which enables the Author, a retired American gent, to begin his digression upon spies and tender a description of tranquil life in this medieval village of Provence, with its tiny fountains, ruins, and flock of swallows, while he and his beautiful wife await a computer expert and friend from Switzerland, Christoph Marx, together with a lady, Selena, who spreads the gospel of dietary foods; but he cometh not, nor respondeth to phone or electronic mail, yet she is reached finally, who most fearfully whispers that Marx has disappeared into solitary confinement suspected of Soviet espionage.
HOW many times have I heard my friends say that so-and-so, a mutual acquaintance or a stranger in the news, was assuredly a spy. And from time to time I have had to endure their speculations about myself. People are naturally paranoid.
It's been nearly a half-century since the dissolution of the Office of Strategic Services, yet no year has gone by without some intimation that I belonged to "the Intelligence Community," or some inquiry as to whether I had been a spy, or even whether I was still a spy. Various reasons have given rise to such speculations, which have been voiced in a dozen languages.
Maybe in the course of this book, dedicated to discovering whether Christoph Marx was a spy, I can find my identity in the realm of spydom. I bid as openers that my appearance is natural and unassuming, and never was I paid to spy (or was I?). Thus, I hardly resemble the well-known intelligence agent, Archimedes Patti. We were together briefly in the Office of Strategic Services and in North Africa way back when.., and I felt exposed, because one look at Patti and, well, there goes a sure-fire spy, down to the smoked glasses, the curl of the taut lip and the silence that spoke louder than words.
I am more like a schoolmate, Lev Brandy, a brilliant scholar, who has resided for ages in Helsinki, why, for God's sake, there, happy over countless Arctic winters, faintly suspicious, no?
My wife agrees with others, sometimes blithely and sometimes with concern, that I have found myself in too many exotic places and never in the stream of tourism, and I spend my time so ambiguously in closeted intellectualism and in wandering about seemingly without reason, that it is not remarkable for suspicion to fall upon me.
Furthermore, am I not continually emitting judicious appraisals of people, and of countries, remarks that do not follow the laws of mad chauvinism which govern normal speech. I myself find nothing peculiar in such conduct of mine, but "You always think that you know better," she warns me, that therefore I know what espionage is all about and what a real spy (a generic term without enough specification to be useful) is like. And it is precisely my arrogant dismissal of the opinions of the population, who refuse to be disabused of their myths that, to their view, points the finger of suspicion at me.
Nonetheless, I have not had trouble to amount to much these past forty-odd years, and was certainly not expecting any now. If any idea were to occur today it would be that I am a retired spy -- all spies die in bed, you know, almost all. At least I should think so.
Although here, too, there is a small problem, my wife, who has chosen to be young and beautiful, who is silent to a fault, as the wives of spies should be. This is what I mean when I speak of spies dying in bed. (A gal won a Goncourt once with a novel about an old chappie who died locked in his mistress' arms, in media res, so to speak, and a lift truck had to be called to disassemble the congregation.) Hence this is suspicious. And she calls me out of retirement, ta-ta-ta! Nor is she one to lull snoopy characters, as I shall detail to you later on. I will say this of her, though, she seems never to have suspected that I might be a spy.
I am implying that miracles do not last forever. There is always a chance that the silliest of incidents, a particle of evidence, a smidgin of suspicion will catch up with a person and put him in a tight spot. And as I write these lines for you to read, I would not be surprised by a knock on the door, or whatever it is in these days of high technology that lets one know that his doom has arrived -- a high whistling in his ear or another electronic sign, a voice talking over his VCR, or some such event.
It is the First of April, and as I push heavily against the great window's shutters to open my study upon dawning Saint-Martian and the Vaucluse spread far and wide below, there is assuredly no idea of espionage upon my mind. I am an early riser. At least two pages -- no fooling! -- have already scrolled down the screen and been commanded "Save."
Then I am reminded of my fish basin below and stand glowering down upon it. I can make out faint gold images moving in the grey-green aquatic screen.
I resent them, these carp types, for having sent belly-up my lovely Japanese fan-tail.
