Sunken TreasureBorn 1947, M, from Zurich, Switzerland
The world was held to ransom yet again! The ransoms were worth more than the wealth of some kings – a part of our cultural heritage was at the center of this gambit!
The United Nations Cultural Organization had called an international meeting -- which was chaired by Ingmar Larsen, a Swedish representative also from NATO, who greeted the twenty delegates,
"Good morning ladies and gentlemen, I wish I could present you with a simple solution here. But the problem has many facets. The 'enemy', if I can use one of my favorite words, is multinational -- very well equipped, quite well organized, and definitely quite determined. I have invited Jeremy Bard, who some of you know from his activities in the art and antiques world, to share with you some of the ideas that he mentioned to me before this meeting! I propose that any of you can interrupt the proceedings in order to focus our discussion, and I as Chair will promote each of you as I think fit to introduce your comments. Is everyone happy with this?”
A murmur of agreement passed around the room.
Jeremy Bard stood up, smiled by way of self introduction, and began,
“As you all know a large part of the financial world is currently governed by new oligarchs who now ‘own’ previous state enterprises in several countries. With the fall of some large governments such wealthy enterprises were taken over by those who knew the fall was coming. Now the world is being held to ransom by a battle between these ‘new’ oligarchs and older oligarchs who are usually referred to as ‘the wealthy’!”
Ingmar Larsen politely interrupted Jeremy by raising his hand and clarified,
“Just for reference everybody, the older oligarchs are usually referred to as two groups – the ‘ancient’ oligarchs and the ‘modern’ oligarchs! Perhaps I can introduce Amanda Spike, whom I have invited here in her capacity as investigator, to define matters further before Jeremy continues.
Amanda Spike stood, nodded to the participants and commented,
“The ancient oligarchs obtained their wealth centuries ago, many through colonialization -- by many countries claiming possessions all over the world. We are all aware of ancient colonization such as the Roman Empire, and more recent colonializations such as the Americas. Some of these colonial powers and their richest sons and daughters are still in power and in possession of the original accumulated wealth. In some countries and in some families the wealth had changed hands - in gambling debts, divorce payments, and in business take-overs! By way of contrast, many ‘modern’ oligarchs obtained their wealth as a result of the First and Second World Wars, and later wars.”
“Ah, yes; the real winners of the wars!” sighed Jeremy and continued,
”During the last twenty years, the new oligarchs have been in competition with the older oligarchs to purchase all art objects offered for sale. As you no doubt know, artworks are considered by many investors to continuously increase in value even when traditional regions of investment – property, noble metals, and diamonds, fluctuate too wildly on the markets. This had resulted in sky rocketing of prices and over-evaluation of the most dubious works of art! Public galleries can no longer afford to buy for the nations they represent, nor for the cultural future of mankind! Some of the families of the older oligarchs, perhaps with a twinge of conscience but nevertheless, have donated from their collections of acquired or plundered wealth to the national collections in many countries. Often with the condition that the works of art still belong to the ancient families, that the name of the donor is written larger than that of the artist, and that the tax deductions are generous and should last several lifetimes!”
Claire Sight from The Government’s Internal Services Department raised her hand, and commented,
”The daily press often reports that a priceless work of art has changed hands from older family to new oligarch in response to acquired debts, or compromising photographs. One of the hazards of being rich and perhaps even famous!
Amanda Spike raised her hand to speak, and continued,
“This restricted blackmail and oppression has now reached public proportions as the two groups of oligarchs are threatening to remove these priceless treasures from public view, and incarcerate them in the private vaults beneath the houses of the noisiest oligarchs! The governments of all richer countries would have to agree to scandalous ransom deals otherwise the threats would be carried out!
Ingmar Larsen raised his Chairman’s hand and said,” I would like to introduce Sir James Mace, the National Head of Police, to focus our discussion about what we might undertake.”
Sir James Mace stood up, and addressed the collected audience,
“In order to 'do something' without quite knowing exactly yet what, I have invited several cultural and defense groups from the involved countries”, said Sir James indicating the other participants in the conference room, and continued,
"It has become clear that in recent years both groups of oligarchs have grown more organized. They have built up private armies, and have acquired all kinds of weaponry to defend their threats against most of the modern armies of our threatened countries. The new oligarchs have found it easy to recruit recently disbanded armies from many countries. The older oligarchs, in any case, own the armaments factories. Also they hold many elevated positions in most state armies anyway! This sounds desperate enough, but one massive hurdle remains if we are to attract support for counteraction - the general public!"
