Harmen Gerbens the Cairo Dutchman rests now in the briefcase above my seat—a name and a history, chronologically the first on the list, without my knowing at the time that the list had begun and that I’d end up carrying it to Rome five years later, all trembling with a terrible hangover exhausted feverish unable to sleep, would I have chosen the Vatican if Alexandra weren’t waiting for me at Trastevere, in that little ground-floor apartment by a pretty courtyard, Alexandra called Sashka a Russian painter with the face of an icon the worst is over now, the worst leaving everything behind quitting leaving my strange employer, ever since Venice after my two years of war I’ve never been so free, I own nothing now, not even my real name—I have an appropriated passport under the name of Yvan Deroy, born almost at the same as me in Paris and locked up a long time ago now in an institution for psychotics in the suburbs, he never had a passport and his doctors would be quite surprised to know that he’s wandering around Italy today, I got this document in the most legal way in the world with a record of civil status and a doctored electric company bill at the 18th arrondissement town hall: I’ve had so many different names these past years, on identity papers of all colors, I’ll become attached to Yvan Deroy, tonight the mute psychotic will sleep in the Grand Plaza in Rome, he reserved a room on the Internet from a cybercafé on the Champs-Elysées, Yvan Deroy won’t go see his Roman lover right away, he’ll hand over his last suitcase to whomever has a right to it, as they say, someone will come visit him in his room they’ll proceed with the exchange before Yvan Deroy disappears more or less for good, Yvan has had a new life since last month even an account opened in a big branch of an ordinary bank, which changes him from his postal savings account where his parents regularly deposit the price of his little extras in his “residence,” today he owns an international credit card—Yvan bought himself two pairs of pants and as many shirts in a big department store, withdrew cash paid in advance for one night in the Plaza and an airplane ticket he didn’t use and now he’s playing at making out the landscape in the gathering dusk, far from Venice from Alexandria from Cairo from Marianne with the white breasts a little closer to the end of the world thirty kilometers from Milan where Bonaparte rested for a few days in the middle of his first Italian campaign, in a magnificent palace confiscated from I forget whom, Milan whose train station so resembles the pharaonic temples that the same Bonaparte conquered before launching ever further into the Syrian expedition and the disaster of the siege of Saint Jean d’Acre, Yvan Deroy the mad or catatonic schizophrenic committed in a specialized institution in L’Haÿles-Roses, in the asylum they used to say—Yvan emerges from his lethargy only to shout and assault the staff and the other patients violently, to try to kill them for they are his enemies, he shouts, they wish him harm he is simply defending himself nothing more no mystical flights of fancy no voices no hallucinations Yvan emerges from his semi-comatose state only into the pure violence of a wild animal according to the phases of the moon or the changing course of his treatment, and this has been so for almost twenty years despite the quantity of medication he has taken he resists his sickness resists therapy, he is me now Yvan had a shaved head the time he raised his right arm in salute wanted to put an end to democratic corruption the servants of Bolshevism and international Jewry, he went to church on Sundays to hand out pamphlets to middle-class housewives whom he frightened more than anything else, he read Brasillach and every February 6th visited his grave with the other militants to celebrate the martyr and promise revenge for the victim of Gaullist injustice and Jewish hatred, Yvan and I visited Maurice Bardèche official fascist who offered us a volume of his pro- Franco history of the Spanish War written in collaboration with Brasillach—Yvan Deroy went mad, I forgot him as I went through normal military training then paratrooper military training and finally all possible military trainings before going to serve France, volunteer for a long period of service they said at the time, months slogging around in the mountains, team spirit songs weapons marches nighttime commandos grenades light artillery a hard happiness shared with comrades I was more than a little proud to come back on leave and share my naïve martial exploits, the kid from Arès was still just a puppy on parade, in training, on maneuvers in the South of France, on maneuvers in the North of France, on maneuvers in the Alps always happy to have a life so full of weapons honor and fatherland, sweating in the mountains on the Saint Bernard Pass with Hannibal and Bonaparte who didn’t