Excerpt: A Beautiful Terror

The summer of 1969 was a season of hectic political activity for the multitudes of the young in Europe; though less so than the year before, when the New Left student protest movement had reached its zenith of exhilaration, when all over the Western World, the children of affluence demonstrated against the tolerance they lived under, complaining that it was “repressive”; against the plethora of choice with which they were confronted; against the “ugliness” of prosperity; against the freedom of speech of which they were availing themselves when it was also taken advantage of by some people and newspapers to say things they, the students, did not like; and chiefly against a war in the Far East, where communist force was being opposed by American force in Vietnam.
They marched in anger, and as they marched these self-designated “antiauthoritarians”
shouted their adoration of Mao Tse Tung (the dictator of China), Fidel Castro (the dictator of Cuba) and Ho Chi Minh (the dictator of North Vietnam), and their abomination of their own elected parliamentary representatives. And meanwhile, in that same summer of ‘68, the students of Prague demonstrated against communist dictatorship, and for tolerance, choice, prosperity, freedom of speech and the right to choose their own government, and were suppressed by the Soviet Union with an armed invasion.
Now and then in 1969, on a warm Sunday, if less frequently than the year before, a few thousand of the free and prosperous would march down the main streets of the great cities, Paris, Berlin, Rome, carrying banners demanding peace, shaking their fists, and chanting in unison, “Ho! Ho! Ho-Chi-Minh!” But the demonstrations were not as they had
been. The heady days when the students had felt themselves about to change the world by sheer power of excitement were over. Sometimes the processions looked more like nostalgic rituals celebrating a tradition than a show of “youth power”. Already there were some dozens of them who felt emotionally unemployed, and were looking for other means
of expressing their hatred of the world that smiled upon all hatred so indulgently, and rewarded them for it with attention, protection, shelter and sustenance, and costly electronic equipment for musical entertainment.
Late in the spring of 1969 L arrived in Vienna and took up residence in a large apartment in a fin de siècle palace of haute bourgeois solidity, no longer fashionable. It still stands, in a row of its kind, overlooking the Naschmarkt, all with ornate baroque facades: fat balconies with stone balustrades, huge windows framed with curlicues of stone. [Plate 7.]
L’s apartment had been the board-room of a great corporation. His father bought it for him from an old friend and business associate who had had it on his hands for years and did not know what to do with it, and so disposed of it to Sir Nicholas for a price that would not have bought one average-sized room in the centre of London. It consisted
of two enormous rooms approached up a wide curving stone staircase from an imperial front door.
In 1970 an acquaintance from Cambridge* visited L in his Vienna apartment, and wrote this description of it to a friend:
“A thick crimson cord, held at intervals by rings of brass,
is swagged down the curving wall of the staircase. On the
upper surface of this cord, dust lies thick as cocoa-powder on
pralines, and one doesn’t want to touch it. But underneath it
remains deepest burgundy. At the top of the stairs there is a
wide landing, receding into a passage, one end of which has
been cheaply and shoddily screened off by flimsy walls, and
a squalid little bathroom and kitchen have been squeezed in
behind them to contrast amazingly with the general operatic
magnificence. But grubbiness and neglect have done no worse
to the building than to forgive it its erstwhile ambition,
represent its ostentation as courage, and its pomposity as
tradition. The squalid poky little offices can no more insult
it than would a plastic bucket left on the granite stairs by a
careless scrubwoman.”

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