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Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Céline in the Baltic I: Arrival / Klarskovgaard (Spring)


File:Numenius arquata flying.jpg

He looked up and down the deserted cobblestone street. Rows of neat cottages with thatched roofs and white plaster walls lined both sides. At one end of the street the docks of the small port of Korsør were visible. Beyond, a patch of open sea changed in color from bleak gray blue to a glittering light green and back again as clouds broke, then re-formed in front of the sun. The only sounds were the cries of curlews overhead and occasional toots coming from the port -- the whistle of a ferryboat loading for its trip across the Grand Belt.

Letting out an exaggerated sigh, Céline shouldered his rucksack, planted his stick on the cobbles and began propelling himself forward. Soon he'd achieved the swaying, shuffling gait that was his normal pace. With Bébert nestled in a sack slung round his neck, and in an overlarge topcoat that went almost down to his ankles, he gave what might have passed for a clown's impression of the Wandering Jew. At his side Lucette, with her erect carriage and dancer's poise, appeared less his companion than his keeper.

A half-mile from the port they found the Korsør police station. Mikkelsen had given them instructions to register there. In hesitant English, the local police chief spelled out the conditions of their residence in the area. After that, his English seemed to break down completely. He made a phone call to summon a taxi for them, then wished them a brusque good day.

The taxi, a large American sedan, had seen better days. Once the driver understood where Céline wanted to go, he frowned and said he didn't like to use that road in bad weather -- it wasn't paved. Céline pointed at the sky: Wasn't the weather good today? The driver glanced up doubtfully at the puffy white clouds scudding across a blue backdrop. As he looked, the sky became overcast again. He shook his head. Céline pulled a handful of kroner out of his pocket and began bargaining.

File:Gespensterwald 2.JPG

Minutes later he and Lucette were in the back of the battered taxi, bumping through the side streets of Korsør. The road ran along the harbor, then followed low tumbling shoreline dunes. They passed an old wooden lighthouse, a few small farms, a thin red cow or two; after that, nothing. The coastal plain stretched out in an unvarying sandy-yellow expanse, chalk white in places where morning frost still dusted a patch of moss or tree stump. The travelers noticed ice slicks lining the inside rims of ruts in the muddy road. Before long the driver got stuck in one particularly deep furrow, spinning his wheels intermittently for several minutes before the big car lurched free of the mud to slither a little further down the road.

Five miles outside Korsør the terrain began to undulate slightly, hayfields dipping off toward the sea in a mild slope on one side, climbing to stands of brush and sparse woods on the other. Soon the neatly cultivated fields were divided by boxwood hedgerows, clusters of lilac just coming into flower and rows of ornamental shrubs. Under the hedgerows the sandy ochre soil was brightened by spring blooms -- pale yellow primroses, deep blue and purple hyacinths, and wavy white anemones. They'd come to a large property bordered to the east and west by beeches and evergreens. Its several substantial buildings were all in the same whitewashed farmhouse style, with deep red wooden crossbeams and green-gray thatched roofs. An apple orchard tucked between the main buildings presented a showy array of white blossoms. To the south, several hundred meters away some smaller structures were partially blocked from sight by a dark bank of pines, beneath which the land dropped off in uneven cliffs to the slate-blue Baltic.

The driver veered off onto a rugged track that led toward the big thatched house at the front of the estate.

"Klarskovgaard," he said, grinding his gears.

File:Baltic Sea (Darlowo).JPG

from The Exile of Céline: TC, 1986
Numenius arquata (curlew) flying
: photo by M. Buschman, 2007

Steilküste am Gespensterwald bei Nienhagen: photo by Ch. Pagenkopf, 2007
Baltic Sea: photo by Argonowski, 2008


TC said...

This and the three posts below are extracts from my novel The Exile of Céline (Random House, 1986), a fictional construction upon the life of the French writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline.

For those who are curious:

more about Céline

Pierre Joris said...

Fun to come back to the USSR to find your Céline — when the best read this summer in France was the new bio of LFC by Yves Buin — be well, Pierre

TC said...


Well, we remember that for Céline one trip to the "real" USSR proved more than enough (though Trotsky loved Journey to the End of the Night and famously said L.-F. C. had walked into the novel the way other men walk into their living rooms). It was the shortcomings of medical hygiene in the birthing wards that particularly repelled him. Not that he wasn't equally impatient with all systems of empire. There is a wonderful letter he wrote in English, from 98 rue Lepic, to the American publisher of Journey, on the brink of his first and only visit to the US. (It was not an "author tour", he was interested in scouting Hollywood movie prospects and traveling out of pocket: as he told the publisher, "Literary opinions have little to do with prosperity as you know".)

Quoting in part:

"I surely will absolutely refuse to have anything *to do with* the boat interviewers. I will not either participate in banquet, dinner, lunch, tea, or other. Absolutely not -- no use trying -- I don't like to eat with other people -- I don't like to sit at table at all -- But to be very nice for your publicity I will see privately 2 or 3 people you will choose at different times."

If this stringent version of author etiquette were to be applied nowadays, there would surely be no more authors, no more promotional tours (why does that feel like it might be a great relief?)

TC said...

(Now that I recall, the term Trotsky used was not "novel" but "literature" -- a somewhat more expansive "living room".)

Ricardo Guadalupe said...

Hello, I am fan Spanish of Céline, and I have enjoyed much your posts about its life in Denmark, with more reason considering that I traveled to those earth only fifteen days ago. By all means, I did not let pass the opportunity and I visited the Vestre Faengsel, the jail where it was locked up in Copenhagen. It is a pleasure to find people with whom to share this admiration by Céline. In addition, the photos that you have added to texts are really beautiful.
A greeting,

TC said...


Many thanks for visiting. I wonder how many of Céline's readers have taken the trouble to follow his trail as far as Vestre Faengsel.