Penguin books - səhifə 38
Keep the customer happy. Martin Fierro is not just the gaucho hero of a great Argentine epic poem. On the U-boat he is considered an anarchist saint. Hernandez's poem has figured in Argentine political thinking for years now—everybody's had his own interpretation, quoting from it often as vehemently as politicians in 19th-century Italy used to from I Promessi Sposi. It goes back to the old basic polarity in Argentina: Buenos Aires vs. the provinces, or, as Felipe sees it, central government vs. gaucho anarchism, of which he has become the leading theoretician. He has one of these round-brim hats with balls hanging from it, he has taken to lounging in the hatchways, waiting for Graciela—"Good evening, my dove. Haven't you got a kiss for the Gaucho Bakunin?"
"You look more like a Gaucho Marx," Graciela drawls, and leaves Felipe to go back to the treatment he's working on for von Göll, using El Nato's copy of Martin Fierro, which has long been thumbed into separate loose pages, and smells of horses, each of whose names El Ñato, tearfully mamao, can tell you. . . .
A shadowed plain at sundown. An enormous flatness. Camera angle is kept low. People coming in, slowly, singly or in small groups, working their way across the plain, in to a settlement at the edge of a little river. Horses, cattle, fires against the growing darkness. Far away, at the horizon, a solitary figure on horseback appears, and rides in, all the way in, as the credits come on. At some point we see the guitar
slung on his back: he is a payador, a wandering singer. At last he dismounts and goes to sit with the people at the fire. After the meal and a round of caña he reaches for his guitar and begins to strum his three lowest strings, the bordona, and sing:
Aquí me pongo a cantar al compás de la vigüela, que el hombre que lo desvela una pena estrordinaria, como la ave solitaria con el cantar se consuela.
So, as the Gaucho sings, his story unfolds—a montage of his early life on the estancia. Then the army comes and conscripts him. Takes him out to the frontier to kill Indians. It is the period of General Roca's campaign to open the pampas by exterminating the people who live there: turning the villages into labor camps, bringing more of the country under the control of Buenos Aires. Martin Fierro is soon sick of it. It's against everything he knows is right. He deserts. They send out a posse, and he talks the sergeant in command over to his side. Together they flee across the frontier, to live in the wilderness, to live with the Indians.
That's Part I. Seven years later, Hernandez wrote a Return of Martin Fierro, in which the Gaucho sells out: assimilates back into Christian society, gives up his freedom for the kind of constitutional Gesellschaft being pushed in those days by Buenos Aires. A very moral ending, but completely opposite to the first.
"What should I do?" von Göll seems to want to know. "Both parts, or just Parti?"
"Well," begins Squalidozzi.
"I know what you want. But I might get better mileage out of two movies, if the first does well at the box office. But will it?"
"Of course it will."
"Something that anti-social?"
"But it's everything we believe in," Squalidozzi protests.
"But even the freest of Gauchos end up selling out, you know. That's how things are."
That's how Gerhardt von Göll is, anyway. Graciela knows the man: there are lines of liaison, sinister connections of blood and of wintering at Punta del Este, through Anilinas Alemanas, the IG branch in
Buenos Aires, on through Spottbilligfilm AG in Berlin (another IG outlet) from whom von Göll used to get cut rates on most of his film
stock, especially on the peculiar and slow-moving "Emulsion J," invented by Laszlo Jamf, which somehow was able, even under ordinary daylight, to render the human skin transparent to a depth of half a millimeter, revealing the face just beneath the surface. This emulsion was used extensively in von Coil's immortal Alpdrücken, and may even come to figure in Martin Fierro. The only part of the epic that really has von Göll fascinated is a singing-duel between the white gaucho and the dark El Moreno. It seems like an interesting framing device. With Emulsion J he could dig beneath the skin colors of the contestants, dissolve back and forth between J and ordinary stock, like sliding in and out of focus, or wipe—how he loved wipes! from one to the other in any number of clever ways. Since discovering that Schwarzkommando are really in the Zone, leading real, paracinematíc lives that have nothing to do with him or the phony Schwarzkommando footage he shot last winter in England for Operation Black Wing, Springer has been zooming around in a controlled ecstasy of megalomania. He is convinced that his film has somehow brought them into being. "It is my mission," he announces to Squalidozzi, with the profound humility that only a German movie director can summon, "to sow in the Zone seeds of reality. The historical moment demands this, and I can only be its servant. My images, somehow, have been chosen for incarnation. What I can do for the Schwarzkommando I can do for your dream of pampas and sky. ... I can take down your fences and your labyrinth walls, I can lead you back to the Garden you hardly remember. ..."
