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Post Pujol, Graham Greene, and the Unassuming Vacuum-Cleaner Salesman (from Gary Moore)
Created by John Eipper on 07/14/19 3:58 AM

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Pujol, Graham Greene, and the Unassuming Vacuum-Cleaner Salesman (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA, 07/14/19 3:58 am)

Gary Moore writes:

John Eipper asked for followup on my story (July 12) of how an unsuspecting blogger unknowingly outed a global mystery man, in the vein of José Ignacio Soler's engaging lead about the century's bigger mystery man, "Garbo," or Juan Pujol, "the man who saved the world" during World War II. And, just as one might expect in such matters, the follow-up bounces wildly askew.

First of all, in the near view, I see no signs that the well-meaning blogger in my story ever went back again to anti-climactically hear more mumbling from Sabah Jerges José Daddah. She seemed never to guess he had once been arrested as an international people-smuggler. But this is not the bounce.

That, instead, is in the peculiar title I put on the draft story when I sent it in to John, who logically didn't use that title on the final post--because what in the world might it mean? The title was: "Isn't that a vacuum cleaner, Mr. Wormold?" Say what? It has no seeming connection to the story at all--or to anything rational.

But in it was a hint that I, as unknowingly as the blogger in my tale, had now stumbled onto a second and much broader connection. Indeed the surmise might be that in this whole genre of intriguing Mystery-Man illusions, all roads, so to speak, lead to Rome--or better said, all threads in the great mental net composed of fascinations with Spectacular Romance Concealed in Unassuming Everyday Life may be probing and straining toward the pure essence, the Archetype. And in this genre, whispering insistently but unremarked beneath our discussion, it comes with a name:

Graham Greene.

Or that is, Graham Greene, the iconic mystery and spy-thriller author of the 1950s, specializing in Latin American adventure, put his incredibly laser-like mind to work on refining this Mystery-Man genre until its spaghetti-code crazily loops together. For instance, there is the WAIS puzzlement as to how, in World War II, Juan Pujol, the unassuming Lisbon double-agent--the real one, not a fiction--could have so successfully fooled stellar minds in Nazi intelligence, sending them so many fake reports on non-existent troop movements that he camouflaged the signs of coming D-Day, and thus "saved the world." How could such panache come from a mere "businessman," or from a dashing but disillusioned idealist? Indeed, these cliches weren't the answer, as Graham Greene himself wearily knew--because Greene had known Juan Pujol through Mi6 during the war.

See what I mean about the spaghetti-code looping together? Greene seemed to pinpoint the core of the Mystery-Man maze in the hoary old war word "snafu"--translatable as colossally blundering bureaucracy--too blind to suspect a wild card. It seems that Juan Pujol was sending fake reports to the Nazis even before--and not just after--he was recruited by British intelligence to do the real damage. Whispering in his story are hints of that ancient player, the Impostor, perhaps with even a breath or two of the pathological liar. But, noble or not, Greene made it clear eventually that in his mind, the answer to this mystery-man phenomenon was in overweening bureaucratic arrogance--for over time, by stages, Greene is acknowledged to have transformed his Pujol experiences into his 1958 novel Our Man in Havana, a book so irresistible that it became a movie with Alec Guiness as the (appropriately disguised and geo-relocated) Pujol character. Greene called him "James Wormold."

Mr. Wormold was a mousy, unassuming vacuum cleaner salesman who landed, in the Cold War 1950s, in steamy Cuba, to be drawn, like lint into the Hoover, into swashbuckling do-or-die--as he found the spy world demanding to take seriously his claims that a convoluted vacuum-cleaner user's manual diagram was in fact a secret plan of a missile base (the laser-like mind also foreshadowed the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis). Below is an excerpt on the evolution of Wormold/Pujol--not excerpted from some arcane secret archive, but one appropriately in plain sight, like the aging porch-front intriguers of Caracas or Tapachula, for this excerpt comes from Wikipedia:

"Greene joined MI6 in August 1941. In London, Greene had been appointed to the subsection dealing with counter-espionage in the Iberian Peninsula, where he had learned about German agents in Portugal sending the Germans fictitious reports, which garnered them expenses and bonuses to add to their basic salary.

"One of the agents was 'Garbo,' a Spanish double agent in Lisbon, who gave his German handlers disinformation, by pretending to control a ring of agents all over England. In fact, he invented armed forces movements and operations from maps, guides and standard military references. Garbo was the main inspiration for Wormold, the protagonist of Our Man In Havana.

"Remembering the German agents in Portugal, Greene wrote the first version of the story in 1946, as an outline for a film script, with the story set in Estonia in 1938. The film was never made, and Greene soon realised that Havana, which he had visited several times in the early 1950s, would be a much better setting, with the absurdities of the Cold War being more appropriate for a comedy."

So, saludos to all the special vacuum cleaner salesmen of the world, amid that sneaking suspicion that, if we wish hard enough, we might be them.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Man_in_Havana

JE comments:  Gary Moore had included a cryptic question in his original post, "which Hoover is that"?  We often confuse J. Edgar with Herbert, but don't forget that our British friends also use hoovering as a verb.  (I just learned that the vacuum cleaner, like so many icons of modernity, was invented in Ohio.)

So Pujol transcends "mere" espionage and reaches into the realm of the literary.  Has there ever been a more fascinating unassuming fellow?


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  • A Graham Greene Reference (Edward Jajko, USA 07/16/19 3:49 AM)
    Further to the little dangling thread about Graham Greene (who was far more than a writer of mysteries, books which he called "entertainments," and more a writer on Africa than Latin America):

    In episode 4, "Deguello," of season 6 of the excellent British TV series Endeavour, there is an inside joke. Inspector Fred Thursday and DS E. Morse are interviewing a prima donna Oxford don who is a possible suspect in the murder of--shudder--an Oxford librarian. Thursday asks the don about the book he had called for from the Phi, or restricted, collection, Memoirs of a Voluptuary. The don explains that it is a classic of Edwardian erotica and is much studied. Thursday responds that he wouldn't know; "I'm a Holly Martins man myself." Chortle, chortle.


    JE comments:  Holly Martins is the protagonist of Greene's The Third Man.  Like Evelyn and Shirley, we don't come across too many male Hollys these days.


    Ed, I am chortling!  Tell us about Oxford's "Phi."  Does it contain erotica only, or are rare/controversial books included as well?


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