get blisters, mounted on their elephants or their horses, Hannibal the Tunisian was inches away from succeeding, Rome trembled, Bonaparte succeeded, Austria capitulated—Yvan Deroy remembers today in this train that his parents were proud of him, that those fervent Catholics thought of his army as a scout camp that would fortify body and soul, his mother whispered in his ear, prophetically, don’t forget, your homeland is also Croatia, I wanted to go into politics enroll in Sciences-Po once my time of service was over I had a knack for contemporary history tenacious and hardworking everything would smile down on me even Marianne who without sharing my right-wing opinions came from a good Christian family, Yvan Deroy has just crossed the Alps one more time while his actual body languishes, waiting for the end of the world prostrate in a wheelchair—now I’m traveling incognito while still being “legal” a good suitcase-carrier invisible in the crowd of identities and minor bank transactions, Yvan Deroy, impossible to sleep effect of the half-amphetamine I took this morning to hold out after having snored for two hours good and drunk like an imbecile I missed the plane and even more stupidly I rushed over to the train instead of waiting for the next flight, now I’m hungry, a little, maybe I should go eat or drink something we’re traveling very fast it’s drizzling a little this December evening I remember the long nights of the Croatian autumn, the corn fields are the same the rain too in Slavonia around Osijek in 1991 we were freezing in our hunting jackets and despite all my military training and my alpine exploits I was afraid, I was the most experienced of my companions and I was afraid, in the name of well-greaved Achilles I trembled from fear clinging to my Kalashnikov the best weapon in our squad that they’d entrusted to me because of my military experience my Croatian was rudimentary I said little cannon for mortar shell bullets for cartridge group for section not to mention regiments battalions units that I still mix up, fortunately there was Andrija, Andrija the lion had courage to spare, he was a farmer from around Osijek he fished for pike and carp in the Drava and the Danube with which his mother cooked a mean terribly spicy fish stew smelling of mud—I must be hungry to be thinking of that now, the best meal I ever had I still owe to Andrija, one night around Christmastime, we were exhausted and chilled to the bone in the mostly destroyed farm that served as HQ for us we began drinking šljiva to get warm 400 meters away Chetniks were snug in their shelters nothing very new on the front not many shells a few explosions as if to keep us warm—no one likes handling mortars in the cold and the rain the cartridge cases slip from your gloved hands you flounder in the mud the barrel always sinks down into it a little and makes the shot go wrong, better stay snug inside four walls despite the leaks and the drafts, we drink then drunk two hours later we’re dying of hunger, no desire to eat canned food, a desire for a celebration, Andrija takes my hand he says come come I know where there’s a fantastic dinner and suddenly we’re out in the rain slogging between the mines in the middle of fields in the dark holding our assault rifles, he leads me to the western end of the sector almost in front of our lines—stop they’ll mistake us for Serbs, we’ll get ourselves blown away, shh, he replies, he points to a ruined farm on the other side, the Chetnik side: there are pigs there beautiful pigs what can we do with a pig I said, we’ll eat it you idiot we hear an explosion and the night lights up and whistles, the night lit up blue, we dove into the mud—our own people had spotted us, God knows how, and logically thought we were Serbs, demented Serbs strolling about in the rain in the midst of enemy mines, they were probably going to fire one or two more shells to be safe, Andrija began crawling toward the pigs, the Chetniks, and dinner, fortunately the mine field was ours up to the road, we were pretty much in familiar territory, the earth was soaking it stuck to our stomachs a little 40mm mortar exploded somewhere behind us how could there still be pigs in a bombarded farm by the edge of the road that separated us from the enemy, I heard them when we set the mines Andrija replies, having reached the asphalt we wait a few minutes, the silence is complete, we cross, on the other side about 200 meters away are the Serbian positions—we can see a few vague lights between the hedges, we swig some liquor to warm ourselves up and full to the brim of šljiva not worrying about the landmines the enemy might have put there we approached the ruined farm, listened for a long time and in fact we heard the snorts and grunts of animals that had smelled our presence, and now what, how are we going to find a fucking black pig in the dark? Andrija began