A WALK IN FOG by Peter Nolan Smith

On a murky November evening I attended the opening of the “Dream’ exhibition at Luxembourg’s Mudam Museum. Madame l’Ambassador bailed early for a formal dinner. I was not invited for supper.

“It’s a diplomatic thingee.” Madame l’Ambassador explained, as we walked through a thickening fog to the waiting Jaguar.

“I understand.” A writer-in-residence has to accept his place in the scheme of things.

Francois the driver opened the right-hand rear door for Madame l’Ambassador. It was the safest seat in the car. He asked if I needed a lift back to the city. The museum was located on the opposite side of the gorge running through the city. I had traversed it several times on foot and refused his offer.

“You go with Madame. I’ll be fine.” After all I am simply the guest writer.

I lingered at the soiree for another half hour. The crowd was young and artistic. The curator waved to me. The amiable Italian was chatting to an aristocratic couple in their 70s. Patrons of the museum were much more important than a well-unknown writer and I ordered a Duvel.

The bartender poured the triple-strengh beer into a special glass with reverence. Mittel Europe worshipped its beers.

I leaned at the bar and studied the passing faces. The queue at the bar seemed contently unconcerned by the chaos of the Euro. Their luxurious clothing cloned the bare threads of down-and-out artists, then again Luxembourg has the highest individual income in Europe and even the poor are rich in comparison to America.

The first beer had gone down quick and I ordered a second. No one commented on the speed of my drinking. The grand duchy marked the highest beer consumption per capita in 1993 with an unbeatable score of seventeen beers for each man, woman, and child in the tiny country.

A light-weight in my late-50s I called it a night after my third beer.

I had a good walk ahead to the upper city across the canyon of the Petrusse.

The I.M. Pei structure was shrouded by a spectral fog and I remembered my High School German teacher’s translating fog for our German class.

“Nebel.” Bruder Karl at Xaverian High School had spoken the word with the muted thunder of someone whose wrist bore the tattoo of the camps.

Nebel coupled with Nacht became night and mirrors, a mystical combination for the intrigues of the Gestapo.

I heard no jackboots and descended into the reconstructed fortifications with the night’s cold touch on my skin.


The Mudam disappeared into the gray murk. I followed the switchbacking trail like a man going blind. A train sounded its whistle on the tracks below. It was the 7:43 from Troisvierges.

During its reign as Gibraltar of theNorth Luxembourg had housed thousands of soldiers and his path from Fort Thungen would have been travelled by hussars, dragoons, and mercenaries back in the 17th Century. Tonight my footsteps ricocheted unanswered against the stone ramparts.

The slurry of leaves crossed my path and I thought about a movie that an actor friend had made here several years ago. Bill had played a blood-lusting Nosteradu. The city’s medievalism had lent the exterior scenes an unexpected aura of horror and this evening I glanced around me with a rising apprehension.

I was all alone.

The city was old.

While I no longer believed in God, I had seen enough vampire movies to know that I offered a fairly easy target for a bloodsucker. Were-wolves were not a worry, because the earth was in the middle of the synodic month.

A twig cracked in the surrounding woods. Something was out there in the forbidding shadows. I wished for a sword in my bare hand.

A single pinpoint of light broke through the swirling overcast.

Venus.

I salvaged a little confidence with the sighting of a familiar object in the night sky, then a lisping wind scrapped the bare branches to chant an incantation from a time before the invention of electricity.

Meeting a woman under a light was too much to ask from this evening.

This was Luxembourg and not Paris’ Rue St. Denis.

My pace accelerated through the tunnel underneath the outer bastion. A shiver scrapped a dull razor against the skin of my spine. My cellphone dimly illuminated the black passage of stone. Running would have been a sign of fright to creatures of the night preying on the weak.

I crossed the tracks before the 7:45 train to Wiltz raced beneath the steep embankment. The smooth cobblestones gave way to gravel and the trail bore the ruts of wagons.

A rusting grate blocked the tunnel under the railroad tracks. Something inhuman was in the trees. I hopped over the metal fence and bushwhacked through the underbrush to the tracks. I looked both ways and clambered across the double set of steel rails to the other side.

I reached the street ten seconds later.

A streetlight glowed overhead.

