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The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2020

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APRIL 2020 Issue
Fiction

Diary of a Foreigner in Paris

Out next month from NYRB Classics


December 19. Last night I had the same dream I’ve had every so often for years. My mother enters my room at night and says to me in a hoarse voice, “Stop working, you’re tired. Go to sleep.” I look at her. She’s pale, and smiles. Then she gets up and withdraws, leaving her white hand behind on my desk. I get up and take the heavy, dead hand, open the window, and throw it out. Below is the garden of my house in Forte dei Marmi. I hear the sound of the sea. A bird sings. I always repeat the same words: “March 21, 1948.” It was in Forte dei Marmi, in December 1935, that I had this dream for the first time.

I need to leave Paris. Lichtwitz suggests I go with him to Chamonix. I will go to Chamonix. I’m afraid of this dream. It brings me bad luck.



December. Count Augustin de Foxa, made famous by my Kaputt, has given an interview to the Madrid newspaper A.B.C. In his statements, doubtless in revenge for several passages in Kaputt he doesn’t like, he claimed that anything that is witty in the book comes from him. Very well. I’ve always said, in Kaputt, when it is de Foxa who is speaking, it is de Foxa who is speaking. I didn’t invent anything, not even the witty remarks I heard from his mouth. Kaputt is a historical novel, whose characters are not from the age of Louis XIII but from our own. The characters are historical but contemporary. De Foxa is one of the wittiest men I have ever met. When they are witty, the Spanish are the wittiest men in the world. Reading the statements he made to A.B.C., I wondered why I didn’t put the story of the Spanish prisoners in Kaputt. And since de Foxa didn’t tell it, I will, so that the story isn’t lost or forgotten. All the more so since, if de Foxa were to tell it, he’d ruin it. As good a speaker as he is, he’s just as bad a writer. No offense to de Foxa, but I tell his stories better than he does.

In February 1942 I was at the Kannas front between Lake Ladoga and Leningrad, part of the retinue of General Edqvist, who commanded a Finnish division at that delicate point of the front. One day, General Edqvist sends for me.

“We’ve taken eighteen Spanish prisoners,” he tells me.

“Spanish? Are you at war with Spain, then?”

“I don’t know anything about that,” he says. “The fact is that last night we took eighteen Russian prisoners, who declared themselves Spaniards and speak Spanish.”

“Very strange.”

“They need to be interrogated. You speak Spanish,no doubt.”

“No, I don’t speak Spanish.”

“You’re Italian, anyway, so you’re more Spanish than I am. Go on, interrogate them, and afterward we’ll see.”

I go, find the prisoners being held in a shed, and ask them if they are Russians or Spaniards. I speak slowly in Italian, they respond slowly in Spanish, and we understand each other perfectly.

“We are Soviet soldiers. But we are Spaniards.”

And one of them explains to me that they are orphans of the Spanish Civil War, that their parents died in the bombing, in the reprisals, etc., and that one fine day they were put on a Soviet ship, in Barcelona, and sent to Russia, where they were fed, clothed, and educated, where they learned a trade and became Red Army soldiers.

“But we are Spaniards.”

Yes, I remember reading in the papers at the time of the Spanish Civil War (I was on Lipari in those years) that the Russians had shipped several thousand children of Red Spaniards to the USSR, to save them from the bombings and the famine.

“Are you enrolled in the Communist Party?”

“Of course.”

“Well, don’t say so. You told me, for now that’s enough. Don’t repeat it to anyone. Understood?”

“No, we don’t understand.”

“That doesn’t matter. If I think about it, I don’t understand anything either. It’s just that, right, I believe it’s better you don’t tell anyone you’re Spaniards, Red Army soldiers enrolled in the Communist Party.”

“No, we can’t accept this compromise. We were raised to tell the truth. There’s nothing wrong with being Communist. We won’t hide that we’re Communists.”

“All right, do as you like. Know, though, that the Finns are an honest and humane people, that there are Communists among the Finnish soldiers as well, but that they’re fighting for their country, which Russia attacked in 1939. It’s not about being Communist or not, is what I mean to say, but you understand me, I think.”

“No, we don’t understand. We understand that you’re spreading propaganda, that’s all.”

“No, that’s not all. Know that I will do everything possible to keep you out of trouble. Do you understand me?”

“Yes.”

“All right then, goodbye. I’ll come to see you tomorrow.”

I went to General Edqvist and recounted my conversation with the Spaniards.

