From Book 3: The Spanish Civil War, Part 1

            The next morning, my brother and I agreed to spend a day apart.

            I showed my photograph to shopkeepers, to hotel clerks, to women in the street. No one had seen Justine. I ended up in a graveyard, sitting on a toppled gravestone and staring at her photograph. Now I doubted Justine had even come to Germany. She had lied to her mother. It was an optimistic voice trying to drown out the suspicion, forming over the last week, that she had been here, had gotten involved in some crusade—smuggling anti-Nazi literature in or refugees out, reporting arrests to foreign newspaper, assembling a bomb—and gone underground. Romantic hopes.

            I wandered among the headstones, pausing once to stand before a memorial marker for one family’s losses in the Great War. Unsere Gefallen it said, with eight names spelled out in rows. Automatically I reached out with a finger to trace the name of Gerhardt Von Lehmann, while I knew that this man, this double with the exact same name, was not the Gerhardt with whom I had served. Gerhardt wouldn’t be honored here in Munich, a city in which he never set foot; Gerhardt was from Berlin. His name, the Von Lehmann who had been my friend, was carved in stone there too or perhaps he was alive, but I doubted it.

            We were meandering, grasping at straws. I knew we were delaying the end of our search, for that meant defeat. Neither Franz nor I had spoken of Justine since the night of the grand procession, for to wonder aloud as to her fate would mean that we had, indeed, given up.


            Desnos and Louis were standing beside Catherine at the train station in Paris. Artaud too waited, standing a little apart, his long body angled away from the heat and noise of the train’s arrival. When I looked out the window and saw their faces, I became aware of the fact that my face, set in grim lines, had been holding that very expression for the past hour, which Franz and I spent in silence. Our conversation had trailed off, and I had worn that despondent mask on my face ever since. What I was doing was rehearsing, preparing the face I would present to the others so as not to raise their hopes, so as to immediately impart our failure and spare them the suspense on our descent to the platform.

            But as I looked out the window and saw Rob’s eyes brighten with anticipation, I knew I had failed again. His eyes sought mine and I resisted the urge to shake my head at him, to warn away his optimism. Let him have his little moment of hope, like the reopening of a faraway door that had shut after a lover’s abandonment. Nothing in me wanted at that moment to cause his hope to die. The truth would do that soon enough.

            “I’m not getting off with you,” I told Franz suddenly. “I know where to look for Justine!”

            “What are you talking about?” he demanded.

            “Look, I’m—” I pointed at my friends. “Tell them. I’ll continue on this train to Le Havre, and from there find a ship to Spain.”

            “Geoff, are you nuts? There is war in Spain! And even if get there, where would you begin to look?”

            “I’ll get people there to help me,” I insisted. “Benjamin Péret is in Spain. Anita Thompson has been there and told me how she got in.” I didn’t add that Anita had known the president of the Catalonian parliament and telephoned him to get in without a visa. “I’ll find Péret, I’ll find Robert Capa. Do this for me, Franz, please.”

He looked away.

“Please, Franz! For the love of God I can’t just stop looking for her!” Before he could cut in again I added, “A man has a right to risk his life for what he believes in, Franz. He has a right to fight, and even die. This is my fight.”

            After an anguished embrace, my brother did leave me and got off the train. From the window I saw him approach and speak to my friends. Desnos looked shocked and so did Catherine. The train pulled forward again. Louis turned to scan the windows for me and Artaud bounded forward to board, but my car sailed quickly past him and his look of despair. He had come to see me after all, not only Franz. Perhaps his mind changed every day about me with whatever was happening to him, but I could not help that. I would write him, I resolved, from Spain. Whatever he wanted, I wanted too.

            I paid the conductor for an extension and sat looking out the window, wondering how I could board a ship to that country now that the League of Nations had banned entry to all foreign fighters. I still had money for bribes but I would hide away on a freighter or a fishing boat if I had to. Louis had told me about Le Havre, years ago; after being smuggled from Morocco he spent a few months working there. Now I ransacked my memory for his anecdotes. My trip on the train took four-and-a-half hours. I reached the port as the sun set.