The fortifications along the Petruche were in sight.

My cell phone rang.

It was Francois the driver.

He asked if I was all right.

I had reached the safety of the old city.

“Okay.” The word meant the same in English as in French.

“Sure?” Madame l’Ambassador was concerned that something bad might have happened to me. She was a longtime friend. We shared mutual acquaintances. Neither of us wanted anything bad to happen to me on her watch.

“Fine, I’ll be back at the residence within fifteen minutes. Thank the ambassador for asking.”

It was a nice feeling to know someone cared and also that a good scare made a man feel alive, which is 100% better than being killed by a vampire any night of the week.

NACHT UND NEBEL by Peter Nolan Smith

Count-No-Count phoned my apartment in the East Village on a sunny morning in the summer of 1982. He was calling from Hamburg with an offer of a job as ‘tursteher’ at his nightclub BSIR. THe pay was $150 a night, free accommodations, and all I could drink. Being dead-broke I answered, “Ja.”

I spoke bad German with a Boston accent thanks to my Bavarian teacher Bruder Karl at my high school south of Boston. My stay in Hamburg was pleasant throughout the warm season, but the coming of autumn brought the cold rain, gray fog, and dark days. The sun’s traverse of the sky descended each day approaching the winter solstice like a frisbee weakening in flight. Even worse was how German the Germans became once the tourist had fled south to southern climes.

There were Nazis on the streets. The bad weather brought them out of their hiding places and I walked through Jungfernstieg spotting various members of the Waffen SS and Gestapo. Maybe it was my imagination playing tricks with the shadows, but their eyes didn’t lie about what they had seen in Russia, Poland, France, or Germany. They were not extras in a Hollywood movie. These men had not only obeyed orders, they had carried them out to the letter.

Of course the young Germans were obsessed by the ghosts of the pasts.

“We are the Porsche Reich, not the Fourth Reich.” Count-No-Count told me on many occasion. His best friend was a Reeperbahn pimp, Nigger Kalle, the son of an American sergeant from Harlem and a local woman from Hafenstrasse. A black Zuhalter was an anomaly in Hamburg, but his right-hand man was SS Tommy, a deadly killer without any humor. Te two of them controlled the six-floors of the Eroscenter and the thousands of Huren for their boss. Nigger Kali was always good to me. In truth he was my boss and not Count-No-Count.

SS Tommy believed in the Second Coming, but he was not a real Nazi. Not like those old men who had done things no one liked to speak about at parties or even behind their backs. Still when SS Tommy presented me a large bill for having sex with a blonde girl at BSIR, I handed him the keys to my car and left Hamburg that evening without saying good-bye to anyone. The Rechtung was for 20,000 DMs or $12,000. Everything had been itemized on his list.

Everything.

I escaped from Hamburg, knowing that SS Tommy was not a Nazi only because the Nazis had not won the war.

I considered myself lucky.

This autumn I have been living in Luxembourg. Triers, the ancient Roman city of 70,000, was a 45 minute ride on the train. I took the express in the morning and expected SS Tommy to be waiting on the platform. Maybe not him, but one of this minion or a neo-Nazi. They have become very active in the East. On the Moselle I studied the faces of the young and old. I didn’t see a single Nazi. It was, as if their genes had been erased from the race.

In town the only broken glass were from broken bottles and not the windows of Jewish homes and synagogues.

I ate a bratwurst and drank a beer.

I visited Karl Mark Haus. He had been born in the old city. The street is in the heart of the sex zone. Nothing was happening in the afternoon. As I stood outside the house and old man passed by me and muttered under his breath, “Juden.”

“And fuck you, you old Nazi.” My comment made him turn his head. “Ja, du alte arseloch.”

I rushed him and he cringed in expectation of a blow. His uplifted arm stopped my blow.

“Gehst heim,”I said in my German tainted by a Boston accent.

He was about 91. I was 59. One blow would have put him in the hospital and I would have gone to jail.

Some things never change.

“Nicht war.”

FALLEN BUT NOT FORGOTTEN by Peter Nolan Smith

On November 11, 2011 I accompanied the British and the American ambassadors to the US military cemetery outside Luxembourg City. Luxembourg was a small duchy. I looked out the window of the Jaguar. The morning sun struggled to break through the low fog. It would have little success on that day as it had at the end of 1944.

