Monday, 8 June 2020


Every year for the past twenty years I’ve driven back from L.A. to TO in April, in time for the Canadian spring (all three days of it) and filing taxes. But what do you do when your health insurance (Johnson, yes, you!) unilaterally cancels your coverage in the US on the grounds that the Canadian government is cautioning its citizens to return? Is there a bit of small print that covers that? Can they do that? Apparently yes. So I flew back and thought I’d retrieve the car when all this is over. Well, it isn’t over, and the Canada-US border is till closed. So no road trip this year. Instead this:

My car is taking the road trip on its own!

Sunday, 26 April 2020


These are extracts from Pierre Daye’s unpublished memoirs. For a short biography of this Belgian collaborator see my blogpost of 10 April 2010.

Daye on the Allies retaking Brussels in 1940:

I never thought it would go so fast. The departure of the Germans, without a return to peace or immediate prosperity, thrust the Belgian people into a situation worse than it had been for some months. The euphoria over the deliverance has already evaporated, and the poor government, full of illusions about [help from] London and very surprised that the population did not give them a warmer welcome, seems subdued. If this troubled state existed only in Belgium one might hope that it would improve after a few months, but the chaos and the anarchy is slowly spreading to all of Europe. The Bolsheviks may well laugh…

Daye, who was in Madrid, expected to be called before a tribunal to account for his collaboration:

I will not refuse to account for my actions if they believe that I personally have acted wrongly. My conduct is such that I have nothing to hide. I have acted honestly. And I am prepared, if I am given certain guaranties, to go to Brussels and explain my actions…

But all my hopes of understanding our country’s conduct of rapprochement and internal pacification has evaporated. I have also heard that a judicial instruction is being prepared against me in Brussels, that there is a call to have my possessions sequestered… I also hear talk of capital punishment both in Brussels and in Paris… [while I find myself] miraculously sheltered [in Madrid], and with my conscience at peace -- an interesting idea with which I will familiarize myself very quickly and which I can examine with all the calm philosophy it demands.

Daye was condemned to death in absentia and his possessions confiscated and auctioned off:

In the end I, who has remained faithful to a line of conduct which I continue to believe is just, am now persecuted, banned, and crushed with outrage.

            Do I regret my actions? Certainly I would have been happy not to take sides, not to say what I thought, going against the majority opinion of the public. That would have been the right thing. Then I would have been smart like so many others. In that sense, I am convinced, abandoned to my solitary hours, that I made a mistake. And without doubt, if I had to start over again, I would think twice about it. On the other hand, I was sincere and I believe that, in the end, to be so always has the moral advantage.

(Daye’s memoirs, pp. 1208, 1222, 1283-4, my translation)

Thursday, 16 April 2020


Daye's most famous book

Pierre Daye (1892 – 1960) was a Belgian monarchist, a member of the Catholic  branch of the Rexist party, and Commissaire of Sports 1943/4 during the German occupation. He published widely in French and Belgian magazines and wrote a number of books on the history of Belgium and on his travels in Africa and South America. When the Allies freed Belgium in 1944, Daye happened to be in Spain. He did not return and after the war was condemned to death in absentia as a collaborator. His efforts to overturn the judgment were unsuccessful. In 1947 he emigrated to Argentina, where he taught French civilization at the University of La Plata. He died in Buenos Aires in 1960, leaving behind an unpublished memoir of some 1600 typewritten pages.

Here is a translation of his thoughts on writing memoirs:

If a man writes his memoirs, who has never played a leading role in any event of historic significance, it may be proof that he is quite conceited. Inevitably it also means that he lacks discretion. At the very least it means he believes that he can tell some personal anecdotes that deserve attention. In a word, he is rather self-satisfied.

            And yet, if someone has witnessed, voluntarily or involuntarily, the events of a very strange period, and indeed the most interesting events, should he keep silent? A skilled observer, a journalist, moreover and a world traveller for much of my life, I have been involved in some disruptions unwillingly and have encountered people in all walks of life, exalted and lowly. I have a curious mind and am driven by a desire to observe, jot down my impressions, accumulate notebooks, keep a journal, perhaps to lay out confessions, or driven by the pleasure of narrating what Victor Hugo called choses vues, things seen. At one point I realized that I was witnessing a transformative age. I could see humanity pass through a time of extraordinary confusion, from one era to another. The circumstances of my birth put me into the last decade of the 19th century in a class that is now almost extinct – that of the bourgeoisie or rentiers living of investments. I have turned involuntarily, as so many others, into a proletarian. For the fact that I am an intellectual makes me no less a proletarian.  We have come from the era of capitalism and nationalism to that of socialism and perhaps communism.

