SUMMER IN BADEN-BADEN
I was on a train, travelling by day, but it was winter-time — late December, the very depths — and to add to it the train was heading north — to Leningrad — so it was quickly darkening on the other side of the windows — bright lights of Moscow stations flashing into view and vanishing again behind me like the scattering of some invisible hand — each snow-veiled suburban platform with its fleeting row of lamps melting into one fiery ribbon — the dull drone of a station rushing past, as if the train were roaring over a bridge — the sound muffled by the double-glazed windows with frames not quite hermetically sealed into fogged-up, half-frozen panes of glass — pierced even so by the station-lights forcefully etching their line of fire — and beyond, the sense of boundless snowy wastes — and the violent sway of the carriage from side to side — pitching and rolling — especially in the end corridor — and outside, once complete darkness had fallen and only the hazy whiteness of snow was visible and the surburban dachas had come to an end and in the window along with me was the reflection of the carriage with its ceiling-lights and seated passengers, I took from the suitcase in the rack above me a book I had already started to read in Moscow and which I had brought especially for the journey to Leningrad, and I opened it at the page held by a bookmark decorated with Chinese characters and a delicate oriental drawing — and in my heart of hearts I had no intention of returning the book borrowed from my aunt who possessed a large library, and because it was very flimsy and almost falling apart, I had taken it to a binder who trimmed the pages so that they lay together evenly and enclosed the whole thing in a strong cover on which he pasted the book's original title-page — the Diary of Anna Grigor'yevna Dostoyevskaya produced by some liberal publishing-house still possible at that time — either `Landmarks', or `New Life', or one of those — with dates given in both Old Style and New Style and words and whole phrases in German or French without translation and the de rigueur `Mme' added with all the diligence of a grammar-school pupil — a transliteration of the shorthand notes which she had taken during the summer following her marriage abroad.
The Dostoyevskys had left Petersburg in mid-April 1867, arriving in Vilna by the following morning where they were constantly pestered by loathsome little Jews thrusting their services upon them on the hotel stairs and even going as far as chasing after the horse-cab in which Anna Grigor'yevna and Fyodor Mikhaylovich were travelling, trying, until they were sent packing, to sell them amber cigarette-holders — and the same Jews with flowing uncut curls framing their brows could be seen in the evening walking their Jewish wives around the narrow old streets — and then a day or two later, off to Berlin and then to Dresden where they began to look round for an apartment, because Germans, and especially German women — all these Fräulein-proprietors of boarding-houses and even of simple furnished rooms — ruthlessly overcharged and underfed newly arrived Russians — waiters cheated them out of their small change, and not just waiters either — the German race was a dim-witted bunch as it seemed collectively incapable of explaining to Fedya how to get to any street whatsoever, invariably pointing in the wrong direction — it seemed almost deliberate — and Anna Grigor'yevna was an old hand at Jew-spotting from when she had first visited Fedya while he was writing Crime and Punishment at the Olonkin house, which, as Anna Grigor'yevna was to observe later, immediately reminded her of the house in which Raskol'nikov lived — and Jews could be nosed out there, too, scurrying up and down the stairs among the other tenants — but, to be quite fair, it should be stated that in the Memoirs which Anna Grigor'yevna wrote not long before the Revolution, perhaps even after she got to know Leonid Grossman, there is no mention at all of loathsome little Jews on stairs.