His madness clearly infected Squalidozzi, who then eventually returned to the U-boat and infected the others. It seemed what they had been waiting for. "Africans!" daydreamed the usually all-business Beláustegui at a staff meeting. "What if it's true? What if we've really come back, back to the way it was before the continents drifted apart?"
"Back to Gondwanaland," whispered Felipe. "When Rio de la Plata was just opposite South-West Africa . . . and the mesozoic refugees took the ferry not to Montevideo, but to Lüderitzbucht. ..."
The plan is to get somehow to the Lüneburg Heath and set up a small estancia. Von Göll is to meet them there. By the gun-mounts tonight, Graciela Imago Portales dreams. Is von Göll a compromise they can tolerate? There are worse foundations than a film. Did Prince Potemkin's fake villages survive Catherine's royal progress? Will the soul of the Gaucho survive the mechanics of putting him into light and sound? Or will someone ultimately come by, von Göll or another, to make a Part II, and dismantle the dream?
Above and beyond her the Zodiac glides, a north-hemisphere array she never saw in Argentina, smooth as an hour-hand. . . . Suddenly there's a long smash of static out of the P.A., and Beláustegui is screaming, "Der Aal! Der Aal!" The eel, wonders Graciela, the eel? Oh, yes, the torpedo. Ah, Beláustegui is as bad as El Ñato, he feels his own weird obligation to carry on in German submariner slang, it is just precisamente a seagoing Tower of Babel here—the torpedo? why is he screaming about the torpedo?
For the good reason that the U-boat has just appeared on the radar screen of the U.S.S. John E. Badass (smile, U-boat!), as a "skunk" or unidentified pip, and the Badass, in muscular postwar reflex, is now lunging in at flank speed. Reception tonight is perfect, the green return "fine-grained as a baby's skin," confirms Spyros ("Spider") Telangiecstasis, Radarman 2nd Class. You can see clear out to the Azores. It is a mild, fluorescent summer evening on the sea. But what's this on the screen now, moving fast, sweep by sweep, broken as a drop of light from the original pip, tiny but unmistakable, in toward the un-moving center of the sweep, closer now—
"Bakerbakerbaker!" hollers somebody down in Sonar, loud and scared, over the phones. It means hostile torpedo on the way. Coffee messes go crashing, parallel rulers and dividers sliding across the glass top of the dead-reckoning tracer as the old tin can goes heeling over around onto an evasion pattern that was already obsolete during the Coolidge administration.
Der Aal's pale tunnel of wake is set to intersect the Badass's desperate sea-squirm about midships. What intervenes is the drug Oneirine, as the hydrochloride. The machine from which it has emerged is the coffee urn in the mess hall of the John E. Badass. Playful Seaman Bo-dine—none other—has seeded tonight's grounds with a massive dose of Laszlo Jamf's celebrated intoxicant, scored on Bodine's most recent trip to Berlin.
The property of time-modulation peculiar to Oneirine was one of the first to be discovered by investigators. "It is experienced," writes Shetzline in his classic study, "in a subjective sense ... uh ... well. Put it this way. It's like stuffing wedges of silver sponge, right, into, your brain!" So, out in the mellow sea-return tonight, the two fatal courses do intersect in space, but not in time. Not nearly in time, heh heh. What Beláustegui fired his torpedo at was a darkrust old derelict, carried passively by currents and wind, but bringing to the night something of the skull: an announcement of metal emptiness, of shadow, that has spooked even stronger positivists than Beláustegui. And what
passed into visual recognition from the small speeding pip on the Badass's radar screen proved to be a corpse, dark in color, perhaps a North African, which the crew on the destroyer's aft 3-inch gun mount spent half an hour blowing to pieces as the gray warship slid by at a safe distance, fearful of plague.
