7b 1938 EXILE IS AN EXPENSIVE DISEASE
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Franz Werfel and an American Reporter in Alma's house Casa Mahler in Venice. March 1938.
REPORTER Mister Werfel! Mister Werfel! Your novel is sweeping America! It's made you one of literature's immortals! May I take a picture of you, with the book?
WERFEL Sicuramente, aspetti, voglio indossare la corona di alloro.
REPORTER Since it's publication, this novel has been marked by greatness. It's absorbing, thrilling, inspiring! Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, recognizing the unusually dramatic plot possibilities of your book, is now preparing it for the screen as one of the year's biggest pictures. Do you have any explanation for all this success?
WERFEL The reason isn't hard to find. Not only is it literature of great social importance - but it is also one of the most exciting stories ever told. It is an adventure story, a love story, a great character portrayal - no wonder America talks about it.
REPORTER In comparatively few weeks, this novel has sold over 125.000 copies, it has outsold every other book published in America in the last year. It was a featured choice of the Book-of-the-Month Club and recommended by three other book clubs. They say no one can put it down till the last page is read! It was greeted by a critical ovation unequalled in recent times.
WERFEL Yes. The book got unanimously favourable reviews in the literary press.
REPORTER Mr. Werfel, how did you get the idea to write this book? What was inspired you to write it?
WERFEL It was a visit to Palestine that I took with my wife, Alma, twelve years ago. From Palestine we went on to Damascus. And on the road to Damascus we met a group of Armenians who were survivors of the massacre the Turks had staged among the Armenian people. They told me their stories. It was unimaginable! Horror upon horror! The Turks had massacred an entire People
5000 villagers refused exile, agreed to follow a certain Gabriel Bagradian, and fought to the death on Musa Dagh, the mountain of Moses.
REPORTER How extraordinary! Of its many dramatic scenes, what do you consider this book's greatest moment?
WERFEL When Gabriel must choose between being faithful to his faithless foreign wife and his new love born on the mountain top of Musa Dagh.
ALMA Franz! Franz!!! Where have you been hiding? I've been looking for you everywhere!
WERFEL I got lost in my memories. I went back to the times we were in Palestine. Was it in 1926 or in 1925?
ALMA I don't remember. - Listen
WERFEL Alma, I must ask you something I've never asked you before ----
ALMA Listen, Franz: I am going to sell the house.
WERFEL Which house?
ALMA My house here in Venice.
WERFEL Casa Mahler? Are you joking?
ALMA There's no turning back. I've just signed the contract.
WERFEL Are you out of your mind?! How can you do that? You know how much I love that house!
ALMA This time I wasn't thinking of you for a change, although since your triumph with your 40 Days it's almost impossible not to.
WERFEL Ah, you're discontented with my success? Amazing! Till now you blamed me for not being as successful as Thomas Mann, and now you blame me for being more successful than him! Splendid! My book was chosen by the Book-of-the-Month Club and recommended by three other clubs, this is something this poor son of a merchant has not yet achieved!
ALMA I don't blame you, sweetheart. Of course it's not your fault! You've always been a faultless child. And I'm so proud of my Armenian National hero! Ever since this book of yours came out, you've been transformed into another state of being. You're interviewed by every feeble minded journalist in the world, you are constantly invited to silly literary gala's. One day you're off to New York to attend the premiere of one of your plays which has astoundingly been directed by Max Reinhardt, and then you go to Paris as a guest of the Society of Nations to talk on the future of world-literature. You meet James Joyce, you meet Romain Roland, its you and you and always only you! It seems as if you've become the center of the world!
WERFEL And all that - thanks to you, darling! What's wrong, my heart, my soul, my life?! You are the reason for all that! If I hadn't met you, I would have written another few poems, and then I would have sunk into oblivion. (To the journalist:) You may write that. She's the one who led me to discover my inner forces. She turned me into a serious artist. She pushed me hard, even refusing to have sex unless I came to her with a finished chapter every day! Hahaha! I would have re-written Zola's Rougon Macquard for her.
ALMA I see! So »it's not the murderer's but the victim's fault«!
WERFEL The victim's?! For a dead person you strike me as being unusually vivacious.
ALMA On the contrary! Your success is killing our marriage, if you can still call it a marriage. I'm living at your side without joy. I don't know you any more. You've become so infatuated with yourself that your monologues go on forever. , I feel like a microphone in one of your countless radio speeches. All that matters are your plans, your words, your this and your that! You've seem to have forgotten how much my words used to mean to you.
