Excerpt: 'An Ermine in Czernopol' by Gregor von Rezzori


The Fiddler, Marc Chagall, 1912-1913

From Read This Next:

There are other realities besides and beyond our own, which is the only one we know, and therefore the only one we think exists.

A man staggers out of the howling recesses of some seedy dive into the uncertain gray of dawn.

His movements reveal the combination of bold daring and practiced confidence that mark a habitual drinker—the deadly serious parody of a clown.

His face is the crater field of some lost satellite.

His overstimulated senses are seething with impulses: the din of the tavern, philological disputes, pride, humiliation, love, quotations, dirty jokes, hate, loneliness, faith, purity, despair—

He doesn’t know his way home.

So he sleepwalks to the next intersection, where the tram tracks cross the street—two dully glistening snakes.

Keeping his head aloft as though he were blind, he taps and tests the ground with his cane, then he pokes it into one of the rail grooves, and lets himself be led as if tethered to a pole.

The tip of his cane sails through the groove, raising a bow wave of moldy leaves and trash, gravel, dirt and muck; his shoes splash through puddles, wrench his ankle on the uneven cobblestones, trip over track ties, churn through gravel, dig through dust. The fog slaps his face like wet cotton wool. Wind tears at the strands of hair that dangle onto his forehead from below the edge of his hat; dew settles on his lips, giving them a salty taste, and collects in tickling drops inside the two creases on either side of his mouth: his pulpy, oily cheeks do not absorb the moisture. He mumbles to himself, occasionally blurts something out loud, launches into a song, interrupts himself, laughs, goes silent, resumes his mumbling. His eyes are wide open and fixed unblinkingly ahead, like those of a blind man, like those of the gods.

In this manner he travels from one end of the city to the other.

The city lies somewhere in the godforsaken southeastern part of Europe and is named Czernopol.

He knows nothing of its reality

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