5 JUNE 1982, Page 32

High life



Southampton, Long Island

Imagine a series of quiet, tiny, tranquil villages by the sea, a country refuge for New York City's rich, distinguished by vast frame structures designed by the kind of firm Jay Gatsby would hire if he was building from scratch. Imagine a time when life was made easier by the ministrations of large staffs — butlers, chauffeurs, cooks, kitchenmaids, chambermaids, governesses and an army of gardeners. That was sum- mer in the Hamptons during the Twenties. Or, if you don't wish to go back that far, try the Fifties. Even then, the Hamptons meant an antiseptic world of wicker chairs, yellow and white umbrellas, verandas, and long green lawns — and what Cecil Beaton aptly called retina irritants, in the form of azalias, daisies, zinnias, and other pollen- releasing spring bloomers. Stately maple trees and tall hedges shielded the owners of these estates from curious outsiders.

Well, forget all that. Today the tranquil villages are no more. The era of Gatsby par- ties is as dead as poor old Jay himself. The place has been overrun by the motliest group of people since the anti-Vietnam war marchers. On a typical summer weekend, herds of gaudily dressed day-trippers swarm along the streets of the Hamptons. Worse, evidence of the last decade's plague, the jogging mania, is everywhere. On the beach, down Main Street, along every avenue and strip of grass, sweaty, naked, hirsute men, and droopy breasted varicosed women wheeze and grunt, reminding one that the great equaliser, moneyed socialism, is here to stay.

If one manages to get away from the jog- gers and the BBQ (Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens) crowd, one has to contend with pseudo-literary sets that draw every bearded phoney since Amnesty International and the anti-nukes decided that the West was more of a threat to peace than the Russians. Every agent and huckster who isn't at Elaine's or at the Beverly Hills Hotel is out at the Hamptons come Memorial weekend.

This past Memorial weekend was par- ticularly painful for me. First of all I had three people from Britain staying with me. And the bragging that went on about the drubbing 'we' are administering to the Argentinians even got on my nerves. One art dealer, whose greatest claim to fame is that he knows every rich girl in Texas, was particularly annoying, so I challenged him to a boxing match which he refused, and to a tennis match which, unfortunately, and to my great chagrin and embarassment, he won. Worse, it rained all three days, remin- ding me of the dreadful English weather I used to endure back at my ancestral country seat. Typically, when I turned on the televi- mon I saw the kind of weather England has been enjoying recently.

One visit by an old friend that made LIP for the bragging Brits, the phoney egg' heads, and the BBQ crowds was that of Gianni Agnelli. The Fiat chairman was over here recovering from a badly mangled leg and a heart attack. He was, nevertheless, in great form, and began teasing me when he saw me reading a biography of Mussolini. He told me a story about an actor, in fact Italy's greatest actor after the Duce, whomGianni had met before the war. Oswald() Valenti was married to an equally famous actress, Louisa Farida, with whom he was madly in love and, typically, extremely jealous of. When he began to suspect that she was carrying on with another man, he laid a trap for her. He cut short his perfor- mance of a Pirandello play, pretending that he had lost his voice, and drove quicklY t,4° the place of assignation. A large tip helPeu him get past the hall porter, and a larger one provided him with a pass key. Once In: side the darkened suite, where his saga- dons were confirmed, he drew his revolver, cocked the trigger, placed it on the rnalls, buttocks, and said: 'E adesso, vaya avant.' (`And now keep going'). Valenti and Farida were both killed by vengeful anti-fascist mobs after the fall of Mussolini. I thought reading about the Duce would be appropriate just before fiY- ing down to Buenos Aires. By the time You read this I'll be in General Galtieri's hands.