WERFEL So now you've decided to sell the house here in Venice to punish me for dislodging you from the centre of the universe! How sophisticated!
ALMA It's amazing how inconsiderate a man can become when the world is lying at his feet! Do I really have to remind you how much this house is still pregnant with the memory of my beloved daughter, Manon?
WERFEL I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you, Alma. I know what Manon meant to you. Peace to her soul. She was an angel.
ALMA I have to get rid of that wheelchair as well. It is a horrible memory of her. - You have to help me to forget, Franz, I need you. I want to forget. You have to help me do that. You have to help me. You have to help me.
WERFEL Why won't you let time do its work in peace? Time is the best healer.
ALMA You're wrong, Franzl! Time isn't a healer. It's a killer, especially nowadays. There's no time and there's no peace anymore. We have to try to think rationally, for a change. Listen, Franz
WERFEL It's not so easy to think rationally in this country, Alma. Italy always reminds me of Verdi! A propos Verdi, when I was in Paris, I met James Joyce. We sat on the terrace of the café Fouquet's, and we started to sing, to the great consternation of the French. We sang Verdi. (He sings Don Carlos) The owner came running over to us, very angry. Joyce of course wanted to stop, but I, I said: No! Let's go on! And I sang - urging Joyce on - and we
ALMA Yes, I know. I was sitting next to you.
WERFEL Oh, yes, you were there, of course. Sorry, I forgot.
ALMA Listen, Franz! Chancellor Schuschnigg went to Brechtesgaden to meet Hitler.
WERFEL What did you say?
ALMA The annexation of Austria to the Third Reich is about to take place any minute. I just heard it on the radio.
WERFEL That can't be true!
ALMA It is! Ever since I returned from Vienna I've been trying to talk to you, but you won't listen!
WERFEL Talk to me about what? ?
ALMA Yesterday, just before leaving Vienna, I met Father Hollnsteiner.
WERFEL Oh! So you did meet him... Where? In your hotel room?
ALMA Don't be ridiculous. He's a priest. Ever Since he gave that beautiful sermon at Manon's funeral, I have a special feeling for that noble man.
WERFEL I wonder what kind of speeches your »noble man« is making these days.
ALMA He made an impressive sermon on the glories of fascism.
WERFEL There you are. I hope he converted you.
ALMA No, he did not. But in these uncertain times, I'll take good advice from anyone who offers. .
WERFEL What good advice, if I may ask?
ALMA The question is do you want to return to Vienna, or would you prefer to settle down elsewhere?
WERFEL Since you sold the house here in Venice, Italy is out of the question. I don't feel Czechoslovakian anymore. Vienna is the only place where I feel at home.
ALMA Then we have to do something about your Judaism.
WERFEL About what?!
ALMA You heard me. About your Judaism.
WERFEL What is there to do about it?!
ALMA Father Hollensteiner promised me he'd help organize something for you
you know, it might help if
well, he promised me he'll do all he can to help us if you'd only
WERFEL If what? You're not talking about converting!? You're not seriously asking me to get baptized?
ALMA He said he could try to get you a special status.
WERFEL A special status? I have already a special status! You can tell him that. thanks to the success of »The 40 Days of Musa Dagh«.
ALMA Yes, as an Armenian National Hero. Franz, open you eyes! when the time was right Even Gustav Mahler converted , for a lesser reason.
WERFEL I have no ambitions to become director of the Royal Opera.
ALMA Who's talking about the Opera? Do you ever want to go back to Vienna? Yes or no?
WERFEL Did Moses convert? Hmm? It might have facilitated the acceptance of the ten commandments! Or did Jesus convert to make his life easier in the Roman empire? he was crucified as king of the Jews, have you forgotten that?! Or maybe Spinoza converted to pave the way for his message, without which it's impossible to imagine Goethe's Faust! Doctor Ehrlich, who freed Humanity of the demon of Syphilis, maybe he converted? Or Albert Einstein, or Sigmund Freud? Go, give them Father Hollensteiner's advice! Maybe they'll accept, who knows?! Maybe they'll all convert! If you promise them a special status! Maybe Hollnsteiner can organize a mass baptism. That will make things much easier for him!