The photograph pasted into the Diary shows Anna Grigor'yevna still quite young at the time, her glowering face both possessed and pious, but Fedya, already getting on in years, not very tall and with such short legs that it seemed, if he were to get up from the chair on which he was sitting, he would not appear very much taller — he had the face of a man of the common people, and it was obvious that he liked to have his photograph taken and that he was a fervent man of prayer — so why had I rushed around Moscow shaking with emotion (I am not ashamed to admit it) with the Diary in my hands until I found someone to bind it? — Why, in public on a tram, had I avidly leafed through its flimsy pages, looking for places which I seemed to have glimpsed before, and then why, after seeing it bound, had I carefully placed the book, which had now become heavy, on my desk like the Bible, keeping it there day and night? — Why was I now on my way to Petersburg — yes, not to Leningrad, but precisely to Petersburg whose streets had been walked by this short-legged, rather small individual (no more so, probably, than most other inhabitants of the nineteenth century) with the face of a church-warden or a retired soldier? — Why was I reading this book now, in a railway-carriage, beneath a wavering, flickering, electric light-bulb, glaring brightly at one moment, almost extinguished the next according to the speed of the train and the performance of the diesel locomotives, amid the slamming of doors at either end of the carriage by people constantly coming through balancing glasses full of water for children or for washing fruit, leaving for a smoke, or simply to go to the toilet, whose door would bang shut immediately afterwards? — amid the banging and slamming of all these doors, with the rolling motion jogging my book now to one side, now to the other, and the smell of coal and steam engines which somehow still lingered although they had stopped running long ago.
They eventually rented a room from Mme Zimmermann, a tall, angular Swiss, but on the very day of their arrival they booked in at a hotel on the main square and immediately made their way to the picture-gallery.
An enormous queue converging on the Pushkin Museum in Moscow — small groups only being admitted at a time — the `Sistine Madonna' hanging on a landing somewhere between floors, a militiaman in situ beneath — and years later at the same museum the `Mona Lisa' displayed herself, strategically lit, behind double, bullet-proof panes of glass — the queue of `connected' people snaking its way towards the painting or, rather, to the glass armour-plating — an embalmed corpse in a sarcophagus, Madonna in a landscape background — a truly enigmatic smile or, perhaps, just the effect of public opinion — and beside the picture, another militiaman, urging the queue forward with a `Take your leave now, take your leave!' in decorous fashion, as they all, of course, were art experts or special guests — trying to linger as long as they could beside the painting and, when they had passed it by, catching up with the people who had gone on ahead, continuing to peer back at the picture, cricking their necks, revolving their heads nearly a hundred and eighty degrees — the `Sistine Madonna', however, hung on a wall between two windows, the light falling from the side — the day was cloudy and the painting seemed veiled with a kind of haze — the Madonna floated in clouds which seemed like the airborne hem of her dress or perhaps the two things melted together — and somewhere down below to the left an apostle looked piously up — with six fingers on one hand — really six, I counted them myself — and a photograph of this picture was given to Dostoyevsky for his birthday many years after his visit to Dresden and shortly before his death, by someone supposing that this was his favourite picture (although it was probably `Christ in the Sepulchre' by Holbein the Younger) — and anyway the photograph of Raphael's `Sistine Madonna', in a wooden frame, hangs in the Dostoyevsky Museum in Leningrad above the leather couch on which the writer died — an airborne Madonna holding an equally airborne half-seated child in her arms, perhaps offering him her breast like a gypsy woman, in front of anyone — her expression as enigmatic as the Mona Lisa's — a photograph just like that, a little smaller and probably not as good as a modern print, can be found on a shelf in my aunt's glass-fronted book-case, positioned with a somewhat deliberate carelessness.