In December of 1944 over four thousand American fell in the Battle of the Bulge. Our troops had stopped the Nazis by Christmas, but the savage fight had been a close thing.

The German ambassador waited at the gate. He had come to lay a wreath in honor of the dead. Beyond him thousands of white crosses marked the graves of my fallen countrymen.

I got out of the British ambassador’s Jaguar and walked away from the assembled dignitaries like the old man at the beginning of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.

“Are you okay?” The American ambassador caught up with me at a wall rusty with autumn leaves.

“Yes.” There were tears in my eyes. These men were from my father’s generation. “I’m surprised by it all.”

“I felt the same way the first time I saw all these graves.” The ambassador was a few years older than me. “Let’s walk to the back of the cemetery.”

The dewy grass wet our shoes, as we checked the gravestones for names, ages, and states.

Each one had died in the bitter cold of December 1944. They hailed from every nationality. Most had been in their twenties. More than a few were from my home state of Massachusetts.

We arrived at the last row and returned to General Patton’s grave, who laid forever at the head of his army.

I think I got some more dust in my eyes, as a lone bugler played taps. The American ambassador patted my shoulder. We didn’t have to say another word.

The next day I traveled to Charleroi and mentioned this visit to an American friend. Vonelli poured me a glass of Orval Beer and we sat by the fire in his living room.

“My father had been with the artillery in the Battle of the Bulge and my old man never got over the horror of that winter.”

Vonelli was a veteran of a colder war from the 70s.

“Every morning the platoon commander would hold a lottery, which picked the forward observers from the ranks. After the results the chosen men would shake hands with their friends, knowing their chances of coming back in the evening were close to nil.”

“And they went?”

“It’s what they did,” Vonelli said with reverence.

I thought about the graves that the ambassador and I had passed yesterday and seeing those marked unknown.

“They were the best of the best.” We could only honor their sacrifice.

“That they were.”

Maybe the dust in my eye had had something to do with the lump in my throat, because those men had been us once and I am eternally grateful in the Here-Now as well as dedicated to keeping the peace in the Here-Beyond.

It’s the least I can do for those men.

11-11-11

On the 11th minute of 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 a permanent ceasefire was declared along the Eastern and Western fronts. Canadian George Lawrence Price was hit by the sniper’s bullet at 10:58 and he has long been thought to be the last casualty of that conflict, although?troops continued to shoot at each other for several hour after the armistice ended the 4-year global conflict.

11-11-11 occurs once a year.

Someone in the armistice committee must?have been?heavily influenced by numerology to have chosen this?powerful repetition of the first prime number to magically stop soldiers from killing each other.

Of course it could have just been a coincidences like 9/11/2001.

Today?the major combatant nations of World War I commemorated their fallen dead.

Over 65 million soldiers participated in the struggle.

According to Wikipedia the last living veteran of World War I (28 July 1914 ? 11 November 1918) was Florence Green, a British citizen who served in the Allied armed forces, and who died 4 February 2012, aged 110.[1] The last living combat veteran was Claude Choules who served in the British Royal Navy (and later the Royal Australian Navy). He died 5 May 2011, at the age of 110.

The last veteran to serve in the trenches was Harry Patch (British Army) who died on 25 July 2009, aged 111 and the last Central Powers veteran, Franz K?nstler of Austria-Hungary, died on 27 May 2008 at the age of 107.

My grandfather and grandmother served in France for the Canadian Medical expedition. They returned home on an ocean liner together and married soon after their arrival in Maine. The two veterans lived together for thirty-two years. My grandfather died the year I was born and my grandmother twenty years later.

She was the last WWI vet I knew.

I love her always.

WALTZING MATILDA the Pogues

The Fleet in the Dardanelles.

April 25, 1915.

The British Empire versus The Ottoman Empire.

Bloody disaster for Ireland.

Only one Dubliner officer survived the landing and of the 1,012 Dubliners who landed, just 11 survived the Gallipoli campaign unscathed.

And the rest of the Anzacs fared no better.

Fucking tea bag General Staff.

Peace.

No more wars.

Only fistfights.

To hear the Pogues’ WALTZING MATHILDA, please go to the following URL