Friday, 23 August 2013
Ilya Ehrenburg: The Storm
When he arrived in Paris he was amazed: before him was the very city his mother had talked to him about. . . . Sergei had gone through so much during his short life, had seen such things, that he did not believe in the possibility of repose. Was it so long ago that he had seen whole apartment houses being unceremoniously shifted from place to place in Gorky Street? Here in Paris it seemed as though human beings could not be shifted from their accustomed places. Centenarian ladies sat on benches wearing bedroom slippers. And that gentleman over there wearing a monocle--why, he's the man that Maupassant described! Everything seemed so familiar, and therefore unreal.
He had come to Paris from the Moscow of hard, stern years, his hair streaked with grey, exacting and distrustful. Moscow lived in the consciousness of an impending storm; and while the Parisians gave little thought to the agony of neighboring Madrid, it was only recently that on cold, blizzardy evenings crowds stood gazing at a map of Spain displayed in Pushkin Square, and the silence of these crowds breathed anxiety, anger and confidence. Sensational court trials followed one after another: treason trials; and the reports of the court proceedings mingled with the tramping of German divisions on the Ring, with the wailing of Barcelona, with backstairs negotiations and military maneuvers. Then came Munich. ... In those years the people of Moscow lived in a state of tension and uneasiness, the climax was approaching. And after these stern Moscow nights Sergei saw life that looked like a merry-go-round at a fair--circling, flickering and glittering until it hurt one's eyes, made one's head swim. The city shone like a house where they were celebrating a wedding; it seemed that the people were not aware that death was lurking outside their windows. Similarly, anglers dozed on the banks of the Seine, lovers of Horace sneezed as they rummaged in the boxes of the second-hand book dealers, and similarly, itinerary singers sang at street corners about the love of Kiki, who was irresistible and yielding. Wait a minute, Sergei, is it true that nineteen hundred and thirty-nine is on the threshold, that there are ruins and graves on the other side of the Pyrenees, that doomed Prague is calling to its friends in its agony, that guns are being mounted on the Rhine? Perhaps Paris has taken leave of its senses, has forgotten to wind up the clock, has not torn off the leaves of the calendar for a long time? Perhaps a long-haired orator will emerge from a neighboring cafe and call upon the romanticists of the Duchy of Baden, jointly with the blue-bloused working men of the faubourg of Saint-Antoine, to plant the tree of liberty? Perhaps Hitler is a figment of the imagination of a score of unemployed cartoonists?
Then Sergei looked around: beneath this happy-go-lucky surface he discerned sadness; there was a touch of mournfulness in the very gaiety of the city; and the quips and jests, the ditties, even the whispering of loving couples suggested preparations for a journey, God knows where to. Paris dozed restlessly, it wanted to have its sleep out, come what may!