Credit Illustration by Golden Cosmos

November 30, 2015 - accent chair

I sat celebration black tea in a corridor of a hotel. (This was in Munich.) A lady wearing a sleek purple trouser fit was seated during a keys of a baby grand in a distant corner, her delivery of “Hungarian Rhapsody” (with many adornments and curlicues) for now incompetent to drown out a unintelligible utterance and baying from a bar over a lifts. It was a time of Oktoberfest, and a city was personification horde to 6 million visitors, thereby quintupling a population—visitors from all over Bavaria, and from all over Germany, and from all over a world. Other visitors, a distant smaller contingent, were also expected, visitors who hoped to stay, and to stay indefinitely; they were entrance from what was once famous as a Fertile Crescent.

“Let’s see if we can make a bit of clarity of this,” an derelict businessman was bleakly saying, focussed over his mobile phone dual tables away, with clipboard, authorised pad, gaping laptop. He spoke in a usually denunciation we could understand—English—and his accent subsequent from northern regions, northern cities (Hull, Leeds, Grimsby). “I should’ve stage dual weeks ago. Three. All right, a month ago. But that doesn’t impact a matter during hand, now does it? Believe me, a usually thing that’s kept me back’s a awaiting of carrying to . . . Listen. Are we listening to me? We need to solve a indemnification clause. Clause 4C.” He sighed. “Have we got a paperwork in front of we during least? Quite honestly, it beats me how we get anything done. I’m a bustling masculine and I’m accustomed to traffic with people who have some suspicion of what they’re adult to. Will we listen? Will we listen?”

The photographer arrived, and after a notation he and we went out into a street. In good numbers, a Oktoberfesters were streaming past, a women in cinched dirndls and wenchy blouses, a group in suède or leather breeches laced usually subsequent a knee, parsimonious jackets studded with medals or badges, and robust tiny hats with feathers, rosettes, cockades. On a pavement, Bernhardt erected his tripod and his slanted umbrella, and we prepared myself to enter a common coma of inanition—forgetting that in this partial of Eurasia, during slightest for now, there was no longer any tiny talk. But initial we said, “What do they indeed do in that park of theirs?”

“In a funfair?” Bernhardt smiled with a reason of puzzled fondness. “A lot of drinking. A lot of eating. And singing. And dancing—if we can call it that. On tabletops.”

“Sort of clumping about?”

“The word is schunkeln. They integrate arms and lean while they sing. From side to side. Thousands of them.”

Schunkeln’s a infinitive, right? How d’you spell that?”

“I’ll write it down for you. Yes, a infinitive.”

Our event began. Broad-shouldered and stubbly nonetheless also smoothly handsome, Bernhardt was an Iranian-German (his family had come over in a nineteen-fifties); he was also unequivocally discerning and courteous, and, of course, seamlessly fluent.

“Last week we came by steer from Salzburg,” he conspicuous as he began coupler up. “There were 8 hundred refugees on board.”

“Eight hundred. And how were they?”

“Very tired. And hungry. And dirty. Some with children, some with aged people. They all wish to get to this republic given they have friends and family here. Germany is perplexing to be welcoming, perplexing to be kind, but . . . we took many photographs. If we like I’ll dump some off for you.”

“Please. I’d be grateful.”

And we remembered that other sketch from a front pages a few days ago. Fifteen or twenty refugees disembarking during a German rail hire and being met with acclaim from supportive citizens; in a photograph, some of a arrivals were smiling, some laughing, and some were usually respirating deeply and walking that many taller, it seemed, as if something had during final been easy to them.

I shook Bernhardt’s palm and said, “Trying to be kind. When we was in Berlin, a military sealed a crossroads in a Tiergarten. Then bikes and a motorcade came through. The Austrian conduct of state. Faymann. For a tiny limit with Merkel. Hours later, they announced they were sealing a border.”

“The numbers. The scale.”

“And a day before yesterday we was in Salzburg and there were no trains to Munich. All cancelled. We came here by car.”

“Long wait during a border?”

“Only if we go on a highway. That’s what a motorist told us. He took a together roads.” we hesitated. “On your steer to Munich . . . ”

I felt a incentive to ask Bernhardt if during any indicate he had found it compulsory to disentangle himself from a 8 hundred. we didn’t ask, nonetheless we could have and should have.

Bernhardt said, “You know, they won’t stop coming. They compensate vast sums of income to risk their lives channel a sea and afterwards they travel conflicting Europe. They walk conflicting Europe. A few policemen and a widen of spiny hoop can’t keep them out. And there are millions some-more where they came from. This is going to go on for years. And they won’t stop coming.”

