A Courtly Intrigue


September 18, 1997


Last night I attended an intimate farewell fê te to bid adieu to my friend David (pronounced "Dah-veed"), political and economic attaché at the German Consulate General in New York City. He is being reposted to Bonn.

It was an amusing soiree hosted by the Count and his wife, Fifu von Hamberger at their tony Turtle Bay brownstone. Turtle Bay is a small community of homes tucked in the middle of the East Side of Manhattan. It was designed originally by a philanthropist in the late 1800s as a cosmopolitan refuge for artists. Built surrounding an exquisite courtyard and garden, replete with center fountain, there are about a dozen families which share this privileged and somewhat unknown neighborhood.

The count complained that the setting was too stodgy. "Too many diplomats. We would have preferred to be in Brooklyn, but than what would people say? I canít have our clientele think that Germany cannot afford Manhattan." Highly confident, articulate, attractive and born and bred an aristocrat, the count was free to say as he so thought.

We had first met two years ago when I had invited him to address my constituents. He stood apart from his fellow panelists because he was blatant about his controversial opinions and did not hesitate to criticize the than current administration of the Federal Republic. Besides, he was a blue blood, his public musings could not besmirch his status.

Well, nothing had changed since then. All night he carefully crafted snide remarks sodden with sardonic wit. When the Israeli delegate was accosting him about not remembering a certain neighbor hood in Tel Aviv the count blamed his lack of memory on Alzheimerís and proceeded to add, "We lived with the Nouvelle Riche. We were with the porkchops and charcoal grill set." The fat gnat suddenly stopped asking him about his stint in the motherland, padding his angst by wiping away the perspiration which lined the furrows of his brow, an amusing sight when contrasted to the countís trademark Cheshire Cat grin. The count looked at the rest of the circle as if saying, "Wasnít this guy making his exit? It has been fifteen minutes since he first said good-bye. Be done with it already."

If it wasnít the Hebrews he was petting gently on the head, it was the Catholics to the South. "You know, Iím Prussian," boasting like the blast of a rocket, "...and Iím Protestant too!" He went on to make his obviously abused impersonation of his contemporary, the Austrian Consul General. "While everyone else made their token flag-raising toasts to the anniversary of V-E Day, the Consul General had the nerve of giving a fifteen minute monologue, a soliloquy in fact, because no one understood his horrid Austrian German," making sure to put a thick accent on every syllable, so that we felt the grate of that speech.

But the tirade did not end there. He graciously elaborated on his view of World War II, explaining how he pities Austriaís cowering ballyhoo. "Till this day they still dwell in their first-occupied, first-loser status." He particularly reveled in repeating Chancellor Kohlís response to Austriaís request for a formal apology. "If they want an exoneration send them Hitlerís bones back!" The count laughed smugly for a good five minutes. It was like observing a dignified Oliver Hardy.

Perhaps the most amusing frolic of his was the story and accompanying self-praise he repeated at least three times that evening. Basically, he wanted to brag about his extemporaneous speaking skills, having done so that morning to a delegation at the United Nations. He was not pleased when one of the guests indirectly compared his self-touted talent to that of the First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton. "She basically just responds to speeches. I had no notes - nothing - and simply said things to shock them," padding his narcissism with a repressed inclination to laugh.

The evening ended with a round of cognac and a few more cigarettes, smoke gliding up into the midnight air. The count and his wife had been gracious hosts, making sure that more than our hunger had been satisfied. It is easy for me to say that the Count had not been pompous. Rather, he only acted as he knew his place in society and was charming enough to abuse that position for the delight of the few gentry and peasants which were present on just another such night of diplomatic entertaining and intrigue.