Wednesday, 22 July 2015

What Roth Wrote

While Stefan Zweig seems to be today's preferred chronicler of the pre-1914 Habsburg world,  Joseph Roth is more up my street. In John Gray's The Silence of Animals,  this piece by Roth from a novella called The Emperor's Tomb is quoted. In light of what came later, the sleepy reliability of the world Roth evokes, a dull but comfortable order, presided over by the benignly earnest Franz Josef -

- seems very attractive.

"All little stations in all little provincial towns looked alike in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. Small and painted yellow, they were like lazy cats lying in the snow in winter and in the summer, protected by the glass roof over the platform, and watched by the black double eagle on its yellow background. The porter was the same everywhere, in Sipolje as in Zlotogrod, his paunch stuffed into his inoffensive dark blue uniform, and across his chest the black belt into which was tucked his bell, whose prescribed treble peal announced the departure of a train. In Zlotogrod, too, as in Sipolje, there hung above the station-master's office, on the platform, the black iron contraption out of which, miraculously, sounded the distant silvery ringing of the telephone, delicate and enchanting signals from other worlds, which made one wonder why they took refuge in such small but weighty lodging. On Zlotogrod station, as in Sipolje, the porter saluted the coming in of the train and its going out, and his salute was a kind of military blessing."

Of course, human contrariness dictates that such peace always provokes restlessness in some citizens, which I suppose is why we'll never have peace on earth.

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