The Travel Feature (Der Reisebericht)

Tucholsky

The car drove along Lago Maggiore. The sky was clear blue, downright insolently blue for December.

The wide surface of the water shone, the sun sun bathed, and the lake, whose waters are now almost Berlin home waters, and on whose shores German businessmen sit and complain about the hard times, was doing its level best to be romantic. Past Locarno, where the hoteliers have hung world-historical plaques on the walls, because of the conference[1]. Past Ascona… a wonderful view: above Emil Ludwig[2], below, the lake, it makes one feel all biographical… Brissago… and onwards… „Shall I carry on until the Italian border?“ asked the driver. „Certainly,“ I replied in fluent Swiss[3]. „Are we allowed to?“ I asked. „The border guards know me,“ said the driver. „I will turn around straight away, as soon as we are in Italy.” That was reassuring and seemed plausible, for several reasons. So, off we go.

Another curve, and another… The brakes squealed, the gravel slid… The car drove more slowly now, because there was a chain across the road, a thick, black chain… An Italian soldier was holding it, and lowered it. The car drove over it, and now I was in Italy, for the first time in my life. The car drove on ten metres, past the customs post. Then the road widened out a bit into a little roundabout. The driver turned around… There lay the lake, there were only three people visible, far and wide: the soldier at the chain; a Bersagliere[4] was marching along the shore. His face contained a gloomy face and a little, dark beard, he had thrown his coat across his shoulders in regulation dishevelment. He looked like an extra from an opera, as though he were about to raise his arm and sing:

Rescued the prince,
Rescued the prince,
Rescued the pri–i–ince!

But no, he just walked on by. The third person was a young boy. He was sitting in a tree, dangling his legs. An old boot lay on the shore. The driver turned the car around in a mighty circle, then he crunched back over the still-lowered chain, back into Switzerland. For a brief moment, I looked into the soldier’s eyes. He was a blond man, his lips moved soundlessly, he saluted… I had been in Italy. Just for a few minutes, but I had been in Italy.

But because I know what my profession expects of me, and because I have dutifully read the travel features of my colleagues, one after the other, and because it’s the thing to do, here is my account of an Italian journey.

On a clear December day, one leaves Italy. How many times does that make? Memories arise: Teresita, Traviata, Pebecca, and then the little black one in Verona, on whom one noted, long before fascism, a nearly black shirt. But never mind that. One thinks about Genova, where the Portuguese prime minister shook one’s hand and uttered the prophetic words, „The times are becoming interesting!” The effects of the fascist regime in Italy are unmistakable.

(a. For Hugenberg[5] periodicals): The ‚Builder of Rome‘ has done a thorough job. His health, which is possibly not the best, has overcome everything: the attacks of his opponents, the attacks of the Italian emigrants, even a German-nationalist biography hasn’t been able to damage him. A practiced eye can tell immediately that Mussolini‘s rule is comparatively as steady as a rock. His achievements can be seen in everything and everyone: the population is proud and virile; modestly dressed, with a firm gaze, seriously bearded and with a hearty step. The chains which this man has laid on the destructive elements in Italy, have been lowered. One can feel them, but they are hardly visible. There are not many women on the street – Italian girls are virtuous, Italian women are busy in the home; the maidens look after their children, the mothers wait for a man to make them happy. A genuine and pure family life is apparent everywhere. Children grow on trees in Italy.

Soldiers carry their weapons proudly. The weapon is proud of the soldier, the soldier is proud of his weapon, and everybody is very proud altogether, particularly in the morning. Even the way the Italian lakes lap upon their shores is familiar to the German traveler. Wave after wave rolls up gracefully, correctly, one after the other, not all at the same time. Lakes don’t wave like that in republics, they need a firm, dictatorial hand. Trade and development are healthy, particularly development. In some places, the entire population is mobilized. What one notices is how many old boots are washed up on the shore, but Italy has become a manly people, a refuge of the free man! Viva Italia!

(b. For radical periodicals): The first thing that the traveler sees of Italy is the symbol of this country: the chain. Chains on the borders and chains on the thoughts. All pocket watches are similarly chained. This Italy is enslaved and constrained. The soldiers perform their duties sullenly. If one walks past them, one can hear them grinding their teeth. If the authorities become aware of such a grinding of teeth, the grinder is locked up and condemned to hard labour. Recently, for example, a university professor who was said to have ground his teeth, was asked in detention, „How do the German nationalists reconcile their praise for Mussolini with his South Tyrol policy?” Upon which the professor went mad, which he remains to this day.

The whole country is under arms. One sees no civilians any more. The soldiers‘ boots are all too tight, so they all look unhappy. In some places the road is bestrewn with boots. I saw a soldier bound to a long chain, which dragged three metres behind him. The youth of the country spends its meagre life up in the trees, where a lot of young lads have fled from the terror. The houses are heavily mortgaged. Mussolini himself is completely invisible. The cowardly tyrant is probably hiding behind the walls of his armed soldateska. I, for example, have not seen him once, which is a symptom of his rule. Italy has become a country of slaves. Even the reeds on the shores of the lake don’t rustle like in free countries. They just whisper. Down with Italy!

(c. For all periodicals): The attitude of the Italians is somehow, in a human sense, immediately recognizable. From a purely cultural-political-geographical perspective, the Italian mentality is typically Latin, where the state relates to the church in much the same way as Einstein’s philosophy of relativity relates to the concept of art in the second Kung period in China, or, for example, the Gothic of the early Middle Ages to the Fratellini[6]. A symptom which strikes the educated traveler immediately in every street.

The human magic of the landscape through which one passes is enchanting: pine trees juggle in the morning sunshine, cypresses whisper, butterflies plough their furrows, whistling cheerfully, the finely curved noses of the children race them, and when it rains, even the wanderer from the north realizes that it can only rain like this in sunny Italy! Travelers to Naples should not to change in Cottbus on the Brissago-Pallanza line, this will delay your arrival considerably.

My late brother-in-law always said to me, „Peter,” he said. “Travel broadens the mind. Wherever you go, have a good look around you, examine closely, and report back to us regularly from distant countries.”

Which is what I’ve done here.

01.01.1930


[3] Spoken Swiss German is quite a lot different from German in Germany, so there is often a bit of, usually friendly, argument about what is right. It is comparable to Britsh and American.

[4] Italian infantry

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