ALMA If you don't stop your monologue -
WERFEL My dear Alma! The contribution of the Children of Israel to Human Culture preceded your Father Hollnsteiner and his good advice, and it will outlive him! Religion is not a whore you go to bed with for a few hours to have a good time! Tell that to your Father Hollnsteiner! Tell him Franz Werfel will never convert!
ALMA Stop it!! Stop it!! Stop it!!! I can't listen to your monologues anymore!!!
WERFEL Maybe you want to convert our dead son Martin as well!
ALMA What?! What did you say?!
WERFEL Why not? I wouldn't be surprised if Father Hollnsteiner found a way to convert even the dead! That way he could make sure our poor Martin will not be troubled by bigots in his tiny baby's grave!
ALMA Are you completely crazy?!
WERFEL That's only if Martin is really my son in the first place ! After all he could just as easily have been spawned from true Aryan origins, couldn't he? Since your beloved architect got his leave on the 14th of December 1917, you had a chance the next afternoon to finally have sex with your pure Aryan thorough-bred, and deprive him of his precious Aryan seed. Something you'd never get from a bleeding Jew of a lover with fat bow-legs, swollen lips, nicotine-stained fingers, and oozing eye-slits! - Correct me if I'm misquoting you.
ALMA How dare you read my diary?!
WERFEL Maybe Hollnsteiner doesn't have to have him exhumed and dissolve his ashes in holy water like instant coffee! Maybe Martin was born a thorough-bred Aryan too, like your beloved daughter Manon, and he doesn't even have to convert! his soul might already be saved for eternity, a pure-blooded Aryan prototype - despite his hydrocephalus!
ALMA Oh no, my dear, you don't have to worry about that. Martin is your creation. One of your masterpieces! Maybe your friends in Hollywood could turn it into a film, »Jakobowsky and the Imbecile« or »The Song of the Feeble-minded«?! What do you think?!
WERFEL That is tasteless!
ALMA Martin was born prematurely because you fucked him out of my womb, in your insatiable lust, which almost cost me my life! And he was born a sick weakling because he was conceived with your rotten semen!
WERFEL My rotten semen?!
ALMA Yes, and do you know why it's so unsavory? Because, every since you were a child, you've been ruining your semen with your constant masturbation! I had to work hard to get you out of the habit! - I know what I'm going to do. I'm going back to Vienna.
WERFEL Go then! Get out! You pure Aryan, faultless Christian! What took you so long to get rid of me, the way you got rid of all your other men?! »Whoever falls, should be given a push!« that's your philosophy, isn't it?! And a Jew is not exactly a life-insurance policy these days! You'll see: life will be much easier for you once you've left me! Go! Go to Vienna! Go to your Father Hollnsteiner!
ALMA You are such a fool, Franz! Such a fool! Nobody's leaving you, you stupid man? I'm going to Vienna to liquidate all my assets there. (She starts to pack for the journey.) I'll give my step-father Carl Moll power of attorney to handle my affairs in Austria, he's the right man to do it, he's experienced in financial matters, and he is close to the new men in power. I'll just take Anna and Gustav's manuscripts. I'll withdraw all the money I've left in my bank account in Vienna, and I'll put it in a bank in Switzerland. We are going to need every penny ...
WERFEL Wait a minute! What's all this crazy talk about?
ALMA Emigration, my dear Franzl, is a very serious and expensive disease.
WERFEL What emigration? What do you mean
ALMA I'm talking about America.
WERFEL America? Which America?! Wait a minute!
ALMA (starts to dress Werfel:) Come on! Come on! Are you paralysed? What's the matter with you?! Pull yourself together, Franzl! And stop staring at me with that senile look in your eyes! We're going to need all our resources, if we want to survive. And we will survive! And how! You can rely on me! Come on, relax! Relax!! That's better ! Where's my little chick? Hmmm? My poor baby? My man-child? Come, my suckling. Come on. Are you hungry, hmm? Does my baby want to drink? Your mouth is watering to eat my tits, isn't it? Hush. Hush. No more words. No more silly questions. We'll overcome it all! We'll outlive everyone of them. We'll be reborn into a new world! You'll see! Come, my sweet little suckling-pig! Come to me. Come! Come! Yeeees
You' re dying to get into my stomach. You' re dying to get back to where you come from. You want to hide, don't you? Now come, come! They say there's nothing like the erection of a dying man. I'll devour you, my sweet little cadaver! Come now, come!