Our radio's been dead for four days. Once again
we see what a dubious blessing technology really is. Machines with no intrinsic
value, worthless if you can't plug them in somewhere. Bread, however, is
absolute. Coal is absolute. And gold is gold whether you're in Rome, Peru, or
Breslau. But radios, gas stoves, central heating, hot plates, all these gifts of
the modern age-they're nothing but dead weight if the power goes out. At this
moment we're marching backwards in time. Cave-dwellers.
Friday, presumably around 7:00 P.M. Went for one
last quick ride on the streetcar headed for the Rathaus. The air is full of
rolling and rumbling, the constant thunder of heavy guns. The woman tram
conductor sounded pathetic shouting over the din. I studied the other
passengers. You could read in their faces what they weren't saying out loud.
We've turned into a nation of mutes. People don't talk to one another except
when they're safe in their basements. When's the next time I'll ride a
streetcar? Will I ever? They've been pestering us with these Class I and Class
II tickets for the past several weeks, and now the news sheet says that as of
tomorrow only people with the red Class III tickets will be allowed to use
public transportation. That's about one in four hundred-in other words, no one,
which means that's it.
A cold evening, dry faucets. My potatoes are
still simmering on the tiny gas flame. I poked around and managed to fill some
shopping bags with split peas, pearl barley, flour and ersatz coffee, then
stashed the bags in a box. More luggage to drag down to the basement. After I'd
tied it all up I realized I'd forgotten the salt. The body can't do without
salt, at least not for long. And we'll probably be holed up down there for a
Friday, 11:00 P.M., by the light of an oil lamp
in the basement, my notebook on my knees. Around 10:00 P.M. there was a series
of three or four bombs. The air-raid siren started screaming. Apparently it has
to be worked manually now. No light. Running downstairs in the dark, the way
we've been doing ever since Tuesday. We slip and stumble. Somewhere a small
hand-operated dynamo is whirring away; it casts giant shadows on the wall of the
stairwell. Wind is blowing through the broken panes, rattling the blackout
blinds. No one pulls them down any more-what's the point?
Shuffling feet. Suitcases banging into things.
Lutz Lehmann screaming, "Mutti!" To get to the basement shelter we have to cross
the street to the side entrance, climb down some stairs, then go along a
corridor and across a square courtyard with stars overhead and aircraft buzzing
like hornets. Then down some more stairs, through more doors and corridors.
Finally we're in our shelter, behind an iron door that weighs a hundred pounds,
with rubber seals around the edges and two levers to lock it shut. The official
term is air-raid shelter. We call it cave, underworld, catacomb of fear, mass
The ceiling is supported by a forest of rough
timbers. You can smell the resin despite the closeness of the air. Every
evening old Herr Schmidt-Schmidt the curtain man-launches into a structural
analysis to demonstrate that the forest will hold up even if the building
overhead collapses-assuming that it collapses at a certain angle and distributes
its weight in a certain way. The landlord, who should know about that kind of
thing, isn't around to tell us. He took off to Bad Ems and is now an American.
In any case, the people here are convinced that
their cave is one of the safest. There's nothing more alien than an unknown
shelter. I've been coming here for nearly three months and still feel like a
stranger. Every place has its own set of quirks and regulations. In my old
basement they were obsessed with having water on hand in case of fire. Wherever
you turned you bumped into pots and pails and buckets and barrels full of murky
fluid. And still the building burned like a torch. You might as well have spit
on the fire for all that water would have done.
British Parliament asks Amazon to clarify why it pays $9 million in income tax on $23 billion of UK sales.(May 20 2013) Amazon will be called back to give further evidence to members of the British Parliament "to clarify how its activities in the U.K. justify its low corporate...