“What is to be done?” General Edqvist asked me. “You understand that their situation is a delicate one. They’re Spanish Communist volunteers in the Red Army. Obviously, they were children when they were sent to the USSR. They’re not responsible for the way they were brought up. I want to save them. The best thing is for you to telegraph your friend de Foxa, the Spanish minister. Ask him to come, in my name. I’ll deliver the prisoners to him, and he’ll do what he likes.”

I telegraphed de Foxa in the following terms: “Eighteen Spanish prisoners taken. Come quick to collect them.” Two days later, de Foxa arrived on a sled, in foul weather, with the temperature 42 degrees below zero. He was freezing and dead tired. As soon as he saw me, he shouted, “What are you interfering for? Why did you telegraph? What can I do with eighteen Red Spanish prisoners? I can’t put them up at my house. Now I have to deal with them. What are you interfering for?”

“But you’re the minister of Spain!”

“Yes, but of Francoist Spain. They’re Reds. Now I have to deal with them. It’s my duty. But I’d like to know what you’re interfering for.”

He was furious. But de Foxa has a good heart, and I knew he would do what he could to help those poor wretches.

He went to see the prisoners. I went with him.

“I am the minister of Franco’s Spain,” said de Foxa. “I’m Spanish, you’re Spanish, I’ve come to help you. What can I do for you?”

“For us? Nothing,” they replied. “We don’t want anything to do with representatives of Franco.”

“You’re throwing a tantrum? I traveled two days and two nights to come here, and you reject me? I’ll do everything possible to help you. The Spain of Franco knows how to forgive. I will help you.”

“Franco is our enemy. He killed our parents. We ask you to leave us in peace.”

De Foxa went to see General Edqvist.

“They’re stubborn. But I will do my duty, despite them. I will telegraph Madrid to ask for instructions, and we will do what Madrid orders us to.”

The next day de Foxa set off again in his sled for Helsinki. He was seated in his sled, and he said to me: “Mind your own business, understand? If they’re in this mess, it’s your fault. Got it?”

Adios.”

Adios.”

A few days later, one of the prisoners fell sick. “Pneumonia,” the doctor said. “Very dangerous.”

General Edqvist said to me, “De Foxa must be informed.”

So I telegraphed de Foxa: “One prisoner sick, very serious. Come quick with medicine, chocolate, cigarettes.”

Two days later de Foxa arrived in his sled. He was furious.

“What are you interfering for?” he shouted as soon as he saw me. “Is it my fault, if the wretch has fallen sick? What can I do? I’m on my own in Helsinki, you know. I don’t have attachés, aids, anything. I have to do everything on my own, and you have me running all over Finland in this foul weather. What are you interfering for?”

“Listen, he’s sick, he’s going to die. You really do need to be there. You represent Spain.”

“Okay, okay, let’s go see him.”

He brought with him an immense quantity of medicine, food, cigarettes, and warm clothes. He had done things on a proper grand scale, my good Augustin.

The sick man recognized him, even smiled at him. His comrades were silent and hostile. They observed de Foxa with hateful contempt.

De Foxa stayed for two days, then returned to Helsinki. Before climbing into his sled, he said to me, “Why do you interfere in things that don’t concern you? When will you learn to leave me in peace? You’re not Spanish, in any case. Leave me be, understand?”

Adios, Augustin.”

Adios, Malaparte.”

Three days later the sick man died. The general said to me, “I could have him buried quite simply, but I think it would be better to inform de Foxa. This man is Spanish. What do you think?”

“Yes, I think de Foxa must be informed. It’s a matter of courtesy.”

And I telegraphed de Foxa: “Sick man dead. Come quick, he must be buried.”

Two days later de Foxa arrived. He was furious.

“Would you stop hassling me?” he shouted as soon as he saw me. “What are you interfering for? Are you trying to drive me crazy? Of course, if you tell me the guy is dead, that he must be buried, and that I have to be here, of course, it’s impossible for me not to come. But if you hadn’t informed me, eh? I’m not going to resuscitate him, just with my presence!”

“No, but you are Spain. He can’t be buried like a dog in these woods, far from his country, far from Spain. If you’re here at least, it’s different, do you understand? It’s as if all of Spain were here.”

“Of course, I understand,” de Foxa said. “That’s why I came. But why do you get mixed up in these matters anyway? You’re not Spanish, válgame Dios!”

“He must be buried with respect, Augustin. This is why I informed you.”

“Yes, I know. All right, let’s not talk about it anymore. Where is the dead man?”

We went to see the poor dead child in the little shed where his comrades had laid him out and watched over him. The Spanish prisoners observed de Foxa with a sullen, almost menacing air.