It was one-fifty. we had forty minutes. (My book debate was circuitous down and this was not a bustling day.) In a bar, we waited during a steel counter. When Bernhardt asked me how we was temperament adult after 3 weeks on a highway in Europe, we conspicuous we was good enough, nonetheless chronically underslept. Which was true. And actually, Bernhardt, to be even some-more straightforward with you, we feel unaccountably anxious, concerned roughly to a indicate of formication (which a compendium defines as “a prodigy like insects crawling over a skin”); it comes and goes. . . . Home was 4 thousand miles away, and 6 hours behind; flattering soon, it would be utterly reasonable, surely, to lapse nonetheless again to my room and see if there were any uninformed bulletins from that quarter. For now, we looked mistrustfully during my phone; in a in-box there were some-more than eighteen hundred unopened messages, nonetheless from wife, from children, as distant as we could tell, there was zero new.

The heroically routine barkeeper duly set his march in my direction. we asked for a beer.

“Nonalcoholic. D’you have that?”

“I have one-per-cent alcoholic.”

We were both wanting to shout.

“One per cent.”

“Alcohol is everywhere. Even an apple is one-per-cent alcoholic.”

I shrugged. “Go on, then.”

The splash a Oktobrists were celebration by a quart was thirteen per cent, or double strength; this, during any rate, was a explain of a immature Thomas Wolfe, who, after a integrate of steins of it, acquired a damaged nose, 4 scalp wounds, and a intelligent hemorrhage in a demoniac brawl, that he started, in some funfair sand pit—but that was in 1928. These masculine celebrants in imagination dress during a bar had been celebration given 9 a.m. (I saw and listened them during breakfast), before environment off for a Theresienwiese, if indeed they ever went there. we saw them and listened them a night before, too; during that indicate they were possibly gesticulating and yelling in inhumanly shrill voices or else staring during a building in organisation penitence, their eyes clogged and woeful. Then, as now, a bartender attended to them all with unconcern, going about his tasks with used neutrality.

I was carrying a book: a stirring “Letters to Véra,” by Véra’s husband, Vladimir Nabokov. But a voices around me were unrelaxingly shrill—I could combine on what we was reading, usually about, nonetheless we could remove no pleasure from it. So we took my splash behind into a foyer, where a pianist, after a break, had resumed. The businessman was still on a phone; as before, we were sitting dual tables apart, and behind to back. Occasionally we listened snatches (“Have we got any bureau method where we are? Have you?”). But now we was solemnly and appreciatively branch a pages, listening to that other voice, V.N.’s: humorous, resilient, full of energy. The letters start in 1923; dual years earlier, he sent his mom a brief poem, as explanation “that my mood is as eager as ever. If we live to be a hundred, my suggestion will still go around in brief trousers.”

When Jan dawned in 1924, Vladimir (a year comparison than a century) was in Prague, assisting his mom and his dual younger sisters settle into their inexpensive and frozen new apartment. (“Jesus, it’s called simple gumption. Do we know how we spell that?”) These former boyars were now replaced and deracinated—and had “no income during all.” (“5C? No. Obviously. 4C. 4C, for Christ’s sake.”) Vladimir himself, like his destiny wife, a Judin Véra Slonim, had staid in Berlin, along with roughly half a million other Russian fugitives from 1917. And in Berlin a dual of them would blithely and stubbornly remain. Their sole child, Dmitri, was innate there in 1934. The Nuremberg Laws were upheld in September, 1935, and they began to be enforced and stretched after a Berlin Olympics of 1936; nonetheless not until 1937 did a Nabokovs hurriedly decamp to France, after a (seemingly never-ending) onslaught with visas and exit permits and Nansen passports.

“I gamble we don’t. O.K., here’s an idea. Why don’t we cocktail on a craft and come and tell them that, here in Germany? With your approach, so-called? They’d giggle we out of town. Because here they occur to know a thing or dual about efficiency. Unlike some. And that’s given they’re a powerhouse of Europe. Because they can hoop a ABC and a dual times two.”

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I put a book aside and quickly reminisced about Angela (with a tough “g”)—Angela Merkel. we was introduced to her (a handshake and an sell of hellos) by Tony Blair, in 2007, when she was dual years into her initial tenure (and we was spending several weeks on and off in a Prime Minister’s entourage). The tip building of a huge new Chancellery, a full bar decorated on a table, a (as nonetheless spotless) ashtrays, Angela’s humorous and particularizing smile. The Chancellery was twelve times a widen of a White House—where Blair would also squire me, a week or dual later, nonetheless we had no some-more than a remarkable impulse of eye hit with President Bush, as a dual of them emerged from a Situation Room. (This was a time of a Surge in Iraq.)

