Georges Simenon | 25-11-2007 | ENG
(Translated by Anamaría Crowe Serrano)
Constantinople, 7 June 1933
Simenon: I met Hitler ten times, at the Kaiserhof, at a time when, tense and restless, already Chancellor, his electoral campaign was under way. I saw Mussolini tirelessly watch thousands of young men file past in formation. And in Montparnasse one night, I recognised Gandhi as a white silhouette making his way close to the walls, followed by fanatical young women.
In trying to arrange a meeting with Trockij, I find myself on a bridge more teeming with people than the Pont Neuf in Paris, which links the old and the new Constantinople, Istanbul and Galata. Why do I have the feeling that this could be a sunny Sunday by the banks of the Seine, in the neighbourhood of Saint Cloud, Bougival or Poissy? I've no idea.
Simenon: I'm in the luxuriant garden which can't be bigger than 100 by 50 meters. A puppy is rolling on the sand. A bare-torsoed boy on a hammock is reading a leaflet in English without as a much as a glance in my direction.
There's another boy over there, under the veranda. He's wearing slippers and he, too, is in short sleeves. Two other people are drinking coffee in the first room, furnished with only a table and some chairs. All of it is happening in slow motion. I think even the air around me is caught up in the mood. I, too, am in slow motion, unexcited, almost lacking curiosity.
- Mr. Simenon?
One of these youths comes forward, affably, his hand outstretched and soon we are sitting together on the terrace while, at the other side of the garden, a policeman is finishing his ablutions.
We could just be there for hours doing nothing, saying nothing, maybe even thinking nothing.
- If you like, we can have a little chat first and then you can go and see Mr. Trockij.
The secretary isn't Russian. He's a young man from the North who is the picture of good health, rosy-cheeked and clear-eyed. He speaks French as if he had been born and bred in Paris.
- I'm very surprised that Mr. Trockij agreed to see you. Normally he avoids journalists.
- Do you know to what I owe this favour?
- No. I don't.
Simenon: The walls of the rooms are bare, white from top to bottom and, by way of distraction, there are just a few shelves with books on them. Books in every language. I recognise Journey to the End of the Night. The cover is well worn.
- Mr. Trockij has just finished reading it and he was deeply disturbed by it. As far as foreign literature is concerned, French literature is the one he's most familiar with...
Trockij gets up to shake my hand, then sits down again at the writing desk letting his gaze fall lightly over me.
He has been described many times before and I wouldn't want to try and do the same again. What I would like to convey is the sense of peace and tranquillity I felt, the same peace, the same tranquillity of the garden, of the house, of the whole context.
Trockij, modest and friendly, hands me typewritten pages that contain the answers to my questions.
- I dictated them in Russian and my secretary translated them into French. I would ask you just to sign a second copy which I will keep for myself.
There are newspapers from all over the world spread on the writing desk and Paris-Soir is at the top of the pile. Trockij probably had a look through it before I arrived.
Trockij: Race is a static and passive thing, whereas history is dynamic. How can a relatively immobile thing directly bring about movement or development? Every distinctive trait of a race disappears when you compare it to the internal combustion engine, not to mention the machine gun.
When Hitler was preparing to set up a state regime that would comprise the pure Germano-Nordic race, he found no better idea than to subjugate the Latin race from the South.
Trockij: The current cyclical crisis has only heightened processes that are slow-moving and organic. The cyclical crisis will inevitably give way to a period of economic growth, which will still be below expectation. And the overall situation in Europe won't change much. After every crisis, the small and weak businesses become even weaker, eventually dying sometimes, while the strong businesses become even stronger. Europe in its fragmented state is like a group of small businesses, hostile to one another, overshadowed by the economic giants of the United Stated. The American situation at the moment is very difficult, and the dollar is on its knees too. Notwithstanding all this, after the current crisis the relationship between world powers will shift in America's favour to the detriment of Europe.
Trockij: Fascism, especially German national socialism, brings to Europe the undeniable risk of bellicose outbreaks. Given that I'm on the fringes, I could be mistaken, but it seems to me that we haven't sufficiently grasped the extent of that danger. Looking not months but years into the future - and not necessarily in the long term - I see it as absolutely inevitable that there will be an outbreak of war at the hands of Fascist Germany.
Simenon: I come back from Saint Cloud, I mean Prinkipo, by boat. In the evening I have supper at the Régence. The advertisement says it's "An elegant restaurant where you will be welcomed by ladies of the Russian aristocracy..." Because there is still a circle of Russian émigrés in Constantinople and in the evening, as in Paris, Berlin or elsewhere, they feel homesick for the balalaika, the pirojki, vodka and chacliks.
At this hour, on his island abandoned by dressmakers and sales assistants, Trockij is fast asleep.