Read Hav Online

Authors: Jan Morris

Hav (5 page)

Ostensibly they are divided into ministerial sections. Actually, since it was the enlightened idea of the Imperial Russian Government to house all its officials on huge open-plan floors, two to each block, everything seems to have spilled over long ago into everything else, and it is almost impossible to know, if you have business to transact there, in what department you are at any one moment. Come with me now, for instance, into the ground-floor offices of the North Block, nominally the precincts of the Hav Census, the Salt Administration, the Arable and Pasture Board, the Office of Languages and the Muslim Department of Wakfs. Entering this room is rather as I imagine entering the hospital at Scutari might have been, before Miss Nightingale got there. Even in the middle of the morning it is dark inside, and scattered bare electric light bulbs burn, giving everything a cavernous or cellar-like appearance. Hundreds of electric fans are massed in clusters on long rods from the ceiling, and the windows are covered with loose matting to keep the sun out. The entire room is filled with a mass of identical wooden desks, several hundred of them surely. Some are protected by makeshift partitions of plyboard, cardboard or even loose canvas, while others are walled about with piles of books and ledgers. Many have been enmeshed in electric wires, plugged into light sockets above, which hang down like life-support systems to provide power for kettles, radios or winter heaters, while over them all runs a complicated pattern of pneumatic message tubes.

At every single desk a man sits, hunched, sprawling or occasionally straight-backed at his work, and each seems to be engulfed in a hill of paper. Wherever you look, everywhere across that nightmare floor, there are heaps, wodges, stacks of paper — paper tied in huge bundles, paper stuffed into sockets, paper spread out on desktops, or cluttered in trays, or strewn across the floor, and through it all the bureaucracy seems to be impotently floundering. The room is in a condition of sluggish diligence. Typewriters clack somewhere, occasionally a telephone rings, girls move unhurriedly up and down those tattered ranks, collecting dockets or returning files, waiters in stained white jackets dispense Turkish coffee and glasses of water from silver-plated trays, and ever through the tubes above one can hear the message cylinders, rattling across the intersections towards some unimaginable clearing centre out of sight.

‘May I help you?' asks a peripatetic supervisor, carrying a large and battered clipboard.

‘We are looking for the Department of Temporary Contributions.'

‘Ah, that will be our Monsieur Tarbat, let me see now, Section A10 I believe' — he consults his board — ‘ah no, he has passed to Section K . . . it must be — let me see — I think perhaps it's a branch of Domestic Registrations. . . I wonder now — patience,
mesdames
, forgive me —'

But at that moment we catch fight of our friend Boris, a keen member of the New Hav Film Society, accepting a coffee from a passing waiter. ‘Temporary Contributions?' he laughs. ‘Forget it, nobody has bothered about them since the end of the concessions. Put it out of your minds — enjoy yourselves!'

‘Excellent advice,' says the supervisor, moving on.

Behind the Serai, in a ceremonious half-circle, stand the former legations. These were built on the edge of the old parade ground when the Russians first opened Hav to diplomatic representation, and are now given over to less lofty purposes, the British consul (who is called the Agent, actually) living at the former British Residency above the harbour. The legations are like a little museum of lost consequence, so many of their proud sponsors having vanished with the great convulsion of the First World War, but they are also a display of
fin de siècle
architectural styles. Thus the French built theirs, now the Hav Academy of Music and Dancing, in a sprightly Art Nouveau style, rich in coloured glass and ornamental lamp brackets, while the Americans next door erected one of the earliest steel-construction buildings in Europe — a building which, though now turned into the somewhat disconsolate Hav Museum, still looks by Hav standards remarkably up-to-date. My own favourite, though, is the wonderfully eccentric mansion at the northern end of the crescent, which is built partly of wood and partly of massive rusticated stone, and is splendidly embellished with balconies, external staircases, decorative busts, half-timbering and twisted chimney-pots in a style I can only describe as thoroughly Balkanesque. This was the legation of the Montenegrins, during the short-lived monarchy of the Black Mountain.