laughing, uncontrollable laughter his hand on his mouth, unable to stop, he tried to control himself and his hiccups sounded like a pig’s squeal, which made him laugh even harder, they must have heard his animal-like hiiic hiiic kilometers away in the silence—stop, your noises are going to make the Chetniks hungry, I said, and Andrija almost crapped in his pants from laughing, we were there in the dark drunk as pigs in the middle of no man’s land stretched out in the mud in the rain in front of a bombed farm the Serbs 200 meters away at most, so drunk we didn’t even hear the Croatian shell set off that fell a scant twenty meters away, the sudden abrupt explosion flecked us with dirt, Andrija’s laughter suddenly stopped, come on, he said, we’ll go get the fucking animal and we’ll get back, the Serbs began to return fire, we spotted mortars being fired just in front of us, 80s, we’d end up stuck there between two lines of fire with no dinner, it must have been almost midnight we carefully went round the shack and in the flash of a nearby explosion we discovered an enormous sow stuck in an improvised corral, mad from the shells she was turning round in circles like a goose Andrija began laughing again, laughing uncontrollably, how are we going to carry this colossus we’ll have to cut it up on the spot, he went over to the animal took out his bayonet the sow tried to bite him and began squealing when the knife slashed her fat, I was seized with mad laughter too, despite the bombardment, despite the Chetniks who must have been thinking about preparing an attack I had in front of me a soldier black with wet mud dagger in hand in the process of running after a crazy animal in the roar of explosions, a machine gun began firing on the Serbian side, Andrija took advantage of it to shoot a bullet from his Kalashnikov into the animal 7.62 too small caliber to drop the pig he’d have to hit it in the head it went on squealing even louder as it limped Andrija the bloodthirsty madman ended up knocking it onto its back knife between his teeth like the Bolsheviks in the Nazi propaganda posters, Andrija straddled his pig like a pony I felt sick to my stomach I was laughing so hard, he ended up reaching the carotid with his blade the sow fell grunting in a gurgling puddle of black blood, around us the battle was raging, an exchange of artillery and machine gun volleys—we finished off the flask of šljiva and the dying animal before hurling ourselves onto it bayonets in hand to cut ourselves a thigh apiece which took us at least a quarter of an hour of steady effort especially to detach the bone from its socket, in the meantime the artillery duel ended in a scoreless tie, we just had to go back and crawl for a good half of the way dragging the animal’s legs that must have weighed almost fifteen kilos each—we arrived soaking wet exhausted stinking of shit so covered in mud manure and blood that our comrades thought we were fatally wounded, finally when we fell from exhaustion into a dreamless sleep, on the ground, Andrija still amorously clinging to a sow’s ear like a child with his rattle— the next day it was pouring out we roasted the two thighs in a fire of damp wood and the gods were so happy with this porcine burnt offering that they protected us from the shells that the Serbs rained down on us all day, enticed by the smell: the smell in the wind cruelly reminded them that we had relieved their mascot of its two hind legs, Andrija all throughout the war kept “the Chetnik ear” dried and hairy in his pocket, so that new recruits thought with horror that he actually possessed a monstrous human relic torn from the enemy, Andrija I miss you, two years we lived together two years from Slavonia to Bosnia from Osijek to Vitez and Herzegovinan Mostar, Andrija funny brutal great soldier a crummy shot it was not the archer Apollo who guided your shafts, your protector was Ares the furious, you had strength boldness and courage: Apollo protected the Serbs and Bosnians, Athena with the seagreen eyes watched over us as well as she could—in that great fight between East and West the goddess appeared in Šibenik, in Medjugorje, Virgin at the edge of the Catholic West, just as Ghassan told me in Venice that the statue of the Virgin of Harissa, perched on her mountain 600 meters above sea level, had turned towards bombarded Beirut, a sign of pity or encouragement for the combatants, she too at the edge of the western world, in the same way the Virgin of Medjugorje had pitied her children grappling with Muslims and inscribed her messages of peace in the sky of Herzegovina: no apparition at my window where darkness is settling in, summer sunsets over the sea near Troy were much more beautiful—Apollo the archer of the East also guided the Turkish artillerymen near the well-guarded Dardanelles, on the banks of the Scamander, facing Cape Helles where the monument to unknown soldiers