The suicide of Walter Benjamin had haunted me for a long time. In my younger years I had been very interested in his work, and even before that I had known Portbou well – passing through it almost every year. Overshadowed by the dark Pyrenees, it is a dismal place, where everything seems dusty and grey, even the sea. It has a vast, echoing Art Deco railway station and very little else, apart from a large and forbidding police headquarters situated just round the corner from The Hotel de Francia. His brief stay in the hotel was initially spent in desperate attempts to get permission, one way or the other, to continue his journey across Spain to Lisbon and then to the USA. At a certain point he would have realized that his efforts were futile: he would either be turned over to the French border police the following morning, or he could commit suicide.