Friday, 10 July 2009
One of my favourite books is Dictator Style - Lifestyles of the World's most colourful despots by uber-witty style guru Peter York. His book proves that 'absolute power corrupts absolutely, right down to the drapes.'
Alarmingly, on of the most elegant rooms in the book was at The Berghof, Adolf Hitler's retreat in the Bavarian Alps with its 'anxiously tasteful' fumed oak reminiscent of suburban Surrey.
Amongst the belligerent luxe beloved of despots like Saddam Hussein, Joseph Désiré Mobutu and Slobodan Milosevic, the cut-price 'tyrant kitsch' and weird therapy rooms of Romania's Nicolae Ceaucescu stand out.
The Ceaucescus living off the fat of their communist domain
Ceaucescu, who went from First Secretary of the Communist Party to self-styled Major General President of Romania built himself the supersized People's Palace in Bucharest, the second biggest building in the world after the Pentagon. It was inspired by a visit to North Korea. (Oh surely not.) It involved the clearance of about 7,000 buildings including schools and a hospital and even with 600 architects and 20,000 builders it remained unfinished when Nicolae and his 'saintly' wife Elena faced the firing squad on Christmas Day 1989.
One of the features of Caucescu's spiralling monomania and paranoia was the need for a food taster (Queen Elizabeth was not impressed when the C's stayed at Buckingham Palace) and his pathological fear of contamination and illness. After consoling the victims of an earthquake and other official duties, an aide would wipe his hands with alcohol and a sterilised handkerchief. One can only speculate what strange hygienic purposes his therapy rooms were put to. That rubber hosing?? The stainless steel clover-shaped appliance - what does that do? Peter York wonders whether it's to boil people or school food?
Everything about their living quarters was over-scaled, mean and 'taste-blind'. This bathroom from the Snagov Palace is typical of the tragic recipe of the undistinguished and the rhetorical that dictators do so well.
Here is Elena's bedroom with a painting of her receiving her degree. She is thought to have left school at 14. Maybe it was a thoroughly deserved honorary one? Just a few of her fur coats and her clocks which the author notes look like fairground trophies. Ceaucescu is alleged to have had over 9,000 suits one for every day of his nearly 25 years in power.
From Dictator Style by Peter York pub. Chronicle Books, San Francisco 2005