Ishtar was a beautiful girl. You might say, many girls are handsome, some even beautiful. I say ,Ishtar was a beautiful girl. Many girls and I am often jealous are pretty, often in their early twenties, they just look good, in a very relaxed way. I was never to be counted among them. But this doesn’t matter. In this matter, it has to be stated that Ishtar was a beautiful girl. You, who do not know Ishtar yet, might encounter this sentence with unbelieving amazement and with no less right than anyone else, let alone myself, you might say: we do not know Ishtar. How should we know, if she was beautiful at all? We never saw Ishtar, how should we believe that she is as you say? And you would wonder even more, when I would tell you that I never met or saw Ishtar, the girl by myself, once I came close to that , but not close enough. But Ishtar is not a beauty you might find in a Ted Baker dress, Ishtar’s beauty can’t be counted in terms of greek noses, alabaster skin, pearl-white teeth or Dolly Parton breasts. Ishtar is different, Ishtar, the beautiful girl. But did Ishtar fall out of time? No, never. Ishtar saw most times, saw the woods burn, saw cities rising, knew many emperor’s close, she knew even more cold fingers on her lips. The dead are long gone, but Ishtar always comes and goes alive. This is the beauty of Ishtar. Sometimes many years pass by, but this is what times does, whereas Ishtar never was a passerby. Those who will see Ishtar, won’t take their off her, won’t be able to watch without trembling hands and shaking fingers. But the chroniclers are still silent, for many years no one opened a new page, no one cut a new feather, the ink already is a rest of black coal. But if she would be seen, everything would be different, would immediately change. Is she small or large, you tend to ask me further, but I ask you back: What is classified as ’small‘ or ‚ large‘? Who shapes ways of looking through such terms? Ishtar would have laughed at you and at me. Because we forget how much life was in her beauty. Look at me, she would say. This is impossible, we would answer. It is not longer possible to see the sun chariot, we lost sight of Prometheus who lit the fire even if we like it warm in winter too, Hermes and his winged sandals disappeared beyond the clouds that never lightened. Things just are, people say nowadays. And while the people are not coming anymore, late at night bearing news,sometimes they hold death in their mouth, sometimes the joy of spring, sometimes they saw a girls called Ishtar, then everybody opened the door to let her in, standing shoulder and shoulder, if Ishtar came, we still don’t know and while we are waiting once again, we state, we repute and we say: Ishtar, the girl, was beautiful.
Every year in summer my grandmother invited guests to a festivity in her garden. At the first sight the guests invited had not much in common, they came from many places and often even different countries, they had different professions, some of them had family, some of them had not, some were older than others and some much younger, none of them was related to another guest let alone to my grandmother, but all guests invited had something very specific in common, they all were survivors of a German extermination camp, and even if the camps differed too, their annual meeting in my grandmother’s garden was called among themselves: The meeting of the „Auschwitzer’s“. And the invitation letters my grandmother wrote beforehand, were opened with “ Dear Auschwitzer’s“ too. I know this for sure, because it was me who assisted my grandmother in carefully putting the letters in cream-white envelopes and licking around the edges of the envelope to seal it properly. I particularly hated this job because my tongue and mouth felt as I would have eaten fur all day long. Before the guests arrived my grandmother disappeared in the kitchen, where I was asked to assist too, but it was a much better job to lick dough out the bowls than moistening the envelopes. My grandfather pulled out the big table and brought down in the garden as many stools as he was able to find in the household. He and I went to the cleaner where the enormous white table linen waited to be picked up and under the surveillance of my grandmother’s very sharp eyes we stretched out the linen and were setting the table with the blue and white Meissen porcelain, my grand-mother preserved all year-long for this special occasion. You have to be very careful she told me and so I walked as slow as I was able to do so, up and down the stairs for many, many times before my grandmother herself brought the strawberry cake, the lemon drizzle, the cheesecakes with rum-drained raisins, the plum tart with almonds, the nougat filled biscuit roll whereas in the middle of the table the Black Forest cake stood or better was enthroned. Next to the cakes there stood four lead-crystal bowls in swan shapes full with cream-white clotted cream, endusted with cocoa powder. There were silver tea pots and rock sugar in silver doses with the smallest spoons in it I ever saw. I had to wear a skirt, what I hated and to listen to the long list of good behavior I would have to follow including, not eating with my fingers, never ever licking out a clotted cream bowl, not taking a piece of cake for myself without offering the guests first and I nodded, glancing at the wonderful cakes all around me. I was especially proud that I was allowed to drink my milk out of a porcelain cup too, like a real madame. Nearly every time, when the garden festivity took place, I sat next to Shmuel Holländer. Once, so I was told and once always meant the time before the camps, Shmuel Holländer was quite a name. He was a hat-maker before he became an Auschwitzer making hats for women and men and for all possible and impossible occasions. Women and men were traveling many hours and kilometers to get a hat made by him than suddenly „once“ came and Shmuel Holländer became a filthy jew who was not allowed to touch heads or hats anymore and when I met Shmuel Holländer, in my grandmother’s garden he sat there silent, taking out his handkerchief every time, after drinking a zip of coffee, wiping his mouth carefully. He had no wife and no children, if he had so before, he never told so. He was not a hat-maker anymore but worked in a small alteration shop. And even on a table full of alienated and hurt to death people, he remained a stranger, his appearance fascinating and appalling at the same time. And even many more years later, I can’t quite say why his appearance evoked this unease, he was someone seeming to suffer from a non curable inner-disease, dragging him further and further away, he never spoke to anyone else than my grandmother and I still can see them both sitting under the old nut-tree, he nearly disappearing in his bulky grey summer jacket, ways too big for him whispering words to my grandmother I was unable to catch up. even while trying to climb upon her lap. But one a very hot summer afternoon, the hottest so far remembered by the circle of Auschwitzer’s coming together, sitting around the long table amidst the cake and the coffee, I was so thirsty I gulped all the milk in my cup at once and refilled my cup immediately afterwards, to pour down that second cup quickly too but when I longed for my cup for the third time, I felt a gentle but firm touch on my arm. It was Shmuel Holländers hand. Milk, he said to me earnest and smiling sadly as ever, milk does not quench the thirst. Milk he repeated, never quenches the thirst, milk makes even more thirsty, he said, still holding my arm firmly, looking at me sternly.Many years later I learned that Shmuel Holländer, his wife and children tried to hide themselves on a farm, having only milk to drink, his wife and children begging for some water to get and while Shmuel Holländer was leaving, their hiding place was discovered and Shmuel Holländer never saw his wife or children again, but this I did not know by then, I just remember that firm grip on my arm. The few things I know about him, I learned many years later, when I even longer stopped drinking milk not even using the once so beloved porcelain cups anymore.
