Friday, 10 July 2009

Dictator Style : A State of Hygiene

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


  1. Rosie-you can really find them! that book cover-humm? what does it say about that craze? let me know-la

  2. Funny how leopardskin is used to denote tasteless excess.

    And then the only authentic aspect of Mobutu, in the book, appears to be his leopardskin (or maybe ocelot or cheetah?) forage cap. It goes very nicely with his gold lampshade. I hope to publish more soon.

  3. Hideous, but in an odd way, very sad. If you overlook the horrors that the Ceacescus visited on so many people (hard to do, I admit) these details just make them seem so pathetic, lonely and lost. That cluttered mantle of Elena's is just sad.

    And I have to say, it seems to me that leopardskin hats are MOST appropriate when worn by African despots like Mobutu.

    Must check out this book!

  4. I agree 'g' that it's sad when people are in the grip of paranoia and all-consuming anxiety but it's hard to ignore the greed!

    Forgive me, misleading everyone. The shot of Elena's bedroom was taken during the sale of her effects after her death. Hmmm.

  5. Bizarre, Oh this looks like one interesting read. I love this stuff.

    To have everything and then some but be too paranoid to enjoy it. Isn't that just a kicker.

    BTW, I'm holding an amazing giveaway on my blog. There are 4 different Lipstick Queen prize packages up for grabs (total retail $200). You can enter here.

  6. The styles are indeed hideous. I have recently posted new photos of Hitler's quarters, and previously of the interiors of Malacanang Palace, (the garish confection of the Marcos's in Manila).

  7. thanks for this. I have just looked at your Hitler photos and they are
    sensational. I recommend them!

  8. It will always be shocking to me to see such beasts of mankind like Hitler and Ceausescu. Being Romanian myself, my family and I suffered directly due to the actions of the latter. Ceasusescu lived the fat life while his people didn't have food and weren't allowed to buy meat simply because there was none to buy. I'd wish that such cruelities would not happen ever again in todays world of the future.

  9. Bette V - your comment is poignant and shocking in its way. Thank you for adding a note of realism to my post.


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