The Unbeliever

Letter From London

Suppose you are tired of hearing about roulette.  Suppose the very thought of gambling, despite the metaphorist’s efforts to depict it as the great commonwealth of epochal disillusionment and hence universalize the experience, strikes you as tedious.  Suppose you are the sort of man who insists that the only thing duller than watching people take unnecessary risks at the gaming table is reading about them, and it just doesn’t matter one whit whether the chronicler at the scene happens to be Ian Fleming, Pushkin, or Navrozov.  Suppose you express your annoyance by claiming that children, job, career—or, alternatively, unrequited love, or keeping a motor yacht in the Mediterranean in reasonably good nick, or getting hold of that second bottle of Southern Comfort when you are too drunk to find the car keys—are problematic enough, and that it is they, not roulette, that are the universal yardsticks of risk and its concomitant aims or emotions.

A couple of years ago, here in London, I took the exiled financier Berezovsky to Aspinalls, where he had never been.  “How very tedious,” pronounced the former Soviet mathematician as we strolled through the Arabian opulence.  “Do you know what I always say?  The only way to make money in a casino is to own one.”   (This summer, doubtless with the same prudent sentiments in mind, one of his erstwhile Russian associates...

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