Dear Walter Benjamin

In Port Bou, the border town where you decided to end your life, I had a coffee break in a small bar called ‘David’. You know, it is hard for me to find a fascination that keeps my mind occupied. I live in the stasis of peace, and war has become so unimaginable that we experience even a war on our own continent primarily as a media spectacle.

I sat on the rusty steel stairs of the monument they erected for you, pondering the moment. It is a staircase leading down a cliff. I can see the blue water of the Mediterranean, but I can’t fall into it. There is a plastic barrier, making the monument (perversely?) safe. They put your quote on it (translated by a computer):

It is more difficult to honor the memory of the nameless than that of the famous. The historical construction is consecrated to the memory of the nameless

It is 2023 now. We are all connected. Can I proof it to you? Standing next to your monument, still in awe of its concept, I wrote the Israeli artist Dani Karavan a message on Facebook, an exploitative medium that allows us to send messages.

I learned that the Nazis never came further south than this place. Sadly, neither did you. You would have been amazed of the decades after the war. Atomic bombs! Moonlanding! The Cold War! The ubiquity of copies of copies of copies!

I admire your intellect. I’ve long been worried that mine is too weak, ashamed that it doesn’t have any real interest, apart from a vague desire to be admired. On the other hand (there is of course always the gaze of a dialectic) I feel the pangs of a universal fascination. Everything is gorgeous! I admire the color of stones, the composition of trash bags piled on top of each other, the purposeful gait of a white dog, the posture of people taking photographs, and so much more!

This story will have a little arc, I hope you like it. You know, they place another quote of yours near the monument, that went something like this: “History is not the progessive story of victors and conquerors, but first and foremost the stories of the suffering.”

On the otherwise empty train from Port Bou to Perpignan that I took at night, there were three guys. They walked around and started talking to me. After the train had stopped in the station of Perpignan, one of them smoked a cigarette and they jumped on me, pretending to imitate famous soccer players tackling me. But one of the boys’ hands went into my pocket. I yelled, at the top of my longs “Au secours!” Several times. It must have been the least cool thing they had ever seen. About one minute later, several gendarms came running onto the platform. They boys were trapped.

I told the gendarms that they had assaulted me and tried to pick my pocket. I also told them, in English because I had lost my French in the event, that they had not stolen anything. The gendarms asked the boys for identification, which they could not produce. I felt victorious and walked to the center of Perpignan with the exaggerated grin of someone who had been victorious in a way that belied the story they told themselves. On the streets, I felt some aggression, some averted eyes. Not much later, I checked in at a comfortable hotel. The next morning, I would be rewarded with a delicious breakfast, courtesy of the much more expensive hotel in the same building that I was entitled to because of the renovations taking place in my budget hotel. Entitled.

I had told the story to the kind ladies at the check-in desk of my hotel. “Ils m’ont sauté” my French had come back. I also explained how my privileged, victorious feeling was tainted with a concern. The boys that had assaulted me were not white. The police officers that asked for their ID while not bothering me, where all white. I still see them storming onto the platform. It felt like my private white boy security force. Eat that, you filthy rabble, feel my privilege, losers.

I realize who suffered today: the poor boys who thanks to me got in trouble with the police.

History is their story. This is their story. I should wish them well. In two years from now, all three of them will be dedicated apprentices in a job they love, telling each other jokes about their soccer heroes. They will have quit smoking, and if they see a bespectacled gentleman with a large backpack, they will nod at him.