of the battle of Gallipoli stands, white as a lighthouse, you can read over 2,000 British names there for as many bodies whose remains are scattered throughout the peninsula along with the dusty bones of 1,200 unidentifiable Frenchmen from the years 1915-1916, before the Eastern Expeditionary Corps gave up and went to try its luck near Thessalonica in support of the Serbs against the Bulgarians, leaving the Dardanelles and the Bosporus inviolate after ten months of battle and 150,000 French, Algerian, Senegalese, English, Australian, New Zealanders, Sikh, Hindu, Turkish, Albanian, Arab, and German corpses, like so many Boeotians, Mycenaeans, brave Arcadians, or magnanimous Cephallenians against the Dardanians, Thracians, Pelasgians with the furious javelins, or Lycians come from afar, guided by the spear of blameless Sarpedon, but the Allies didn’t have the patience to wait ten years, the battle of the Dardanelles or of Gallipoli was savage and quick, it began with a naval attempt to force a passage through the Dardanelles on March 18th 1915 at 10:30 in the morning: British and French ships began advancing in three lines and shelling the Ottoman forts port and starboard, blindly, to try to put their mobile batteries out of operation, the giant marine cannon shells—305 millimeters, 200 kilos of explosive—were so powerful that the houses in neighboring villages collapsed from the concussions, Hephaestus himself was breathing on his forge, the earth trembled and Seyit Çabuk Havranli the Turkish artilleryman, from the height of the fort of Rumeli Mecidiye, watched the heavy vessels immobilized at every volley on the impenetrable sea, he saw the battleship Bouvet strike a floating mine and disappear with all hands in less than six minutes, 550 men carried down in an armor-plated coffin, eighty meters deep among the jellyfish, the gunner Seyit and his comrades hammered the seaboard with huge shells until a volley aimed at the HMS Ocean damaged the gun: the handcar that brought ammunition up to the breech is hit, impossible to transport the warheads, but artilleryman Seyit is a lumberjack from the slopes of Mount Ida, a descendant of the Mysians of Troy, he takes the 200 kilos of metal and explosives on his back he suffers he bends beneath it Zeus himself helps him and encourages him Seyit carries his burden into the still burning soul of the cannon loads the gun that the firing officer points at the HMS Ocean motionless in the middle of the strait, it too has just hit a mine: Apollo guides the Turkish arrow towards the British destroyer, the 400 pounds explode on the stern of the English battleship which loses its rudder and springs a giant leak, the entire aft is flooded in a few seconds: drifting, threatened by mines, the Ocean would sink a few hours later, making Koca Seyit from Havran lumberjack of Mount Ida a hero—Koca the giant has served since 1912 as a simple soldier, he fought the Serbs and the Bulgarians in the Balkans, his head shaved, with a proud mustache, the Turkish army desperate for glory immediately promoted him to onbaşi, corporal, I wonder what the giant of Mysia thought when the journalists from Istanbul arrived to photograph him, in a photo from then he looks embarrassed, modest, not very big either, the propaganda reporters want to immortalize him with a mortar shell in his arms, they try but Seyit can’t manage to repeat the exploit, Zeus is no longer there to help him, the shell weighs too much, fear not, they make a wooden replica that the little corporal takes on his back, the photographer triggers his apparatus and forever humiliates Seyit of Havran by transforming him into a liar for posterity, into a circus strong man: demobilized in 1918 Seyit returns to his forest, now they call him Seyit “Çabuk,” “swiftfooted”— he goes on to work in the somber coal mines where he will come down with what is probably lung cancer from which he will die at the age of fifty, absolutely forgotten, until a beautiful bronze statue is erected in his honor near the fortress of Kilitbahir, his burden on his back, 200 kilos of explosives on its way to send destruction onto the battleships of the Argives—it was nice out and the sea was beautiful, from the Gallipoli peninsula on a clear day you can see as far as the hills near Troy, Asia, the narrow sea wound of the Dardanelles opens onto the Sea of Marmara a few leagues away from Constantinople, with Marianne on vacation in a resort in July 1991 I stay glued to the TV, trying to get news of Croatia, this vacation was an engagement gift from her parents if I remember right, in the end we didn’t get engaged I left to hunt pig and meet Andrija in Osijek I got engaged to death as the marching song of the Spanish legionnaires says, soy el novio de la muerte, but Marianne still wore a ring with a diamond and gold earrings I had given her maybe the same as Helen of Lacedaemon’s under