his downfall.rnHe is insulted from the start, from hisrnfirst glimpse of that other life, my life, arnlife I have every right to characterize, onrnthe basis of income-tax returns and swornrnaffidavits from intimate friends, as the lifernof a poor struggling writer. He does notrnsay, “But how can you afford this?” becausernit isn’t me, and my success or failure,rnwhich are on his mind just then, butrnhis own power, and his own exalted positionrnin the American social pyramid. Herntakes the private lift up to the galleriedrnhall of the piano attico. Marble, marble,rnmarble. Ornate ceilings. Oak parquet.rnAll awash with autumnal light. Yes, LordrnByron slept here, and not always alone,rnwhile there, from that mullioned windowrnoverlooking the Grand Canal at SanrnToma, he would lean out in his shirtsleeves,rnwaving to the gondoliers below,rnbut that is not the point. The point is, hernknows a thing or hvo about real estate,rnand now his worldview is tottering, andrnthe ever-triumphant voice of the Hollywoodrntour guide that has sustained hisrnprestige, and injected his family with thernsweet, heady sense of earthly achievement,rnis so much faint patter.rnTottering, but not crumbling. Not arnsingle fissure, not even the smallestrnchink. I marvel at its earthquake-proofrnelasticity, which brings to mind thernpurges in Stalin’s Russia, when a faithfulrnold Bolshevik, with a lifetime of ardentrnservice to socialism behind him, wouldrnopen the door to his ostensible brethrenrnof the NKVD who had come to arrest hisrnailing bedridden wife as a Bolivian spyrnand a trafficker in gold bullion. Andrnguess what? More often than not, thatrnpoor sod’s worldview—rendered elasticrnby a thousand similar exercises in yearsrnpast—managed to absorb the shock ofrnthe absurd, recover, and go on functioningrnuntil the last circle was squared in thernback of his own head with the aid of a fewrngrams of lead.rnThe European, his intellectual shellrncrushed like that of an egg by the architecturernof New York and the power ofrnAmerica, used to fall silent, more oftenrnthan not for the rest of his natural life.rnThe American, flattened like a ball ofrnWrigley’s spearmint gum by the beauty ofrnVenice and the luxury of Europe, talksrneven more than usual. He talks to waitersrnin restaurants. He shows wallet snaps ofrnhis children to shop girls selling masks.rnHe talks to the gondoliers by the Rialto,rnand the remarkable thing is that all thernwhile he does not seem to know whetherrnhe, Haroon al Rashid in the disguise ofrnJoe Blow, wants to be treated by thesernstrangers as a prince or a pauper. This isrna classic of infantile psychology, a mentalrnmaneuver, incidentally, beloved of Dostoyevsky:rnIf someone snubs him as an ordinaryrnAmerican tourist who thinks involtinirnare a kind offish, he turns capriciousrn(“But I told him I don’t want any fish! Orrnveal!”) and vindictive (“Right, there goesrnhis dp!”), but if you indulge him, he becomesrnsuspicious (“They’re trying to riprnme off!”) and defensive (“What does shernwant? I bet you anything she knows exactlyrnwho I am!”).rnHe is what they call a piece of work.rnWith me he thinks he can be “open,”rnmeaning talk frankly, and all he wants torntalk about frankly is money: why I makernso little of it, why I spend so much of it,rnwhy he makes so much of it, why hernspends so much of it, why he doesn’trnmake more of it, why I should makernmore of it, how I should make more of it,rnhow everybody should make more of itrn. . . Mark Twain, in one of his Europeanrntravelogues, makes up a conversation betweenrntwo peasants, Swiss I think, whorndiscuss cow dung ad infinitum, and untilrnnow I used to think this was just a flight ofrnfancy, a lighthearted, inconsequentialrnsquib. No, it turns out that it is perfectlyrnpossible to watch, breathe, and adorernmoney 24 hours a day, as if bank notesrnwere an agricultural fertilizer and manrnwere a stalk of seakale beet in an inaccessiblernAlpine village.rnI now understand that, for him, realityrn—American reality first and foremost,rnof course, and colonial reality to the extentrnit can be translated into imperialrnterms, real estate and other —is form,rnwhile money (which translates itself accordingrnto the current rate of exchange,rnnot counting commission) is the contentrnthat fills the form the way a colored liquidrnmay be observed following the contoursrnof a glass vessel, or the way bronze is cast.rnBut this image is much too concrete andrntangible, too phenomenal I would say, torndo any profound justice to his worldview.rnMoney, for him, operates on the submolecularrnlevel. It is atomic. The napernof a woman’s neck, the feather of arnseabird, the oar of a boat, all of this realrnestate is run through the spectrograph ofrnhis mind and analyzed for carbon content.rnAnd this palazzo in Venice is sornrich in carbon!rnWhen, after three days, he finallyrnleaves on the first morning flight to Paris,rnI feel I have aged beyond words. Thatrnevening I meet for the first fime the Romanrncoloratura Cecilia Bartoli, inrnVenice to sing Vivaldi, whom a mutualrnfriend brings to the house:rnDite, oime, ditelo al fine:rnDeggio vivere o morir?rnSta mia vita in sul confine,rnPronta e gia I’alma ad uscir!rnShe is a great beauty, dark, with huge,rndramatic eyes like moist horse chestnutsrnand the proverbial alabaster skin, and as Irnlisten to the mezzo-soprano to end allrnmezzo-sopranos, to the woman lamentingrnin the Venetian idiom of ScipionernMaffei that her life is on the brink andrnher soul about to depart, I cannot stoprnlooking at her neck and her shoulders, inrnsilhouette against the carved balusters ofrnthe upper gallery where my son is hidingrnwith a bouquet of wild flowers.rnLooking, and thinking: What does thatrncost? And who can afford it?rnAndrei Navrozov is Chronicles’rnEuropean correspondent.rnLetter From Beijingrnby Gregory McNameernThe Second CulturalrnRevolution?rnCultural bridges are sometimes made ofrnunlikely materials. One, for instance, isrnthe hoary Steppenwolf rocker-stomperrn”Born to Be Wild,” a favorite of the Westernrnsuds, studs, and leather crowd forrnthree decades, and now, thanks to an accidentrnof history, a fixture at the karaokernbar of Beijing’s Minzu Hotel.rnAlthough I protested my unsuitabilityrnto the task, I was pressed into servicernthere to inaugurate the song, recentlyrnadded to the Minzu’s jukebox. I am nowrnglad I did. There are many worse songsrnto sing in public, and my reward for performingrnthe gritty tune before a crowd ofrn200 or so Chinese men and women wasrnmanifold: I was roundly applauded, offeredrndozens of drinks, and treated to arngood-natured skewering from a Chinesernstand-up comedian who looked eerilyrnlike Mickey Rooney’s character in Break-rnJANUARY 2000/37rnrnrn