I could not tell the difference, so rank an amateur, between lust and murder, and did not extract the fan-tail in time, believing that the goldfish trailing hotly in her wake were admirers, like myself -- even while feeling uneasy at this excessive attention.
If only she had called for help! If only I could understand her if she were calling for help. She must have been desperate. Often you can't understand people when they are calling for help, no more than fish.
The carp are multiplying and the small fry are still dark-colored, difficult to see until the sun comes around the corner of the house from over the Luberon range, first trickling ruddily down the leading edges of the flatted buff stone walls, then drenching the whole without shadow.
Whereupon I can count them all, fifteen, sixteen.
I am concerned about cannibalism, the larger chewing up the smaller. People, now, no longer express their cannibalism, except symbolically. But -- my eyes must move to it -- look at that gaping space, by the pond and next to the house! It took two men and a car to steal the heavy concrete planter filled with dirt into which we had placed carefully a large budding honeysuckle just the other day. What two-bit goniffs pulled that job?
Is that a way to treat friendly foreigners? (That's us.) I am even an officially denominated August 15, 1944 Liberator of this area, complete with ribbons and medals.
"You'd think we were back in America, the way people around here steal!" (anon.)
It's nothing, I argue, autotherapeutically. Everything is nothing. I am nothing. And nothing can and cannot be more than slightly bad. (I coin maxims, apropos; there's no money in a bon mot; it's just fun.)
But I am no buddhist. I cannot pretend that I am what I know I ain't, to wit, nothing.
You see, there may be no espionage on my mind, but no gaping serenity either.
I need the swallows. Flying by my window. They are due to return sometime this month. I need to turn my gaze skywards like the primeval sculptures of the human race, the marble harpist of my Kykladic island Naxos, among others. Enthralled, adoring, for the swifts are like shooting stars.
I begin to ask myself why Christoph Marx has not shown up. He is supposed to arrive this day, April 1, 1987, most likely in the company of Selena, for he spoke of bringing along a friend. They will stop here on their way to some wierdo diet-and-elevated-life conference in Spain. Presumably he would drive down from Basle in his station wagon, a Honda "Shuttle." The name evokes irony in people, he told us, ever since the disaster of the USA Space Shuttle "Challenger." The trip would take him about six hours.
He is a fast and good driver. Back in the fifties, he raced a Porsche Carrera and later splurged his fortune on a Bentley. (But spies go in for Aston-Martins. My friend Jean-Yves Beigbeder had an Aston-Martin before he mysteriously drowned off the Island of Nevis; he used to show me the spy-like devices on the thing and it did go like hell, which pleased Jean who liked to drive like hell.)
I am never worried, though, with Marx at the wheel. This morning, he would have crossed quickly the border above Basle, suffered a perfunctory glance at their Swiss passports, with maybe a peek into the boot, and proceeded onto the highway to Lyon.
There he would pick up the Autoroute du Soleil, step up his speed to an even 150 kilometres per hour, and pull off when he got to Avignon Nord, from where he would make his way to National 100, the old Roman Route from Cadiz to Milan, and after striking the Calavon River at the far end of the Town of Apt (Apta Julia to the Romans) climb the hill a couple of hundred meters to our house, beyond the second playful fountain, just past the clock tower.
They will sleep on the twin beds of the large guest room of the second floor, "third floor" to us Americans, which has a patio with a sweeping view of the Luberon range and the Valley of Apt. They'll have good weather. They may be able to see the sombre rises of the volcano-ridden Massif Central off to the Northwest; they'll have to step around the corner to see the Alps, which are still topped with snow.
How complete is La Belle France! And she packages it so well into five-sixths the area of Texas.
I shall get Christoph up at a good hour of the morning to solve some problems that my computer is giving me. It once belonged to him. That's his business: computers. My Bondwell IBM PC clone embeds a 10 MB hard disk memory; I had told him that I needed 20 megabytes and I have already gone a fair distance toward loading the disk with my special brand of garbage -- copious notes and works of world politics, quantavolution and autobiography -- and moreover I continually overload the 640 K RAM and cannot figure out how to relay stuff from the one to the other memory bank.
