Page 187: Wagons-Lits

In 1993, after Prince of Persia's release, I started research for a new video game: The Last Express, a real-time adventure set on board the Orient Express in July 1914, crossing Europe on the eve of World War I. Tomi Pierce (see page 42) and I wrote the script. Patrick, whom I'd met in film school in New York, was the first to join the team.

Tomi describes our quest to find out all we could about the pre-war Orient Express in a 1997 Newsweek article about the game's production. I've posted it in the Library, along with some of the reference materials we gathered, like this sleeping-car floor plan.

1900s train cars were beautifully crafted in teak, which makes good firewood. By 1993, only three cars from the 1914 Orient Express line remained intact. One, ironically, was Maréchal Foch's private railroad car, in which the 1918 Armistice was signed (see page 184, Chapter 5). It's now the centerpiece of a memorial in Compiègne, north of Paris.

Page 188: Sleeping Car

Patrick and I found the last remaining sleeping car in an Athens railroad yard, abandoned and deteriorating fast. After two hours of watching us climb over the car, taking photos and measurements, its guardians asked if we wanted to buy it? We were tempted, but couldn't think of where to put it.

In February 2023, I started posting weekly entries from my 1993 journal under the rubric "30 years ago this week." If you're interested in tales from the trenches of 1990s video game development (or in old trains), you can read about our Athens research trip and other Last Express production adventures in the Library.

The journal entry for July 22, 1993 describes our Athens research trip.

Page 189: Berthe Morisot

Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) is often described as one of the great woman Impressionists. For me, no qualifier is needed. She's one of the greatest Impressionist painters, full stop. Monet, Degas, Cezanne, Renoir, Pissarro — none of them captured a moment's fleeting combination of light, air, shadow, movement and human gesture better than Morisot. She was married to Eugène Manet (brother of the more famous Edouard), and often painted him and their daughter Julie in domestic scenes. Ladies weren't allowed to take an easel out into the woods to paint, or to be alone in a room with a nude model. That didn't stop her. If you're in Paris, check out the collection at the Musée Marmottan.

Page 191: Registration

This was probably the edict of 27 September 1940, which defined "Jews" (on a religious basis) and ordered a population census in the occupied zone.

The Vichy regime (the unoccupied zone, or "Free France") followed with a similar law a few days later, on 3 October 1940. Pétain's edict embraced the Nuremberg Laws definition of a Jew, deprived French Jews of their civil rights, and fired them from many jobs. The census was the beginning of escalating anti-Jewish measures in France that would culminate in round-ups, deportations and mass murder in 1941-42.

Page 192: Why did the Rois have to leave?

My dad speculates that M. Roi made such a fast decision to skip town partly to protect their Polish housemaids, as well as their new Viennese refugee friends. Whatever his reasons, I'm grateful.

Page 199: La Bernerie

The wild stretch of Bretagne coast where my dad and Lisa hid out for two months at the Rois' vacation home has been much developed since 1940. A bikeable boardwalk now separates the houses from the beach. I took this photo on the first day of my Atlantic road trip, in June 2021.

It was a long shot that the Rois' compound would still exist, or that I'd be able to find it. Once again, I was lucky. The owners of L'Embellie, a delightful bookshop-café in the village of La-Bernerie-en-Retz, directed me to the train station, headquarters of the town's historical society. That's how I met Jean-Louis Vérisson.

Based on my dad's description of two houses, a cottage and gazebo, stone steps going down to the beach and a nearby fishermen's sluice [ecluse], Jean-Louis narrowed down the possibilities to a spot known as "Quatre jumelles" (Four Twins). He checked the records and confirmed that the seafront property called "La brise" had belonged to the Roy family until 1970. (That's when we learned they spelled their name with a y, not i.) My daughter Jane visited a few months later and chatted with the Roys' neighbors, who remembered them.

I was sorry to learn that M. Vérisson passed away in October of that year. I'm very grateful for the active and generous help he gave me, with an energy and passion for accuracy worthy of a detective solving a mystery.

This aerial view shows the 4 Jumelles in 1960; some houses have been replaced, others built around them.
This older postcard suggests what what the property might have looked like in the between-the-wars period.

Page 201: The Beach

My dad kept several of his crayon drawings from La Bernerie. He'd cut his left hand badly sliding down a rock, and was under doctor's orders to sit in the garden every day for hours with his palm turned to the sun until the wound healed. Bored, he spent the time drawing.

I drew this one on the afternoon I spent there in 2021, before I drove north to find the town.

Page 202: Wanderer

The German ballad "Das Erkennen (Recognition)," by Karl Loewe (1796-1869), begins:

"A wandering lad with his staff in his hand
Comes home again from a foreign land.
His hair is dusty, his face is sunburned;
Who will recognize this boy who's returned?"

Entering the town, the boy passes one old friend after another — first the gatekeeper, then his sweetheart — but he's changed so much that no one recognizes him. Only his little old mother, coming out of the church, instantly exclaims "My son!" and falls into his arms. A tear-jerker, for sure.

In 1969, Papi's brother Carl visited us in New York (the one visit he was able to manage from Soviet Romania) and they sang songs around the piano as they had in Vienna. My dad remembers that when they got to this one, Carl had to stop mid-song as he choked up.

"Das Erkennen" recording by Adolph Mechner (MP3):

My half-brother Benjamin (born in 2000) recovered this excerpt from a 40-year-old cassette tape. A talented pianist, Beni carries on the previous generation's passion for classical music. I don't remember Carl's visit (I was five), so I'm grateful for this recording.

Many of my dad's and Papi's memories involve music. I experimented with versions of scenes in Replay, trying to find ways to make music more present, but the graphic novel medium (as compared to, say, film) isn't ideally adapted to musical moments.

Here's another page of notes from a conversation with my dad, including many details that didn't make it into the book.

Page 206: Drowned Men

After Dutch painter Jozef Israels (1824-1911).

Page 209: Free France

The groundbreaking book about the Vichy government's relationship to the persecution of France's Jews is "Vichy France and the Jews" by Michael Marrus and Robert Paxton.

The book shocked public opinion in France when it was published in 1981. Most people at that time believed that the French anti-semitic laws and mass deportations in 1940-42 were forced on the Petain regime by the Nazi occupiers, that French authorities went along grudgingly and obeyed when they had no choice. The truth is grimmer than that. I recommend Marrus and Paxton's book (recently updated in a second edition) to anyone interested.

Page 213: Laissez-passer

I'm fascinated by this conversation between my dad and Lisa that I found on a cassette tape (the label said "1985 or 1987?") For almost an hour, they discuss the adventure they shared 45 years earlier. My dad (then in his mid-fifties, about the age I am now) is interviewing her, trying to get details and the timeline straight. Sometimes he corrects her, sometimes it's the other way around.

In this excerpt, she explains how she got the travel permit ("laissez-passer") in Paris. (Note: She uses the French word "queue," meaning long line, and "Kommandantur," German military headquarters.) My dad seems skeptical that this short version is actually the whole story.

An excerpt from a 1980s conversation between Francis Mechner and Lisa Rosegg (MP3):