Magazine article The Spectator

High Life: Taki

Magazine article The Spectator

High Life: Taki

Article excerpt

The secret of eternal youth, according to Alice Roosevelt Longworth, is arrested development, and the penny dropped last week. The mountains were misty, snow was falling and I went to the dojo for some karate training. I was sparring with a tough, fifth-degree black-belt instructor, Roland, and kept nailing him, something I hadn't been able to do previously. That's when it dawned on me. Respecting my advanced age, he was taking a dive. 'If you don't stop this crap, I'll beat the crap out of you,' I threatened. He didn't -- and nor did I. We ended up laughing and doing kata instead. I felt great after 45 minutes of punching and kicking, but what a bore old age is. The last time somebody pulled his punches on me was 50 years ago when I was a white belt. I can see it now, being escorted across the street like some old ladies are -- when they're not being mugged.

Never mind. The heartlessness of youth, the selfishness and cluelessness are zero compared with creaky old age. They say that wisdom comes with age, but does it? Karajan was greater when his hair was pitch black, as was Mitropoulos when he still had hair. (I was happy to read in the Telegraph that the Greek was included among the five greatest conductors: Furtwängler, Karajan, Klemperer and Kleiber.) Both Alexander the Great and Napoleon erred late rather than early on, but it was Plato speaking for Socrates who nailed it best in the Republic. He's great on sex, although the word is never mentioned. This is Cephalus talking to Socrates about old age: 'I feel as if I had escaped from a mad and furious master.' Well, maybe Cephalus felt like that, but I sure don't. Neither does Jack Nicholson, who announced five years ago that he was through with chasing pussy but has kept on chasing, maybe not as desperately as before, but the hunt is always on. Cicero recycled Plato without attribution, but what the hell, the Romans always copied us Greeks, so what else is new? (And they will again, in the near future, when Italy turns into the basket case that is modern Hellas.)

Character is very important in old age, according to Cicero -- I agree with him -- and he also mentions happiness from within. (Until now, happiness from within meant going to bed alone and finding Ava Gardner in it.) Basically, old age is not for sissies, and those who complain non-stop about it are silly and very boring. Yeats was muscle-bound and would-be heroic, but he was a bit strange about old age. To make up for it, he wished to collect mechanical songbirds that a Byzantine emperor once possessed. (I'd rather have a cut-out of Betty Grable in a bathing suit circa 1945. …

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