I am tortured by a strange nostalgia, there are images in my mind from the first World War, of English soldiers, little fellows under their saucer helmets marching down village streets, with French children crying,“Tommy, Tommy!” The soldiers died before I was born. Lieutenants on leave from the front drove to Paris in those marvelous open automobiles they built then. I don’t know how I can long for a share in lives which never even touched mine. I long for it with acute pain.
I am thinking about time, time spans, links within time between lives. About the intensity of an officer of twenty driving down a Paris boulevard in an open car, in the summer of 1917. In spite or maybe even because of the seed of death in his every thought. The resonance of that intensity is still in the air around us. I assume so, anyway. Nothing mystical about this: there are human links. The old man sitting on that bench at the Rond-Point des Champs Elysées saw the automobile with the lieutenant go by. He now sees me go by. Here is a link already. Who knows but that I look like the lieutenant. Who knows but that the old man remembers few things in his whole eighty years’ existence as clearly as a summer afternoon when as a boy he was promenading along the Champs Elysées, in a confused eagerness for the coming autumn when he’d be drafted too (and yet dreading it), glancing at girls and women but miserably ignored by them. He’d give tugs at his suit with its stupid sleeves which were too short. That automobile slowly passed him. The English officer’s eyes rested on the boy for one moment, the arrogant, almost colorless blue eyes of a demigod, at his side on the front scat a young woman in a big white hat, the car, black and nickel, a Hispano-Suiza (the boy collected the pins and badges which car manufacturers gave out). How he had felt he was touching a world of unimaginable glory and joy. How he had assuaged his burning jealousy with the idea that the officer might not have another week to live. He had been ashamed of that thought, superstitiously perhaps (it might rebound on himself), and had followed it by muttering a paternoster for the lieutenant.