her veil, in that boring resort one could take advantage of organized excursions, one to the Dardanelles one to Troy that’s all Marianne managed to get me to agree to, the statue of Seyit the army bearer was brand new the guide told us the story with sobs in his voice, then he had us visit the house where Mustafa Kemal lived father of the Turks when he commanded the defense of the peninsula I remember I had an erection in the tour bus I began caressing Marianne under her skirt she blushed but went along, the Italian tourist across the aisle didn’t miss a thing, he had taken umpteen pictures of the corporal and the shell and the Atatürk Museum I wondered if he was going to get out his camera to immortalize the taut thighs of Marianne who was looking out the window as if nothing were happening, the return trip on the ferry seemed very long to us and scarcely had we arrived back than we threw ourselves on each other in the bedroom, I saw the sea the sunset through the white curtains and Marianne too leaning over bent double her chest on the bed maybe she said how beautiful it is, it was certainly beautiful, pleasure seized us, a beam over the blazing Mediterranean—the expedition to Troy was an ordeal of dust and heat, walls, stones, pathways, no guided visit to the tomb of Achilles or Hector’s pyre or Priam’s treasure, tourists, not a spot of shade to be alone with Marianne in, I remember a very ugly giant wooden horse that would have made Ulysses ashamed, I remember too the adventures of Heinrich Schliemann the passionate, the Arsène Lupin of archaeology smitten with women, foreign languages and mythical narratives: poor, self-educated, son of a pastor in the duchy of Mecklenburg on the Baltic, perhaps it was because he was a man of the North that he passionately loved money and the Mediterranean—the little herring merchant sets off for California to make his fortune selling supplies to gold dust miners, then tired of America he becomes a smuggler and arms trafficker during the Crimean War, using his Russian wife to make the necessary contacts, finally his fortune made he develops a passion for archeology and takes as his second wife a Greek woman of great beauty they say, he buys a palace in Athens and travels the ancient world in search of lost cities, Ithaca, Mycenae, and then Troy: in 1868 he acquires the hill of Hissarlik where his faith in the blind poet makes him situate the site of Ilion with solid walls, he begins to excavate it with the help of a hundred or so Turkish laborers, comes across the traces of several superimposed cities and an immense treasure of vases and jewelry, the treasure of Priam and the jewels of Helen which he quickly steals to bring back to Athens, thinking thus to close the circle begun 3,000 years earlier when Paris carried off the woman of unbearable beauty with the sweet sojourn in Lacedaemon, he is restoring to Attica and Menelaus these jewels that the Ottomans, by his lights, had no right to— before offering them to the brand-new Germany in exchange for various influences and favors, especially because Schliemann had understood that these pieces, beautiful as they were, post-dated the Trojan War by quite a bit, that the “mask of Agamemnon” had never touched the rough skin of the king of the Achaeans, that Helen with the beautiful peplos had never placed these fabulous necklaces on her perfect neck, which caused a scandal when people realized it, Schliemann died soon after in Naples, near Pompeii whose paintings he had admired, the gods had assured his posterity as they had for the Turkish artilleryman a few leagues to the east, his name will remain linked to the Scaean Gates along with Homer’s, both inspired by the goddess who protects smugglers poets workers of the night warriors and I see again all the names in my briefcase, the photos, the documents the thousands of pages contained on the computer disks carefully arranged in their covers classified by date and number, year of investigation, of theft, of more or less secret pillaging of the archives, done on the fringes of my job as informer, case officer as they say, my job as secret pen-pusher, poet with the silent epos, sing, goddess, of the memories of the wanderers among the shades in the depths of Hades—Casalpusterlengo, strange name, we’re going at top speed through the white neon-illuminated station, the well-wrapped travelers watch the express go by my neighbor glances absentmindedly out the window then continues his reading, I could read a little too, I have a little book in my bag, three stories by a Lebanese named Rafael Kahla recommended to me by the bookseller on the Places des Abbesses, a handsome book on slightly ochre laid paper, barely a hundred pages, how much time would I need to read them let’s say a page a kilometer that would take up a good part of the 500 milestones left to travel, the little book is about Lebanon, the