I can't find the right messages, if there are such, in my MS-DOS or Smart Software packages. I suspect, too, that Marx has doctored up the machine with extra junk I don't need, such as certain German programs. Maybe he's got some dead bodies buried in it.
So this Boulean Babbage bastard needs elucidating. More has been written to explain MS-DOS, the standard opeating system for personal computers, than of guide books to Paradise. Certainly as sweet as a paradisiac promise are the opening lines of the MS-DOS User's Guide:
Microsoft (R) MS (tm)-DOS is a disk operating system for 8086/8088-based computers. Through MS-DOS, you communicate with the computer, disk drives, and printer, managing these resources to your advantage.
I hate to take time out from engendering my masterpiece to figure it out. As Peter Lewis has written in the New York Times, "Manuals are basically incomprehensible. Supposedly `user-friendly' software is anything but that."
Still, mark you, bad as they are at communicating, computers are better than humans, or swallows.
A computer, if you program it nicely and understand its premises (or "prejudices"), speaks quite clearly. Everywhere its logic moves, you can follow right along like Mary's Little Lamb. Because it can't be other than what you and some other guys have made of it.
Christoph Marx, beclouded genius of Basle computerdom, who has praised excessively the capabilities of computers for artificial intelligence, is harder to understand, to predict, and to relate to, than any computer, not excepting this solemn clone that awaits his cleansing and clarifying ministrations.
I had said, "You're a poor teacher, Chris, do you know that?"
I guess I could allow myself to pass such remarks, after having for thirty years taught college students, lectured to troops, and conducted roundtables of politicians and businessmen.
He was not at all offended, as I, for instance, should have been. Rather, he smiled engagingly and replied, "I know I am."
This was one reason why he couldn't make much money selling computers. He could not understand why his customers would not learn from the manuals that he thrust upon them, why they refused to shake hands with systems that spoke an Asiatic dialect.
Furthermore, he has an oblique insinuating way of speaking, so that what is supposed to be an explanation becomes involuted, acquires figures of speech that are not germane, makes ideological and archaelogical references that create static, and ends up sounding like a rendering of Deuteronomy, or worse, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, in both of which he is more interested than in computer sales.
Marx is due here also to consult upon computer publishing, our chosen medium for circumventing the obstructionism of the academic and scientific establishment. The theory of ancient catastrophes requires a revision of every branch of knowledge. Once the catastrophes are fixed in the primeval age of mankind according to some such scheme as I have set forth in Chaos and Creation, then Biblicism, Darwinism, Newtonism, Einsteinism -- all the 'isms, 'ologies, 'tics, 'trys, and 'iences will need to be reconsidered.
If anything requires utter clarity and literalness, it is the computer. It is a metaphor in itself, a gigantic metaphor of the human mind as a primitive but brilliantly speedy counter by zeros and ones.
Even this would be too kind to the machine, for according to the Quantavolutionary Theory of Homo Schizo, the human mind lept immediately from a no-account no-can-count to a wizard of algebra and all stages in-between. We never passed through a Computeroid Age; we hopped over it.
Nor can the computer by itself act metaphorically, that is, it cannot invent its own metaphors. For instance, it will not melt with nostalgia because it conjures up how, "In his wedding suit, he looked like a swallow."
Nor can it, for example, think, as can I, "She is enamoured of herself." (Which is probably true.)
This is a tough one, I grant you. But I shall try to help the computer as much as I can.
The best that I can come up with is this bill of instructions to the dumb bloke:
* Here is a list of descriptors of so-defined humans.
* Here is a list of descriptors of Filly Falcone, and
her behaviors, a unique case of a person.
* Here is a list of descriptors of love, "being in love
* (Love being a transaction) here is a list of persons
who transact with Filly on various affairs, including her own inner self and body.
Now what will happen is that I will need to put more and more descriptors into all four categories to come closer and closer to the probability that the computer will match Filly with herself, until finally the machine is inevitably forced to conclude that "She loves Herself". Narcissa!
But I have solved the problem for it. That is, I have made it impossible for the computer not to solve the problem.
Now I can sense the fury of the crowd of computer technicians! I have selected a most difficult kind of problem!
