1 AUGUST 1987, Page 41

High life

Youthful pleasures


Venice hehe last time 1 visited the most en- chanting city in the world was 20 years ago, for the ultimate ball the old Contessa Volpi was to give. By an ironic twist, both my future ex-wives were with me. I was then married to Cristina, a child bride if ever there was one, but I already had my eye on a 20-year-old by the name of Alexandra. The ball was a great success, marred somewhat by the disappearance of a famous diamond necklace off the wrinkled neck of a rich grande dame. The police were called in and the usual suspects were searched — I was not among them — but the diamonds were never found. Perhaps it was an indication of things to come, because soon after the rich closed down their palazzos and surrounded themselves with minders rather than sycophants. What I remember best about my last

visit to Venice was a drink I had with Philippe Erlanger, the noted French histo- rian and Napoleonic expert. Erlanger in- vited me to drinks at the Café Florien, and we spoke about the self-styled emperor some consider to be the first modern man. I cannot truly say that I learned a lot because the wise professor had a roving eye, but even this could not stop me from noticing how delightful Florien was.

Last Sunday I was back in Venice for the third time in 30 years, this time with only one ex-wife, my two children, and Profes- sor Van Den Haag, a man also known to have a roving eye but for the fair sex only. Sitting once again in the Café Florien listening to its orchestra playing old roman- tic tunes, while drinking iced Tom Col- linses and watching the old gas lamps flicker alight, brought back the memories of an irresponsible youth, and they were all pleasant ones. The city is so unique, it's almost impossible to feel sad, unless of course one is von Aschenbach and has it in for someone under age.

We stayed at the Cipriani for one night and two days, which at the present rate of exchange for the dollar comes to roughly the same amount won by Jeffrey Archer in his libel case against the smut merchants. The first night we dined at Harry's Dolci, in the Giudecca, a far better restaurant than Harry's Bar, if only for the lack of tourists. The next day we lunched at yet another Cipriani establishment in Torcello.

While Alexandra and I were taking in some culture under the expert instruction of our friend Ernest Van Den Haag, my two children and their nanny managed to spoil it all by hiring a taxi and cruising non-stop around the Venetian archipelago. I say they spoiled it all because taxis in Venice are not exactly like those in, say, Calcutta. By the time the brats had had enough cruising I was stuck with a bill of almost a million lire, and there was hell to pay. Literally.

But even the rapacious taxis of Venice did not spoil my mood. First there was the wonderful train back to Florence, air- conditioned, three-quarters empty, and on time. Then, of course, there was the good news that Aziz Kurtha and his kind had got their come-uppance, to add to my plea- sure. Last was the fact that I've decided to buy a farmhouse in Tuscany, one that I shall put at the disposal of Mary and Jeffrey Archer, needless to say, although I suspect the Archers need Taki's house as much as England needs Kurtha the filth- peddler.

Yes, it's been the most pleasurable of weeks, and upon my return to Cetinale the best and most pleasant surprise of all was an 18-year-old by the name of Sophia Creswell, who might just become the third Mrs Taki. If you don't hear from me next week, look for me in the bottom of the well high above Lord Lambton's house. The suspects are Alexandra and Sophia's grandmother.