1 SEPTEMBER 1979, Page 24

High life



It was Cervantes, I believe, who said that one can tell a man by his friends. That may have been true a longtime ago, especially in Spain, but I doubt if that is the case today. Especially in the birthplace of selective democracy .Here on the island of Spetsai, 50 miles southeast of Athens, one can only tell one's friends by the type of yacht they own.

Spetsai used to be a pretty old place. with beautiful houses surrounding a tranquil harbour. The houses are still there, as beautiful as ever, but some of them have bars-on the ground floor, bars that advertise with neon signs attractions that delight the cheap, unWashed campers who are swarming all over the place.

This means of course that the rich have taken to their boats to get away from the smelly intruders. Land is scarce, always was, houses are built one next to the other, and no-one can hide. Except for Stavros Niarchos. He predicted that social democracy was coming as far back as 1956. He bought the adjoining island of Spetsopoula and now is able to hide not only from the great unwashed, but also from the nouveaux riches and their super-fast yachts. To be nouveau riche in Greece one has to have made money since the war. The Vietnam war, that is. Recently the old guard decided it had had about enough from the nouveaux and gave a bash across Spetsai, in Porto Heli, on the northern-most tip of the Peloponnese, for people who had made their money between the two wars. The Korean and Vietnamese.

The trouble was that the lady who gave the party was herself under suspicion of becoming rich rather lately. She is a Swiss lady, once a dancer, afterwards married to a kindly and very generous man called Ernie Kanzler. He was the uncle of Henry Ford II, and when he died he left his considerable fortune to his wife, Rosemary. There were no children. Rosemary and Ernie used to summer in Cap Ferrat, where they kept an almost open house in their great chateau, Saint Jean, a famous mansion once owned by lsadora Duncan. When the Riviera joined the Lebanon, Sardinia and Uganda as a place to avoid at all costs, Rosemary, by now married to a younger man called Jean-Pierre Marcie-Riviere, decided to sell out and move on. To Porto Heli. A short swim if one is a strong swimmer, from Spetsai and the beautiful people.

After waiting for a whole year. Rosemary decided she was old guard enough, by Greek standards, to give a party. She invited everyone who used to go to the Riviera and who was still alive, however barely. Like the Duke and Duchess of Bedford. Or Lady Rothermere. And perfume queen Helene Rochas. The party was for about four hundred but only 170 showed up. Most of the no-shows had died and were obviously unable to attend. To make up for their absence Rosemary, an inventive soul, got every gay this side of San Francisco to dress up in drag and come over. The gays obliged. For a while it looked as if the Gay Liberation League had decided to do a D-Day on Porto Heli.

One stumbling block was that Rosemary could not house all of the gays. Therefore she arranged for people with gin palaces who lived near by to put them up. When word got around there were suddenly no more gin palaces to be seen in the Aegean Archipelago. Every shipowner suddenly began sailing.

The party was a partial success. It got plenty of publicity, the gays are now more accepted by the Greek police, the Duke of Bedford sold some tickets, and people with sailing boats reigned supreme for one week. But I doubt if Porto Hell will take over from Cap Ferrat, thank God, if only because Rosemary's guests, in view of their age, are bound soon to meet their maker. In the meantime, 1 am not sure whom I hate more• the great unwashed in Spetsai, or the stinkpots that are back polluting the sea named after Theseus's father.