"Perhaps we can bring back Jeremy Bard on this?” suggested Ingmar Larsen.
"The general public, or about 99% of the population in the countries involved, are actually not involved in any of this business! True there are many art lovers who are content to view the priceless treasures without feeling that they needed to own them, or even possess them, but the majority of the public is simply not particularly interested! So if the individual governments try to attract the interest of their public, most of the pleas for attention will fall upon deaf ears! Why should it be of interest? Our education had led us to prioritize work, food and shelter; rather than the beauty of the Greek marble arm or a painting of the French countryside? Furthermore the vast majority of people find their entertainment on the television or the internet, not in a museum."
"Well everything sounds rather bleak, Jeremy!" commented Larsen. "Do we wish to allow the oligarchs to force us to ransom at this time and at anytime in the future?
Does anyone else have a comment?” Larsen asked the others gathered.
Sir James Mace indicated that he had some tactical issues that might be of some importance,
"It seems that if anyone is intending to undertake any counteraction against the oligarchs then this will have to be done discretely, without the participation of armies, and certainly away from the public eye! So we need a plan with the support of all governments, and supply of logistics when possible and full backing for those involved!”
"That sums up the impossible very well Sir James! If indeed the solution is to take military or political intervention", summarized Larsen, and continued, "I suggest we take an hours break during which we can discuss possibilities in small groups and then we can meet again to see if we can formulate a plan of action!"
After an hour the participants gathered again the room. The political and military representatives all looked stony and serious. The others, who had discussed together during the break, looked much less serious and even a few looked distinctly amused.
Amanda Spike raised her hand, and commented,
“ I’m afraid the situation is more complex than where we left the discussion before the break. Usually we are dealing with known and valued classical works of art of museums and publicly available private collections, but what we are talking about here is much more unusual. The art world has been experiencing strange collecting habits for some decades now. For example I would like to show you a recent summary of a massively successful auction at Crosby’s Auction House in London.”
Amanda pointed to the wall screen where she now projected a summary table.
THE WORLD’S GREATEST COLLECTION OF PRICELESS TREASURES
At Crosby’s Auction House, dated a few years ago
Item: Amount sold for:
MOSES’S DRAFT STONE TABLETS: 200 million shekels
NOAH’S ARC MODEL: 200 million Armenian Ararats
CLEOPATRA’S SNAKE BOX: 190 million Egyptian Farohs
JULIUS CAESAR’S STAFF: 199 million ancient Roman Lire
SAMSON’S HAIR: 150 million Lebanese Locks
NERO’S FIDDLE: 149 million ancient Roman Lire
KING ARTHUR’S SWORD CASE: 139 million old English Pouns
EMPEROR CHARLEMANGE’S FOOD PLATE: 125 million old Deutschmarks
GENGHIS KHAN’S CAMEL SADDLE: 175 million old Mongolian Yuan
ALEXANDER THE GREAT’S TOOTHBRUSH: 182 million Macedonian Drachma
ENOCH’S BOOK -THE BIBLE’S MIDDLE TESTAMENT: 299 million shekels
“As you see the prices are staggering even by today’s standards. Only new oligarchs can afford such prices, and the older generation who had collected these items and passed them on to the current generation, were only happy to sell their heritage.”
A hand was raised from the audience. Larsen spoke,
“Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to pass the word to Quentin Quirks,” and waved at the raised hand.
Quentin Quirks stood up slowly with a big grin on his bearded face.
“Forgive me Amanda, but is your list of auctioned items meant to be serious? Are we to believe that renowned auction houses are selling bric-a-brac for prices that would pay for kingdoms, and that the art world no longer sells ‘works of art’ but rather ‘works of whim’? Could someone tell us if this is a worldwide trend, or just one Mad Day at Cosby’s Auction House?
Jeremy Bard raised his hand and was acknowledged by the Chairman,
“Quentin, strange as it may seem to classical connoisseurs, the traditional items of the art world are thought by many wealthy people to truly belong in museums. The ultra-wealthy are steadily transferring their classical collections to the public view, while collectors among the new ultra-wealthy are seeking unusual items that are clearly one-off and in a strange way quite unique! The list shown by Amanda shows articles that have been sold for fortunes and are items that no one can verify their genuineness.”
