Dining with Castro

Image of David Tang

Sir David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters

I read an article recently in the FT showing the interiors of palaces by presidents and other world leaders. What do you think of them – the palaces, I mean?

Once I had dinner in the private dining room of Hugo Chavez’s palace in Caracas. The place was reminiscent of Latino splendour with echoes and shadows of historic conquistadors. Talking with great animation about his hero Bolivar, whose portraits were hanging everywhere, the President was full of beans – exactly what we had for dinner, along with rice and meat that was the standard fare for the Venezuelan masses. But we ate off a crisp white tablecloth with beautiful fresh flowers. Within the gilted rooms, there were no formalities. We all dressed in casual clothes, which provided a sense of almost pastoral charm!

I have also had dinner with Fidel Castro, the most polite man I know on earth and, by many furlongs, the most charismatic. His venues for eating change, but they all seemed to have stood still from the fifties and the sixties. All their decor and furniture might have easily been a large showroom for G-plan furniture that once raged through suburbia in Britain. And the Cuban leader loves the Brits. He once told a British grandee I had brought to meet him that Dunkirk was his favourite historical episode of human endeavours.

As for my compatriots, one of the grandest venues in Beijing is the vast Great Hall of the People, which is divided into many rooms with themes. I particularly like the Tibetan Room which is hugely decorative with a kaleidoscope of colours and ceilings as high as the Potala Palace, all brightly lit with fluorescence. I gave Kate Moss a banquet there, and even she thought it was très chic – with a sumptuous dinner whose 14 courses alternated between western and Chinese food, served by an army of waiters and waitresses in white gloves. It was an overwhelming experience to enter this edifice with monumental columns that only socialists or fascists could have built, in gigantic proportions calculated to intimidate any visitor.

It is interesting to notice that whenever there is a cinematic representation of a land ruled by a dictator, it always resembles something that Hitler or Mao might have liked (vide the film The Hunger Games). For Hitler, it was of course his architect minister, Albert Speer, who invented the vertical lighting of extremely high banners, rows and rows of them designed to instil a sense of total obedience. So at Tiananmen Square, the space is laterally vast, guarded by the benevolent gaze of the great Chairman looking on from the balcony of the Forbidden City. It was all designed to emphasise authority and reverence, and to accommodate the annual military parade for “Arirang”, the mass gymnastics and artistic performance that the North Koreans have cultivated to perfection.

Thank you for enlightening me about Edgar Meyer (pronounced mire). Of course, you have conveniently used his first name in respect of his cello concerto (perhaps so as not to find yourself further in the Meyer). May we therefore encounter in future: Benjie’s War Requiem ... Ricky’s Ring ... Felix’s Cave ... Freddie’s Nocturnes? Or, let’s Carl the whole thing Orff. (Come-in Banana)

You should of course have noticed that in the heading of my column, my editor had already cracked the joke with “You say Elgar, I say Edgar”. So your pun on that famous song by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong (“Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off”) is rather second-hand. I did laugh a little, especially with your “Come-in Banana”. You seem to have forgotten a serious precedent using the first name of a composer: in Clockwork Orange, Alex famously referred to Beethoven as “Ludwig Van” – the “Lovely Ludwig Van”.

I say, Tangers old chap, do you ever remove your (Borsalino?) hat? Or do you wear it all the time? Trust you doffed your cap when you showed the Guv’nor to his seat at Wimbledon. Please provide full chapter and verse on the correct wearing of hat attire by both males and females.

Are you in spats? And are you wearing a monocle? Or are you just pulling my leg? Don’t you know that nobody speaks or writes like that in England anymore, not even in White’s! And you have also got my hat wrong. It’s an Australian Akubra, not a Borsalino. I must say I like wearing hats because they keep my brain warm and are very sensible in the rain. As for women, I always notice that hats invariably come with a great deal of make-up which I dislike. But if they have to wear hats, avoid Shilling at all cost!

Email questions to david.tang@ft.com

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