“We shall bury him,” said de Foxa, “according to the Catholic rite. Spaniards are Catholics. I want him to be buried like a true, a good Spaniard.”

“We won’t allow it,” said one of the prisoners. “Our comrade was an atheist, like the rest of us. His views must be respected. We won’t allow him to be buried according to the Catholic rite.”

“I represent Spain here, and this dead man is Spanish, a Spanish citizen. I will bury him according to the Catholic rite, understand?”

“No, we don’t understand.”

“I am the minister of Spain, and I will do my duty. I don’t care if you don’t understand.” And de Foxa walked away.

“My dear Augustin,” I said to him, “General Edqvist is a gentleman. He won’t like your flouting the views of a dead man. The Finns are free men, they won’t understand your gesture. A compromise must be sought.”

“Yes, but I am the minister of Spain. I can’t bury a Spaniard without the Catholic rite. Oh, why didn’t you bury him without me! You see, you see what you’ve done, with your mania for interfering in things that don’t concern you?”

“All right, all right, don’t worry. We’ll make the best of things.”

We went to the general.

“Clearly,” said General Edqvist, “if the dead man was an atheist, as his comrades claim, and as I believe, given that he was a Communist, he can’t be buried according to the Catholic rite. I understand, you’re the minister of Spain, and you can’t … ”

I recommended that we summon the Italian Catholic priest of Helsinki, the only Catholic priest in Helsinki (in Helsinki there was also the Catholic bishop, a Dutchman, but we couldn’t summon the bishop). Thus the Catholic priest was telegraphed. Two days later the priest arrived. He understood the situation, and arranged things for the best. He was a priest from upper Lombardy, a mountain man, very simple, very shrewd, very pure.

The funeral took place the following day. The coffin was carried by four of his comrades. A flag of Francoist Spain was placed at the bottom of the grave, dug out using dynamite in the frozen ground. A unit of Finnish soldiers was ranged along one side of the grave, in the small Finnish war cemetery, in a small clearing in the woods. The snow sparkled gently in the day’s dim light. The coffin was followed by Minister de Foxa, General Edqvist, me, and the Red prisoners, and by several Finnish soldiers. The priest stood fifty steps from the grave, stole and prayer book in hand. His lips moved silently, saying the prayer for the dead—but at a remove, in order not to go against the views of the dead man. When the coffin was lowered into the grave the Finnish soldiers, all Protestants, discharged their rifles in the air. General Edqvist, the Finnish officers and soldiers, and I each brought a hand to our cap in salute. Minister de Foxa held his arm out in the Fascist salute. And the comrades of the dead man each raised a clenched fist.

De Foxa left again the next day. Before getting into his sled he took me aside and said, “I thank you for everything you’ve done. You’ve been very kind. Pardon me if I bawled you out a little, but you understand … You’re always interfering in things that don’t concern you!”

A few days passed. The Red prisoners continued to await the response from Madrid. General Edqvist was a bit nervous.

“You understand,” he said, “that I can’t keep these prisoners here forever. Something must be decided. Either Spain reclaims them, or I’ll have to send them to a camp. Their situation is a delicate one. It’s better to keep them here. But I can’t keep them forever.”

“Be patient a bit longer, surely the response will come.”

The response came: “Only those prisoners who declare themselves Spaniards, accept the Franco regime, and express the desire to return to Spain will be recognized as Spanish citizens.”

“Go explain the situation to them,” General Edqvist said to me.

I went to the prisoners and explained the situation.

“We will not recognize the Franco regime. We don’t want to return to Spain,” the prisoners responded.

“I respect your faithfulness to your views, but I must stress that your position is very delicate. If you admit to fighting against the Finns in your capacity as Red Spaniards, you will be shot. The laws of war are the laws of war. Do what you can so that I can help you. I beg you to reflect on this. At bottom, you are Spaniards. All the Red Spaniards left in Spain have accepted the Franco regime, have they not? The Reds lost this contest; their allegiance doesn’t prevent them from recognizing that Franco won. Do as the Reds who live in Spain have done. Accept your defeat.”

“There are no more Reds in Spain. They were shot.”

“Who told you this story?”

“We read about it in the Soviet newspapers. We will never recognize the Franco regime. We’d rather be shot by the Finns than by Franco.”

“Listen! I don’t give a damn about you, about Red Spain, about Franco’s Spain, about Russia, but I can’t abandon you, I won’t abandon you. I’ll do what’s possible to help you. If you don’t want to recognize Franco’s regime, to express the desire to return to Spain, then, well, I’ll sign the declaration for you. I’ll be lying, but I’ll save your life. Understood?”