Now what sea is this you have crossed, exactly, and what sea is it you have plunged more than once to the bottom of, alerted, full of adrenalin, but caught really, buffaloed under the epistemologies of these threats that paranoid you so down and out, caught in this steel pot, softening to devitaminized mush inside the soup-stock of your own words, your waste submarine breath? It took the Dreyfus Affair to get the Zionists out and doing, finally: what will drive you out of your soup-kettle? Has it already happened? Was it tonight's attack and deliverance? Will you go to the Heath, and begin your settlement, and wait there for your Director to come?
D D D D D D D
Under a tall willow tree beside a canal, in a jeep, in the shade, sit Tchitcherine and his driver Dzabajev a teenage Kazakh dope fiend with pimples and a permanently surly look, who combs his hair like the American crooner Frank Sinatra, and who is, at the moment, frowning at a slice of hashish and telling Tchitcherine, "Well, you should have taken more than this, you know."
"I only took what his freedom is worth to him," explains Tchitcherine. "Where's that pipe, now?"
"How do you know what his freedom is worth to him? You know what I think? I think you're going a little Zone-happy out here." This Dzabajev is more of a sidekick, really, than a driver, so he enjoys immunity, up to a point, in questioning Tchitcherine's wisdom.
"Look, peasant, you read the transcript in there. That man is one unhappy loner. He's got problems. He's more useful running around the Zone thinking he's free, but he'd be better off locked up somewhere. He doesn't even know what his freedom is, much less what it's worth. So / get to fix the price, which doesn't matter to begin with."
"Pretty authoritarian," sneers young Dzabajev. "Where's the matches?"
It's sad, though. Tchitcherine likes Slothrop. He feels that, in any normal period of history, they could easily be friends. People who dress up in bizarre costumes have a savoir-vivre—not to mention the sort of personality disorder—that he admires. When he was a little boy, back in Leningrad, Tchitcherine's mother sewed by hand a costume for him to wear in a school entertainment. Tchitcherine was the wolf. The minute he put on the head, in front of the mirror by the ikon, he knew himself. He was the wolf.
The Sodium Amytal session nags at the linings of Tchitcherine's brain as if the hangover were his own. Deep, deep—further than politics, than sex or infantile terrors ... a plunge into the nuclear blackness. . . . Black runs all through the transcript: the recurring color black. Slothrop never mentioned Enzian by name, nor the Schwarzkommando. But he did talk about the Schwarzgerät. And he also coupled "schwarz-" with some strange nouns, in the German fragments that came through. Blackwoman, Blackrocket, Blackdream. .. . The new coinages seem to be made unconsciously. Is there a single root, deeper than anyone has probed, from which Slothrop's Black-words only appear to flower separately? Or has he by way of the language caught the German mania for name-giving, dividing the Creation finer and finer, analyzing, setting namer more hopelessly apart from named, even to bringing in the mathematics of combination, tacking together established nouns to get new ones, the insanely, endlessly diddling play of a chemist whose molecules are words. . . .
Well, the man is a puzzle. When Geli Tripping first sent word of his presence in the Zone, Tchitcherine was only interested enough to keep a routine eye on him, along with the scores of others. The only strange item, which grew stranger as surveillance developed, was that he seemed to be alone. To date Slothrop has still not recorded, tagged, discovered, or liberated a single scrap of A4 hardware or intelligence. He reports neither to SPOG, CIOS, BAFO, TI, nor any American counterpart—indeed, to no known Allied office. Yet he is one of the Faithful: the scavengers now following industriously the fallback routes of A4 batteries from the Hook of Holland all across Lower Saxony. Pilgrims along the roads of miracle, every bit and piece a sacred relic, every scrap of manual a verse of Scripture.
But the ordinary hardware doesn't interest Slothrop. He is holding out, saving himself for something absolutely unique. Is it the Black-rocket? Is it the 00000? Enzian is looking for it, and for the mysterious Schwarzgerät. There is a very good chance that Slothrop, driven by his Blackphenomenon, responding to its needs though they be hidden from him, will keep returning, cycle after cycle, to Enzian, until the mission is resolved, the parties secured, the hardware found. It's a strong hunch: nothing Tchitcherine will ever put into writing. Opera-
tionally he's alone as Slothrop is out here—reporting, if and when, direct to Malenkov's special committee under the Council of People's Commissars (the TsAGI assignment being more or less a cover). But Slothrop is his boy. He'll be followed, all right. If they lose him why they'll find him again. Too bad he can't be motivated personally to go get Enzian. But Tchitcherine is hardly fool enough to think that all Americans are as easy to exploit as Major Marvy, with his reflexes about blackness. . . .
