IT IS PROBABLE that some of you have never visited the Principality of Liechtenstein. It is even possible that some of you have never heard of Liechtenstein. All of which is very sad because everyone of us, at some stage of his life, has dreamed of such a place.
We are here my wife, my daughter and a pretty American girl friend and your peregrinating London correspondent—on a motoring tour of Europe. We have done France, Germany and Switzerland, so that only Austria remains in our schedule. Then it will be back to London with its monstrous mass of humanity, its waddling omnibuses and its sad little dogs being taken on the lead for a walk.
It was that tall rugged American writer Paul Gallico who invited us to visit this quaint Ruritanian principality. We renewed acquaintance with him at a London first night and when we told him that, like Mr. Pickwick and his friends, we were going to take to the open road in Europe he insisted that we should visit him in Liechtenstein where he now lives.
A strange fellow, Gallico. He was a successful sports writer in the U. S. but at heart he was a sentimentalist and a poet. Instead of watching the heavyweight boxers punch each other into insensibility he wanted to write about the sad little cow that was determined to win the contest for the best milk.
Like many men of sensibility he regards food, and the cooking thereof, as something almost sacred. He bought a house in the English countryside where he cooked and wrote, but his vagabond poetic instinct was not satisfied. The English are not dedicated cooks. In fact, has it not been said that they regard the preparation of a joint as a burnt sacrifice?
“When you come to Liechtenstein,” he said, “I shall cook you a dinner that you will not forget.” Thus it was arranged, and he assured us that he would hook hotel accommodation where we could sleep.
We set off by car from the Rhineland and traveled through the quaint elegance of Switzerland where even the mountains look prosperous and the unmarked cities and towns seem loftily aloof from reality.
Let loose the gods of war but Switzerland is never involved. Her army is always ready and the mountains guard the passes against the invader. In war Switzerland offers sanctuary to escaping prisoners hut maintains her neutrality. Spies from both sides jostle each other hut normal life ticks on like a Swiss watch. Again and again the generals of the Kaiser and Hitler must have flirted with the idea of invading Switzerland and attacking the allied armies on their flank hut they never dared to take the gamble. Continued on page 38
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 4
When you have left the pleasant prosperous city of Zürich it is only a short journey to Liechtenstein, and so we came to the little principality and drove up a hill to a hotel as modern and smart as anything a dollar millionaire could desire. We telephoned Paul Gallico who invited us to come at six o’clock to his house at the top of the mountain where we could swim in the pool before eating the dinner which he would personally prepare for us.
Our car climbed up and up the winding road until against the sky line we saw Gallico waving welcome and encouragement. The groaning car made it all right despite a brawl between the left front fender and a concealed rock in the side of the road.
What a sight it was from this fivethousand-foot eyrie! Far below was the River Rhine, looking ridiculously like an unused motoring highway. The sun was wrapped in mist and the mountains were like a setting for Das Rheingold.
"You will swim of course?” said Gallico. We looked at the disconsolate little pool trembling in the mountain breeze. The chill mountain air was already seeping into our bones. My own thoughts were on such incongruous things as a rug and a roaring fire. Even a neat whisky would have had a certain medicinal attraction.
"I don’t think we’ll swim,” said my wife. "We are really rather tired and it would be lovely just to sit and look at the mountains.”
"What about a nice cold Martini?” asked our host. With a last indignant glare the sun went down behind a mountain peak and the temperature fell another ten degrees.
"Would you mind,” said my wife, "if we went for a walk? I’d love to see more of the place.”
"Sure,” said Paul. "I’m cooking the dinner so I’m out of the picture for a while.”
So off we went on the Lone Trail but hardly had we passed a solitary wooden cottage when we were joined by a kitten that offered to be our guide.
Is there any animal, human or reptile, that can compare in unconscious gracefulness with a kitten? The games this one invented on the way— its pretended fright, its mock heroics, its daredevil leaps from twig to twig, its cozy rubbing against our legs to show that the whole thing was great fun and he was glad we had turned up.
"Can’t we buy him?” asked my daughter. "I’d take care of him in the car.” What a mad idea . . . utterly preposterous ... I suppose, though, he would not really take up much room.
Fortunately the kitten bolted at this moment. He had seen a twig move, he was full of suspicion and disappeared from this narrative and our lives, a happy lonely little creature playing imaginary dramas in a setting fit for the Twilight of the Gods.
The temperature had dropped ten more degrees by the time we returned to Gallico’s habitat and the long asphalt - colored roadway called the Rhine was settling down for the night.
By this time our number for dinner had been augmented by a handsome young woman, the Baroness Virginia von Falz-Fein. In spite of her name she was English, being the daughter of the eminent barrister Sir Henry Curtis Bennett.
While Gallico puts the finishing touches to the dinner and we sip an ice-cold glass of sherry let me tell you the strange story of the baroness.
