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18. October 2020

Via Telex to Mr Lush, City of Westminster


Maximilian Mogg

Bon ami,

yesterday, the air was warm, the sun was merciful, and the wind was still. As the day came to a golden end, I asked the hotel manager to put together a picnic basket for me (including a bottle of long-forgotten moselle wine). There are so few teutonic gifts to the gourmet, and, even then, most can still be traced back to the Romans. In the evening, I took my basket and had another stroll through Voltaire’s garden in search of a comfy place to enjoy my picnic.

Aten disappeared over the horizon and began his journey into the underworld, ready to return in the morning in all his glory to the delight of all living things. As I sat eating, I spied some lights on the ground approaching me. While I will admit that my first thought was of glowworms, I soon came to the realisation that it was in fact a solemn procession. At its head was a squirrel with its bushy tail raised in a very dignified manner. He was wearing a quite charming burnt orange frock coat and a snow-white shirt front. However, undeniably, his most attractive features were the tufts of fur on the tops of his ears that swayed gently as he walked. The squirrel bowed to me and introduced himself as the Chevalier de la Brousse. He was accompanied by a retinue of grey-liveried mice carrying torches the size of matchsticks.

He explained that a Chevalier de la Brousse had served Voltaire during the last years of the great man’s life. His primary occupation had been that of nutcracker for the aging master. Ever since, the de la Brousse family has been closely connected with the castle. That was the reason for his appearance on that evening. He mentioned in passing that he was feeling philosophical before complimenting my suit (with particular attention paid to the spots that convey, he said, a buccaneering spirit). Not even an ocelot is immune to flattery, Lush. As a young child, I too had dreamed of emulating Errol Flynn. All that I am missing now is a dagger to place between my teeth.

I offered him a glass of wine, which he accepted with thanks and swiftly drank from a hollowed-out nutshell that one of his lackeys had been carrying for him. We toasted to the idea of ressurrection, fully in the knowledge that this surely would have given Voltaire cause to employ that sharp tongue of his. As we drank, the Chevalier told me with a smile that Voltaire had had a church built on the grounds. The consummate rake that he was, however, he had not been able to resist adorning it with the following inscription: Deo erexit Voltaire. I had been unaware that he was on such personal terms with the lord! We conversed for half an hour or so under the milky moonlight. The chevalier enquired what my next destination might be. I didn’t quite know how to respond. The words I had heard in Zurich rang in my ears. ‘To the land of the teutons’, I said finally. It must have sounded to him as if I intended to visit the indigenous peoples of Alaska. In short, I intended to travel into the harshest wilderness.

The squirrel gave his head a tilt and grinned: ‘It’s not half so bad there. Voltaire said of the teutons: ‘Their idea of being witty is to jump out of a window.’ That should not be dismissed out of hand.’ To prove to me that there is some wit to be found in the teutonic lands, he recommended I read Thomas Mann’s Confessions of Felix Krull. ‘There are some moments in that book that are so charmingly fun and nonsensical that a man would be hard pressed to not develop at least a bit of goodwill for the teutons. That is only, of course, if we overlook one important detail. Thomas Mann’s mother was of Brazilian heritage.’ The squirrel and I shared a hearty laugh.

Cher ami, je vous souhaite une bonne nuit.