New Year’s Post

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Elephant Feet

“We had gathered in the dining room of the Spanish Legation around the massive mahogany table supported by four huge legs resembling elephant feet and laden with glass and old Spanish silver. The tapestries of red brocade hanging on the walls, the dark squat furniture carved with figures of dancing children, with festoons of fruit and game and with heavy-breasted caryatids — that Spanish interior so sensuous and so funereal, contrasted oddly with the white dazzle of the nocturnal light coming through the open window. The men in evening dress and the bejeweled women in low-cut dresses around that massive table with elephant feet sticking out between silk skirts and black trousers, in the gloomy red glow of brocade and in the dull glint of the silver, had a funereal appearance under the constant stare of the portraits of Spanish kings and grandees hung on the walls with thick cords of twisted silk.

“A golden crucifix hung over the sideboard, and Christ’s feet touched the necks of champagne bottles sunk in buckets of ice. They looked like paintings by Lucas Cranach; the flesh seemed livid and worn, the eyes circled with blue, the brows pale and hot; a greenish, cadaverous hue spread over every face. The guests sat with staring, wide-open eyes. The breath of the nocturnal day dimmed the window panes. Midnight was approaching and the sunset glow was reddening the treetops in Brunnsparken. It was cold. I looked at the bare shoulders of Anita Bergenstrom, the daughter of the Finnish Minister in Paris, and I remembered I was leaving next day with de Foxa and Michailescu for Lapland, north of the Arctic Circle.”

— From Kaputt (1944) by Curzio Malaparte. The author dines in Helsinki during World War II.