Merkel, carried in East Germany in a early days of a Cold War . . . So far, there have been several dozen womanlike heads of state, and we suspicion afterwards that she was maybe a initial who was able of statute as a woman. In a summer months of 2015, in a world’s eyes she became a heartless auditress of a Greek Republic (and a compromiser of a sovereignty, in a name of mercantile rectitude); by late September, they were job her Mutti Merkel, as she non-stop her gates as far-reaching as she could to a multitudes of a dispossessed.

This is to some limit loyal of each tellurian encampment on earth, nonetheless a inhabitant producer here conspicuous of his Germans, with a aria of agony, how considerable they were simply (how balanced, how reflective, how sardonic), and how desperately unsatisfactory they were plurally, in groups, in cadres, in leagues, in blocs. And nonetheless here they all were (for now), a Germans, environment a progressive, even a unconventional instance to Europe and to a world (for now), both as a nicely and as a people.

With a interloper predicament of 2015, Europe, Chancellor Merkel (commonly referred to as “the Decider”) said, was about to face a “historic test.”

“Will we listen to me? Will we listen to me?”

But, like a soaking machine, a businessman had changed on to a quieter cycle. Still tensed, still crouched, nonetheless reduced to a immature mutter. The pianist’s change was apparently during an end, and we was grimacing into a phone myself, fielding additional questions from a careful immature profilist we had talked to in Frankfurt. Eavesdroppers and those active in temperament burglary competence have been tempted to pull near, nonetheless a corridor continued to be some-more or reduction empty.

“Nineteen-forty-nine,” we said, “in Oxford. Not Wales—that was later. Yes, go ahead. Why did we pierce to America? Because . . . it sounds complicated, nonetheless it’s an typical story. In 2010, my mother, Hilary, died. She was eighty-two. My mother-in-law, a mom of my wife, Elena, was also eighty-two during a time. So in response to that we changed to New York.” Yes, and Elena finished a intentional outcast in London that had lasted twenty-seven years, returning to where she was innate and bred (Greenwich Village). “Us now? No. Brooklyn. Since 2011. You get too aged for Manhattan.” We finished a approach to a final question. “This trip? Six countries.” And 10 cities. “Oh, definitely. And I’m reading all we can find on it, and everyone’s articulate about zero else. Well, we usually met literary types, no politicos, no experts. But of march we have impressions.”

Our call wound up. The businessman was going on in his minatory whisper, “You know who we remind me of? The hordes of ragamuffins who’re pier into this republic even as we speak. You, we usually can’t mount on your possess dual feet, can you? You’re helpless.”

An bony girl from a accepting list approached and handed me a foolscap manila envelope. In it were Bernhardt’s photographs. Registering this, we felt a stroke of my confusion somewhat accelerate. we changed subsequent doorway into a restaurant, and we fanned them out on a table.

The Europeans we talked to offering conflicting views and prescriptions, nonetheless a underfeeling seemed to core on an confront with something, something not utterly different nonetheless famous usually during a distance. The entity accumulating during a borders, a entity for that they were fresh and were even rousing themselves to hail with good will and good grace, seemed amorphous, undifferentiated, roughly insensate—like a force of nature.

And it was as if Bernhardt’s camera had set itself a charge of individualization, given here was a black-and-white galère of immediately and endearingly tangible shapes and faces, bantering, yawning, frowning, grinning, scowling, weeping, in postures of exhaustion, stoic dynamism, and, of course, impassioned doubt and dismay. . . .

When we glimpsed them in a steer stations, they were configured in slight strings or tiny knots, always moving, their gawk and speed particularly forward-directed (with no rubbish of attention, with no courtesy to spare). But in Salzburg dual days progressing we saw seventy or eighty of them lined adult on a travel corner, unequivocally essentially unequivocally immature men, in general teen-age gear: ball caps, radiant windcheaters, dim glasses. Soon they would be entrance a German limit (just a few miles away)—and afterwards what? Theirs was a debate with charts and graphs and updates (those dungeon phones) nonetheless with no destination. Dawn had usually arrived in Austria, and a buildings shone sheepishly in a wet. And we thought, How will all this demeanour and feel a few weeks from now—after Oktober?

