Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Is it then that you have reached such a degree of lethargy that you acquiesce in your sickness? If so, let us flee to lands that are analogues of death. I see how it is, poor soul! We shall pack our trunks for Tornio. Let us go farther still to the extreme end of the Baltic; or further still from life, if that is possible…
---Charles Baudelaire


At the end of the week I am going East: to Poland and Estonia. There was a time when Cracow was not in the East but that is possibly true only if one reads history though today fewer and fewer read history and then only a history which compliments whichever prejudice is the ruling theme of the contemporary moment.

In Estonia I am going to Tartu which Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn describes as a charming town with numerous Latin inscriptions, a hillside park in the town center, a city that seemed to him to be part of Europe.

A.S. had come to Estonia to escape the constant eye of the KGB in order to work on The Gulag Archipelago and mentions that in the camps of the Gulag he never met a bad Estonian but he knew, “there were some Estonians who helped drive their country into Communism, others had helped keep it there; still others had worked in the early Cheka and some had contributed to the defeat of the Whites at Livny in 1919.”

The detail: numerous Latin inscriptions…


To go Cracow is to visit the Cracow castle and see the scene of Curzio Malaparte’s visit in KAPUTT to “I am the King, der Konig,” said Reichsminister Frank, Governor-General of Poland, spreading his arms and gazing upon his guests with proud complacency… I should be the happiest man alive, I should truly be like Gott in Frankreich, if the Poles were grateful to me for all that I am doing for them. But the more I strive to allay their misfortunes and to deal justly with them, the more they despise all I am doing for their country. They are an ungrateful people…”

As they walk about the castle Frank’s wife points out a, “small room with walls that were totally bare and whitewashed. There was not a single piece of furniture, no carpets, no pictures, no books, no flowers--- nothing except a magnificent Pleyal piano and a wooden music stool. Frau Brigitte Frank opened the piano, and leaning her knee on the stool stroked the keyboard with her fat fingers. “Before taking a crucial decision or when he is very weary or depressed, sometimes in the midst of an important meeting, “ said Frau Brigitte Frank, “he(Frank) shuts himself up in this cell and sits before the piano and seeks rest or inspiration from Schumann, Brahms, Chopin or Beethoven. Do you know what I call this cell? I call it is his eagle’s nest.” “He is an extraordinary man, isn’t he? she added gazing at me with a look of proud affection. “He is an artist a great artist with a pure and delicate soul. Only such an artist as he can rule over Poland.”

“Yes,” I said a great artist and it is with this piano that he rules the Polish people.


Later in KAPUTT, Malaparte will visit Fischer, the Nazi Governor of Warsaw, and the condition of the children in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, will be discussed, “It’s the children who worry me. (Fischer says) ‘Unfortunately there is little that can be done to reduce the children’s death rate in the ghettos. I should like however to so something to relieve the suffering of those unfortunate children. I should like to train them to love life, I would like to teach them to walk smiling through the ghetto streets.”

“Smiling?” I asked. “Do you wish to teach them to smile? To walk smiling? The Jewish children will never learn to smile, not if you teach then with the whip. Neither will they ever learn to walk. Don’t you know that the Jewish children do not walk. Jewish children have wings.”