It's a shame. Tchitcherine and Slothrop could have smoked hashish together, compared notes on Geli and other girls of the ruins. He could have sung to the American songs his mother taught him, Kiev lullabies, starlight, lovers, white blossoms, nightingales. . . .
"Next time we run across that Englishman," Dzabajev looking curiously at his hands on the steering-wheel, "or American, or whatever he is, find out, will you, where he got this shit?"
"Make a note of that," orders Tchitcherine. They both start cackling insanely there, under the tree.
Slothrop comes to in episodes that fade in and out of sleep, measured and serene exchanges in Russian, hands at his pulse, the broad green back of someone just leaving the room. . . . It's a white room, a perfect cube, though for a while he can't recognize cubes, walls, lying horizontal, anything too spatial. Only the certainty that he's been shot up yet again with that Sodium Amytal. That feeling he knows.He's on a cot, still in Rocketman garb, helmet on the floor down next to the ditty bag of hash—oh-oh. Though it requires superhuman courage in the face of doubts about whether or not he can really even move, he manages to flop over and check out that dope. One of the tinfoil packages looks smaller. He spends an anxious hour or two undoing the top to reveal, sure enough, a fresh cut, raw green against the muddy brown of the great chunk. Footsteps ring down metal stairs outside, and a heavy door slides to below. Shit. He lies in the white cube, feeling groggy, feet crossed hands behind head, doesn't care especially to go anyplace. . . . He dozes off and dreams about birds, a close flock of snow buntings, blown in a falling-leaf of birds, among the thickly falling snow. It's back in Berkshire. Slothrop is little, and holding his father's hand. The raft of birds swings, buffeted, up, sideways through the storm, down again, looking for food. "Poor little
guys," sez Slothrop, and feels his father squeeze his hand through its wool mitten. Broderick smiles. "They're all right. Their hearts beat very, very fast. Their blood and their feathers keep them warm. Don't worry, son. Don't worry. ..." Slothrop wakes again to the white room. The quiet. Raises his ass and does a few feeble bicycle exercises, then lies slapping on new flab that must've collected on his stomach while he was out. There is an invisible kingdom of flab, a million cells-at-large, and they all know who he is—soon as he's unconscious, they start up, every one, piping in high horrible little Mickey Mouse voices, hey fellas! hey c'mon, let's all go over to Slothrop's, the big sap ain't doing anything but laying on his ass, c'mon, oboy! "Take that." Slothrop mutters, "a-and that!"
Arms and legs apparently working, he gets up groaning, puts his helmet on his head, grabs the ditty bag and leaves by the door, which shudders all over, along with the walls, when he opens it. Aha! Canvas flats. It's a movie set. Slothrop finds himself in a dilapidated old studio, dark except where yellow sunlight comes through small holes in the overhead. Rusted catwalks, creaking under his weight, black burned-out klieg lights, the fine netting of spider webs struck to graphwork by the thin beams of sun. . . . Dust has drifted into corners, and over the remains of other sets: phony-gemütlich love nests, slant-walled and palm-crowded nightclubs, papier-mâché Wagnerian battlements, tenement courtyards in stark Expressionist white/black, built to no human scale, all tapered away in perspective for the rigid lenses that stared here once. Highlights are painted on to the sets, which is disturbing to Slothrop, who keeps finding these feeble yellow streaks, looking up sharply, then all around, for sources of light that were never there, getting more agitated as he prowls the old shell, the girders 50 feet overhead almost lost in shadows, tripping over his own echoes, sneezing from the dust he stirs. The Russians have pulled out all right, but Slothrop isn't alone in here. He comes down a metal staircase through shredded webs, angry spiders and their dried prey, rust crunching under his soles, and at the bottom feels a sudden tug at his cape. Being still a little foggy from that injection, he only flinches violently. He is held by a gloved hand, the shiny kid stretched over precise little knuckles. A woman in a black Parisian frock, with a purple-and-yellow iris at her breast. Even damped by the velvet, Slothrop can feel the shaking of her hand. He stares into eyes rimmed soft as black ash, separate grains of powder on her face clear as pores the powder missed or was taken from by tears. This is how he comes to meet Margherita Erdmann, his lightless summer hearth, his safe-
passage into memories of the Inflatíonszeit stained with dread—his child and his helpless Lisaura.
