He was caught in Nice, and went back inside. In 2008 the conviction was overturned, and Maher was freed.

There is a minor branch of the galactic conspiracy industry concerned with Safra's death.

At this juncture Milady Aramintha, la Châtelaine du Knocknamuckly (who has been missing from this blog too long) would cryptically murmur:
'Tis wonderful the workings of a wheel-barrow.
Algernon Moncrieff opines:
Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility.
So, really, you see, as with MPs' expenses, the collapse of the Cap Ferrat property bubble, and the devious doings of the rich-and-famous, it's all the fault of us peasants.

We, like Scott Fitzgerald, understand the rich but dimly. Sphere: Related Content

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