Made for Love

Letter From London

Vanity plates, I once heard—vehicle registration numbers, in other words, that are believed to hold meanings or to pose riddles, in the pedestrian minds of idle onlookers and fellow motorists stuck in traffic—often cost many times more than the cars to which they are attached.  This is good news of sorts.  For, however pitiful it is for an aging toothpaste manufacturer to take pride in screwing the numberplate MAD4LOV to his new cabriolet, from the point of view of the West’s survival as a culture, it is far less alarming than seeing that pride of his stimulated directly by a mass-market product of the automotive industry.  Gross as it may seem, MAD4LOV is still an insubstantial fancy—not unlike a poem, a prophecy, or an heraldic device—and paying good money to acquire it is an act of sublimation, more Medici than Marx, more Charles the Foolish than Warren Buffett, more Gothic apse than valet parking in rear.

Last August, the Duke of Buccleuch had a hundred-million-dollar Leonardo stolen from his home in Scotland.  “It is no consolation to the Duke, or to the unfortunate insurers,” commented the writer A.N. Wilson (prone, like most Londoners, to real-estate similes), “but isn’t it rather wonderful that our lumpen, boring society sets such a price on art that it values one painting by a genius 80 times higher than a big London house?”  Indeed, some...

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