            After I disembarked I did not bother with a hotel room. Traveling was over; this was tramping. I found a small, seedy bar that Louis had mentioned once. It was reminiscent of the bars Artaud now hung out at, in Montparnasse, in Montmartre, shady little dives swarming with fascist hoodlums that Blin wanted Artaud to avoid but who offered cheap drugs. Blin was frantic that Artaud had become a monarchist but I had told him not to fret. Artaud was hanging around the director Jacques Hébertot, who had drugs and who admired General Maxime Weygand, but this political dalliance would fall away once Artaud landed in Ireland. Artaud would always be Artaud. He ingratiated himself to get what he wanted and cared nothing for politics and if he sampled political Medoc it was only to unearth the Amontilladopium. No man would wall him in.

I bought a drink and meandered around the bar and probably looked obvious. “You’re a year late,” sneered some wounded veteran/deserter with a missing leg and the biggest nose I had ever seen. A couple of whores postured for me and I figured they were honest enough to ask. They pointed to the bartender who had been watching me the entire time and I sagged over to him like the naïf I was. “I still get them,” he told me. “Young men flock to that skeet shoot like clay pigeons. I can’t stand to make money this way anymore, so I’ll tell you what I tell them now: Spain is a fool’s errand, boy. You’ll get blown to smithereens.” When I told him I was searching for a woman, he said, “Gerda Taro? Don’t trouble yourself.”

“No, a woman named Eudoxia Mendel who also goes by Justine.” I described her for the wizened old barkeep but he shook his head. He told me to inquire later, though; many people passed through his bar for travel and information, particularly at night. I resolved to sit up and take refuge in a park or a church during the day. Surely no one would steal the wallet of a young man slumped deep in prayer in a pew?

I walked the city after sundown. Like Paris, this place had been hit hard by the stock market crash and the strikes here had galvanized the strikes there. I found a Cathédral Notre Dame here too, a strange, asymmetrical fortress-like church. The buildings here were utilitarian, not beautiful. This was a working city, devoted not to the arts or to lovemaking but to commerce, to travel, to the linear passage of strangers to elsewhere and not to competitive gossips circling each other. This had probably been a main port for Artaud’s maritime ancestors. People came and went as I wished to do. The cathedral was ringed by challenging voices in the darkness, angry and mocking men’s voices, the voices of muggers and of dissatisfied johns and of irate labor men shouting over each other behind an open window somewhere. Later in the night these voices were replaced by silence and the sounds of traffic, and the ringing of a single pair of shoes on the street that I carefully avoided. I could not help but think of Artaud who for most of his adult life walked the streets alone without a home, and had walked the streets of Marseilles so young. This was the end of the line, and the sound of trains arriving and leaving had been constant while the sun was up, but the last train had departed and now the city was mostly quiet. Ships, however, continued to be loaded and unloaded even in the darkness and they bleated brusquely over black water. This was the business Antoine-Roi had wanted for Artaud to take on and now at least one of these ships would convey Artaud to Ireland. I sat on a quai for a long time watching those lighted vessels that floated like gossamer insects.

At midnight, I returned to the bar and hung around for news. At dawn I saw a shopkeeper opening his curio shop and introduced myself. He allowed me to rent a cot in the back in exchange for some work. I slept a bit, then helped him uncrate and unwrap meaningless items for tourists to buy on their way home. I manned the counter and ran the till. I did this for three days and every night after sunset I hung out at that dingy bar.

On the third night the bartender beckoned me urgently as soon as I entered. “Son,” he said, “I do have a man to see you! He asked specifically for you.” He cocked his head at a far table and I went to it. The man sat with a bottle of whiskey and two glasses before him. When my ferryman rose to stand I had a weird moment of trying to place him. He had a flat face and a straight but thin brow with small, sunken eyes and a pointed, downsloped nose. His hair rose back from a high forehead and he had full lips over his pointed chin. For some reason I remembered him standing beside Desnos in the rosy morning air in Paris, years ago.

“Hello, Geoff Weidmann,” he said as he extended his hand. “I have not spoken to you since that ‘duel’ with Breton.” I took his hand and I realized my face showed surprise. I sat in the chair opposite him. He sat again too and looked deeply into me. “Artaud sent me after you,” said André Masson. “He’s worried about you. Let’s talk awhile.”

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