At 4 o’clock, as scheduled, we was digested by my penultimate interviewer, an academic, who began by reminding me of a distinct chronological fact. She was middle-aged, so it was not in her vital memory, nonetheless it was in a vital memory of her mother. In a duration from 1945 to ’47, there were 10 million homeless supplicants on a periphery of what was once a Reich, all of them deported (in spasms of larger or obtuse violence, with during slightest half a million deaths en route) from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Romania. And they were all Germans.

“So your mom remembers that?”

“Well, she was during a station. She was 7 or eight. She remembers a iced-up cattle cars. It was Christmas.”

I had been left for seventy-five minutes, and a businessman was still in mid-conversation. By now, his phone had a horse in it, and a brief lead, plugged into a ground-level socket, compulsory him to hook even tighter—he was jack-knifed forward, with his chin an in. from a knee-high tabletop.

“You lift on like this and we won’t have a roof over your head. You’ll be on a travel and you’ll merit it. The wheels are entrance off your whole apple cart. And I’m not surprised. Bloody hell, people like you. You make me sick, we do. Professionally sick.”

The pianist had left nonetheless other noisemakers were holding adult a reins—a factory-size opening cleaner, a lorry revving and breathing in a forecourt. we went behind to my book. August, 1924, and Vladimir was in Czechoslovakia again, holidaying with his mom in Dobřichovice. The hotel was expensive, and they were pity a (sizable) room divided in dual by a white wardrobe. Soon he would lapse to Berlin, where Véra . . .

All ambient sounds unexpected ceased, and a businessman was saying, “D’you know who this is? Do you? It’s Geoffrey. Geoffrey Vane. Geoffrey. Geoff. Yeah. You know me. And we know what I’m like. . . . Right, my ease is during an end. Congratulations. Or, as you’d say, super. . . . Now. Get your fucking Mac and spin to your fucking e-mails. Do we know me? Do we know me? Go to a communication from a fucking agent. The on-site agent. You know, that fucking Argy—Feron. Fucking Roddy Feron. Got it? Now move adult a fucking attachment. Got it? Right—fucking 4C.”

The mostly used intensifier he conspicuous like “cooking” or “booking.” At this point, we solemnly slid into a chair conflicting me, so we could have a correct demeanour during him—the ecclesiastic halo of utterly thick gray hair, a head, still direly bent and intent, a laptop, a authorised pad.

“It’s a fucking liability. Do we know me? Now say. 4C. Does that, or does that not, block with Tulkinghorn’s B6? It does? Well, let’s appreciate a Lord for tiny mercies. Now go behind to fucking 4C. And fucking O.K. it. O.K.? O.K.” He added, with special menace, “And anguish betide we if we have to go by this again. You fucking got that? Sweet dreams. Yeah, cheers.”

And now, in unwelcome symmetry, a businessman also changed to a chair conflicting him, nonetheless quickly and nonetheless rising above a crouch; with his tasty right palm he seemed to be mopping himself down, observant to a pinkish brow dotted with motes of sweat, a dark and wet top lip. Our eyes met inexorably, and he focussed.

“Do we know English?”

. . . Do we know English? “Uh, yeah,” we said.


And we pronounce it, too. Great Britain no longer had an empire, solely a sovereignty of words—not a majestic state, usually a majestic tongue. Everyone knew English. The refugees knew English, a tiny bit. That partly explained given they wanted to get to a U.K. and Eire, given everybody there knew English. And it was given they wanted to get to Germany: a refugees knew no German, nonetheless a Germans all knew English—the nut-brown lassie who was brushing a fate knew English, a sandy-haired bellhop knew English.

“You’re English,” he announced, with demure admiration.

I found myself saying, “London, innate and bred.” Not utterly true, nonetheless this wasn’t a time to sermonise on my babyhood—with a mom who was hardly comparison than we was—in a Home Counties, circa 1950, or to dream out shrill about that early decade in South Wales, mostly blissful, when a family was still nuclear. But, for half a century after that, yes, it was London. He said, “I can tell by a approach we talk. . . . That was a tough one, that.”

“The phone call.”

“The phone call. You know, with some people, they haven’t got a clue, utterly honestly. You’ve usually got to start from scratch. Every—every time.”

“I bet.” And we cursorily illusory a youngish core manager, slumped over his unfinished workstation in a repository or salon by an airfield somewhere, relaxation his tie as he pulpy a prohibited phone to his tinged ear.

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“Look during that,” a businessman said, definition a television—the evermore wordless television. On a prosaic screen, half a dozen uniformed guards were tossing emporium sandwiches (cellophane-wrapped) into a caged enclosure, and those within seemed to snap during them—and it was unfit to hedge a mental picture of feeding time during a zoo. “Amazing,” he conspicuous with delighted absorption, as he finished some calculations on his yellow pad. “Amazing a lengths people’ll go to for a handout, in’t it?”