I have, yes, but for the machine. For the human it is a simple problem, the solution to which dawns in the mind of every infant upon birth if not earlier, actually earlier, for it is genetically ordained. Self-awareness!
The one thing that humans alone have! The one thing we cannot give away!
Thus I cannot teach the computer to figure out that you are, she is, or I am a narcissist unless I actually solve the problem for it. What I can do is to train the computer to come up very quickly with Narcissism as the pre-defined solution of a character problem in a person whose traits and symptoms are well known, in the face of traits and syndromes of the population from which the person emerges.
This of course is already being done with a number of diseases. A properly programmed computer can help an idiot to diagnose an aching sacroiliac as the product of excessive equitation, and prescribe frequent dismounting.
The computer must be dead clear, dead sharp, dead serious, sticking to its infant logic into which humans have translated some of their self-conscious mental processes. It is barren of irony, of humor. You can never say to it, "Do you catch the point?" unless you have loaded it with the answer to a prompt. They say, "You can't promote a promoter," and you can't metaphorize a metaphor.
In its stupidity it is disturbingly reliable. I keep waiting for it to break into tears and remonstrations at my incessant commands, but it doesn't do so. It follows orders, strictly, without the slightest sign of impatience, although I actually feel pangs of conscience -- imagine that -- when I am saving the same material for the fortieth time. I have actually caught myself "sparing the beast" and as a result losing valuable stuff that should have been saved by the pressing of a key. I am hopelessly anthropomorphic.
Now the days go by. I continue to pack my hard disk with personal reminiscences of the military campaign of World War II in this very region of France. Filly -- short for Philomena -- works steadily in her aerie on her giant Indian novel. She writes in French, is French in fact, out of Mulhouse, so she knows Basle, whence comes Marx, it being just a hoot and a holler down the road. She plants herbs and roses, because these will survive our long and frequent absences.
We are waiting for Marx to come and go, so we can finish our tasks, tie up loose ends, and fly to the Island of Naxos, where a cabin made of marble is waiting for us, isolated on a rocky promontory.
We have considered renting our house in Saint-Martian while away. We are ambivalent. A snobbish real estate agent from Apt tells Filly that she can get 10,000 francs a month for us plus her commission but can't be concerned much about loss and destruction, regarding her other homes to be fancier; tant pis! Moreover, our French informants tell us, "Rent your home and you'll be sorry."
We end up with friends of friends, Americans from Brussels, the Wrigleys, he being an ex-European Director of Dow-Jones, Inc. I feel somehow, oh, well, I am familiar with the ways in which Americans wreak their will upon houses. I'm used to it. But French?.. I take the French at their word. Actually in the end we get an additional set of Americans.
Maybe they'll root in and we'll have more Americans around for company. What the hell, am I a chauvinist? Of course not, and you'll learn why as fast as I can get to it. Anyhow, I'm glad it's Wall Street folks and not my Italian journalist friends of l'Unitá, official organ of the Partito Communista, considering what happens next.
April 15, more or less, arrives. I say "more or less" because I now realize that we have been bugged from here to Basle: The secret police will know the exact dates.
The swallows have returned to Saint-Martian.
We have lived scarcely a year in our own niche, yet sufficiently to have deduced that the flock of swallows that swoop upon us every day of their warm-weather presence prefer our private quarter to the public spaces. They are free, they solicit no visa, respect no distinction between public and private, socialist or capitalist property, are born spies of the sky.
What the swallows can do and do do before our very eyes and over our garden is this: they approach on a long parabolic flight from the hill slope that descends to Apt, dart in, and here, where the insects are defiling North and South along Le Quay, snatch them up, decelerate from 100 kph to 10 kph in the few meters remaining before crashing into the stone walls, execute an amazing about-turn into the open space of sky, there engorge their prey while in flight, compose themselves like skiers at a summit, and turn to swoop again.
It is now sure death for insects flitting down Le Quay.
