Tuesday, January 30, 2007

An admirable post by Gideon Rachman

Very informative yet entertaining. A top-notch writing by Gideon Rachman. I admire you all out of proportions, Mr. Rachman! :-D

My Davos nights

I knew it was a good idea to go to the “classic clarets” dinner. Some crazed benefactor had donated an extraordinary collection of wines for us to taste: Latour 1952, Lafite 1962, Cheval Blanc 1975 – and six others.

Seated next to me was Victor Yanukovitch, the prime minister of Ukraine. Since we do not share a common language, we were unable to exchange the usual chit-chat – “faint whiff of pencil shavings” – that sort of thing. In the event, he had to leave half-way through. This was a lucky break for me, since he left behind unfinished samples of Latour and Lafite, which I swiftly poured into my own tasting glasses. It did cross my mind that there have been some unpleasant cases of poisoning involving politicians from this part of the world – so I hesitated briefly before knocking back Yanukovitch’s left-overs. But what the hell, you don’t get to taste Latour every day. I’m pretty sure I got away with it. I do feel fairly appalling this morning - but I think it’s just a standard issue hang-over.

After the clarets dinner, it was over to the Belvedere Hotel, where the “young global leaders” were having a drinks party in an igloo – to underline their concern about global warming. I got into discussion with a young guy, who informed me that he might be about to become prime minister of Serbia. Perhaps I looked sceptical, because he then said – “or maybe deputy prime minister.” I’ve got his card, anyway.

Talking of future prime ministers, I then spotted the leader of the Britain’s Tories at the other side of the room. Emboldened by nine glasses of classic claret plus four Margeritas, I glided over to speak to David Cameron. But we hadn’t been talking long before we were interrupted by some gushing German, who launched into an absurdly over-the-top tribute to Cameron – “I admire you sir, I wish you good fortune, you are the future of our continent” – that sort of thing. Cameron nodded politely and whispered out of the side of his mouth – “Don’t laugh”, which rather endeared him to me.

At this point, there was a further interruption. A young global leader announced that we now had to listen to a discussion on climate change between Shimon Peres and Claudia Schiffer. (I’m not making this up.) I headed for the bar, since although there are many things that I find interesting about Claudia Schiffer, her views on climate change are not among them. When I got back a little later, the discussion was over. An American friend of mind announced in a determined voice, “I’m going to go over and make a pass at Claudia Schiffer.” She walked over to Schiffer and when I left, the two of them were indeed engaged in an animated conversation. But I doubt it went any further. Just guessing.

But the prize for the most peculiar thing to happen to me at Davos on Thursday goes to the enforced prayer session I was roped into. I was walking through the Congress Centre, when an Israeli I met on the bus to Davos came up to me and said – “You’re Jewish right.” I cautiously agreed to this proposition, at which point he informed me that he was rounding up 10 Jews to say prayers for his late father.

Before I knew it, I was ushered into a side room and a paper napkin was placed over my head. In the same room were a couple of rabbis with impressive beards, as well as Robert Winston, the father of IVF fertility treatment and fellow FT columnist, Jacob Weisberg. In my confusion, I turned to Weisberg and said – “I didn’t even know that Robert Winston was Jewish”, to which he replied evenly – “It’s certainly looking that way, Gideon.” When the prayers started, I turned to Jacob again and muttered – “What do I do now?” He replied – “Stand still and don’t check your e-mail until it’s over.” This ranks as the best piece of advice I have yet received at Davos.

Now I have to go and take notes on the CEO forum on talent. Can’t wait.