victor serge’s Mexican notebooks 1940-47

Imgresat the New Left Review:

Marseille, winter 1940–41. Narrow back streets dingy by day, lost in the shadows by night, criss-crossed by washing lines draped with clothes strung from the windows. Narrow and slippery, the stone oozing poverty, magnificent ancient mansions now lairs with vast entrances like caverns (carved gates, rue de la Prison). Stench. Pizzas, Greek, Russian, Annamite, Chinese restaurants. Rue de la Bouterie, the brothels with their lights out, Chat Noir, Magdeleine, Lucy, locked doors for the rush of sailors, notices in several languages. At the bottom of the alleyway, the port’s bright lights, spindly masts, Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde on the golden rock in the distance, the azure sky.

An Annamite or Chinese procession (funeral, festival?) files past in the rain under banners of cloth and coloured paper. Scampering, the thin, sallow faces of smart but sad coolies.

Lively square, ancient fine houses, baths, the church below the hospital. We go inside to admire the Easter crèche, with all its little figurines at work, sawing wood, shoeing horses, etc. For twenty sous, the figures move.

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