The “in’t it?” was rhetorical: this credo expected no reply. In Kraków and Warsaw (I recalled, as a business-man enthralled himself in his columned figures), everybody was observant that Poland would be exempt: a usually comparable republic in Central Europe, a usually monoculture, blue-eyed Poland suspicion it would be giveaway given “the state gives no benefits.” we listened this from a translator so amiable that he could quote during length not usually from Tennyson nonetheless also from Robert Browning; and in answer we nodded, and resumed work on my difficult meal. But when we was forsaken off during a hotel (and stood on a block confronting a antique prosthetic leg of Stalin’s Palace of Culture), we solemnly shook my head. Someone who has trekked conflicting a Hindu Kush would not be entrance to Poland for a diet of emporium sandwiches.

“Where are we? What country’s this?” He meant a republic where coloured travellers were being tumbled and sparse by H2O cannon (followed adult with rip gas and peppers spray).

I said, “Looks like Hungary.”

“That bloke there’s got a right idea.” He paused as he sealed his eyes and his bloodless lips mimed a widen of mental arithmetic. “What’s he called?”


“Yeah. Orbán. We ought to be doing further in Calais. It’s a usually denunciation they understand.”

Oh, no, sir, a denunciation they know is many harsher than that. The denunciation they know consists of tub bombs and haughtiness gas and a scimitars of illuminated theists. That denunciation is what they are fleeing; it speaks to them usually of fear and futurelessness. He said, “Merkel. Merkel should take a root out of Orbán’s book. Merkel should do an Orbán. Look. See?”

He meant a footage evidently posted by a Islamic State—a lorry bursting in delayed motion, 3 prisoners in orange jumpsuits kneeling on a dune, multipronged fighters ripping by in S.U.V.s.

“Then there’s that.” He achieved some climactic grand sum on his pad, underlined it 3 times and circled it before tossing a coop aside. “Jihadis.”

“Might be complicated,” we said.

“Complicated. . . . Hang about,” he said, with a puzzled frown. “Silly me. Forgot to cause in a twelve per cent. Give us a minute.”

Perhaps a improved name for them, sir, would be takfiris. The takfir indictment (the fatal indictment of unbelief) is roughly as aged as Islam, but, in stream usage, takfiris, Mr. Vane, is neatly derogatory, and it means Muslims who assume to kill Muslims. And these takfiris don’t and won’t mind, Geoffrey, when a Muslims of Europe suffer, given their routine here is a same as Lenin’s during a Russian Civil War: “the worse a better.” Is it fanciful, Geoff, to advise that this doctrine derives from a witches in a Scottish play—“Fair is foul, and tainted is fair”?

Complicated? That’s a understatement of a year.”

Suddenly he became wakeful of a phone he had reflexively reached for. He inhaled with abdication and said, “You know what gets me? The repetitions. You go by a same things again and again. And it usually doesn’t penetrate in. Not with that one, oh, no. Not with her.”

Her? we sat adult straight.

“Tell me something. Why’re they all entrance now? They contend despair. Despair, they say. But they can’t all have despaired in a same week. Why’re they all entrance during a same time? Tell me that.”

I regrouped and said, “That’s what I’ve been perplexing to find out. Apparently, a protected track non-stop up. Through a Balkans. They’re all in reason with one another and afterwards there it was on Facebook.”

He went vacant or withdrew for a moment, afterwards he returned. “I’ll give them draining Facebook. I’ll give them draining Balkans. They . . . They’ve incited their possess countries into, into hellholes, utterly honestly, and now they’re entrance here. And even if they don’t start murdering us all they’re going to wish their possess ways, aren’t they? Halal, in’t it. Mosques. Uh, Sharia. Arranged marriages—for ten-year-old cousins. Yeah, well, they’ll have to adapt, and discerning about it, too. They’ll have to demeanour pointy and crawl their heads and tumble into line. Socially. On a women doubt and that.”

He sealed his computer, and gazed for a impulse during a surface.

“You know, I’ll have to call her back.” And there was now a remarkable diseased diffidence in his grin as he looked adult and said, “It’s my mum.”

I had to make an bid to dissimulate a range of my surprise. . . . Shorn of context (the business hotel, a business suit, a costly orthopedic shoes, like velvet Crocs), his tasteless spin gray-fringed face looked as nonetheless it would be happiest, or during slightest happier, on a encampment immature on a summer afternoon; that face could have belonged to anybody, an alderman, a newsagent, a late colonel, a vicar. With a nod, we reached for my electronic cigarette and drew on it.