After the Hitler war her wanderings took her to New York where she met a handsome young Russian named Baron von Falz-Fein. He was a White Russian who managed to escape from the earthly paradise which Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin had conferred upon the Russian people.
He had one obsession—photography —but after meeting Miss Curtis Bennett in New York he had two. They married and went to live in the Principality of Liechtenstein where the ruling prince granted him sanctuary and citizenship.
But photography, although a pleasant hobby, was not quite a career for the baron, and when you have photographed one mountain you have pretty well photographed them all. Fortunately, at this stage in their lives the former Miss Bennett brought English commercialism to the aid of Russian romanticism. Why not persuade the British travel agencies to route their European touring buses to Liechtenstein?
Off she went to London and, like Portia, pleaded for justice to the little principality. The British tourist
moguls listened but were not impressed* Their buses already went to five continental countries and there would be no advantage in routing them to a sixth.
"But you will be offering one more country than your rivals,” said Portia, "and it is really not off the beaten track.”
Probably to get rid of her, the moguls finally agreed. But already the young lady was thinking ahead. Why not a shop right in the square where the buses would stop to sell quaint cuckoo clocks, national hats and printed handkerchiefs?
This is the story she told us at Gallico’s house and she invited us to come at noon to the shop to see what happened when the buses rolled up.
We waited next day at the appointed hour. Up came a huge omnibus and stopped right outside the shop. Out got the touring Britons and swept into the shop like a tidal wave. Pound notes were fluttering in all directions and half crowns were jingling like sleigh bells, while the accents of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Wales and London created absolute uproar.
In all the crush and clamor the baroness and her cool assistants kept their pretty heads. Business first was their motto. The handsome young baron looked on with an air of being pleased but puzzled at the eagerness of the Britons to get rid of their money.
"At first,” the Baroness told us, "we just had things that would cost a shilling or sixpence but we soon saw our mistake. They seem to be absolutely rolling with money. Look at them!”
All battles come to an end. The recall was sounded and out poured the tourists, festooned with strange hats, pictured handkerchiefs and carrying tinkling music boxes. Off went the bus to the accompaniment of shouts and
waving hands. That was Liechtenstein*, that was, and the tourists would have summai to show for it when they got back to Wigan.
But now I must tell you that the principality has an attraction of quite another sort, an attraction which goes to the head like strong wine. There is no income tax in Liechtenstein.
Read those words and luxuriate with me at their brevity and simple charm. There is neither income tax nor surtax in Liechtenstein. Your money is your own, save for local rates perhaps and a luxury sales tax. And what is the result? No less than four thousand foreign companies are registered in the tiny principality.
Not unnaturally there were a surprising number of foreigners who developed a deep desire to become Liechtensteiners. But the government of the principality decided on a policy of patriotism at a price. A foreigner could only become a full-fledged subject of the principality by a payment of ten thousand pounds or approximately thirty thousand dollars. By which you will gather that the principality may be romantic but not wholly out of touch with modern thought.
In fact, so up to date is the ruling prince, Franz Joseph II, that he acquired two factories in his kingdomone miking false teeth and another making calculating machines. I regret that the false teeth did not prosper but the calculating machines did well. After fill, when there are four thousand registered companies there must be plenty of opportunity for calculating.
However, you must not think that the prince is solely concerned with mundane matters. He and his wife live in a medieval castle with creature comforts as modern as this year’s calendar. What is more, they have an art collection which is one of the finest in the world.
Is the prince a dictator? Not at all. Liechtenstein has a parliament of two parties, consisting of five elected deputies from each party. Providing that the MPs always vote according to their whip, there will be a perpetual stalemate that can only be resolved by the prince. In other words, it might be said that in the principality there is democracy under control.
When all this was explained to me I ventured to suggest that their parliament was under the dictatorship of the prince—who, incidentally, is a Hapsburg. His would always be the final decision.
"Oh no,” came the reply. "It is the church that decides.”
We telephoned our farewells to Paul Gallico but did not ascend to his mountain home again. We said goodby to the pretty baroness and her handsome husband. Then in the square we turned the nose of the car to the east, for Austria was to be our next invasion.
But even as we waved good-by and promised to return soon again, a huge bus roared into the square and with a cry that sounded like, "Up guards and at ’em!” a new crowd of British tourists dashed into the store and let loose their pound notes and half crowns in all directions.
"Good-by,” shouted the baroness but the incoming tide bore her out of sight.
No doubt, high up on the mountain, Paul Gallico was cooking his noonday meal; and perhaps the kitten had come over to keep him company.
"Some day I shall return to Liechtenstein,” I said to my three ladies.
But they did not hear me. They were studying the map as if the principality had been a mere stop en route.
"I shall return,” I said, but the noise of a motor horn from behind drowned the sound of my voice. if
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