The Dostoyevskys would visit the art-gallery every day in the same way as people in Kislovodsk drop into the kursaal to take the waters, for a rendezvous or simply to stand about observing the comings and goings, and then go to lunch — looking for a cheaper-style restaurant, but a place which would provide them with good food and trustworthy waiters — always the Dostoyevskys found they were cheated out of two or three silver groschen as all Germans were undeniably unscrupulous — after the usual gallery visit they once chose the Brühlsche Terrasse, placed picturesquely over the Elbe — the waiter had been spotted on a previous visit and dubbed the `diplomat', as he looked like one — and into the bargain they had caught him charging twice the price for a cup of coffee — five groschen instead of two and a half — but they outsmarted him when Anna Grigor'yevna had slipped him the two and a half groschen, given them as change, back to him as a tip in place of five — but this time they were very hungry, especially Fedya, and instead of attending their table, the `diplomat' busied himself with a later arrival, some Saxon officer with fleshy red nose and yellowish eyes, his whole appearance that of a drinker — and although Fedya called to the waiter, he continued, with imperturbable expression, to serve the officer who was adjusting the starched napkin behind his tight military collar — revenge by the `diplomat' for their last encounter — Fedya tapped his knife on the table — and finally the `diplomat' arrived, but only, of course, in passing, to say that he could in fact hear them and there was no need to drum on the table — chicken again for Fedya and veal cutlets — much later one portion only of chicken arriving — `What is the meaning of this,' — and the `diplomat' replied with excessive politeness that only one portion was ordered — and the same thing again with the veal cutlets — and four waiters sat playing cards in the next dining-room, and in the room where the Dostoyevskys ate there were few customers — he must have done it on purpose — red blotches sprouted on Fedya's face, and loudly to his wife he said that, if he had been there alone, he would have shown them, and he even began to shout at her as if it were her fault that the two of them had gone there together — and with knife and fork poised he purposely hurled them down with a great crash, nearly smashing the plate — people began to stare — and they left without looking around, Fedya having thrown a whole thaler onto the table instead of the twenty-three groschen they owed — and, slamming the door so hard that the panes of glass shook, they set off down the chestnut-lined avenue — he walking resolutely ahead, she behind, scarcely able to keep up — without her, he could have seen the business through and insisted on his own way, but in fact he was now walking away humiliated by that villainous waiter, because all waiters were, of course, villains — the embodiment of the basest features of human nature — but, alas! the remnants of this cursed waiter-strain linger in all of us — had he himself not stared sycophantically into the yellow-lynx eyes of that drunk, red-nosed swine of a commandant in the convict prison? — yes! that was the one brought to mind by the Saxon officer just now — the one who, drunk and chaperoned by guards, had burst into their wooden barrack and, spotting a prisoner in grey-black jacket backed with its yellow ace of diamonds, spotting him lying down there on the bunk because he felt unwell that particular day, unable to work, had bellowed with all the strength of his bullish throat: `Up, you! Over here!' — and he had been that prisoner, the man now walking down a chestnut-lined avenue away from that restaurant and that terrace, so picturesquely placed over the Elbe — and even then, in the convict-prison, he had seen it all only from the side, as if it happened in a dream, or to someone else, not to him at all — and being present in the guard-house once, when corporal punishment was being applied — the victim lying motionless as he was beaten with birch-rods, leaving bloody weals on his back and buttocks — just as silently the prisoner slowly rose to his feet, carefully fastened each button on his jacket and left the room, without so much as a glance at Krivtsov who stood there beside him — would he have managed to keep so silent and leave the guard-room with such dignity? — jumping up off his bunk and feverishly shaking hands adjusting the grey-black jacket, he walked towards Krivtsov who stood in the doorway — walked with head lowered — no, not walked, but almost ran — humiliating in itself — and when he reached the officer, he stared at him, not a firm, hard look, but with pleading eyes — realizing this from the way Krivtsov's pupils dilated like a predator's, the pupils of those yellow, lynx-eyes of his — lynx-like not only through their animal shape, but because of that hunting look, searching for the next victim — the thought running through his mind even as he stood before him, and that he could think of such a thing at such a moment had struck him at the time as strange — and what was this to do with servility?! — this fear, this simple fear — but fear gives rise to servility, does it not?