“Eighty-one, she is.”

“Ah, well.” After a moment, we said, “My mother-in-law’s eighty-six.” And we see, sir, it’s a prolonged story, nonetheless she was a reason we left England; and we never regretted it. The routine was wholly healthy for Elena, and, as for me, there was dutiful adore left over after a genocide of Hilary Bardwell, and it had nowhere else to go. “My wife’s mother. Five years comparison than yours.”

“Yeah? And what’s a state of her, then, eh? Can she reason a suspicion in her conduct for dual minutes? Or is she all over a gaff like mine? we mean, when your bonce goes, we ask you, what is a clarity of carrying on?”

I gestured during a instrument he still reason in his palm and said, “Just wondering, nonetheless what was that—what was that to do with?”

He sat behind and grunted it out: “Lanzarote.” Sinking deeper, he reached adult and eased his writhing neck. “For her eightieth, see, we bought her a pleasing tiny time-share in Lanzarote. Beautiful tiny holiday home. Maid looking in each morning. Gardener. Good place to park her in a winter. Roof patio unaware a bay. And now she’s meant to replenish a insurance. That’s all it is. The essence word and that. Shouldn’t have taken nonetheless a minute.”

“Well. They do find it tough to . . .”

“You know, I’ve got 4 brothers. All younger. And not one of them’ll reason her with a bargepole. They won’t have anything to do with her. It’s loyal a old—she does expostulate we mad, there’s no question. But you’ve got to grub it out, haven’t you? And a 4 of them, they won’t go nearby her. Can we credit it? They won’t go nearby their possess fucking mum. Pardon a language. Yeah, well, they haven’t got my resources, admittedly. So answer me this. Where would she be nonetheless her firstborn?”

With a peek during my watch, we said, “Damn. I’d improved pack.”

“Oh. Long journey?”

“Just a airport. Early tomorrow morning. we suspicion I’d do it now and try and get a bit some-more sleep.”

“Here for a day or 3 yet, me. Rest up. Look in during a gym. There’s that grill I’ve listened about on a corner. Where’re we flying?”

“Home. Nice articulate to you.”


As we bunched and dejected several equipment into a splayed bag, we activated my computer. And saw that there was still no summary from my mom (nor from a singular one of my children). Yes, well, it was a same with Nabokov; he went by it, too. “Don’t we find a association is a little . . . one-sided?” And, in my case, it was curious, given when we was divided like this we never fretted about my other life, my common life, where all was scarcely always immobile, fixed, site-tenacious.

Otherwise, we felt fine, and even utterly vain of my vitality (health, after all, unbroken), and buoyant, and stimulated, and generally happy and proud; a debate had awakened stress in me nonetheless even a anxiety, we have to say, was not unwelcome, given we famous it as a kind of stress that would ask to be created about. At peculiar moments, though, we severely questioned a existence of a residence in Brooklyn, with a 3 womanlike presences (wife, daughters), and we severely questioned a existence of my dual boys and my other daughter, all grown, in London—and my dual grandchildren. Could they, could any of them, still be there?

“Good morning, this is your wakeup call. . . . Good morning, this is your wakeup call. . . . Good morning, this is your—”

It was early, and we had one final appointment. A radio speak with a publisher called Konrad Purper; it took place in what they called a Centre d’Affaires, with a pivot seats and cord carpets. When it was over, Konrad and we stood articulate in a corridor until my chaperone soon nonetheless worriedly appeared. There had been many chaperones, many helpers and minders—Alisz, Agata, Heidi, Marguerite, Ana, Hannah, Sophie.

“There are no taxis!” Sophie said. “They can’t get nearby us. Because there’s too many people!”

Normally we am unequivocally distant from being an serene transatlantic traveller. But during that impulse we sensed that my wristwatch was relocating during a workaday pace; time did not start speeding up, did not start heating up. What was a slightest good thing that could happen? Nothing much. we said, “So what do we do?”


“To a airport.”

“No—sorry. I’m not clear. To a steer station. We can get there from there.”

“Oh, and a station’s close, isn’t it?”

“Five minutes,” Konrad said. “And each 10 mins a rail convey goes to Munich International.”

