Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Geographica turns today to the February 1981 issue of National Geographic, and we turn to that issue because a number of people read my recent posting on Danielle Steel's book H.R.H. and emailed me (too shy for the comments field, apparently!) wondering if that book's principal setting, the tiny German kingdom of Lichtenstein, is a real place. It of course is (although the spelling of its name wanders, as German spellings sometimes do), although a person could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, since it's been a tried-and-true pick for a foreign-sounding location that sounds fictitious.
But no, Liechtenstein is real enough. It's minuscule (forty times smaller than Rhode Island!)(although not, as that might make you think, the smallest such pocket-kingdom in the world - it's fairly roomy compared to some of the others), and it's benignly corrupt (it's tax-laws are so lax that you can set up a holding company there even if you show up at the Registry carrying burlap sacks with dollar-signs drawn on them), nestled comfortably under the greater corruption of Switzerland and possessing no currency or army of its own.
Liechtenstein is a rich little country, therefore - its postage stamps are prized by collectors all over the world, it's skiing and mountain sports are destination-spots for the international jet-setting crowd, and its hereditary monarchy sits on a personal treasure-trove brimming with priceless works of art. It's perfectly fitting that a writer as possessed by surface-levels as Danielle Steel would pick Liechtenstein for the fairy-tale setting to one of her books: nestling comfortably in one of the little country's hotel rooms while an Alpine blizzard rages outside, it actually seems like a fairy tale place.
But even as far back as 1981, Robert Booth's National Geographic article - and, more menacingly, John Launois' photographs - make it clear that Liechtenstein isn't perfect. As in so many other places in this worried old world of ours, evil can creep into even the most idyllic of settings - it moves on soft feet, evil does ... soft feet, and very, very short legs.
Liechtenstein, even beautiful Liechtenstein, has not been immune. We must pray for this tiny country.