Zweig and the yawning suitcases | Catalonia

Stefan Zweig, working on a manuscript around 1930.
Stefan Zweig, working on a manuscript around 1930.GETTY IMAGES

“My suitcases are yawning at me empty,” Stefan Zweig often used as an excuse for not stopping at home. The son of a wealthy Jewish textile industrialist and the mother of a family of Italian bankers, the future Austrian writer of Chess novel and Stellar moments of Humanity received an exquisite cultural training, which entailed, by tradition, enriching it with travel, especially in Europe. First he did it with his parents, and already on his own, as an adult, he expanded experiences, among others, after passing through China, India and Japan (1908-1909), America (1911) and, again, through Europe, to the who saw him bleed to death with the First World War, the beginning of the end of his world.

“Ports and stations, that’s my passion,” he acknowledges at the age of 45, in a 1926 text in which, with a sense of smell, he detects that the why and how of the trip takes a direction without return. Another sign of an age that is ending. It is now imposed “mass travel, travel under contract, to be made travel”; There are no longer travelers, he maintains, but “travelers”: “No need to think about money, to prepare, to read books, to find accommodation …”. A sacrilege for those who plan their routes and destinations according to the seasons of the year or the weather. Travel or be traveled, Zweig headlines the text, of the hundreds that he wrote as a result of taking his suitcases for a walk through the old continent, but one of the sharpest of the 16 that make up Travel (Univers; Catedral, in Spanish), a selection that brings together for the first time in Catalan that side of refined globetrotter of the author of Twenty-four hours in the life of a woman.

The selected itinerary begins in Ostend, “the most extensive and most elegant of the beaches in Belgium”, set in 1902, at the age of 21, and ends in London, in 1940, just after World War II broke out, two years after his suicide in Petrópolis, Rio de Janeiro. A Europhile by cultural education and as a spiritual balm, Zweig takes advantage above all of the heyday of train travel to travel half the continent, capable of a remarkable detour just to contemplate a specific monument, as he does in France, where he stops in Dijon to stand before the Marble tomb of the Dukes of Burgundy.

In addition to the inevitable Italy, he also passed through the Spain of 1905. Traveled as he was already beginning to be and educated, he allowed himself to make a game, based on music, between Salzburg and Seville; Another display of knowledge, now architectural and pictorial, allows him to put the Andalusian city as a counterpoint to Madrid and Castilla, “heavy as the shadow of El Escorial” or dark as “a Zurbarán”, in front of an Andalusia that is “as if there were the sun has risen ”.

Annoyed in a world that has become “mean and noisy”, he believes that “it is good, ultimately, that every year about 100,000 people crawl bellies in glory” through one of the worst scenarios of World War I, Ypres , in clear competition as a Belgian tourist destination with the hitherto unbeatable Waterloo. Because since that “heartless city”, which in a kind of “fair of the dead” has made its “tourist curiosity are two hundred thousand graves” and that one of its most famous souvenirs of the battlefield falls on “a bronze crucifix with a cross made with collected cartridges”, at least it serves to remember “the Great Crime”, to “return to those execrable years, which should never be forgotten or unlearned.”

In Mozart and Casanova’s hotel

Through that crack of the Great War, Zweig’s raison d’être began to seep on the way to his disappearance, which he would later reflect so well in his fortunate posthumous memories, Yesterday’s world. The texts of these trips, like his diaries, can be read as essays on those pages of twilight light. It also distills it in Obituary of a hotel (1918), where he criticizes the decision of the Zurich authorities to buy the ancient Hotel Schert and turn it into a tax office. “A beautiful reputation for perseverance in time, ruined forever,” he notes, recalling that during the seven centuries of the hotel’s life, characters such as Mozart, Goethe, Casanova (disguised as an excessively helpful waiter to satisfy some ladies) and Madame de Staël, among others, made a stop and an inn. Living memory of Europe, Zweig recalls similar disappearances in half a continent and, in particular, the demolition in his native Vienna of Beethoven’s mortuary house or, foreboding, of the Schwann restaurant in Frankfurt, where the peace between Germany and France was signed in 1871 “It is the collective heritage of our world (…) We do not recognize the true value of something until we have lost it,” he says.

The declaration of the Second World War caught him already in England, where he had taken refuge in 1934 after seeing how a year before his books were burned by the Nazis. Life leads him to see the start of each of the two wars from a different front. In 1914, in Vienna, the declaration was “a euphoria, an ecstasy. We only knew war from books, we had never considered it possible in a civilized age ”. Young people flocked to the recruiting offices with a single anguish: “that they were called too late and they would miss the adventure.” The cafes were open until late at night and loaded with chatty, “each a strategist, a statesman, a prophet.”

In England, however, in 1940 nobody was spared euphoria, because now it is known that a world war is “a fatality” that “consumes industrial quantities of people and money.” He is surprised by the Anglo-Saxon impassivity, which he attributes in part to “an education that systematically accustoms the child to hide his feelings”, but, above all, to the love of the English for gardening, while they know that “the essentials of our Earth, which is its beauty, it remains immune to the madness of war and the animations of politicians ”. Write it in Orchards and gardens in wartime (1940), text that closes a Travel apparently simple in style and naive humanism, a Europe with a taste of Arcadia, like all of Zweig’s work, according to some critics. But perhaps a spiritual vitamin needed again today for a limping European Union of post-brexit and pandemic.