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Sophie and we started out, rolling a bags, and with Konrad maybe coincidentally rolling his bike, and a 3 of us mostly rolling aside onto a carless tarmac in esteem to a manifestation of costumed revelers entrance a other way. This slight thoroughfare, Landwehrstrasse, with a negotiations between West and East—Erotic Studio, Turkish Restaurant, Deutsche Bank, Traditional Thai Massage, Daimler-Benz, Kabul Market. . . .

We came out into a atmosphere and space of a Karlsplatz, where a strong-limbed mannequins stood in lines or streamed by in biblical numbers—many of a women, in a second week, decadently wearing a despised “Barbie” choice (a thick-stitched bodice and a many condensed dirndl display a white stocking tops usually above a knee). How did it go in a funfair? According to Thomas Wolfe, they had merry-go-rounds, and an violent plenitude of sausage shops, and whole oxen branch on spits. They ate and drank in tents that could chair 6 thousand, 7 thousand, 8 thousand. If we were in a core of this, Wolfe wrote, Germany seemed to be “one huge belly.” Swaying, singing. Germans en masse, objectively ridiculous, and giveaway during final of all irony.

Sophie, we saw, was articulate to a policeman stretched out in a parked sidecar. Konrad stood by. She incited and conspicuous to me, “It’s—you can’t even get there by foot!”

For many years we lived in Notting Hill, and sat by many Carnivals (in progressing times, mostly attending with my sons); we knew about cordons, military gauntlets, sealed roads (for ambulance access), and panics and stampedes. Once, we was in a vanquish that comprehensively positive me that we could face genocide given of a excess of life. Yes, there were affinities: Carnival was like Oktoberfest, nonetheless a strength there was brownish-red and a strength here was pink. Hundreds of thousands of high-esprit scoutmasters, hundreds of thousands of gratifying dairymaids in their Sunday best.

“The usually approach is underground. One stop.”

Soon we were looking into a flushed low of a mill staircase. Getting on for a month ago, in Brooklyn, while she was assisting me pack, Elena remarked that my family-sized container was “not full enough.” Well, it was positively difficult enough, by now, with a lees of gifts (typically chocolates) and reading matter and things such as Bernhardt’s portfolio, in a unbending brownish-red envelope. Humping that large bucket by a underground—I can do it, we thought, nonetheless we won’t like doing it. And yet, once again, Konrad, carrying tethered his bike, was sensitively during a side, dark-haired, stocky, and calm, and my bag was now overhanging simply in his grip.

In a Hauptbahnhof itself, a throng was diversified by skinny streams of coloured and dark-clothed refugees, their eyes condemned and determined, their step neutral nonetheless firm, boring their prams and goods-laden strollers, their children. Then came a singular sight, and afterwards an even rarer one.

First, a mom of a certain age, a grandmother, probably, tall, dressed in a organisation black of a full abaya, with her half-veiled face forked loyal ahead. Then, second, a expensively digested immature lady with a same coloring, maybe a granddaughter of a Turkish Gastarbeiter, in parsimonious white coupler and parsimonious white jeans—and she had a stupendously, an unignorably full and distinguished backside. For half a minute, a dual women inadvertently walked in step, divided from us: a slip of a black edifice like a soaring wheelie, a hugely billowing orbs of white.

When he had forked us to a platform, Konrad took his leave, many thanked, many praised. we incited to Sophie. “The dual women—did we see that?”

“Of course.”

“Well. She’s not broke by it, is she? Looking so cheerful. Swinging her arms. And dressed like that? She’s not perplexing to censor it.”


“I meant she’s not bashful about it.”

“No,” Sophie said. “She likes it.”

The Nabokovs were refugees, and 3 times over. As teen-agers, they exclusively fled a Oct Revolution; on her approach out, Véra Slonim upheld by a pogrom in a Ukraine involving tens of thousands of horde murders. That was in 1919. They fled a Bolsheviks, horsemen of apprehension and famine, and, around a Crimea, Greece, and England, sought sanctuary—in Berlin. Then France, until a Germans followed them there; afterwards a eleventh-hour embarkation to New York, in 1940, a few weeks brazen of a Wehrmacht. (On a subsequent westbound crossing, their boat, a Champlain, was torpedoed and sunk.) V.N.’s father (also Vladimir Nabokov), a magnanimous statesman, was murdered by a White Russian nazi in Berlin (1922). In a same city, his hermit Sergei was arrested in 1943 (for homosexuality) and rearrested a following year (for factious talk); he died in a thoroughness stay nearby Hamburg, in January, 1945. That was their Europe; and they went behind there, in character and for good, in 1959.

