OUR MAN IN HAVANA – GRAHAM GREENE

INTRODUCTION by Christopher Hitchens, 2006.

1. But by the time Segura takes off his gun-belt and lays it to one side, in preparation for the climactic whisky-dominated game of checkers (or ‘draughts’ if you prefer) it is as plain as the old maxim of Chekhov that a gun once displayed in plain sight will not be re-holstered until it has been fired in anger. (p.xv)
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1. (…) friendship proceeded with the slowness and assurance of a careful diagnosis. (p.3)

2. But the face which looked back at him was only a little discoloured by the dust from the harbour-works; it was still the same, anxious and crisscrossed and fortyish: much younger than Dr Hasselbacher’s, yet a stranger might have felt certain it would be extinguished sooner – the shadow was there already, the anxieties which are beyond the reach of a tranquillizer. (p.4)

3. ‘Then why worry?’ Dr Hasselbacher repeated like a theme tune, leaning into his whisky. (p.5)

4. ‘You are interested in a person, not in life, and people die or leave us – I’m sorry; I wasn’t referring to your wife. But if you are interested in life it never lets you down. I am interested in the blueness of cheese. You don’t do crosswords, so you, Mr Wormwold? I do, and they are like people: one reaches an end. I can finish any crossword within an hour, but I have a discovery concerned with the blueness of cheese that will never come to a conclusion – although of course one dreams that perhaps a time might come…One day I must show you my laboratory.’ (p.6)

5. ‘You should dream more, Mr Wormwold. Reality in our century is not something to be faced.’ (p.7)

6. ‘Don’t speak the lingo, I’m afraid,’ the stranger answered. The slang word was a blemish on his suit, like an egg-stain after breakfast. (p.7)

7. One can’t successfully follow St Paul’s technique of being all things to all men without a change of suit. (p.8)

8. In a mad world it always seems simpler to obey. (p.24)

9. Childhood was the germ of all mistrust. You were cruelly joked upon and then you cruelly joked. You lost the remembrance of pain through inflicting it. But somehow, through no virtue of his own, he had never taken that course. Lack of character perhaps. Schools were said to construct character by chipping off the edges. His edges had been chipped, but the result had not, he thought, been character – only shapelessness, like an exhibit in the Museum of Modern Art. (p.28)

10. At every corner there were men who called ‘Taxi’ at him as though he were a stranger, and all down the Paseo, at intervals of a few yards the pimps accosted him automatically without any real hope. ‘Can I be of service, sir?’ ‘I know all the pretty girls.’ ‘You desire a beautiful woman.’ ‘Postcards?’ ‘You want to see a dirty movie?’
They had been mere children when he first came to Havana, they had watched his car for a nickel, and though they had aged alongside him they had never got used to him. In their eyes he never became a resident; he remained a permanent tourist, and so they went pegging along – sooner or later, like all the others, they were certain that he would want to see Superman performing at the San Francisco brothel. At least, like the clown, they had the comfort of not learning from experience. (p.32)

11. ‘(…) a fuse box holds no terror for her.’

12. It was a city to visit, not a city to live in, but it was the city where Wormwold had first fallen in love and he was held to it as though to the scene of a disaster. (p.53)

13. Time gives poetry to a battlefield, (…) (p.53)

14. (…) the sexual exchange was not only the chief commerce of the city, but the whole raison d’etre of a man’s life. One sold sex or brought it – immaterial which, but it was never given away. (p.56)

15. In Santa Clara his old Hillman lay down beneath him like a tired mule. Something was seriously wrong with his innards; only Milly would have known what. (p.64)

16. His face had been pocked and eroded like the pillars on the sea-front. (p.86)

17. He had an easy rapid insolence you had no time to resent before he had given fresh cause for annoyance. (p.86)

18. It fell and smashed, like the birthday party. (p.87)

19. ‘Thank God,’ Wormwold said, ‘there seems to be something I’ve forgotten about last night.’ (p.98)

20. ‘You can’t love and be as confident as he was. If you love you are afraid of losing it, aren’t you?’ (p.103)

21. They passed the Carmen Bar and the Cha Cha Club – bright signs painted on the old shutters of the eighteenth-century facade. Lovely faces looked out of dim interiors, brown eyes, dark hair, Spanish and high yellow: beautiful buttocks leant against the bars, waiting for any life to come along the sea-wet street. To live in Havana was to live in a factory that turned out human beauty on a conveyor-belt. He didn’t want beauty. He stopped under a lamp and looked directly back at the direct eyes. He wanted honesty. (p.112)

22. The apartment had been reconstructed like a man for burial. (p.114)

23. There was an odd intimacy between them as they watched together this blueprint of love. (p.125)

24. The act of love and the act of lust are the same; it cannot be falsified like a sentiment. (p.125)

25. A very thin girl with ribs like piano=keys was pulling on her stockings. (p.126)

26. Breasts swayed, buttocks bent, cigarettes half finished fumed in saucers; the air was thick with burning paper. A man stood on a stepladder with a screwdriver fixing something. (p.127)

27. He herded them into a small and evil toilet and then through a window. (p.129)

28. You could tell how a rich man was by the fewness of the floors. Only a millionaire could afford a bungalow on a site that might have held a skyscraper. (p.131)

