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Authors: Jan Morris

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His first job was to be French observer at the concessionary courts, which dealt with all cases involving nationals of the mandatory powers, but whose judges were appointed directly by the League. ‘Such a collection, you can have no idea! It was like a music-hall. We had judges, I swear to you, who never saw a court of law before. The convenor would hiss at them ‘Twelve years', ‘Deport him', or ‘Insufficient evidence', and His Honour would gather his robes around him, put on his gravest face, and do what he was told. It was killing! We had a judge from Texas, I remember (you must realize Americans were not so worldly then), who used to bring his accordion with him to court, to entertain us between cases. In the evening it was the thing for us young attaches, the Italians, the Germans, ourselves — we were all good friends — to go out to the Palace of Delights in Yuan Wen Kuo; once after a particularly gruelling fraud case, I remember, hour after hour in the hot courts, we all went out there to relax, and who should we discover playing his accordion in the Hall of Fair Beauties but old Judge Bales, surrounded by girls and half-incoherent with opium!'

‘You seem to have lived merry old lives.'

‘In the early years, very merry. Things changed later, as the world changed. But when New Hav was really new we were intoxicated by it all. You must remember the Great War had not long ended, we were lucky to be alive at all, and here we were working together in this place almost as though our peoples had never been enemies.

‘Besides, in the twenties and thirties Hav was extremely smart. My Polova was no exaggeration. The Russian aristocrats were still in their villas here, living on the last of their jewels and ikons, and when the Casino was opened, about 1927 I think it was, anybody who had a steam-yacht in the Mediterranean came to Hav sooner or later. People used to take the train from Paris to Moscow especially to catch the Mediterranean Express down here — you should talk to the tunnel pilots, they have amazing things to recall.

‘You see that poor old hotel there, the Bristol? It doesn't look much now, does it? but believe me it was as smart as any hotel in Europe for a few years. Noël Coward wrote most of
there, did you know? I met him at the Agency one evening, a tiresome person I thought him. Hemingway used to go there too — they will still mix you a very nasty cocktail called Papa's Sting, I believe . . .

‘All the great performers came. Goodman, Chevalier, the Hot Club de France. We met them all. My first chief here was a very great swell, the Marquis de Chablon, and he virtually set up a court at our Residency. The Germans and the Italians had nobody so
, the governors after Kolchok were nonentities, so really the social whirl of Hav revolved around us. For a young man, and especially a young artist, it was a dream. Out of season we had to find our own pleasures — shooting on the escarpment, pony-racing, the Palace of Delights of course. But in the summer, my God! we lived like millionaires!'

We were strolling as we walked, in the warm of the evening, among the straggly press of the boulevards, and their mingled smells of food, dirt, jasmine and imperfectly refined gasoline. We had walked all through the Italian quarter, and down past the Schiller Fountain (in whose water ugly fat carp swam in the half-light — ‘like submarines', said Sauvignon. ‘Don't you think so? — yellow submarines') and we were in his own territory now, on the pavement opposite the Bristol. He took my arm. ‘You have half an hour?' he said. ‘Join me in an aperitif — and a glimpse of the past.'

We passed through the huge dark foyer, where an old porter rose to his feet as Sauvignon passed by, and a clerk behind the reception desk, in open-necked pale-blue shirt and gold necklace, murmured a greeting; we passed the almost empty dining-room, decorated with large now-brownish murals of Parisian life; and pushing open a brass-handled double door inlaid with figures of seahorses and mermaids, we entered the Bar 1924. It was absolutely packed. Every table was full, but an obliging waiter, recognizing my companion, squeezed a party of young Lebanese together and found room for us. The air was full of Turkish tobacco smoke; the waiter thrust before us a stained typewritten list of archaic cocktails — Sledgehammers, Riproarers, Topper's Special, and yes, Papa's Sting! Blaring above it all, deafeningly vigorous and brassy, there was jazz.

It was an elderly combo which, spotting Sauvignon through the haze, dipped its instruments in welcome: a grizzled black trumpeter, a trombonist with rimless spectacles, a gentlemanly Chinese pianist, a grey-beard playing bass and a middle-aged elf in a red shirt frenzied at the drums. They performed with a somewhat desperate enthusiasm, I thought, a repertoire of long ago. Sometimes somebody shouted a request — “‘Honeysuckle Rose”!' “‘A-Train”!' “‘Sentimental Journey”!' The pianist had a small cup of coffee on his piano. The trumpeter occasionally groaned ‘Yeah man . . .' but more in duty than in ecstasy. “‘Yellow Submarine”!' called Sauvignon during a pause in the music, and as the trombonist broke into an approximate lyric — ‘
' — he raised his Manhattan towards me in a toast. ‘To yesterday's youth,' he said.

