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[Readings]

Killing Time

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From Occupation Journal, a diary that Giono kept during the Nazi occupation of France, which was published last month by Archipelago Books. Translated from the French by Jody Gladding.

tuesday, august 8

Wonderful shop signs. The cabinetmaker who had already posted on his door, coffins, reduced prices, has added something splendid: blinds repaired. In Paris, near the East station, I noticed, rendez-vous with gas (at a bistro). In Marseille, this epitome of the comical: hôtel de la pompadour et du new-vichy.

Alert yesterday (it lasted three hours). Alert today.

I am organizing my solitude.

sunday, august 13

Three or four alerts yesterday. Today, two alerts already before noon. But no noise in the sky, not a single plane. We end up no longer paying attention to the siren and no one can say anymore whether the alert is beginning or ending. Opulent heat these days and dazzling light. A terrible peace. They say the Americans are at Rambouillet.

To smoke, I’m going directly to the garden to pick green tobacco leaves that I roast in the oven and then crush in my hands before filling my pipe. The smoke is overwhelming, bitter, strong, and immediately produces a kind of sickening vertigo. It makes your head swim. From time to time, Charles prepares for me a few grams of real tobacco with leaves that he cures with saltpeter and boiling water. Then I can smoke a few very good pipefuls, but I give so much away to all my friends that I quickly run out of it.

Read the famous Judas by Rabinovitch, which he worked on for two years, and it’s thirty-eight pages long. One thinks to oneself: thirty-eight pages, two years of work! Rabi is intelligent; this must be good. No. It’s bad. It’s not of the same order or measure. It’s constipated. No interest whatsoever, neither human nor general. Small rage lacking grandeur.

I pass judgment—I’m getting old!

wednesday, august 16

Second day of bombing here. Since Monday evening I haven’t been able to write. Four in a car killed by machine gun in Saint-Clément, my neighbor Léonce Amalric among them, pierced by bullets.

Today they tried to demolish the bridge over the Durance with huge bombs that shook us four kilometers away. We’ve finished the shelter in the garden. My mother is holding up. We are waiting. No sleep last night. I’m sheltering a young cleaning woman with a little girl in the small house, a survivor from Toulon, very frightened. Wonderful weather. I went up to my office after lunch to write these few lines to regain my footing after the crazy upheavals of yesterday afternoon and a sleepless night; I am very sleepy. Played card games with André and Marcel. Everything is purely a question of luck.

thursday, august 17

The time will come for the “joli Jésuite with a little moist spot.” (Thomas Mann.)

Fairly calm night. We slept. Early in the morning planes returned and dived over Saint-Tulles. Bombs fell near Corbières. After noon again four planes circling over the same spot and more big bombs dropped there. I don’t see what the target can be. Huge fire near Valensole after the bombs dropped. Apart from dropping bombs, planes are machine-gunning the roads, a little randomly it seems. In short, at least so far, a calmer day than the last few, a calmer night.

A thunderstorm—a simple thunderstorm, enormous—arriving from the south.

All contact with Manosque has been cut off. We have only our neighbors. We’re together more and more. Small patriarchal clusters are forming from house to house. The town is silent, still, all the stores closed except from six to eight in the morning.

The storm broke about six o’clock. It’s not raining. But this dry thunderstorm is making more noise than the bombs.

There are fourteen dead at Vinon. The day before yesterday, we saw our four usual planes that dive over and drop big bombs. Now we’re used to these four planes returning periodically to bomb us.

And fundamentally, what purpose does all this serve?

Tuesday, when I was hiding under my olive tree, on the road along the pass, and when the plane with its machine gun was searching for me, circling like a bird of prey, what beneficial work was accomplished? What could that little cyclist, who had tossed aside his bike and run to take cover, truly represent? This wasn’t the joli Jésuite, it was the anthropoid. Ah, how convenient it is to consecrate the halberds on the altar of the fatherland—what a black liberty that provides.

saturday, august 19

Yesterday, which I thought would be calm, was the most dangerous yet. At noon you could feel the fever in the air, then, at twelve-thirty, eight planes flying right over the rooftops, directly above the house, dived and fired machine guns, and then for the first time we could hear the hiss of bombs. This time it was very close. In no time the house has become like a refugee camp; Marcel and André arriving with their wives; then later, Blavette and his wife. Quite distraught despite a bit of bragging. They’d gone for lunch to Mathieu’s in the Prés neighborhood, a hundred meters from the station. The planes dived toward them and fired machine guns. They dropped the tomato salad they’d made and threw themselves on the ground. We spent the afternoon together, playing chess, cards, reading, smoking our horrible tobacco. Despite a few alerts for planes passing over, the rest of the afternoon was calm. At about eight o’clock Blavette set out to leave, his wife broke down, and I suggested they sleep here. They agreed, happily. Blavette headed back to their house, on the other side of town, just to bring in the laundry and put away the leftovers of a mutton stew. But he returned shortly without having gone home, saying that the Americans are in Valensole (twenty kilometers away) and that he saw (he repeated he saw) a pack of Camel cigarettes in the hands of a gendarme.

The night was calm; nothing but two or three low planes passing over.

This morning the French flag was flying from the top of the steeple, and the Americans are in Sisteron, La Brillanne, and Oraison.

We are liberated.


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