Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

Cross My Heart by Chris Marker


Wooden Cross & Iron Path

Translation © Sophie Kovel, 2017
Original: “Croix de bois et chemin de fer,” Esprit, (Jan. 1951), 88-90.

Please note that this is a partial translation; the text continues beyond where we left off here, with Marker’s conversation with the German soldier focusing in on the concentration camps. There are also 5 footnotes. We will be updating this page with the full translation asap. 

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


Croix de bois et chemin de fer – 2018 Esprit Summary

Also worth noting is the article’s re-publication in Esprit’s 2018/5 (Mai) issue Chris Marker, pages 61-64, in a special issue entitled Les Engagements de Chris Marker.

Esprit 2018: Les engagements de Chris Marker

Ce texte a d’abord été publié dans Esprit en janvier 1951. Chris Marker se rend alors fréquemment en Allemagne pour des conférences, des séminaires ou des rencontres de jeunesse, en lien avec l’association Peuple et Culture animée notamment par Joseph Rovan. Dans cette période entre l’immédiat après-guerre et le début de la guerre froide, ses membres veulent œuvrer par l’éducation populaire à la démocratisation de l’Allemagne et à la réconciliation, jetant ainsi les bases d’une Europe nouvelle. De cette rencontre avec un contrôleur de train allemand, racontée avec autant de drôlerie que de sérieux, on comprend avec Chris Marker que la route sera encore longue… Six mois auparavant, la République fédérale d’Allemagne devenait membre du Conseil de l’Europe, et à l’automne les États-Unis plaidaient pour son réarmement ; en octobre, René Pleven défendait une Communauté européenne de défense intégrant des soldats allemands ; en décembre, le général Eisenhower – qui deviendrait président des États-Unis trois ans plus tard et lutta pendant la guerre pour la capitulation sans condition de l’Allemagne – était nommé commandant de l’Otan en Europe. Entre expérience et réflexion, récit et essai, le texte donne aussi la mesure de l’écrivain que fut Chris Marker, en plus d’être cinéaste.

Esprit 2018
Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

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