Friday, November 21, 2008
Warren Buffett, I think, made the point that, in most areas of one's life, being rich makes very little difference. You sleep in a bed much like anybody else's, you eat food that everybody else eats, you read the same books and newspapers and watch the same TV. But in the pursuit of one particular activity, the rich are different - travel. The CEOs of the US automakers made this clear with their superlatively dumb decision to fly to Washington in their private jets to beg for public money. What they had failed to notice - actually, they failed to notice everything, but this in particular - was that nothing inspires public bitterness more than showy travel arrangements precisely because travel is the big difference between the haves and the have-nots. In an airport the have-nots are condemned to spend desultory hours in a 'retail environment' largely consisting of nasty shops selling - the irony! - 'luxury brands', their dazed imaginations being periodically raised from boredom to suffering by announcements about security alerts and delays. The haves get their lounges where - a real joy this - you can leave your bags anywhere you want and they won't get blown up. Speaking from recent experiences, I can tell you that business class lounge facilities are much the same as those of first class lounges - though the latter seem to have more elaborate food - also that first class people are older, slighty more deviantly dressed and some are former political leaders. And, as Martin Amis observed in The Information, they read worse books; nobody knows why. When they arrive - I'm assuming they arrive, even though some seem to be in the lounges for the sake of it, perhaps they are paid to sit there by the airlines - they can stay at the new Atlantis in Dubai which has the important virtue of making Dubai's Burj Al Arab look, for the first time, like good architecture. They can also hire the new Bentley Azure T and, of course, an Alysia yacht. I suppose the point is it's not as easy being rich as it used to be. Once the poor were very poor and, as a result, the rich were obviously rich. Any Edwardian could, at once, spot the different between a 'gentleman' and everybody else. Now the poor aren't so poor, they buy designer knock-offs as good as the real thing - a habit that has rendered the Louis Vuitton bag quite useless as a status symbol - and they travel almost as much as the rich. Travel thus threatens to be a distressingly democratic experience, hence the need to separate out and flaunt the experience. But you have to keep moving because, in the end, even travel turns out to be a great leveller. I just saw a clip of the opening party for the Atlantis. The rich were dancing very, very badly. In the end, you have to arrive and be as much as a klutz as everybody else.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 4:58 am