Why Europe Is Falling Apart


Catalonia’s independence vote has presented Spain with its gravest political crisis since the civil war. The country’s former Prime Minister José María Aznar talks Europe and the U.S. in this in-depth interview.


It’s tough competition for the artist whose career suddenly lurches towards the melancholic work ethic. We have Albrecht Durer, Michelangelo, John Donne, Claude Monet — great artists troubled by awful spells of sadness in between inspiration. A bit less than half a millennium ago, Giorgi Vasari wrote that artists, especially the excellent ones, are given unto the melancholic disposition. Vasari never knew the ideas of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but Fitzgerald certainly knew, through one way or another, what the grandfather of art historians meant: beleaguered by financial difficulties, a schizophrenic wife, and alcoholism in the last miserable chapters of his life, Fitzgerald managed to push through his sorrow to publish a long-awaited follow-up to The Great GatsbyTender is the Night. Contemporary critics dismissed the book as a relic of 1920’s style and subject matter; the novel did not enjoy great success, critically or commercially, in the subsequently final six years of Fitzgerald’s life.

Sometimes the melancholic artist has a talent for keeping his gloomier emotions separate from his work. And then there are those, like Fitzgerald in the last years of his life, who let their sorrow pour all the way though. “When you’re older,” he writes, “you’ll know what people who love suffer. The agony. It’s better to be cold and young than to love.” Fitzgerald thought that this was his greatest work, it seems, for a very cold reason.


Now there are emotional tough spots in life that we try our best to cheer ourselves out of, and then there are those slightly more literal tough spots that can pit a man between the two superpowers. A Dandy in Aspic is about as classic a premise as a screenwriter can up with for a cold war spy thriller. Agent Eberlin, played by Laurence Harvey, is a proficient operative for British intelligence — in true Cold War movie fashion, however, he is a deep cover double-agent actually working for the Soviets. This is all fine and manageable until Eberlin becomes too proficient at his job for his own good; convinced that a skilled Russian operative, titled Krasnevin, has been taking out British spies, the British put what they think is one of their best men, Eberlin, on the case to kill Krasnevin.

Eberlin, of course, is actually Krasnevin; the man that the British identify as Krasnevin and likewise tell Eberlin to kill is Eberlin’s Russian handler. And Fitzgerald thought that he was stuck in a dilemma. The characters are rich and fun to watch on screen, the West Berlin setting is just gritty enough (also check the movie out for some nostalgic shots of the AVUS racetrack in Berlin, just before the racetrack’s infamous “Wall of Death,” a 43° banked turn without any safety barrier, was removed for safety reasons), and the plot is, as you may already be able to tell, ripe for the unfolding.

ON THIS DAY IN 1795 . . .

Napoleon Bonaparte, believe it or not, did once find himself in a similarly desperate situation with little reason to be optimistic for the future. No, this was not the exile to Elba or St. Helena. Before the Thermidorian Reaction, Napoleon was a rising star in the world of Robespierre as an effective artillery commander and proponent of Republicanism. Even after Robespierre’s reign came to a bloody end, Napoleon fought off flak for his relationship with the reign of terror’s chief architect, and pretty soon the young artillery expert’s military skills where, whatever the case of previous allegiances, valuable enough to bring Napoleon into acceptable graces with the new mainstream.

He was given an infantry command in April 1795 to put down a royalist revolt in Vendée. Napoleon, ever the pedant, slid out of the job offer because he thought it was beneath him — the real prestige came with being an artillery general. Soon he was taken off the list of generals in regular service for the Vendée incident; feeling a bit underappreciated, he attempted, but failed, to be transferred to Istanbul to offer military advice to the Sultan. Just as well, Napoleon’s finances began resembling his future career prospects: dwindling. On this day in history, October 3 1795, all that was turned around. Royalist rioters swarmed the National Convention. A politician, aware of Napoleon’s military expertise, desperately placed the future Emperor of France in charge of the National Convention’s very improvised defense forces at the Tuileries Palace. Cognizant of the massacre of the King’s Swiss Guard in the Tuileries Palace just three years earlier — how sorely those forces could have used artillery — Napoleon seized cannons around France for his own purposes. In the words of historian Thomas Carlyle, he cleared the rioting streets with “a whiff of grapeshot.” Suddenly, he had become a hero of the revolution, and was poised to grow his image across France. When the situation is as volatile as the French Revolution, why settle for the infantry division? Wait around for the real opportunity.