Home' Travel News : April-May 2018 Contents 38 travel news february/march 2018
february/march 2018 travel news 39
The Riviera Set 1930-1960
by Mary S. Lovell
Lovell is already established as a brilliant
biographer, and although here she chooses
a different genre, her talent excels. She
traces the rise of the Riviera ‘cult’ during the
period when it was the rich/aristocracy set’s
most popular holiday resort in the world.
The British had visited it pre-1914, but
regarded the summer too hot for Victorian
tastes. American Maxine Elliot saw things
differently when she purchased a piece of
land there – an unusual site in itself - and
built an extravagant palace which became
the social hub of the great, the good, and
the not-so-good from mainly Britain and
USA, pre- World War II. Maxine had made
her fortune, invested it astutely and at her
art deco-designed Château de l’Horizon,
created a lifestyle hitherto unknown,
and after 1939, was never seen again.
Strikingly beautiful Maxine had earlier
made a hit with the ageing King Edward VII
who always had an eye for a pretty girl. She
was also a close friend of Jennie, Winston
Churchill’s mother. Socially she was off
to a good start. To belong to Maxine’s
Riviera ‘set’, vast wealth was essential,
and/or aristocratic, stylish connections.
An ability to amuse and entertain was
a ‘must’. After 1945, the kaleidoscope
changed: the Riviera became a place
where the rich who came to play there
were mainly European or American.
Although gossipy, Lovell’s story is also a
social history. Winston Churchill visited
Maxine’s villa regularly, to rest his overtired
mind and body. He loved its luxury, and
there he found time to write and paint.
His wife Clementine did not exactly
‘approve’ of the Riviera social scene –
small wonder. Extravagances such as
washing one’s aching feet in a bath of
chilled champagne defied imagination,
while ‘liaisons dangereuses’ did happen.
Lovell describes the Windsors and their
hapless situation perhaps over-kindly,
but takes a fresh look at their characters.
The 1960s, after Maxine’s death, changed
emphasis more to glamour, beauty and
the romances of the ill-fated Ali Khan, a
character possibly much misunderstood.
Lovell’s writing comprises a vivid record
of a time that will never return. In its
early days, the Côté d’Azur was host
to many intellectuals – Hemingway,
Sartre, Paul Robeson, Scott Fitzgerald
and more. Later in the ‘60s, standards
became more superficial as Ali Khan,
Rita Hayworth, and others, lived out
their lives often to tragic conclusions.
Lovell’s ability to recreate an age and its
atmosphere has produced an outstanding
and extremely entertaining
Day of the Caesars
by Simon Scarrow
Scarrow continues his ‘Eagles of Empire’
series with his usual skill and in-depth
knowledge of his subject. He has that
rare ability, as has Bernard Cornwell,
to recreate history and make it real.
Roman civilisation never fails to amaze -
sometimes one wonders, ‘why don’t they
use their mobile phones’? Since they
seemed to enjoy such a high standard of
domestic comfort, possess technical skills
both of which are comparable to ours.
Cato, Prefect, and his comrade Macro,
Centurian, are back from the Hispanic
wars. They return to find a changed
Rome. The old Emperor Claudius is dead,
rumoured to have been poisoned, and
has been replaced by the young Nero,
but there is already a dispute about the
succession. Should Britannicus, more
closely related to the late Claudius, not
be the rightful heir? Plots and counter-
plots are rife, and Cato is soon unwittingly
enmeshed. Before he hardly knows what
has happened, he is forced into hiding,
wrongfully accused of murder and treason.
Some favour Britannicus, others a return
to the old republic which ruled through the
senate rather than a dictatorship. Despite
his doubts about Nero’s imperial suitability,
Cato remains loyal, but does not trust Nero’s
advisor Pallas, who has succeeded the
evil and wily Narcissus. Civil war appears
imminent, with the powerful Praetorian
Guard restless, having failed to receive
the Emperor’s promised bonus. Will they,
unlike the legionaries, remain loyal?
For Cato and his staunch friend Macro, the
situation takes on a personal nature when
Cato’s infant son is captured and held
hostage. The situation becomes desperate
when the legionaries march against the
Capitol. Can the Praetorians hold them off,
and be sufficient in number to stop them?
The scene moves to Capri where a
desperate struggle follows.
There is seldom a dull moment in this
story – its plot is complex but ingeniously
thought out and full of surprises. Roman
history, although sometimes poorly taught,
and linked with learning Latin during
schooldays, is seldom dull and should
never be regarded as such. It is interesting
to read how the Roman soldiers were
trained, particularly the crème de la crème,
the Praetorian Guard, and in this story we
also read of the navy and the part it played.
Each of the ‘Eagles of Empire’ novels is
complete in itself, but almost certainly if
you read one you will seek out the rest.
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