Above the door of No. 24 Residenzstrasse — in the old German quarter, hardly a stone's throw across the Viale Roma from my apartment, there is a modern plaque in German. It commemorates the fact that between 1941 and 1945 members of the German anti-Nazi resistance movement,
der Widerstand
, were given refuge there under the clandestine protection of the German concessionary administration.

The development of New Hav, and its last apotheosis during the Second World War, was as extraordinary as its beginning. Isolated there on that distant foreshore, with poor communications and the loosest of supervision from Geneva, the three regimes developed almost autonomously. The Italians, who saw themselves from the start as colonists, threw themselves enthusiastically into Mussolini's imperial designs, putting up
all over the place, erecting ostentatious murals depicting Mare Nostrum or Africa Revicta, proudly welcoming Marshal de Bono when he paid a visit after his conquest of Ethiopia, and eventually refusing even to receive the timid representatives of collective security who now and then arrived on the train from Switzerland. They had high hopes, Signora Vattani has confided in me (her husband, she claims, was an ‘important official' in the administration) — they had high hopes of taking over the whole of Hav, if ever war gave them a chance, and when war did come they openly disregarded the laws of neutrality by re-provisioning Italian submarines in the harbour.

The French treated Hav above all as a place of pleasure and prestige. They wished their quarter of New Hav to be a showcase of French panache. They sent stylish magnificos to be their Residents, the smartest young men of family to be their administrators. They sponsored visits by eminent musicians and French drama companies. The French gracefully gave way to their partners when it came to matters of political priority or protocol, but they saw to it that their quarter was much the most inviting, and made sure that, as Armand Sauvignon says, the social life of Hav revolved around their handsomely Moorish-style Residency on its artificial hillock. When France fell to the Germans in 1940 the Resident of the day, the ineffably fashionable Guyot de Delvert, unhesitatingly declared for Vichy, had banners portraying Marshal Pétain flying all down the Rue de France, and no longer sent social invitations to the British Agency.

The Germans' was the oddest role. ‘Those Boches,' Sauvignon told me once, ‘really, to a well-brought-up young man direct from the Sorbonne, they were like people from another planet.' Subjects as they were of liberal Weimar, they set out to make their quarter of New Hav its properly representative outpost. ‘You would never have believed it! You could do anything over here, you could assume any personality you pleased. I never saw such cabarets — even the Egyptians were shocked sometimes. The place was full of drug-addicts, poets, homosexuals, pacifists, God knows what — everyone you met was writing a novel. I used to go over there to the Café München whenever I felt the pressures of social life too great for me, and I was sure to find myself in a group of writers or artists, some actually from Germany, but Turks too, and Syrians, and really people from everywhere. I met Thomas Mann there once. He asked me what was the right way to pronounce
, I remember . . .'

I constantly hear astonishing stories about the behaviour of the German diplomats during the Second World War. Signera Vattani thought it traitorous — ‘They should all have been shot, if you ask me.' Others thought it truly heroic. There were only two German Residents during the entire history of New Hav, and they both stood firmly in the German liberal tradition. The second of them, Heinrich von Tranter, was appointed to office in 1932, the year before Hitler came to power. By guile and social influence, and some say by the connivance of von Papen, the impenetrable German Ambassador in Ankara, he managed to hang on to his post throughout the Second World War, and made Hav a secret refuge and headquarters for Germans opposed to the Nazi regime.

‘We knew nothing,' Signora V. fervently assures me. ‘We had no idea what was going on. Do you think we would have allowed it, endangering our own men and ships? Why those ruffians were in daily touch with the British Agent, giving him all sorts of information all the time!'

But had not Fatima Yeğen told me that Hitler himself was supposed to have visited Hav during the war?

‘He did, he did, he came down incognito in a special car on the train with that von Papen. We knew nothing of it, we had no idea, and then on the Tuesday morning I was crossing Unter den Südlinden to get some sausages at the German delicatessen — they had excellent sausages throughout the war — and I looked up and there was von Tranter's big black car coming slowly down the boulevard, and a motor-cycle escort all around it, and who should be sitting in it but Hitler himself, with von Tranter beside him and von Papen sitting in the front with the driver. I was never so astonished. Look, I was saying to everyone on the pavement, look, it's Herr Hitler! but half of them didn't believe it even when they saw him for themselves. The very next morning he was gone again, they say. We were told a U-boat picked him up at Malaya Yalta and took him to Italy.'