            On the cusp of two epochs -- one could almost say, two worlds since the transformation of society was so radical -- I was also, physically, on two continents, Europe and South America. Over time, matters that seemed commonplace to me once, became picturesque or rare, and are now typical of what has disappeared. Therefore, I consider myself a witness, one of the masses, but nevertheless a witness of many things that are gone now or are on the point of disappearing, and thus may perhaps be worthy of attention. And I wish to bear testimony to them here.

            A good witness is someone who tells the truth without ulterior motives. I may be faulted for indiscretion or inaccuracy. Since I am making an effort to do justice to the time, I have no scruples perhaps to reveal matters about certain people who are in mid-career. And I hope that people who have turned away from me to take advantage of the circumstances will not find it too grievous to be treated without much delicacy.

            Furthermore, if I am perhaps indiscreet, if I happen to cite letters or bring out memories they would rather forget, I believe I have always been lenient in my judgment. To compose memoirs, to reproduce pages from a journal or out of letters, means pointing out trifling things on the margin of micro- and grand history. There will be no disclosures in these pages, no sensational shaking up, only some details perhaps, and some nuances that might help in rounding off certain portraits. One might reproach me for being foolish in my belief that these details, as well as certain personal notes, could be of interest, if not right now than at least later, when scholars and the curious attempt to understand a society that has now disappeared…

(Pierre Daye, memoirs pp. 21-23, my translation)

Friday, 10 April 2020


Believe me and read on. Here’s for

THE TECHNOPHOBE. You hate ZOOM? Think soothing thoughts of the pre-online age, when

-you had to use white-out to correct your typos

-when you had to adjust the settings on your camera, when your father-in-law ruined every family gathering by demanding you drop whatever little fun you were having and freeze-smile while he adjusted the setting on his camera

-when the letter you sent to Austria was returned “Addressee unknown” because it was routed to Australia by mistake.

-when it took your insurance company ages to reply to your query by snail mail – oh wait, it still takes ages, except now you can listen to an instant message assuring you that you are a valuable customer.

THE ANXIETY RIDDEN. Think about your past anxieties – how trivial they seem today! Remember when you bellyached about unimportant things like bad-hair days? —oh wait, you still do.

THE HYPOCHONDRIAC. Remember when you worried quite unnecessarily about every little cough? No, forget I said that. Keep worrying. Neurotics live longer than carefree people anyway -- unless their ulcers kill them first.

THE DAREDEVIL. Enjoy the unprecedented opportunities!

-Sit on park benches.

-Race up the Don Valley now that you can and defy the speeding ticket!

-Visit an emergency room and read a magazine someone has left behind. Do not wear a mask or your reading glasses. Keep your nose really close to the page and breathe in the air left behind by the last patient.


Monday, 3 February 2020


Two books, published a generation apart, and two ways of saying that you have hit rock-bottom.

Andrzej Szczypiorski, The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenman (1988):

It seemed to her sometimes, to her own surprise, that she had within herself a strange instrument that somehow resonated improperly, like a cracked fiddle…She was an old lonely Jewish woman on the streets of Paris, for whom the thought of Poland was like a wad in her throat, like a gag. She told herself sometimes: I am unfair…But why should I be fair? People have a right to be unfair when God afflicts them with misfortune.

Halle Butler, The New Me (2019)

One sign that she has is down and out:

She no longer enjoys being with her best friend. I’m finding it hard to conjure social excitement…I think, Oh whatever, as loud as I can, three times, and shake my head and shoulders.

Another sign:

She is watching old movies. There was no room for new information in her mind…She didn’t’ laugh at a joke in the movie, even though she acknowledged that it was conceptually funny.

The ultimate sign:

Her mother no longer asks her to phone home. She doesn’t exactly hang up on her, but she tells me that that’s kind of enough for her tonight, and I silently commend her for her honesty.