Wooden Cross & Iron Path
Translation © Sophie Kovel, 2017
Original: “Croix de bois et chemin de fer,” Esprit, (Jan. 1951), 88-90.
At Ploen (Schles-wig-Holstein) I ride the Kiel train. The Baltic rain transports lavender, as everyone knows, and just enough melancholy to make souls conquerors. Die Haare, die Haare, sind grau von Baltikum. He is there, in my compartment, the conqueror. He’s the conductor. He belongs to this generation, almost nowhere to be found in Germany today – people who had twenty aps in 1940. Apart from that his small, very clear eyes, a very pink complexion, the visor of the Deutsche Reischsbahn split like that of the mountain troops – and this inimitable air of a military baby – he is shamefully conventional. The moment he spotted my accent, he sat down in front of me, offered me a cigarette and declared: “I do not know France.”
Too bad; but his acknowledgement actually pleased me. I was already resigned to undergo the account of his garrisons at Bayonne or at Deauville-the thirtieth since the beginning of my journey. To believe that others imagine it gives us pleasure to hear about their country. Like another in Lübeck: “I arrived in Paris in July ‘44, but we had to leave immediately,” and, calling me as witness: “No luck!”
He does not know France, but no matter: from ’40 to ’45 he’d done Belgium, Holland, Italy, Greece, Ukraine. He had been mobilized since ‘38, a prisoner for one year: in all eight years of war. Worse yet, his parents were buried under the pieces of their house, his inaccessible province, his unemployment for two years, the impossibility of resuming his studies, and now the railway. A recruit of choice for the Stockholm draft. But I do not need to talk to him about all this. Without any transition he got to the heart of the matter: “The Russian,” he said (in Germany, the Americans are said to be like mosquitoes, and the Russian – der Russe, der Ivan – like thunder. In Germany, all that counts, even in the order of fear, must be abstract), the Russian reduces us to slavery in the East. He expected the dignity of man… “Five minutes devoted to the list of the misdeeds of Russians “and we are formally opposed!”
Chris Marker, 1951