Taki To the Carlton Club for an oversubscribed dinner moderated by Michael Binyon with Liam Fox and yours truly speaking about the Middle East. When my turn came I shyly pointed out that I was honoured to be invited because the usual subject I'm asked to discuss is Paris Hilton or jail. 'Why don't you do just that?' yelled someone from the audience.
Oh well, not everyone is as polite as Sergei Cristo, the big shot at the club who had the temerity to invite me. Unsurprisingly, the Middle East seems to be on everyone's mind nowadays, everyone except Paris Hilton's, that is. I suppose 2001 will go down as a footnote in history because of the Twin Towers disaster, just as 2003 will be remembered as the year Uncle Sam launched his worst thought-out invasion ever. There are years which are momentous in historical importance and others that are less so. Depending on whose side you're on, 1948 was anathema to Muslims, as Israel was created, although 1917 was hardly better, what with the fall of the Tsar and the Balfour Declaration. As a wise man pointed out in the Sunday Telegraph, all these dates rubbed the Muslims up the wrong way, but it seems to me that everything we do rubs them up the wrong way, even when our girls take their clothes off and sway to the music of rock. (If you call that swaying.) No, my favourite dates differ from those of Mohammed or Hassan. I like 732, as in Charles Martel in Tours; 1683, as in Jan Sobieski in Vienna; and, the best of all because it took place in my backyard, 1571, as in Don John and the Battle of Lepanto. Of all the battles, this was the one that saved the Christian West. It was a naval encounter even more important than Salamis, when we Greeks wiped the floor with those Persian interlopers. The West was lucky in having one of the greatest popes of all time, Pius V, who named Don John of Austria as commander, an inspired and brilliant choice. Pius, in his six short years as Pope, published the works of Thomas Aquinas, excommunicated Queen Elizabeth and promulgated the Council of Trent. Not bad for a simple and aged Dominican priest by the name of Michael Ghislieri. Everyone who was anyone joined the Holy League, even the effete and treacherous Venetians, and with the extremely good-looking and gallant Don John at the head the Christians met the Turkish hordes in the Gulf of Patras. (A Greek proverb has it that Pan Paturn Putana, or all women from Patras are whores, but I for one disagree. If it were true, we would have lost.) But I have to be careful. I can no longer be judgmental, even of suicide bombers of last week's vintage. 'Judgmental' is an American invention, the final, idiotic word of censure in the relativist age. So far be it from me to criticise these bums who come over to our shores and blow themselves up while putting firework manufacturers out of business. On the contrary, I salute them, as I salute criminals, knife-wielders, illegal immigrants, Salman Rushdie, and so on. Talk about bulls**t, we're swimming in it up to our necks, and my worry is that I've got a particularly short one.
But back to modern history this time. Tom Cruise is about to begin filming in Germany, and he's portraying none other than the great Claus von Stauffenberg, the officer who tried to assassinate Hitler. When I rang my friend Elizabeth Stauffenberg Roberti — her father was Claus's brother and was also put to death after the July 20 plot — she did not seem too perturbed that Cruise was to play her uncle. 'He is a foot shorter but what the hell ... ' My problem with Cruise is not his religion, far from it, but his mannerisms. I don't think he is capable of playing an upper-class Wehrmacht officer of noble background. It takes more than acting lessons to do that. Stauffenberg was very handsome and a great hero, something perhaps a Gary Cooper could have brought across, but not Cruise. Mind you, I hope I'm wrong, but I wouldn't bet on it. A German journalist was not pleased by the choice. 'It is like casting Judas in the role of Jesus.' Easy, Trigger. It's not as bad as all that, but they should have got Leopold Bismarck for the role.
And speaking of Bismarck, I am off with them to Rome for the Valentino three-day bash to end all bashes. I will be reporting on it next week, but in preparation we had a very jolly lunch at the Bismarck house in order to get our livers acclimatised to booze. Nick Scott, an old Etonian, was telling a schoolmate of his, George Moreton, about how hard it was for Boris Johnson to be the editor of the Speccie because Boris was Lyndon Johnson's nephew. 'Jesus Christ,' said George. 'And,' continued Nick, 'it got more complicated because of Barry Lyndon ... "F*****g right,' said George, and we all collapsed in tears of laughter. See you in Rome.