29. ‘I’ll guard your precious bit of flesh while you go in.’ (p.131)

30. The discarded shoes stood beside the gramaphone like mousetraps. (p.132)

31. They had not far to go: a courtyard, a gate closing behind them, and then the odour of a police-station like the ammoniac smell of zoos all the world over. (p.138)

32. A big wardrobe stood open and two white suits hung there like the last teeth in an old mouth. (p.143)

33. ‘You kill a man – that is so easy,’ Dr Hasselbacher said, ‘it needs no skill. You can be certain of what you’ve done, you can judge death, but to save a man – that takes more than six years of training, and in the end you can never be quite sure that it was you who saved him. Germs are killed by other germs. People just survive. There is not one patient whom I know for certain that I saved, but the man I killed – I know him. He was Russian and he was very thin. I scraped the bone when I pushed the steel in. It set my teeth on edge.’ (p.144)

34. He found himself taking to truth like a tranquillizer. (p.146)

35. ‘Dr Hasselbacher does not belong to the torturable class.’
‘Who does?’
‘The poor in my own country, in any Latin American country. The poor of central Europe and the Orient. Of course in your welfare states you have no poor, so you are untortuable. In Cuba the police can deal as harshly as they like with émigré from Latin America and the Baltic States, but not with visitors from your country or Scandinavia. It is an instinctive matter on both sides.’ (p.155)

36. ‘Catholics are more tortuable that Protestants, just as they are more criminal.’ (p.155)

37. ‘One reason why the West hates the great Communist states is that they don’t recognize class-distinctions. Sometimes they torture the wrong people. So too of course did Hitler and shocked the world. Nobody cares what goes on in our prisons, or the prisons of Lisbon or Caracas, but Hitler was too promiscuous. It was rather as though in your country a chauffeur had slept with a peeress.’ (p.155)

38. ‘It is a great danger for everyone when what is shocking changes.’ (p.155)

39. ‘Be careful, Mr Wormwold. He is one of the tortuable.’ They both laughed, drinking daiquiries. It is easy to laugh at the idea of torture on a sunny day. (p.156)

40. There was no turning time back. Dr Hasselbacher had been humiliated in front of him, and friendship cannot stand humiliation. (p.157)

41. It was the evening hour when work was over and the last gold light lay flat across the roofs and touched the honey-coloured hair and the whisky in his glass. (p.161)

42. The plane back to Cuba had few passengers: a Spanish woman with a pack of children – some of them screamed and some of them were air-sick as soon as they left the ground; a negress with a live cock wrapped in her shawl; a Cuban cigar-exporter with whom Wormwold had a nodding acquaintance, and an Englishman in a tweed jacket who smoked a pipe until the air-hostess told him to put it out. Then he sucked the empty pipe ostentatiously for the rest of the journey and sweated heavily into the tweed. He had the ill-humoured face of a man who is always in the right. (p.167)

43. The dog collapsed at the waiter’s feet and lay there like a length of offal. (p.182)

44. They can print statistics and count the populations in hundreds of thousands, but to each man a city consists of no more than a few streets, a few houses, a few people. Remove those few and a city exists no longer except as a pain in the memory, like the pain of an amputated leg no longer there. It was time, Wormwold thought, to pack up and go and leave the ruins of Havana. (p.189)

45. He stood on the frontier of violence, a strange land he had never visited before; he had his passport in his hand. ‘Profession: Spy.’ ‘Characteristic Features: Friendlessness.’ ‘Purpose of Visit: Murder.’ No visa was required. His papers were in order. (p.189)

46. A family-feud had been a better reason for murder than patriotism or the preference for one economic system over another. If I love or if I hate, let me love or hate as an individual. I will not be 59200/5 in anyone’s global war. (p.192)

47. ‘Beware of formulas. If there’s a God, he’s not a God of formulas.’ (p.192)

48. ‘I don’t care a damn about the men who are loyal to the people who pay them, to organizations….I don’t even think my country means all that much. There are many countries in our blood, aren’t there, but only one person. Would the world be in the mess it is if we were loyal to love and not to countries?’ (p.195)

49. (…) orchestras spoke from below ground like the ghost of Hamlet’s father or that music under the paving stones in Alexandria when the god Hercules left Anthony. (p.205)

50. Steps painted in stripes like cheap pyjamas led them down towards a cellar foggy with Havanas. It seemed as suitable a place as any other for an execution. (p.206)

51. I have to do it, Wormold thought, before he confesses any more to me. With every second the man was becoming human, a creature like oneself whom one might pity or console, not kill. (p.207)

52. A romantic is usually afraid, isn’t he, in case reality doesn’t come up to expectations. (p.210)

53. He stood stiffly among the vacuum cleaners like a disapproving tourist in a museum of phallic objects. (p.211)

54. He looked away from Wormold at the Persian pipe, the Greek icon, the Liberian mask. They were like the autobiography in which a man has written for reassurance only of his better days. (p.213)

55. ‘I used to feel it was like killing someone to tear up a photograph.’ (p.214)

56. Ten years ago he would have followed her, but middle-age is the period of sad caution. (p.223)

ISBN: 9780099286080

Greene, Graham. Our Man In Havana. London: Vintage, 2006.

 

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