Quentin Quirks stood again and continued his commentary,
“Well if the world has gone so mad, and the ultra-wealthy are still mad for bric-a-brac then perhaps we should encourage them! This would mean that the real art treasures might still find their ways to public view, and the bric-a-brac will be accumulated in the vaults of the new billionaires. It is true that billions of currency units will pass from one oligarch to another, and will not find their way into general circulation. At least this money is removed from some upcoming arms deals, and not directly flowing into the terrorist market!”
Jeremy stood up, smiled by way of asking permission to continue, and said,
“We have heard of another upcoming call for items for another Mega-auction! Many of the biggest criminals are in contact with one another, or with representatives of the new oligarchs, to accumulate items for the biggest investments sale of all time. There is mention of a few religious and historical relicts, which have for a long time been registered as stolen. There are even some items -- which are already unique in the modern world, such as the first C-Cola bottle, and locks of a particular pop star’s hair. We can, if we are clever, perhaps use this situation to our advantage! Amanda has prepared for us a list of items already added to the new list for the next and advertised FINAL MEGA-AUCTION OF THE NEXT MILLENIUM!”
Amanda stood up, nodded to Chairman Larsen and switched on the projector to show the new list. She commented as the audience alternately laughed or sighed as she itemized the list, depending upon nationality or personal interest,
“NAPOLEON’S HAT –not only of interest to the French but to a whole world of smaller men;
CHURCHILL’S CIGAR ASH – more interesting than Churchill’s hat -- which was recently sold to an unknown buyer;
MADAME POMPADOUR’S POWDER PUFF – the powder has apparently long blown away;
JOSEF STALIN’S MOUSTACHE – has served as a model for many men in the past hundred years -- also for those without;
CHAIRMAN MAO’S SUIT – the pockets of which are too small to hold his red book;
SALVADOR DALI’S WALKING STICK – with a case in the handle to hold a spare moustache
ANDY WARHOL’S PAINT SET – very bright colors also of limited edition;
PABLO PICASSO’S CIGARETTE CASE – with space for a variety of smokes;
VINCENT VAN GOGH’S EAR – this might be a mould -- but we don’t know if the wax is inside or outside the item;
WINNIE THE POOH’S HONEY POT – apparently there are still paw marks visible in this over-viscous honey.
Amanda’s presentation did much to loosen up the audience, as Ingmar Larsen remarked,
“It is hard to imagine that this comedy might be of international concern, and that it could upset the very democracies that we represent and defend! Are there any suggestions of how we might proceed?”
Quentin Quirks also suggested that,
“We should perhaps find additional ‘objects of modern culture’ to add to the auction list, that would further distract the spending oligarchs and immobilize even more of their funds.”
“We have experienced before, that when the underworld money is poured into the antique market the biggest buyers have the reputations as the biggest thieves”. So we have some idea which persons will be likely to buy the ‘new treasures’!”
“There is a suggestion that because the new oligarchs only want to invest in modern treasures -- such as those of the upcoming and last auction at Crosby’s, they should be encouraged to do so. They can then dispose of their classical treasures towards public museums in return for tax breaks!”
Stiggar Rasmussen, another Scandanavian colleague of Ingmar Larsen commented,
“Instead of using our militaries to oppose the oligarchs perhaps we can use our forces to facilitate the distraction among the underworld and the oligarchs!”
Ingmar Larsen tried to summarize the status of the ‘plan so far’,
“Is the consensus among you that we should do nothing to hinder the sale, nor the disposal of the sale items, but rather just sit by and watch and hope the oligarchs will contact the Taxman?”
This seemed indeed to be the general opinion, so everybody was put on ‘standby’ until after the upcoming sale. They agreed to meet again the day after the sale with the newest intelligence available.
The sale was apparently a great success. Amanda and Jeremy had attended because they were also consultants at Crosby’s Auction House. They reported to the Ingmar Larsen Committee,
“The sale was attended entirely by representatives of buyers and sellers – no dubious personalities were in attendance. It was like any other auction with offers, bids, sales and assignments. The sold items are still in Crosby’s warehouse waiting for details of how the items should be distributed.”
Stiggar Rasmussen reported,
“I have obtained news through our intelligence service that certain groups of oligarchs are trying to obtain access to submarines to transport their auction sale acquisitions to unknown destinations-- but likely either the Arctic or Antarctica!”
Sir James Mace added further intelligence,
“We have heard that there are many more items being transported here than just from the proceeds of the yesterdays auction. We understand that many of the items from the previous similar auctions of Modern Treasures are also being considered for shipping about at the moment!”
Claire Sight reported,
”It seems that several underworld groups and representatives of oligarchs are exchanging recent acquisitions from many sources. It is a sort of camel market of ancient times reenacted with Modern Treasures.”