Yet even Hitler, if he really did come (and if you believe that, in my opinion, you will believe anything), even Hitler apparently did not suspect what was going on under the aegis of his own swastika at 24 Residenzstrasse. Throughout the later years of the war a steady stream of German dissidents and resistance workers were smuggled through Turkey or by sea to Hav, where they coordinated escapes and clandestine missions secret even now. It was perfectly true, as Signora Vattani so scornfully alleges, that von Tranter was in touch with the British in Hav: this was a main point of contact between the German underground and the Western Allies. If the Fascists of the Italian quarter did not know what was going on across the Viale Roma, the British Secret Service certainly did, and time and again its agents and interrogators came into Hav by submarine from Cyprus and Egypt.

To many people these wartime conspiracies were the ultimate justification for the whole experiment of New Hav, but the German quarter was to acquire an ironic new reputation later. Von Tranter survived the war but died in mysterious circumstances at his home near Augsburg in 1947, and when the concessions came to an end Germans of a very different kind moved into Hav, well-fed, muscular men of undisclosed resources, with their stalwart wives and sometimes lissom mistresses. They kept themselves as closely to themselves as had von Tranter's hidden wards, living communally in the vacated villas of Russian noblemen, guarded by burly bodyguards behind wire fences. They were, it is said, members of Odessa, the clandestine organization of former SS officers, and through Hav they are supposed to have channelled immense illegal funds, arranged the disappearances of criminal colleagues, and organized fraternal networks throughout the world.

I am assured they have nearly all gone now — most of them are dead — but when Armand and I were walking one evening along the harbourside promenade of New Hav we were passed by a bent and slender elderly man of thoughtful appearance in a well-cut tweed suit and a felt hat. He bowed slightly to Sauvignon, and the Frenchman raised his hat in return. ‘You see that old man?' said my companion when we were out of earshot. ‘There are people in Israel who would give a million francs to discover his whereabouts.'

‘You're never tempted?' I asked.

‘No, my dear. If there is one thing I have learnt from Hav, it is the uselessness of revenge. To be alive is punishment enough for that old ogre.'


Spring — flora and fauna — the Kretevs — the day of the snow raspberry — my yellow hat

Away beyond the Serai domes one can see the outlines of the western hills, where the Greeks built their pleasure-houses (so archaeologists assure us) and the Russians after them. When I came to this apartment they looked brown and melancholy, like so much else in Hav. Then, almost as I watched, they became perceptibly greener and happier. And yesterday, when I went out on to my balcony with my morning coffee, lo! they were a magical blush of pinks, blues and yellows.

‘The spring of Hav!' announced Signora V. emotionally. ‘It is not', she added, as she invariably adds, ‘as it used to be' (‘in the Duce's day', I almost interjected), ‘but still it is a kind of miracle. How wonderful nature is even in these distant places.'

I have acquired a car now. It is a 1971 Renault, and according to Fatima, who arranged the deal for me, it was once the tunnel pilot's transport. So in the afternoon I drove out to the hills to see the spring flowers for myself — swiftly through the wrinkled alleys of the Medina, along the fine big road the Russians built to take them to their pleasures, across the remains of the Spartan canal until the low hills rose on either side of me, speckled with neglected olive trees, decrepit villas and overgrown gardens. And the Signora was right: a miracle it was. Every patch of broken ground, every gulley, every broken-down Grand Duke's or Sturmbannführer's terrace was lyrically overlaid with flowers, half of them strange to me — flowers something like buttercups, but not quite, flowers very nearly bluebells, flowers not unrelated to asphodels or recognizably akin to primroses — and there were clambering plants with pink petals wandering everywhere, and up the gnarled trunks of the olive trees a sort of blossoming moss flourished. The combined scent of all these flowers, and many another herb, scrub and lichen no doubt, resolved itself into something peculiarly pungent, not unlike a sweet vinaigrette dressing, and overcome by this I lay out there flat on my back encouched in foliage. There was not a soul about. All those once blithe houses, with their tattered awnings and their sagging pergolas, seemed to be utterly deserted. Far away over the canal the towers and gilded domes of Hav, the great grey-gold mass of the castle, looked from that bowered belvedere like a city of pure fiction.

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