"Horace in Wartime", Chris Bertram, Crooked Timber, Dec 13, 2003
William Dalrymple has a review of a collection of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s writing —Words of Mercury —in the Guardian. This contains, for the first time, Leigh Fermor’s own account of the SOE’s abduction of the German commander on Crete, General Kriepe, and, within it, one of the best wartime anecdotes:"The Golden Age of Hatred", Charles Simic, NY Review October 23, 2003 Issue
… the climax comes not as the general’s staff car is stopped at night by a British SOE party dressed in stolen German uniforms, nor as the Cretan partisans help smuggle the general into the Cretan highlands and thence to a waiting British submarine; but instead as “a brilliant dawn was breaking over the crest of Mount Ida” : “We were all three lying smoking in silence, when the General, half to himself, slowly said: ‘Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Socrate’. It was the opening lines of one of the few Horace odes I knew by heart. I went on reciting where he had broken off … The General’s blue eyes swivelled away from the mountain-top to mine – and when I’d finished, after a long silence, he said: ‘Ach so, Herr Major!’ It was very strange. ‘Ja, Herr General.’ As though for a moment, the war had ceased to exist. We had both drunk at the same fountains long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.”
Vasko was a lifelong Communist, a true believer, so I must have looked surprised. He went on to explain that Cioran had repudiated his fascist past while Eliade was in all probability still a secret sympathizer. I remember asking him why he was friendly with people like that, whereupon, visibly miffed, he told me that even if he were to give me an answer, I would not understand it. I let it go at that and would not learn the seamy details of Eliade’s past until I read Manea’s article in The New Republic."...he told me that even if he were to give me an answer, I would not understand it."
I understood it immediately and that's why I remembered the stories. But I'd forgotten the sources. Patrick Fermor's death recently gave me something to search for. Then I remembered Eliade.
"A gentleman never lets politics get in the way of a friendship." I don't have a source for that either. The phrase just popped into my head as a truism.
But also, of course, an absurdity.
Look at the photograph. It's an image of aristocracy as high camp. And the double reversal: the hyper masculine von Rauffenstein has become matronly and the fey de Boeldieu slyly aggressive. Hilarious.
First date, and foreshadowing.
de Boeldieu: May I ask you a question?The tragic resolution: the death of the heroine, the aristocratic martyr for the people.
von Rauffenstein: Of course.
de Boeldieu: Why did you make an exception of me by inviting me here?
von Rauffenstein: Because your name is Boeldieu, career officer in the French Army. And I am Rauffenstein, career officer in the Imperial German Army.
de Boeldieu: But my comrades are officers as well.
von Rauffenstein: A 'Maréchal' and 'Rosenthal,' officers?
de Boeldieu: They're fine soldiers.
von Rauffenstein: Charming legacy of the French Revolution.
de Boeldieu: Neither you nor I can stop the march of time.
von Rauffenstein: Boldieu, I don't know who will win this war, but whatever the outcome, it will mean the end of the Rauffensteins and the Boeldieus.
de Boeldieu: We're no longer needed.
von Rauffenstein: Isn't that a pity?
Capt. de Boeldieu: Perhaps.
von Rauffenstein: Forgive me.Still hilarious, still tragic.
de Boeldieu: I would have done the same. French or German, duty is duty.
von Rauffenstein: Are you in pain?
de Boeldieu: I didn't think a bullet in the stomach hurt so much.
von Rauffenstein: I aimed at your legs.
de Boeldieu: It was 500 feet, with poor visibility... Besides, I was running.
von Rauffenstein: Please, no excuses. I was clumsy.
2015 - Russell, William James, Santayana