Nicholas I, the one and only king of Montenegro, had close links with Russian Hav. Two of his daughters married Russian Grand Dukes, he was an honorary Field-Marshal of the Imperial army, and his Ruritanian capital of Cetinje was modelled upon the arrangements of the Czars. Every year, when the Russian aristocracy descended upon the peninsula by train from the north, Nicholas was disembarked upon its shores from the south, having sailed there in state on board the royal yacht
Petar Njegos̆
. In the years before Sarajevo he was one of Hav's most familiar celebrities, contributing to all charities, attending all summer balls, gracing every garden party, sitting through every ballet and even having a street named in his honour—the Boulevard de Cetinje, an entirely unnecessary but properly dignified thoroughfare which the Russians cut through the Medina in 1904 in order to reach their bathing station beyond the western hills.

It was not surprising that when the Russians invited specified powers to open legations in Hav the Montenegrins were among the first to accept. No conceivable diplomatic interest required the representation of the Black Mountain in this inessential station, but the King welcomed the chance to build himself a villa in such a prime position, within the Forbidden City so to speak. The legation is generally claimed to be a replica of his own palace at Cetinje, but it is really no more than an idealized approximation, being, as it happens, rather bigger and much more comfortable.

At eleven every morning the guard changes outside the Serai. This is an engaging spectacle. Since the departure of the Russians the gubernatorial guards have always been Circassians, recruited in Turkey. They are a stalwart crew, and provide solaces of many kinds, so the common rumour says, for both the wives of high officials, and the high officials themselves. Their pageantry is fine. They move less like soldiers than stage performers, in a flourishing, curly style, marching to a modified goose-step, swinging their arms exaggeratedly, and wearing upon their faces stylized smiles of ingratiation, or perhaps self-satisfaction. Their orders I take to be shouted in Circassian, since nobody I have met understands a syllable of them, and they are armed with rifles inherited from the Russians for which there is, I am assured, no longer any ammunition.

No matter: the ceremonial life of the Serai is essentially easy-going anyway. The old protocol of the Russians has been whittled away, rule by rule, precedent by precedent down the years, and the nearest the Governor comes to any kind of grand-ducal progress nowadays is an occasional outing in his official barouche to pay a call upon the leader of one community or another. Then the guard lines up to see him off, smiling indefatigably, and the barouche is followed out of the Palace yard, across the avenue of palms, by a pair of jolly postilions wearing their astrakhan hats at a jaunty angle and equipped with gleaming swords.

But here, even in Hav, all is not picturesque flummery around the seat of power. Even the lovable Serai, it seems, has its anxieties. As it happened, when I was walking across the square one morning last week the Governor did come clopping out in his carriage, hauled by four high-stepping but rather shaggy greys, and followed by those stagy postilions. The guard saluted them as they passed, and they turned to the right, down the narrow street beside the South Block in the direction of the Medina. Hardly had they gone, however, than I heard a commotion of shouting and counter-shouting. I ran to the corner at once, and was in time to see one of the postilions, dismounted, thwacking a young man over the shoulders brutally with the flat of his sword. The youth slid to his haunches against the wall, his hands over his head. The postilion agilely remounted and cantered after the disappearing cortège.

I ran to the spot as fast as I could, and the young man looked up at me with a gaunt and melancholy face. ‘What's happening?' I cried. ‘Are you all right?' But he answered me — how disconcerting! — with a spit.

APRIL

Hav Rig

5

New Hav — a survivor — national characteristics — Germans of another kind — ‘that old ogre
'

Immediately outside my window is the circular Place des Nations, supervised by a large statue of Count Alexander Kolchok, the last and most famous of the Russian governors. It was erected, so the plinth says, ‘
IN HOMAGE
', by the administrators of the Tripartite Mandate, and shows him in court dress, loaded with medals and holding a scroll. Very proper, because if it were not for Kolchok there would have been no mandate, and no Place des Nations either.

