Paul Nizan 1937

The Death of the Six Day Race

First Published: in Ce Soir, April 15, 1937;
Source: Paul Nizan, Intellectuel Communiste Maspero, Paris, 1967;
Translated: by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2007.

On the racing track, which is the color of the floor of a dance hall, the pack half-heartedly circled. At times a racer broke out; a machine with steel limbs abruptly passed the kingdom of speed which was no more that of his fellows than the rhythm of the hare is that of the dog.

The shot rang out from the starter’s pistol signaling the sprints; an orchestra carried away the race to the music of a circus or a merry-go-round.

The racers passed with the looks on their faces of sleeping children. In the rider’s area, in the masseur’s tent, Pecqueux, who had given up, slowly passed his hand the length of his left leg.

Towards evening the crowd arrived. A singularly bored crowd. At the weigh-in there wasn’t a single good-looking woman. Someone said: “Where is the era of Alexander?”

The speed of the chase increased: it was the final hours. The most popular ones took off to great waves of acclaim.

Around the rider’s area and the kitchen a strange, nonchalant, and calculating fauna watched over the destiny of the race. They were men who were generally pale and fat and who live off the efforts of the best racers. There were swindlers, policemen, traffickers in bonuses. They were men of another species, like those flabby fish who swim in the wake of the long distance couriers.

Everything that wasn’t the movement of the racing men was of a terrific baseness; the music, the speaker’s voice, the announcements of the bonuses and bal musettes held by police informants followed on those of cheese merchants, of the Restaurant of the Suckling Snail.

The end came. Yellow and red arrows burst out on the track. Sergeant M., who protects the petty traffic of the Six Days with agents on leave, cleared out the racer’s area and said: “If they have their little affairs to straighten out, let them do it among themselves...”

They had just then spoken of strychnine.

The last sprint was being run. From the loudspeakers fell the ignoble accents of the “Java du Cochon.” It was over. Billiet and Wals were the winners. They rolled shoulder to shoulder, as is appropriate for fellows in victory. These gestures of courageous men with their hard bodies save the Six Day Race from the extreme baseness that the flabby phantoms of the wings have reign there.

But in the end, the crowd wasn’t happy. They felt that the Six Days was dying and that the time was past when literary young men dreamed of sitting on a spring morning at the Excelsior with the mistresses of champions.

At the spot where the timekeepers write, around the finish line, there were piles of floral bouquets in crystal paper, like on the day of a great burial.