“No! We’ll protest, we’ll declare that you fraudulently signed for us. We beg you to leave us in peace. And mind your own business. Are you Spanish? No. So what are you interfering for?”

“I’m not Spanish, but I’m a man, I’m a Christian, and I won’t abandon you. I repeat: allow me to help you. Return to Spain, and there you’ll do what all the others do, what all the Reds who have honorably accepted their defeat have done. You’re young, I won’t let you die.”

“Leave us in peace, won’t you?”

I unhappily left them. General Edqvist said to me, “Minister de Foxa must be informed. Telegraph him to come here to settle this business himself.”

I telegraphed de Foxa: “Prisoners refuse. Come quick to persuade them.”

Two days later de Foxa arrived. The north wind blew violently, de Foxa was covered with icicles. As soon as he saw me:

“You again,” he shouted. “How is it possible you’re still interfering in this?” How do you expect me to persuade them, if they don’t want to be? You don’t know Spaniards, they’re as stubborn as a Toledo mule! Why did you telegraph me? What do you want me to do now?”

“Go talk to them,” I said, “maybe … ”

“Yes, yes, I know … that’s why I came. But really now … ”

I accompanied him to see the prisoners. The prisoners were intransigent.

De Foxa entreated them, begged them, threatened them. To no avail.

“They will shoot us. All right. And then?” they said.

“Then I will bury you according to the Catholic rite!” shouted de Foxa, foaming at the mouth, with tears in his eyes. Because my dear Augustin is good, and he suffers from that magnificent and terrible stubbornness.

“You won’t do it,” the prisoners said. “Usted es un hombre honesto! 

Because they too were moved, even so. De Foxa left again, exhausted. Before leaving he asked General Edqvist to hold the prisoners a little longer, and not to decide anything without informing him.

He was sitting in his sled, and he said to me, “See, Malaparte, it’s your fault I’m in this state.” He had tears in his eyes, his voice trembled. “I can’t think about the fate of those poor boys. I admire them, I’m proud of them, they’re true Spaniards, proud and courageous. But you understand … We must do everything we can to save them. I’m counting on you!”

“I’ll do everything I can. I promise you that they won’t die.”

Adios, Augustin!”

Adios, Malaparte!”

I went to see the prisoners every day, attempting to persuade them, but in vain.

“Thank you,” they said to me, “but we’re Communists. We’ll never agree to recognize Franco.”

One day General Edqvist summoned me. “Go see what’s happening with the prisoners. They’ve nearly done in one of their comrades. And we can’t figure out why!”

I went to the prisoners. One of them of was covered with blood and sitting on the ground in a corner of the room, protected by a Finnish soldier armed with a suomi-konepistooli, the famous Finnish submachine gun.

“What have you done to this man?”

“He’s a traitor,” they respond. “A traidor.”

“Is this true?” I ask the wounded man.

“Yes, I am a traidor. I want to return to Spain, I can’t take it anymore! I don’t want to die! I want to return to Spain! I’m Spanish. I want to return to Spain.”

“He’s a traitor! A traidor!” said his comrades, Looking on with gazes full of hate. I had “el traidor” confined to a separate shed and telegraphed de Foxa: “‘El traidor’ wants to return to Spain. Come quick.”

Two days later de Foxa arrived. Snow was falling. He was blinded by the snow, his face stung by the shards of ice thrown up by the horses’ hooves on the frozen path. As soon as he saw me:

“What are you interfering for? Why in the world are you minding other people’s business? You’re still out to drive me mad with your stories? Where is this traitor?”

“Over there, Augustin.”

“All right, let’s go see him.”

“El traidor” received us in silence. He was around twenty years old, blond and fair-eyed, very pale. He was blond like blond Spaniards are, with fair eyes like fair-eyed Spaniards have. He began to cry. He said, “I am a traitor. Yo soy un traidor. But I can’t take it anymore. I don’t want to die. I want to return to Spain.” He cried, watching us with eyes full of fear, of hope, of entreaty.

De Foxa was moved.

“Don’t cry,” he said. “We’ll send you to Spain. You’ll be well received. You’ll be pardoned. It’s not your fault if the Russians made you a Communist, you were a child. Don’t cry.”

“I’m a traitor!” said the prisoner.

“We are all traitors,” de Foxa said suddenly in a low voice. The next day de Foxa had him sign a declaration, then left.