Lenin never came to Hav, so far as is known (though a film made by Soviet dissidents is supposed to show him shamelessly dissipated among the flesh-pots). When in 1917 the news of the Revolution reached Russian Hav, which had been a demilitarized zone throughout the First World War, Kolchok the Governor immediately declared the place a White Russian republic, and called for help from the Western Allies. A French brigade was sent from Salonika, and Hav remained in a kind of limbo until in 1924 the League of Nations declared its mandate over the peninsula, and appointed Kolchok, the last Governor under the old dispensation, the first Governor under the new. He it was who, until his death in 1931 (he is buried here), presided over the unique experiment in international reconciliation which was Hav between the wars.

The delegates at Geneva invited three powers to take control of the peninsula, and to establish commercial concessions there: France because, so Magda would say, there was no choice — the French army was already on the spot, and unlikely to budge; Italy, because the Italians demanded parity with the French as a Mediterranean power; and in a stroke of unexampled idealism, the Weimar Republic of Germany, which was not then even a member of the League. Hav kept its old Russian forms of government, but with an elected instead of a nominated assembly; and across the harbour from the Medina there arose the international concessionary quarter of New Hav. It is in the very heart of this circular settlement that I have my apartment, looking down on the Place des Nations and the triumphant Count.

Actually he does not look
altogether
triumphant, because the open space around him, once so elegant, is now sadly run-down, while he himself is patchy with verdigris and bird droppings. The formal gardens are overgrown and weedy, the railings sag, and as I look down now I see a couple of figures swathed in brown stretched out asleep upon the benches. Still, the statue remains the focal point of New Hav. A wide tree-lined ring road surrounds the Place des Nations, and from it run the three boulevards which divide the international quarter, Avenue de France, Viale Roma, and Unter den Südlinden — which is shaded in fact not by limes but by lovely Hav catalpas.

The grand plan of Hav was imposed by the League, but within each national segment, served by smaller streets, the concessionary powers could do as they liked. From the start, all three parts developed strong national characteristics, and even now I know almost without thinking, as I wander through New Hav, which quarter I am in. The smart restaurants, the fashion houses and the clubs have gone, to be replaced by Greek and Syrian stores, import-export agents, homelier eating houses and the offices of dubious investment banks; but it is the easiest thing in the world, early in the evening especially, when the cafés are filling up and the young people are strolling arm-in-arm beneath the shade of the trees towards the Lux Palace or the Cinema Malibran, to summon up New Hav in its brief but glittering heyday.

Here, for example, in some fusty draper's shop I sense even now the charm of the boutique it used to be, and here a frieze of senators, helmeted soldiers and grateful Africans transports me instantly to Mussolini's Anno XIV. How earnest the peeling Gymnasium, with its busts of Goethe, Schubert and Beethoven! How sadly plush the Hotel Adler-Hav, with its velvet upholsteries, its gilt sofas and the tarnished mirrors of its Golden Bar, ‘the longest bar on the Mediterranean'! The names of the streets, often the names of the shops too, still speak of other countries far away; and even today, though the faces you see around you are overwhelmingly Levantine often you will hear blurred deviations of French, German or Italian along these nostalgic pavements.

And of course there are a few living survivors of the international regime, which lingered on increasingly inchoate until the abolition of the concessions in 1945. Of these the best known is Armand Sauvignon the novelist, who came to Hav as a young attaché with the French administration in 1928, and wrote all his books here (his fictional Polova is really Hav). He is in his eighties now, a widower for twenty years, and lives amidst his large library in an apartment overlooking the French cathedral. He embodies in himself, as it were, the whole history of New Hav, start to finish, and talking to him is like reliving the whole brave but somehow unreal initiative, street by street, character by character. He has a long beaky nose, a creased brow, and an odd mannerism of pursing his mouth between sentences, and all these features combine to give his company a more or less continual irony.

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