back cover situates the three stories at three distinct times of the civil war, another cheerful book, it’s strange the bookseller recommended it to me, she couldn’t have known about my connections with the Zone and armed conflict, maybe it’s an omen, one more demiurge placed there in Montmartre like a sign, I put the little book on my foldout tray, don’t have the courage, I feel feverish exhausted by the drugs and the day before, I have a pain in my right temple, along with a sweat and a slight trembling in my hands—I close my eyes, might as well return to the Dardanelles or to Venice, to Cairo or Alexandria, I wonder what has become of Marianne where could she be now I picture her as a mother of five children who made her quit teaching, almost ten years after our separation I’m on my way to Sashka now better not think about the painful interval between one and the other about Stéphanie the sorrow of Stéphanie the headache intensifies, it’s normal go forward go forward with the train that carries you eyes closed blindfolded like a hostage by his kidnappers Yvan Deroy confined in a railroad car by his alter ego prey to the hangover of the century, yesterday I celebrated the departure the end of a life I so want this interlude to be over, the kilometers that separate me from my new existence to have already traveled, everything comes to him who knows how to wait says the proverb, Marianne’s body haunts me despite the years and the bodies that succeeded hers, when I see Sashka before I kiss her I’ll say shh, my name is Yvan now, she’ll wonder why a researcher who specializes in the ethology of insects suddenly changes his name, maybe Sashka’s body is like Marianne’s, her underwear always virgin white on the dark skin of her slightly heavy breasts the top of the back of her neck hollowed out like a second sex with the fine hair of a newborn child Marianne was serious, as she said, she took her time before she slept with me, at the time I saw it as a proof of commitment, a truth a passion in Turkey it was the explosion of desire the experimentation of pleasure the pelagic plain was very blue very erotic very salty it gave off a warm smell at nightfall in that vacation club there were games organized by the residents, after the dinner buffet there was multilingual bingo, the MCs announced the number first in Turkish then repeated it in English German French and Italian, yirmi dört, twenty-four, vier und zwanzig, vingt-quatre, venti quattro, this absurd and regular threnody slid over the sea for hours on end, hypnotic interminable poem I didn’t miss a thing from the bedroom balcony, I watched the international incantation shine on the Aegean, on yedi, seventeen, siebzehn, dix-sept, diciasette, I conscientiously repeated all the numbers, which made Marianne furious, once is already unbearable enough, she said, close that window we’ll put the air-conditioning on, night was not her time, what with the bingo, the heat, and the mosquitoes I remember she read a lot, I read nothing at all, I meditated, I mentally played bingo I sipped Turkish Carlsbergs as I thought about Croatia, Slovenia had just declared its independence on June 25th, 1991—on our side the Krajina Serbs had seceded in mid-February, the Yugoslav army didn’t seem in a mood to withdraw despite Tuđman’s declaration of sovereignty and things seemed to be going from bad to worse, I would have liked to bring Marianne to Opatija, Šibenik, or Dubrovnik but her parents preferred taking things into their own hands and sent us far away from the Adriatic, to the other side of the Balkans the tip of which, Thrace, we could glimpse on a clear day—the booklet about Troy explained in broken French that the Trojans were actually a tribe that originated in Kosovo, a province of Yugoslavia said the brochure, why not, that the Dardani with the beautiful mares were Albanian isn’t unlikely if you think about Skanderbeg, about the Mamluks of Egypt and other valiant warriors, with the swift sabers and the two-headed eagle, so by the shores of the Sea of Marmara I was closer to Yugoslavia than I thought, thanks to the belligerent Illyrians: listening to the Turkish MCs chanting bingo results in five languages I was far from imagining that I was about to go fight for a free and independent Croatia, then for a free and independent Herzegovina, and finally for a free and independent Croatian Bosnia, Za dom, spremni, said the pro-Nazi Ustashi government motto during the Second World War, for the homeland, always ready, without knowing it I was ready, I was ripe, Pallas Athena was about to whisper into my ear, and ten years later I would find myself in an overheated railway car holding my head in my hands my eyes closed under a borrowed name can one put an end to something really change your life as for Andrija he is quietly decomposing in Bosnian soil, thousands of white worms maggots bacteria are