Before he left he went to General Edqvist.

“You are a gentleman,” he said to him. “Give me your word that you’ll save these poor wretches’ lives. They’re good kids. They would rather die than disavow their faith.”

“Yes, they’re good kids,” said General Edqvist. “I’m a soldier, I admire courage and loyalty even in my enemies. I give you my word. Besides, I’ve already reached an agreement with Marshal Mannerheim, they will be treated as prisoners of war. You can leave with an easy heart, I’ll answer for their lives.”

De Foxa shook General Edqvist’s hand in silence, choked with emotion. As he took his seat in the sled, he smiled.

“At last!” he said to me, “you’ll stop bothering me with all these hassles! I’m going to telegraph Madrid, and as soon as I have a response, we’ll see. Thank you, Malaparte.”

Adios, Augustin.”

Adios.”

A few days later the response from Madrid arrived. The prisoner was escorted to Helsinki, where a Spanish officer and a noncommissioned officer awaited him. “El traidor” left in a plane for Berlin, and from there to Spain. It was clear that the Spanish authorities wanted to play up the affair. The prisoner was showered with attention and left happy.

Two months later I returned to Helsinki. It was spring. The trees of the esplanade were covered with new leaves of tender green; birds sang in the branches. Even the sea, at the far end of the esplanade, was green; it too seemed covered in new leaves. I went to collect de Foxa in his Brunnsparken villa. Together we walked along the sea, en route to the Kemp. The island of Suomenlinna was white with the wings of seagulls.

“And the prisoner, ‘el traidor’? Have you had any news?”

“Again!” cried de Foxa. “What are you interfering for?”

“I too did something to save that man’s life.”

“I almost lost my position, thanks to him! And it’s your fault!”

He told me how “el traidor” had been very well received in Madrid. They promenaded him through the city’s cafés, its theaters, its bullrings, its stadiums, its movie houses. They would promenade him, and the people would say, “Do you see that handsome young man? He was a Communist, he was taken prisoner on the Russian front, he was fighting alongside the Russians. He wanted to return, he recognized Franco in Spain. He’s an honorable young man, a good Spaniard.” But “el traidor” would say, “This, a café? You’ve got to see the cafés in Moscow.” And he would laugh. He would say, “This, a theater? A movie house? You’ve got to see the theaters and the movie houses in Moscow.” And he would laugh. They brought him to a stadium. He said aloud, “This, a stadium? You’ve got to see the stadium in Kiev.” And he laughed. Everyone would turn around and he would say aloud, “This, a stadium? The stadium in Kiev, now that’s a stadium!” And he would laugh.

“You understand,” de Foxa said to me. “You understand? It’s your fault. It’s your fault too. In Madrid, at the ministry, they were furious with me. All this because of you. This will teach you to interfere in things that aren’t your business.”

“But in the end, this young man … What did they do to him?”

“What do you think they did to him? They didn’t do anything to him,” Augustin said with a strange voice. “What are you interfering for?”

I understood. They had buried him according to the Catholic rite.



Crans, January 31. And yet I had been warned that the Swiss were a peculiar people.

Yesterday evening, having just arrived in the little inn Pas de l’Ours, which is hidden away in the pine forest overlooking Crans, I called out to the dogs in the vicinity. I went out on the terrace and began to bark. And the dogs immediately responded, from near and far, through the night dimly illuminated by a slim crescent moon. I always do the same thing when I arrive in a new place. I become acquainted with the dogs in the vicinity. I don’t do any harm. But this morning I received a visit from the Crans police, who asked me to stop barking at night.

“You are not a dog, monsieur.”

“I like barking with the dogs, at night. I’m not doing any harm.”

“Such things are not done in Switzerland, monsieur. The regulations prohibit it.”

“Thank you. I won’t do it anymore. But I won’t stay in Switzerland, I’ll return to France. There you can bark at night all you want.”

“I’m sorry, monsieur. Foreigners very much enjoy themselves in Switzerland. It’s just that they don’t bark at night. I believe you are the first.”

“I shall return to France, where foreigners can bark as much as they like.”

“I do not doubt it, monsieur. France is a country of loose morals.”

“To bark at night is not to have loose morals.”

“It begins with barking, monsieur, and finishes with biting. The Swiss don’t like being bitten.”

I won’t stay in Switzerland. I’ll leave tomorrow. I don’t like countries where you can’t even bark at night. I like free countries.