I am worried that some particular bird -- old, young, crazy, ill, or otherwise abnormal -- will crash its furious force into one of us humans or a window. Not yet. A thousand dashes per night, 7000 per week, nary an accident. A human cannot even walk through his home without endangering himself. I conducted a survey once about Americans and their accidents; they're more afraid of their bathtubs than their lover's spouse!
I could put an end to my disconcerting aviary by exploding a firecracker now and then -- I don't know for sure, they are very numerous, and may strongly insist on its being their air space -- and besides I am a kind person, as I said, respectful of precedent and freedom, especially when these do not conflict.
Stay! (I like this word from old English novels.) I am protesting my kindness overly much. Hitler was fond of children and dogs, and we used to call the other mass murderer "Uncle Joe" for his reputed avuncular traits. The Israeli are about to execute one of the last of that generation of killers to be found alive, Demjanjuk of Treblinka, "Ivan the Terrible."
I have telephoned Marx once, then a second time, a week apart. His message is on-line. In Deutsch. Says that he would be pleased if you would leave a message. The machine duly records my words. "Hello Chris, this is Alex. I had expected to see you or hear from you. I am having troubles with the computer. I need your advice. Let me know when you are coming. What's up? Hope all goes well." Or words to that effect.
No response. No call. No letter.
I am concerned. I don't call him often. He is prompt and responsible in answering. Later, I realize that it would have appeared suspicious if I had called him often. The reason why I don't is that I call no one in the world frequently except a lover, nor am I a suppliant or plaintiff; "I've been trying to reach you, where have you been", is a distasteful sentence to me. Accordingly, I resent people making me phone more than twice even if they might give me something gorgeous, lucious, or meretricious. What deplorable sensibilities has Homo Schizo!
Finally I decide to call Selena. She must know what's up with him. Else they've quarreled. I didn't call her before because she might be jealous if he were driving down without her or with someone else. What else can I think?
She runs a boutique for all kinds of health food. Each grubby tuber is a character, a conversation piece. Every sale comes off as if the food were a pet. She is more a dietician and hostess than a produce-monger.
I reach her easily enough. Once she knows it is me, she becomes confused and incoherent. So naturally I begin to pitch my ears at some personal fall-out. She doesn't want to talk. She says, "I can't talk." And finally I understand that she is saying that she can't talk. (Studies show that 30% of hearing is knowing what you're going to hear.)
"What do you mean, you can't talk? Do you want me to call you back? Where is Christoph? It's him I want to talk to."
"No, no, I can't talk."
"Merde!" I mutter. "I don't understand. What are you saying? Are you angry with him?"
"No, no, Chris is in trouble and I can't say."
"What kind of trouble?"
"I can't say!"
I hang up the phone. Has he gone broke? Has he had a car accident? Has he erased contemptuously someone's new astronomical data base? Maybe on the reported Supernova in the Magellan Cloud? A couple of days later, I try again. I am beginning to think that he may be in worse trouble than I had imagined.
Again she is confused and stubborn.
"I can't tell you anything. I don't know when I can tell you. It is bad trouble."
"Where is he?" I am stubborn too.
"The police. They arrested him. They told me not to tell anybody. They threatened me." But now she couldn't stop talking. "He is arrested for espionage. With the Russians. Yes, don't tell anybody, I'll get in much trouble for talking to you."
"Can I talk to him, can anybody talk to him?"
"No, no. Nobody. Nobody can see him."
"Get him a lawyer. Listen to me. Get him a lawyer."
"He can't have a lawyer. Nobody can talk to him."
"Can I do anything?"
"Nobody can do anything."
"We are leaving for Naxos. Here is my number, 222-13, ask for Pavlos, my agent Pavlos. He will get me. If I can do something."
Uneasy. What's he up to now? How can the police hold a man incommunicado, without a defense attorney standing by, in Switzerland; it's not a police state.
Further, I am irritated, frustrated at having sources of my intelligence displaced. It's like losing an important file with the latest materials in it.
I climbed the stairs to Filly's studio. "Marx is in trouble for spying; with the Soviets."
She never seems amazed. "So that's it."
"I suppose the next thing is, they'll be on to me." I laughed.
She thought about the news for a while.
"I'll bet he's been selling them a lot of garbage," I said. We both had to laugh.