Yes, and we met Véra, too. we spent many of a day with her, in 1983, in a still core of Europe, a Palace Hotel in Montreux, Switzerland (where they had lived given 1961), violation usually for lunch with her son, a impossibly high Dmitri, whom we would accommodate again. Véra was a riveting and frolicsome golden-skinned beauty; on supportive subjects she could spin dauntingly fierce, nonetheless we was never unequivocally frightened, given we suspicion there was always a light of fortuitous amusement in her eyes.

Vladimir died in 1977, aged seventy-eight. Véra died in 1991, aged eighty-nine. And Dmitri died in 2012, aged seventy-seven.

He was childless. And now his remains (marking a closure of this genetic line) are interred with those of his parents, in a tomb in Montreux.

I got to Munich International with an additional half hour to spare. And there in a terminal, bathed in flowing early-morning light, behind a tiny fortification of his luggage (a hunker gunmetal suitcase, a tan valise with countless zips and pouches), and leering into his dungeon phone, stood Geoffrey a businessman. we greeted him and said, “Why are we here? we suspicion we were going to take it easy for a few days.”

“Who, me? Me? we should be so blessed. Nah. Her fucking bungalow burnt down final night. Electrics. It’s always electrics. Burnt down to a fucking ground.”

“Really? She wasn’t in it, was she?”

“Her? No, cosy as a bug in Sheffield, interjection unequivocally much. It’s muggins here that has to go to fucking Lanzarote. See if we got any essence insurance. Or any word during all.”

“Will it be tough to get to Lanzarote?”

His face narrowed shrewdly. “You know what we do when something like this happens? When you’re a bit stranded? You go down under. Under here.” And he soundlessly tapped his padded shoe on a floor. “That’s where a airline offices are. Under here. You go down there and we go around and we spot out a best deal.”

“Well, good luck.”

“Oh, I’ll be all right. It’s usually money.”

So there was time for lots of coffee and for tasty and fattening croissants in a lounge. Then a brand-new, hangar-fresh Lufthansa jumbo jet took off, on schedule. Soon we was gorging myself on excellent dishes and choice wines, before relishing “Alien” (Ridley Scott) and afterwards a sequel, “Aliens” (James Cameron). we landed punctually. Would-be immigrants and even asylum-seekers mostly had to wait dual years, nonetheless after dual hours, in a admittedly inhospitable precinct of Immigration, we was authorised into America.


And what we returned to, eerily and roughly tremulously, still held, Elena and a daughters—who went distant and wide, as they pleased, who resolutely roamed Manhattan, where their grandmother (I now listened it confirmed) was still commissioned in a fine nightfall home that, unequivocally understandably, she kept mistaking for a hotel.

How plain it all was, this other existence. How advanced, how evolved, with a devices, a machines, that all seemed to work. How firmly digested to a earth it was, with a steel and concrete, a five-story residence on Strong Place.

The stress in me was deeply layered and durable, given it went behind to before we was born. Coming to terms with this concerned work of mind, many of it finished in darkness. we was home in America, a newcomer nation, stretching from sea to resplendent sea, and we couldn’t sleep. “Night is always a giant,” a champion insomniac Nabokov wrote in “Transparent Things,” “but this one was generally terrible.” we had another book on my bedside table, a short, stylish investigate by a historian Mark Mazower, called “Dark Continent,” and we would infrequently go to a subsequent room with that for an hour, before defeatedly returning.

When we sealed my eyes, we was met by a common sights—an epitome terrain or distant fairground during dusk, flowers in monochrome, sum cut out of baggy white paper. And a thoughts and images verged encouragingly on a nonsensical. But no—my mind was in too low a rigging for a journey control of unconsciousness. . . .

And so many probable futures were queuing adult and jockeying to be born. And, in time, one or other of them would go blast transparent of a rest.

And they were entrance here, a refugees, in a eye of a geohistorical convergence—themselves and their exodus on a one hand, and, on a other, Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab and Boko Haram and a Taliban and Sinai Province and isis.

And even now it was as if a tectonic force had taken reason of Europe and, regulating a fingernails, had carried it adult and slanted it, politically, causing a difficult mudslide in a instruction of aged illusions, aged dreams of virginity and cruelty.

And that force would get heavier still, many heavier, immediately and irreversibly, after a initial occurrence of takfir. And afterwards Europe—that by now famously unrobust confederation—would, in fact, accommodate a “historic test.”

And what they competence be bringing, a refugees, was considerate when set opposite what was already there, in a horde nations, a spores and middens of what was already there. . . . “Dark Continent” is not a book about Africa; a rest of Mazower’s pretension is “Europe’s Twentieth Century.” 

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