March 22, Chamonix. Descending from Planpraz in the cable car, I meet a young French doctor, M. ——. I’m in the middle of telling Georgette M. about the dream I had the night before. The doctor explains the dream using a Freudian argument. We talk about the obsession with corpses that appears in nearly all of my writings.

To be honest, this obsession only appears in my writings after my months in prison, my years of confinement. What happened to me, in prison or on Lipari, that drove me to express this obsession that has existed in me since my earliest childhood? Maybe having smelled for the first time, in prison, that corpse smell that every prisoner exudes from his poorly washed skin, from his underclothes, from everything he touches or wears on his person. In any case, it’s a fact: in my entire literary oeuvre, save for a few pages in my first book, which is from 1921, the obsession with corpses does not appear.

I explain this obsession with a childhood memory. Around the time of my birth, my mother was haunted by the suicide of her brother, who was mad and drowned himself in a river near Milan, the Lambro. Being pregnant with me, she was disturbed by this event, which caused her to fear the evil effects of heredity.

I was not a normal child, not like all the other children. I was timid, weak, dominated by my imagination, and morbidly sensitive. We lived in Prato, in a house on Via Magnolfi. When I was very small, two years old, I removed a brick from the floor of my bedroom. Having discovered some sand under the brick, I thought this sand was the beach. I would spend whole hours with my ear glued to this sand, to listen to the sea, the voice of the sea. My father bought me a shell, which I used to create the sea in my room, with objects that had nothing to do with the sea, or with the idea that a child has of the sea. My toys, too, were strange.



March 23, Chamonix. I sat on my doorstep from ten at night till two in the morning, barking with the dogs.

At this point they know me, they talk to me. Even Tommy, ——’s dog, who didn’t want to respond to me, he knows me now, talks to me, responds to me.

The moon stood poised atop the Aiguille de Blaitière, and the snow had an astonishing transparency; the sky had the same transparency as the sea under the moon. The Aiguille du Midi and the Aiguille du Goûter were reflected in the soft green sky; the stars shone on the glaciers. The dreadful mountain had an astonishing transparency and lightness, as if made of some impalpable material, of sea foam, the same sea foam from which Venus sprung.

Seated on the doorstop of my house, I bark for a long time, and the dogs respond from here, from there, from the chalet above the téléski, from the farm before Les Plans: they are the dogs of Roger Demarchi, of Greppon the guide; Mireille and Diane, the dogs of Roger Demarchi’s brothers, who live close to me, on the farm past the fountain in Les Plans. It’s the dog of Gérard Simond, the beautiful and mad Tex, who responds to me from the Plans house, near the river. I know them all, one by one, and they all know me. They know my voice, and they respond to me; they talk to me. They understand perfectly what I say to them, because I know their language. It is my sole pleasure in life, to call out to dogs in the night, and to talk to them.

I learned how to talk to dogs on Lipari; I had no one but the dogs to talk to. I would go out at night on the terrace of my sad house on the sea, on the Salita di Santa Teresa, near the little church, beside the narrow little streets named Inferno, Diana, Mars, Pluto, Neptune, Proserpina, little streets with lovely ancient names. I would lean on the balustrade of the terrace and call out to Eolo, the brother of my dog Febo. I would call Vulcano, and Apollo, and Stromboli, all the dogs with ancient names; and Valastro’s dog, Nicosia’s dog, the dogs of my fishermen friends, who themselves have ancient names: Nicosia, Valastro, Amendola, Fenech; Greek names, Phoenician names. I would stay on the terrace for long hours, barking with the dogs, who would respond, and the fishermen of Marina Corta would call me “the dog.” They complained to the Carabinieri, and I was warned not to bark with the dogs in the night, because the fishermen were afraid to hear me barking with the dogs.

On Capri, too, I talk to the dogs of Matromania, who come to the top of Matromania at night to talk to me, and the inhabitants of Matromania call me mad. And when the Americans went ashore on Capri, they complained to the other Americans; the Governor called me and asked if I was the one barking at night. I said yes, it was me. And the Americans warned me not to bark with the dogs in the night. But I complained to the English admiral Morse, who commanded the naval base on the island, and Admiral Morse told me: “You have the right to bark, if you like, because Italy is now free. There’s no more Mussolini. You can bark.”

In Paris, too, I barked with the dogs, from my terrace on Rue Galilée, but it wasn’t the dogs who responded to me; it was the cats, the cat of my concierge, Madame Campio; the cat of the director of France Dimanche, M. Max ——, who lived across from me at no. 59; the owner of the Bar Triolet’s cat, Corso; and the Hôtel —— cat and the one from Hôtel ——, and I had to stop talking to the cats in the language of the dogs, because the cats didn’t want me to, and insulted me.

