Never, never, never, was that little watering place aware of anything--the little watering place with its vulgar municipal council elected by avaricious mountaineers whose only lightness lay in their light-opera costume.
Ah, why isn't everything light opera!... Why doesn't everything revolve to the tune of that English waltz "Myosotis," which they played so often that year at the Casino, while I sat dejected in a corner, as you can well imagine--a waltz so properly melancholy, evoking so irrevocably the last, last lovely days!... (If I could only, with a word, make you drunk with the spirit of that waltz before allowing you to enter my little tale.)
O gloves never touched by cleaning fluid! O brilliant and melancholy comings and goings of those lives! O forgivable appearances of happiness! O beauties growing old in black lace by the fireside, without ever understanding the behavior of the strong lively sons to whom they had given birth with such modest melancholy!...
Little town, little town of my heart.
Now invalids no longer walk round and round the Springs, holding their carefully graduated glasses. Now baths are the thing --water at 25 degrees centigrade--then a stroll and a nap; baths for neurotics, and especially for women and for the womanly who are in such bad shape.
You see them wandering about, these good neurotics, dragging feet that will never again waltz to the delicate formal air of "Myosotis," or pushed about on the frayed leather of their wheelchairs. You see them suddenly leave their seats during concerts at the Casino, emitting those peculiar sounds of involuntary swallowing; you see them whirl around in the course of their walks, bringing their hands to their necks as if some joker had just slashed them with a razor. You meet them in the woods, their disturbed faces twitching, strewing bits of torn letters in the antediluvian ravines. These are the neurotics, children of too brilliant a century; you find them everywhere.
Here, as elsewhere, the kindly sun, lover of snakes, cemeteries, and waxdolls, also attracts a few consumptives, slow of step but dear to the dilettante.
In better days they used to gamble at the Casino. (O brilliant and irresponsible days mourned by this foolish heart! ) Since the gambling has stopped--O shade of Prince Canino, your faithful Leporello still at your side, what inglorious gravedigger tends you now?--the rooms are sad indeed, the rooms with their guards in brass-buttoned blue uniforms are quite deserted. But in the reading room, still well stocked with newspapers, there is always one or the other of the neurotics to drive you out: the noise of their involuntary swallowing makes the copy of the Temps fall from your hands. The old gaming room has nothing to offer but Dutch tops and Jockey billiards, showcases filled with prizes for childish lotteries, and tables in the comers for chess and checkers. Another room acts as storage space for the grand piano of yesteryear-O incurably romantic ballades of Chopin, you have put another generation to rest, while the girl who plays you this morning is in love, and believes that love was unknown in the world before her, before the arrival of her distinguished and matchless heart: she laments, O Ballades, your inglorious exile! Now no one lifts this piano's faded chintz cover; but the breezes of lovely evenings try out strange harmonica arpeggios on the crystal stalactites of a chandelier that once lit up so many plump shoulders dancing to the naughty tunes of Offenbach.
Ah, from the terrace of the naughty Casino of old one looks out on a thick grassy tennis court. On this healthy expanse all the truly modern, muscled makers of history, fresh from their showers, give vent to their animal spirits, their bare arms and proud bodies ready to take charge of the educated and free young ladies, who go elegantly limping about in low-heeled shoes, holding up their heads to fresh air and to Man... (Instead of cultivating their immortal souls and meditating on death and illness, as good Christians should.)
Beyond this greensward of modern youth lie the slopes of the first hills and the Greek chapel with gilded cupolas, to whose vaults are relegated the royal remains of the princes of Stourdza.
And farther on, the Villa X. in which sulks a fallen Catholic queen, rather illiterate to tell the truth, whose guest book these days is almost bare of names, but who still thinks of herself as the great drawing-card of the district.
And then more hills, touched-up color plates of romantic towers and picture-postcard cottages.
And above this ridiculous little town and its encircling hills stretch the infinite heavens, which are lost to these delicate ladies: they never step out, in fact, without putting a frivolous umbrella between themselves and God.
The Entertainment Committee does a fine job: Venetian evenings, balloon ascensions (the balloonist is always called Karl Securius), merry-go-rounds, séances of spiritualism and antispiritualism--all to the accompaniment of a valiant little band that nothing in the world could prevent from trooping to the Springs at half past seven every morning to play its overture for the day. Then in the afternoon under the acacias of the Promenade--O solos of the little harpist who dresses in black, blanches her face with powder, and lifts her eyes to the roof of the bandstand, hoping to be snatched away by some exotic invalid whose soul trembles like her harp strings! Then in the evening under the indispensable electric light--O March from Aïda on the cornet, ascending to the indubitable and fantastic stars!...
There you have it, the little luxurious spa. There it is like an elegant hive tucked away in a valley. All these wandering couples are rich with a past spent heaven knows where; and no proletarians in sight Oh, would that all European capitals were nice little watering places!--the only underlings on view are those that luxury offers, grooms, coachmen, cooks in white on the stoops in the evening, donkey drovers, and drivers of the cows that provide milk for the consumptives. And every language and every human type of the civilized world.
At twilight when the band is playing and one yawns a bit, lifting one's eyes to this eternal circle of trim green hills and to the people strolling round and round with pale, intense smiles, one has indeed the maddening sensation of being in a luxurious prison, with its green exercise ground, and that the prisoners are invalids suffering from a romantic past, banished here far from the serious capitals where Progress continues on its merry way.
We used to take supper on the terrace. Not far away was the table of Princess T., a big, badly built, overrated brunette who thought herself a wit (what a mistake! ) surrounded by her little group who shared her opinion (another mistake! )... I would sit and watch the fountain leap diabolically toward Venus' as it rose on the horizon. Waking echoes from the valley, rockets also climbed, rockets like other fountains or perhaps more like the stars, stars as indubitable and fantastic to both fountain and rocket as to the March from Aïda fulminating nostalgically from that thinking reed, the comet. How ineffable those evenings were! You who were there and who had not yet drawn, as a lightning rod draws lightning, your unknown fiancée, look no more, for the one you would find today would surely be another, a substitute, a poor substitute.
O little town, you once were my only love, but now no longer. Since she--She---has died, I rarely return, I have hardly anything more to do with you; not because of sentimentality, although sentimentality is not all that frivolous people take it to be, but because of an indefinable something that has no name in any language, something like the voice of the blood.