She's passing through: another of the million rootless. Looking for her daughter, Bianca, bound east for Swinemünde, if the Russians and Poles will let her. She's in Neubabelsberg on a sentimental side-trip— hasn't seen the old studios in years. Through the twenties and thirties she worked as a movie actress, at Templehof and Staaken too, but this place was always her favorite. Here she was directed by the great Gerhardt von Göll through dozens of vaguely pornographic horror movies. "I knew he was a genius from the beginning. I was only his creature." Never star material, she admits freely, no Dietrich, nor vamp a la Brigitte Helm. A touch of whatever it was they wanted, though—they (Slothrop: "They?" Erdmann: "I don't know. .. .") nicknamed her the Anti-Dietrich: not destroyer of men but doll—languid, exhausted. ... "I watched all our films," she recalls, "some of them six or seven times. I never seemed to move. Not even my face. Ach, those long, long gauze close-ups ... it could have been the same frame, over and over. Even running away—I always had to be chased, by monsters, madmen, criminals—still I was so—" bracelets flashing—"stolid, so . . . monumental. When I wasn't running I was usually strapped or chained to something. Come. I'll show you." Leading Slothrop now to what's left of a torture chamber, wooden teeth snapped from its rack wheel, plaster masonry peeling and chipped, dust rising, dead torches cold and lopsided in their sconces. She lets wood chains, most of the silver paint worn away now, slither clattering through her kid fingers. "This was a set for Alpdrücken. Gerhardt in those days was still all for exaggerated lighting." Silver-gray collects in the fine wrinkles of her gloves as she dusts off the rack, and lies down on it. "Like this," raising her arms, insisting he fasten the tin manacles to her wrists and ankles. "The light came from above and below at the same time, so that everyone had two shadows: Cain's and Abel's, Gerhardt told us. It was at the height of his symbolist period. Later on he began to use more natural light, to shoot more on location." They went to Paris, Vienna. To Herrenchiemsee, in the Bavarian Alps. Von Göll had dreamed of making a film about Ludwig II. It nearly got him blacklisted. The rage then was all for Frederick. It was considered unpatriotic to say that a German ruler could also be a madman. But the gold, the mirrors, the miles of Baroque ornament drove von Göll himself a little daft. Especially those long corridors. . . . "Corridor metaphysics," is what the French call this condition. Oldtime corridor hepcats will chuckle fondly at descriptions of von Göll, long after running out of film, still
dollying with a boobish smile on his face down the golden vistas. Even on orthochromatic stock, the warmth of it survived in black and white, though the film was never released, of course. Das Wütend Reich, how could they sit still for that? Endless negotiating, natty little men with Nazi lapel pins trooping through, interrupting the shooting, walking facefirst into the glass walls. They would have accepted anything for "Reich," even "Königreich," but von Göll stood fast. He walked a tightrope. To compensate he started immediately on Good Society, which it's said delighted Goebbels so much he saw it three times, giggling and punching in the arm the fellow sitting next to him, who may have been Adolf Hitler. Margherita played the lesbian in the cafe, "the one with the monocle, who's whipped to death at the end by the trans-vestite, remember?" Heavy legs in silk stockings shining now with a hard, machined look, slick knees sliding against each other as the memory moves in, exciting her. Slothrop too. She smiles up at his tautening deerskin crotch. "He was beautiful. Both ways, it didn't matter. You remind me of him a little. Especially . . . those boots. . . . Good Society was our second film, but this one," this one? "Alpdrücken, was our first. I think Bianca is his child. She was conceived while we were filming this. He played the Grand Inquisitor who tortured me. Ah, we were the Reich's Sweethearts—Greta Erdmann and Max Schlepzig, Wonderfully Together—"
"Max Schlepzig," repeats Slothrop, goggling, "quit fooling. Max Schlepzig?"
"It wasn't his real name. Erdmann wasn't mine. But anything with Earth in it was politically safe—Earth, Soil, Folk ... a code. Which they, staring, knew how to decipher. . . . Max had a very Jewish name, Something-sky, and Gerhardt thought it more prudent to give him a new one."
"Greta, somebody also thought it prudent to name me Max Schlepzig." He shows her the pass he got from Säure Bummer.
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