Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

The workers teem over the building site that suddenly appeared on the overgrown river-bed which my holiday cottage overlooks. They like to get an early start before the merciless Andalusian sun starts roasting their leathery hides. A couple of hours before breakfast a raucous but not unappealing cacophony of tuned power tools fills the air. The whine of the electric saw is particularly poignant at that time of the morning, reminding me of someone trying to perform the oeuvre of Poulenc using the contents of the Black & Decker catalogue. Next there is the eerie silence of the siesta during which I recline on the day bed in my rooftop office savouring the first Havana of the day and gazing out at La Concha, the local mountain, the lower portion of which will soon be obscured by double-deluxe luxury apartments (executed in the traditional PM3, three-floor Pueblo Mediterraneanstyle, with all those rustic touches like underfloor heating, on-terrace plunge-pools and underground parking). In the early evening, the sun setting behind a forest of cranes, the cicadas fill in the aural gap between the downing of power tools and the resumption of the dusk-till-dawn service at the nearby niterie, La Notte, a fusion of the Ivy and Tramp. Having read to my children about the siege of Troy - we have just got to the bit where Achilles gets a brandnew suit of armour from Hephaestus - I sit on the terrace, the final cigar of the day smouldering in the ashtray, and experience about 24 minutes of that extremely rare commodity, douceur de vivre. I turn in for the night, convinced that Marbella cranes, pueblo-style penthouses, vigorous nightlife and all - is indeed the location of the original Garden of Eden.

Shortly before moving the family to southern Europe for the summer, I bumped into Dr Simon Thurley at the races. Thurley has just taken over as head honcho at English Heritage and is spending part of the summer writing another of his scintillating books about old buildings - together with that other modem Pevsner, Clive Aslet, he is in danger of making architectural history the next big literary movement after chick lit. I suggested that he come down to Marbella where some of the buildings are at least 20 years old. I was of course being facetious: there are some parts of the Marbella Club which date back to the 1950s. Moreover, the club's founder, Prince Alfonso Hohenlohe, is still around, as is his sidekick Count Rudi Schonburg, a genial figure who can be seen decorating the nocturnal scene in his striking guayaberas. Count Rudi is a walking Almanach de Gotha. He is married to Princess Marie-Louise of Prussia, and if there is a grand Euro-wedding or funeral taking place you can count on Rudi's presence. It is people like him who lend seasoning to the social diet of this charming little fishing village. For instance, one afternoon a year or two ago at the Marbella Club, I caught sight of Rod Stewart of pop-music fame; then in the evening, strolling through the jasmine-- scented grounds, I encountered Rudi, who introduced me to an old friend of his who happened to be Otto von Habsburg. As well as demonstrating Marbella's catholic appeal, this allows me to recount my favourite Habsburg story which, I am assured, is not apocryphal. It was early evening at the European Parliament and the bar was emptying, so that MEPs and their friends could go to watch an important football match. Apparently someone asked Otto if he would be watching the Austria-Hungary match. …

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