making sure he disappears, I survived the war and the Zone that followed, but I almost didn’t leave Venice, I was about to put an end to my days there as they say before Marianne sort of suddenly threw in the towel I drifted along the lagoon to the bitter end in the fog, I ended up falling drunk into a frozen canal, in the dark water severed limbs and faceless skulls were waiting for me, the crazy smile of a broken face bit my stomach a cut-off hand grabbed my hair torn-off filaments of skin slices of decomposed flesh sank into my mouth I instantly rotted in the briny liquid carried off towards the thick black mud and finally everything stopped, I stopped struggling, there were no more ripples on the surface, nothing but the movements of rats that threw themselves by the dozen onto my inert body in the Venice lagoon city of noble rot and rickety palaces, I never went back there, even when I was filling my suitcase in Trieste or Udine I carefully avoided it, I changed trains in Mestre so as not to be tempted to leave the Santa Lucia train station and return to the Ghetto, return to the Square of the Two Moors or to the well-named Quay of Oblivion where I knocked myself out on alcohol with Ghassan, you don’t forget much in the end, the wrinkled hands of Harmen Gerbens the Cairo Batavian, his trembling mustache, the faces of Islamists tortured in the Qanatar Prison, the photograph of the severed heads of the Tibhirine monks, the reflections on the cupolas in Jerusalem, Marianne naked facing the sea, the squeals of Andrija’s pig, the bodies piled up in the gas trucks of Chełmno, Stéphanie the sorrowful in front of Hagia Sophia, Sashka with her brushes and paints in Rome, my mother at the piano in Madrid, her Bach fugue in front of an audience of Croatian and Spanish patriots, so many images linked by an uninterrupted thread that snakes like a railroad bypassing a city, the possible connections between trains in a station: back from my investigation in Prague not long ago I take the night train for Paris via Frankfurt, last car, last compartment, a man in his fifties is already sitting there, he’s eating a sandwich, it is eight o’clock at night, his head is round and bald, he’s wearing a grey suit he looks like an accountant, he greets me politely in Czech between two mouthfuls, I reply just as politely, I settle in, the train leaves the Prague station on time, I mechanically play with a little crystal star prettily wrapped in red tissue paper, souvenir of Bohemia—once he’s finished his sandwich my companion extracts a thick paperback volume from his luggage, a kind of catalogue he begins consulting feverishly, jumping from one page to the other, one finger on columns of numbers, then back to the previous page, he looks at his watch before looking angrily out the window, it’s dark out, he can’t see anything, he goes back to his book, he often looks at me, questioningly, he’s burning to ask me a question, he asks me do you know if the train is stopping in Tetschen? or at least that’s what I understand him to say, I jabber in German that I have no idea, but it probably will, that’s the last Czech city before the border, on the Elbe, the man speaks German, he agrees with me, the train must stop in Tetschen, even if it doesn’t take on any passengers there, wissen Sie, he says, if we got out in Tetschen, we could get on the freight train that left Brno this afternoon a little before five o’clock, it would leave us in Dresden around two in the morning and we could catch this very train which isn’t supposed to leave before 2:45, it’s incredible, don’t you agree—I agree, the man continues, his catalogue is actually a giant railroad timetable, there are all the trains here, do you understand, all, it’s a little complicated to use but when you get the hang of it it’s practical, it’s for railroad professionals, for instance we’ve just passed a train going in the other direction it’s 9:23 well I can tell you where it’s coming from and where it’s going, if it’s a passenger train or a freight train, with such a book you never get bored when you travel in a train, he says seeming very happy, how come he doesn’t know if the train is stopping in Tetschen, well it’s very simple, very simple, see, the stop is in parentheses, which means it’s optional, but the stop is indicated, so we have the possibility of stopping in Tetschen, we had another possibility for a stop a few minutes ago and you never realized a thing, you didn’t even notice that we could have stopped there, wir hatten die Gelegenheit, you see this book is wonderful, it allows you to know what we could have done, what we could do in a few minutes, in the next few hours, even more, the little Czech man’s eyes light up, all eventualities are contained in this schedule, they are all here—the train’s engineer has only to consult it, I’ll give you an example, I know you’re going to Paris and so