Amanda asked to contribute to the discussion,
“Is there anyway we can aid in the providing of submarines, and help localize the channels of distribution? Does anyone have information from National Taxmen about approaches by oligarchs to be offered tax deals?”
Claire Sight reported,
“I have been informed about such whisperings. The whispered replies have focused on deals regarding trading only classical works of art in return for tax deals. It has been made clear that the National Interest is not in the direction of ‘works of whim’ -- to quote Quentin Quirks!”
“Then perhaps we should simultaneously facilitate the transfer of the ‘works of whim’ and encourage the delivery of the ‘works of classical art’ to public facilities”.
Ingmar Larsen offered,
“I have a further contribution to the submarine story. We understand that the underworld and oligarchs may have found two old nuclear submarines to do their own distributions. Thus they do not need to use warships from our own fleets! Apparently these submarines should have been dismantled after the Cold War ended but somehow escaped the itinerary. They have recently quietly been operating over long distances in the drug distribution business!”
“Then the best thing for us to do would be to ensure that the Modern Treasures reach their intended harbors for the departure of the nuclear submarines to wherever!”
“Indeed!” interjected Ingmar Larsen, “Any suggestions for points of attention here?” asked Larsen of the participants.
Amanda raised her hand, and suggested,
“Jeremy and I can act through Crosby’s to ensure the delivery of the various wares to the two submarines. Are we interested in influencing the choice of destinations? Do we wish to interfere with delivery or just monitor it’s progress?”
Jeremy asked to contribute,
“I would suggest that it is secondary to us where the items go to as long as we know what is happening. We might never gather enough intelligence to tell us who exactly is involved, or about who owns what among these New Modern Treasures. To be honest if the world’s criminals own all of the New Modern Treasures, and the real Classical Art Treasures of the World are moved from private vaults of gangsters into the public view – then I would be more than satisfied!”
“Well then,” summarized Ingmar Larsen,” If there are no more items I suggest we monitor progress and report here in a few days when we will hear more about progress and keep ourselves current about precautions that we recommend to our Governments!”
The world was shocked by the news of not one, but two, nuclear explosions!
These did not occur in the likely missile zones across the northern hemisphere. Rather one occurred near to the North Pole and the other close to the South Pole.
Ingmar Larsen called the meeting of his Committee to order,
“Well do we have any further news about these nuclear explosions?”
Stiggar Rasmussen reported,
“I understand that both explosions occurred in the submarines. They were operating on autopilot and that no crewmembers were aboard either submarine. There are whisperings that some out-of-work secret agents were perhaps bribed to disable the submarines in both cases!”
Sir James Mace contributed,
“We have heard that the explosions were not severe enough to worry about radioactive leakage into the oceans, they are more like Tschernobyl accidents but contained within the hulls of both submarines!”
Stiggar Rasmussen continued,
“There was a report that the Tschernobyl disaster covered up an attempt to destroy a depository of the oligarchs some years ago.”
Quentin Quirks contributed,
“I heard that that depository contained one of the first collections of Modern Treasure." Quentin Quirks smiled generously and continued,
“Sadly this collection is now lost to humanity for several hundred or more years. Not a loss for me but the oligarchs involved will be even more upset after these latest nuclear disasters!”
Jeremy Bard concluded,
“It seems that there are now three tombs for Modern Cultural Treasures of the World. These treasures are in safe places for perhaps several hundreds or even thousands of years. The last two contained in the sunken nuclear submarines will remain isolated until some wise guys try to breach the hulls with robots, or try to tow the submarines away to safer harbors where they can be breached. We must continue to encourage the public transfer of classical art works in return for a tax amnesty, or something like that! In the meantime we can dig about in our attics to find new Modern Cultural Treasures that we can present for sale, should a new Mega-auction of Modern Treasures be upcoming!”
Amanda stood up and announced,
“I will happily add commentary to your suggestions for our list of ‘Newer then New’ Cultural Treasures that you think you might have in your personal or National attics. Perhaps you first Quentin?”
Quentin Quirks stood up and replied,
“Well in my country we have some sacred bathtubs, guillotines, sun symbols, models for fountains, drawings of palaces, thousands of bottles of superb wines and liquors, first editions of many fashions, trial vials of perfumes, endless supplies of recipes and kitchen wares, models of metal towers and statues, countless books and manuscripts…………….”
The world was safe -- and depending upon our definitions and choice of reference points, our Cultural Heritage is endless!