But here in Chamonix I can bark all night if I want, because the inhabitants are kind, they love dogs, and they know there is nothing that gives greater pleasure to a man who lives alone than barking with the dogs. Ruskin, too, when he stayed in Chamonix, barked with the dogs in the night. It’s well known, in Chamonix, that foreigners like to bark in the night with the dogs.

Even so, yesterday evening the big sheep dog from the farm that lies above the cableway, near the rock Ruskin loved to sit on for long hours, gazing at the small glacier at the feet of the Aiguille de Blaitière (“at the feet of the Aiguille de Blaitière there is a small glacier that, in its beautifully curved outline, appears to harmonize with the rocks beneath”), yesterday evening the big sheep dog, Tom, came toward me. I heard his voice come closer and closer, he was asking me, “What’s wrong?” I replied that nothing was wrong, but he didn’t trust me, didn’t believe me, and so he came to see me. He approached me, sniffed me, sat down on the snow beside me, and together we called all the others, who responded from here and from there across the transparent night, in the glow of the wondrously pure snow.

For there is no purer pleasure than to bark with the dogs in the night, on a beautiful frozen night, illuminated by the gentle transparent brilliance of the snow.



June. I read an interview with Moravia that he gave to Malraux, in an Italian newspaper. It’s rather banal and, like everything Moravia writes, extremely cautious, owing perhaps to the political position assumed by Malraux in recent times.

I’ve often wondered why I don’t feel the need to become better acquainted with the Malrauxs, or the Sartres, or so many others who honor not only French but also European letters today. And perhaps it comes from the instinct for what is false with respect to all men, and especially to foreigners, in the attitudes assumed by a Malraux or a Sartre.

My encounter with Malraux goes back to 1931. In the fall of that year I was living in Daniel Halévy’s beautiful house at 38 Quai de l’Horloge. One Saturday afternoon, Daniel Halévy telephoned to invite me to join him, to meet Gabriel Marcel, Malraux, Aron, Dieudonné, and the young Ferrero. To get to Halévy, I had to go down the Quai de l’Horloge, turn the corner at Madame Roland’s house, enter the Place Dauphine, and cross the threshold of no. 27 in that same square. So I go down and head toward the Pont Neuf. As I come to the tobacco shop at the corner, a taxi pulls over to the curb. A tall thin young man, his face covered with tiny red dots, gets out, turns to me, and asks with a half distracted, half imperious air, “if I could give him twenty francs.” I rummage in my pocket and hand over a twenty-franc note. The stranger takes the money and, without even thanking me, hands it to the driver, who, after having counted out the change in his hand, hands him the change. I’m waiting at the edge of the sidewalk. The stranger pockets the change and, without a word of thanks, or a smile, or deeming me worthy of a glance, walks away. Amused, I step into the tobacco shop and buy cigarettes, then head toward Place Dauphine and enter at no. 27. I climb the stairs and enter the home of Daniel Halévy, who, coming forward and greeting me, introduces me to Gabriel Marcel and the others. Coming to a tall thin young man I recognize as the twenty-francs man, Halévy says to me, “And this is Malraux.” The twenty-francs man greets me in that moment as if he were seeing me for the first time in his life, and asks me a few very polite questions. I stayed at Halévy’s until around eight, talking at length with Gabriel Marcel, André Spire, and Malraux himself, who did not say a word to me about those twenty francs, and who left without even thanking me.

How, then, could I pay a visit to Malraux today? I would have the appearance of going to ask him for my twenty francs.



an undated entry

The sun is out this morning, a bright, warm sun pervaded by the drone of invisible insects. The leaves on the trees, burned by autumn’s lazy fire, strangely glimmer. The water of the Seine is green, swollen with earth, and with the sky; enormous white clouds, slashed with blue, tumble in the current, shatter against the bridge piers. The flag over the French parliament makes a Utrillo-esque blot. I enter the Tuileries Garden and sit down on a bench, joining a young mother already seated there.

A young boy romps in front of her; he runs, stops, lifts his head, closes his eyes, calls out, “Maman.” Moments later the child comes toward me, runs into my knees, stops, stares at me with fear. “He’s blind,” the mother says to me in a low voice. I touch the boy’s hand, clasp it between my own. “Who’s there?” asks the child. “I’m a general,” I answer, “dressed in red and blue, with a hat full of feathers on my head, a great sword at my side, and my horse is waiting for me at the end of the path.”

