Magazine article The Spectator

Give Me Nostalgia

Magazine article The Spectator

Give Me Nostalgia

Article excerpt

Poor Michael Jackson. His last words were: 'Take me to the children's ward.'

But it was nice of the jockeys in Santa Anita to wear a black mourning band in honour of a man who rode more three-yearold winners than anyone. Mind you, I thought the great Paul Johnson was the best when I happened to tell him over the telephone of Jackson's untimely death: 'Was he a member of the Beatles?' Er, well no, dear Paul, but he was in the same undignified business.

It has been said that you only ever meet the world once, in childhood. All the rest is memory. Jackson, I suppose, wished to remain a child, although from what I've read, his childhood was ghastly. (I never saw him perform and found him so repellent I avoided looking at his picture. ) Vladimir Nabokov, on the other hand, said that the 'kindly mirrors of future times will reflect ordinary objects'. Nostalgia combines both memory and the kindly mirrors of future times. Hence it's my favourite. Give me nostalgia any time any day or night. I'm a sucker for it and always will be. The ghost of Harry Lime, Graham Greene's infamous antihero, inspires me to see a drizzle-in-lamplight Vienna, yet the times I've been to the Austrian capital it's always been sunny and hot. But I saw The Third Man when I was 12 years old and Vienna has been dark and drizzly ever since. Ditto the Wehrmacht uniform. I saw it as a child being worn by tall, blond German officers who were billeted in our house in Kolonaki. It has remained in my mind as the perfect military ensemble. And speaking of the Wehrmacht, if I couldn't have been a German officer in Paris 1940, being an expatriate American there would have suited me fine.

My buddy Charlie Glass has written Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation 1940-44, as good a read as you can find, especially if you like this sort of thing, which I do. Glass does not hint, suggest or preach. He has done his homework and Americans speak for themselves. I am old enough to have had many friends who spent the war years in Paris under German occupation, and now I read what I always knew to be true: for many, Paris 1940 to 1944 was a non-stop party. Another friend, Andrei Navrozov, has already reviewed the book in the pages of Chronicles, a political monthly I write a column for, and has raved about it. He mentions an instance where the all-conquering German army showed more tact than many Americans did once inside Germany four years later. A German officer is driven up to the Shakespeare and Company bookshop attracted by a copy of Finnegans Wake in the window. …

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