7 AUGUST 2004, Page 45

Philosophy lesson


Sr Tropez

Surnmer is supposedly a time when you can leave behind the cares of the world, a vision of the good life, a back-to-nature period after the barbarities of the city. In the South of France, as in other glitzy resorts, summer has nothing to do with nature; it has to do with performance, as in flaunting it. Summer is the time when you show what you're really worth and what you've earned screwing your fellow man, Yachts, private planes, houses, cars, staff, flunkies, hookers — they're all status symbols now, and consumption has replaced God as the ultimate power. You are what you spend, and if you spend enough you are somebody. As I still believe in the Almighty, God help us.

Mind you, whoever said that Hell-isother-people sure got it right. In America's East Coast, summer is trying to keep certain people out; over here, it is trying to get certain rich and famous folk to join your party. Alain de Botton, the pocket philosopher, claims material possessions are 'our quest for love from the world'. Alain de Batton is either a fool or he's playing mind games, and Alain is no fool. According to Botton, it is simply an inferiority complex. The disdain of others has pressured those who practise outrageous conspicuous consumption to try to impress the former, If you thought comedy was dead, read Alain. If this were true, those greedy slobs I've rubbed shoulders with these last couple of weeks had sand kicked in their faces when they were poor, ergo the showing off. Sorry, Alain, but this is even unworthy of Oprah.

The need for status is not a need for love but a need to step on your fellow man and have the audience cheer you for doing it. One thing I've noticed around these parts is how physically repulsive, brutish and short are most of those who have been pressured by the early disdain of their fellow man to act the way they do. There have been people with boats, planes and great houses before, but their behaviour matched their discretion and good manners. This here thing is getting out of hand. It is the triumph of greed and ugliness, the mother of bad taste and excess. And before anyone wonders what I'm doing here, I will cast the first stone. Like Rick in Casablanca, I was misinformed, but then we all know I was not. I simply thought things could not get any worse, but they sure have. My editors no longer allow me to mention names of certain races and religions, so I will not. One thing is for sure, however: if you don't wish to visit Dante's Inferno, stick to your village, hamlet, even your city, just don't go to the Riviera or the Hamptons, not to mention Monte Carlo and the Cap d'Antibes.

Having said this, I went up to Francois Pinault's villa overlooking St Tropez harbour and almost had a stroke. For any of you who don't know who Pinault is, he is France's richest and most powerful tycoon, although you'd never know it from his manner, wife, house or art collection. Francois is a self-made man, a proud Breton, who started from scratch to become numero uno by far. He sat around shooting the breeze with my young son who had worked on a boat at Francois's birthplace. While drinking with him he never once mentioned business, got embarrassed when I said his garden was the most beautiful I've ever set eyes on, and talked openly about how worried he was that 'old' Europe and Uncle Sam are drifting apart. He's had the same wife and has kept his old friends and, with his humble background in an elitist society like the French one, he shot down the de Botton theory as easily as the Red Baron used to bring down his prey.

Why can't other Mr Bigs be like Pinault? If I knew. I'd tell you, but of all the Mr Bigs I've met in my life, and I've met most of them, he is by far the kindest and most simple. He is ten days younger than yours truly, so when I proposed that I adopt him, he smiled and said, Tourquoi pas?' I could do worse, mind you. So, philosophy lesson 101: It is not business that makes people greedy, brutish and disgustingly unpleasant show-offs, it is their lack of a moral compass. Lesson 102: Lack of a moral compass means rejecting a moral authority, which is obviously God. Lesson 103: Do not show off unless those you're showing off in front of have more than you do. Lesson 104: Taki should sell his boat and give karate lessons to the rich for a living,