The boy starts to laugh, then he says to me, “I’m the horse.”

“I know, you’re my horse. Gallop!”

The child sets off at a gallop, then returns to me.

“Why are your ears red?” says the man.

“I’m the king’s horse,” the boy says.

“Yes, I am the king,” says the man. “I’d forgotten that I’m the king today. Do you want to call my soldiers?”

“Yes,” says the boy, and gallops away. He turns around, comes back, stands at attention in front of the man, and says, “I’m the army.”

“This morning I declared war, we must fight. Go and win the battles.”

“Yes,” says the boy. He kneels, takes aim with an imaginary rifle, and fires. He makes the sound of a cannon, a rifle, a drum, a trumpet.

“You’re dead,” the man shouts at him.

The child falls, with a high-pitched cry, and his dog runs up to him, whining, licking his tiny master.

“What do you see?” the man asks.

“I see the Virgin,” says the pale child, “and the Saints.”

“Do you see Christ?” says the man.

“I don’t see Christ, I see Napoleon,” says the dead child.

“Do you see your comrades who died for France?” says the man.

“I see all my dead comrades,” says the dead child.

“How are they dressed?” says the man.

“They’re dressed in red, green, and yellow. They have eyes that twinkle like two stars, they’re really happy to be dead.”

“Now return to the Royal Palace,” says the man.

The dead child stands up and returns to the man.

“Let’s go to the theater,” says the man.

“Oh, yes,” says the boy, “I really like the theater.”

“Let’s go,” says the man, and he sets off, holding the boy by the hand. They take two steps, then slowly return to sit down on the bench.

“They’re playing Cyrano,” says the man.

“I really like Cyrano,” says the boy.

“Quiet,” says the man.

The two stare in front of them, following with their eyes the show on the invisible stage. From time to time the boy applauds, overjoyed.

“Oh, he’s such a good actor!” says the man.

Suddenly it begins to rain. The drops are fat and warm and raise a small cloud of dust from the gravel paths of the garden. A light mist veils the trees of the Champs-Élysées. The man stands, saying, “It’s raining. It happens every time, when they perform Cyrano: it rains. Let’s go.”

He takes the child by the hand, calls out “Mouton.” The dog approaches. The man attaches a leash to its neck and the three slowly set off, the dog turning from time to time to look at his masters. I follow them with my eyes, without understanding.

“They’re both blind,” says the woman sitting on the other bench. “They used to come here almost every day; for the last few weeks they’ve been going to the Luxembourg Gardens. But they like the Tuileries.”

“They were born blind?”

“Yes, they’ve never seen things. The world they imagine for themselves is very strange. They play at seeing each other, in color. Do you understand?”

I returned the next day. They weren’t there. Two days later I saw them. They played war, describing aloud the soldiers’ uniforms. I understood that what they depicted were not facts, characters, or roles, but colors and forms. When, after their game, they got up to go, I approached the man and, doffing my hat, asked him if I could accompany them with my umbrella. They thanked me, and we set off. The boy asked me what color my umbrella was. “Black,” I answered. The man turned his face toward me and I noted a slight tremor in his lips. We walked in silence. Beneath the arcades of the Place des Pyramides, the man thanked me and lifted his hat. Then he said to me in a low voice: “Why deceive us? There are no black umbrellas. Your umbrella is red. Why lie?” And he went away, holding the boy by the hand.

Contributors

Curzio Malaparte

Curzio Malaparte (pseudonym of Kurt Erich Suckert, 1898–1957) was born in Prato, Italy, and served in World War I. An early supporter of the Italian fascist movement and a prolific journalist, Malaparte soon established himself as an outspoken public figure. In 1931 he incurred Mussolini’s displeasure by publishing a how-to manual entitled Coup d’État: The Technique of Revolution, which led to his arrest and a brief term in prison. During World War II Malaparte worked as a correspondent, for much of the time on the eastern front, and this experience provided the basis for his two most famous books, Kaputt (1944) and The Skin (1949). His political sympathies veered to the left after the war. He continued to write, while also involving himself in the theater and the cinema.

Stephen Twilley

Stephen Twilley is the managing editor of Public Books. His translations from the Italian include Francesco Pacifico’s The Story of My Purity and Marina Mander’s The First True Lie, and for NYRB Classics, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Professor and the Siren. He lives in Chicago.


Further Reading

From InTranslation: Don Camalèo, A Novel About a Chameleon, by Curzio Malaparte, translated from the Italian by Michael McDonald.

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APRIL 2020

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