you are going to change in Frankfurt to take the 8:00 AM Intercity, in the meantime you’ll have eaten Brötchen and a sausage in the train station, then when you arrive you’ll certainly go to your home on 27, rue Eugène-Carrière in the 18th arrondissement of Paris where you’ll arrive tired at 3:23 in the afternoon, you’ll set down your bags take a quick shower and two options will then occur to you, go to the office immediately or wait till the next morning, each possibility will have its advantages and its disadvantages, if you go to the Boulevard Mortier you won’t be home when someone rings your doorbell at 5:48 PM, but if you stay, the intervention of this young person and the news she brings will make you forget one part of the information to be included in that secret file, that list of dead people you’ve been gathering for some time now by using more or less illegally the means that Foreign Security puts at your disposal, you see everything is written here, pages twenty-six, 109 et passim, in either case, whether you’re there or not, the next connection will be on page 261 in the timetable, the Venice- Budapest express, where you’ll get drunk and sing “Three Drummer Boys,” then on page 263 you’ll get into a freight car headed for the Jasenovac extermination camp on the Sava river, then on page 338 into a Benghazi-Tripoli train, you see, the Tangier-Casablanca express is on page 361, all that will bring you to page 480 and the loss of a kid you won’t know, and so on, your whole life is there, many connections will bring you quietly, almost without your knowing it, to a final Pendolino train diretto Milano-Roma that will carry you to the end of the world, expected at the Termini station at 9:12 PM, I listen attentively to the little man’s train litany, he is right, this catalogue is a magnificent tool, the train professionals are lucky, I think, the man puts the book down and takes out another sandwich, he eats it with great appetite as he looks me in the eye, all of a sudden I’m hungry—the Czech smiles at me, offers to share his meal with me, I have the sensation of imminent danger, deformed by the obsequious smile his face is suddenly horrible, he insists, holds out half of his sandwich to me and I understand that he wants to poison me, that this guy who looks like an accountant is dangerous, Death is a German-speaking Czech with a railroad timetable, the end of the line always comes by surprise I’m going to die I’m afraid, I’m afraid and I wake up with a start my heart is pounding absurd dream I must have given a violent jump maybe even shouted out loud for my neighbor is staring at me, the Czech accountant who looks like the madman in the Milan train station, I realize it now, horrible nightmare, bad omen, I could have had a nice little erotic dream with some unknown woman, but no, I had to have a dream of the railway grim reaper, in Prague I did in fact buy this little star carved from a block of crystal, it came from the Theresienstadt camp, Jewish children locked up in that ghetto had polished it for days, in one of the Nazi workshops, the antique dealer who sold it to me had a deceitful face, he said imagine the little hands of the poor kids who made it, I don’t know why but I believed him—night has definitely fallen now you can only make out a few lights in the distance, in one of the dreams in Johnny Got His Gun who is driving the train, it’s Christ I think portrayed by Donald Sutherland, who knows who is at the controls of this train, what Mathias Énard 54 55 IV demiurge is calmly driving me to Rome, according to the Great Timetable of the Parcae, I’d like to go have a drink at the bar, I’m thirsty, it’s too early, at this rate if I begin drinking now I’ll arrive in Rome dead drunk, my body is weighing me down I shift it on the seat I get up hesitate for an instant head for the toilet it’s good to move a little and even better to run warm nonpotable water over your face, the john is like the train, modern, brushed grey steel and black plastic, elegant like some handheld weapon, more water on my face and now I’m perked up, I go back to my seat, seeing the Pronto cover I spare a thought for the young cocaine-addicted wolf who is vomiting blood in his clinic in Turin, may the gods be merciful to him—in his hospital the character in Johnny Got His Gun is caressed by the sun and a beautiful nurse, Johnny whom they don’t let die despite his prayers in Morse, Johnny the little soldier destroyed by a land mine dreams of the landscapes of the Midwest and of driver- Christs, the little Lebanese book winks at me on the tray-table, why not go there after all dive into it go out of myself for a bit enter the imagination of Rafael Kahla and his stories, for lack of Dalton Trumbo and Johnny Got His Gun, the slightly textured paper is pleasant to the touch, let’s see if the bookseller on the Place des Abbesses was mocking me or not: