I fled Europe as one flees one’s parents’ house: with an insincere effort to laugh at the barbecue set, the patio and the two-car garage.
On the airplane I had a dream. I came back from the dead. I found myself in a public lobby with marble all around. I had to show my identification card at a certain desk. A man beside me grasped my hand. He spoke very fast. He wanted to convince me to give a false address, a false date of birth, a false nationality. He insisted. His face dripped with sweat. His clothes stuck to his skin. He begged me not to reveal the country of my origin, nor that I had come back from the dead. He talked and talked. But I burst out laughing. I leaned on the marble counter and signed my name. With all the required information. The fellow backed off, as if horrified. Many other people turned away. His voice grew louder as it withdrew into the distance, vanished in empty space: “We need a professor of German philosophy. But not a German.”
I recognize that lobby. The Washington Hilton. Men in business suits are crammed in there by the thousands. American philosophers meeting for a convention. A compact assembly of thinkers. Thirty-five hundred of them, Newsweek published the figure. The eastern division of the American Philosophical Association. I make a tour of the counters. There are those of the airlines, TWA, Delta, Allegheny, and those of the hotel, reservations, information, mail, cashier. A perfume shop.
A shoe-shine place. An art gallery with pictures painted on velvet. Crowds everywhere. Thinking crowds. All profs. Looking like insurance agents, more readily imagined talking finances than dialectic. Above a bank branch is written: Christmas, Think of it as Money. A prayer for peace follows, signed Riggs National Bank. Between Christmas and New Year’s is the time for the big conventions. I stop in front of every desk as if to bring to life the scene from the dream. To palm off the terror on someone else, as if it were a counterfeit note.
Is it here that death will cease? That a new life will begin? A gypsy once told me: “There, on the other side of the ocean, your running will come to an end.” I will cling to this continent as, years ago, I clung to the last train leaving the burning city of Krefeld....