Anna Grigor'yevna managed to catch him up and, placing her hand with its worn glove beneath his elbow, looked guiltily into his eyes — without her, he would have shown that waiter what's what, he would have put them all in their place! — his eyes moving slowly away from her face, staring at the hand which lay on his shoulder — `It does not befit a neatly dressed woman to be seen in such gloves,' he said slowly, distinctly, transferring his gaze to her face once again — with lips trembling and eye-lids strangely swelling up, she continued to walk by his side, but only through inertia and because she thought that his words could not apply to her: he would not have said that to her — with quickening pace she left him, almost at a run, turning into some side-street, also lined with chestnut trees — she looked round briefly and, through the leaves and her tears, could make out his figure marching down the avenue, resolute as ever, wearing the dark-grey almost black suit, bought in Berlin — at the time the thought had not occurred to him to suggest that she might buy herself some new gloves, although the ones she had already had frayed at the seams, and twice on the journey she had had to sew them up — in his presence — and now he reproached her for that, and the money for their journey had been obtained by pawning her mother's things — walking down the street, almost running, she kept close to the walls of the buildings, veil raised so that no-one could see her tear-swollen face — coming towards her, the occasional respectable bowler-hatted German out for a walk with his German wife, and their faces looked pink and self-satisfied — holding the hands of their children, clean and neatly dressed — and they didn't worry over paying for the day's lunch or dinner, and they didn't raise their voices at each other — and yet Fedya had shouted at her in the restaurant — slipping in through the door of their house she tried to avoid being seen — and first she entered the big room they used as a dining-room, oleographs on the wall depicting some river — the Rhine, probably — trees reflected in it, or castles perched on mountains against backgrounds of false blue skies — then the second room, their bedroom with two cumbersome beds, and then the third, a tiny room, Fedya's, with a desk and, lying on it, a neat white paper pile and some papirosa cigarettes with tobacco spilling out — and she suddenly realized she had come in here in the secret hope that he had overtaken her and would be waiting for her — then she left for the post-office where Fedya often called in, and he was not there and there were no letters, and she went back home again — surely he must be home by now? — Mme Zimmermann on the stairs told her that Fedya had come in and gone out somewhere — outside again, running on to the street, and suddenly she saw him — coming towards her, pale and smiling guiltily, even pleadingly — and so it turned out he had gone back to the terrace, thinking she would have returned there, demonstrating her independence, and then he had gone to look in the reading-room — and so they went indoors for a moment to change clothes because it was coming on to rain — pouring down in bucketfuls as they emerged again, but they did, after all, have to have lunch — three courses at the Hotel Victoria cost them two thalers and ten silbergroschen — a terrible price seeing that each cutlet cost twelve silbergroschen — have you ever seen the like! — a thoroughly unlucky day! — it was eight o'clock at night when they left the restaurant, dark and wet — so she opened her umbrella, but not in the prudent German way — it brushed against a passing German — and Fedya shouted because her clumsiness could be misinterpreted — and her eyes began to swell again, and in the darkness nobody noticed, thank God! — home again, side by side, not talking, as if they were strangers, and at home they tried to quarrel over tea, though it had all been said already, and then she mentioned his projected trip to Bad Homburg, and he started shouting again, and in reply she shouted back and went into the bedroom — he locked himself in his study, but later came to kiss her goodnight — a nightly habit, especially after a quarrel or disagreement — the gentle awakening to caress or kiss her, because she was his and within his power was her-happiness or misery — his awareness of total power over this ingénue, playing with her at will, was probably like the feeling which I have towards sleek young dogs who, at the sight of a hand stretched out for a stroke, wag their tails in a nervous, pleading way, flatten themselves against the ground and begin to tremble — it began with the kiss, then his lips on her breasts, then the swimming began — swimming with large strokes, thrusting their arms in unison from the water to take great gulps of air into their lungs, further and further from the shore, towards the deep-blue arch of the sea — but inevitably he found he was swept into counter-currents bearing him away at an angle, almost back on himself, and he could not keep up, as her arms continued to thrust from the water, still in rhythm, to vanish into the distance — and he felt that he no longer swam but floundered about in the water, his feet reaching for the bottom — and strangely this current, bearing him away, preventing him from moving with her, seemed to turn into the yellow eyes of the commandant with dilated predator pupils and into the rushed unbuttoning of his convict's jacket in order to prostrate himself over the low oak table in the centre of the guard-house polished by thousands of bodies, and into the groans he could not suppress when the blows of the birch rods rained down, as if someone tightened a red-hot wire across his muscles and bones, and into the spasms of pain which began after the beating, and into the mocking or pitying faces of the onlookers, and into the satisfied smile of the commandant as he ordered the doctor to be summoned, turning sharply on his heels to march out of the guard-room — and the same thing happened with other women because, like Anya, they had all been invisible witnesses, peering through the metal grilled windows, or through the guard-house door, as they struggled to enter to plead on his behalf, but they were barred — all witnesses of his humiliation, and he hated them for that because it denied him experience of the full flight of his feelings — and today as well was added the insulting impudent look of that waiter and the face of the Saxon officer, so like that of the commandant.