Sometimes the tiredness grabs me hard from behind, slings its arms around my neck and leaves me breathless, standing alone. The world gets blurry then and the colors seem to fade away quickly, the letters crumble away. The world is hidden behind a heavy curtain, all sound swallowed up by velvet carpets,no steps are to be heard anymore and no one is left, but the weariness alone. The tiredness is an old guest, knows how to make herself comfortable, puts the legs on the desk immediately and loughs roughly. An old companion never change its habits, but holds my fingers till they are cold and numb, losing keys and stumbling around as only drunkards do. The world, which must still exist beyond that massive curtain, seems to be far away, in this world, people look good and yawn out of pleasure, sitting on tables with white linen, ordering fish and drinking wine. Well dressed are the people, wearing Ray Ban glasses, laughing out loud, discussing the choice for the dessert and the neighbor’s failing of buying a yacht. But I can only hear them mumble beyond the glass wall of fatigué, which comes closer and closer, pushes me till I will fall, looking curiously at me if I will ever get up or just remain on the floor, counting carefully if 41 hours in the same pair of shoes might be enough to succeed.
The vet stops by often. At least once a week his battered , old Volvo moans around the corner. He is the only person in the radius with such a car, in an environment where everyone else drives its kids with a heavy Landrover through the narrow streets to park exactly in front of the school-gate. This makes the vet suspicious. I drive a blue bike, which would make me even more suspicious but furthermore I do not eat pork and drink no beer, and the village where I live still searches for a category where I may fit in. The vet is tall, strong and bald. When he enters through the door, kicking of his Wellies, Queen Cat arrives fast as lightening and jumps on his lap and soon starts to purr loudly that especially I can hear it. Of course I am jealous. The vet has short-cutted nails, feminine hands and smells after the stall, an indefinite wet and sharp eau d’cologne. He always turns something around in his hands, a bunch of keys, a tissue, sometimes the vet forgets that his hands are empty and he hides his fingers behind his back. The vet never speaks of animals, seldom says horse, or cow, pig, or hen but never refers otherwise to them as of his beasts. The vet has grey eyes, most of the time only half wide opened, he does not speak much but maybe he prefers the beasts for conversation. The vet can eat a loaf of bread with cheese and still look hungry, he cuts an apple in four exact slices, but only does so with his very own knife. The vet and I don’t talk much, even if the grocer’s wife always asks me, if the vet told me some news, no, I say and she looks disappointed because she has hope for one of her daughters. To have a vet in the family would do some good, she says but the vet does not seem convinced. Most of the time the vet and I look out of the window, but when he leaves, putting on his Wellies again, I never look back after him, never see the white Citröen leaving, going right or left, but am just thinking of a photo showing my mother many years ago, leaning beside a tall, good-looking men, next to a white Citröen where she seems to be lucky and full of joy, beautiful and exciting, someone I should never meet, someone who went away many years before she became my mother.
The summer has golden hair, wears a dress made of light green silk and carries sweet scenting roses, dark red, yellow and pink in both hands. The summer is a little girl kneeling smiling and running trying to catch the waves, searching for sea shells all over the beach, the summer has a bike, rolling down the hills, passing by the yellow gorse and the blue larkspur, rolling faster and faster, eventually outrun the big black dog, the sun is sparkling lady wearing her finest red dress, dancing and dancing all day long, not even changing her shoes, the summer asks for a big ice cream cone at the grocer’s store and leaves a small, little boy, proud and lucky and blessed with the summer. The summer is a cat on the window bench around 6 PM not moving but deep breathing, inhaling the summer and sighing lazily. The summer clinks cool in the glasses of all the men and women sitting in front of the bars, wearing big sunglasses and bigger smiles, lying on the grass or sleeping deckchair, playing badminton on the meadow and whistles a light hearted song, till the ice in the glasses has melted, the lipstick sticks on the rim, but the girls already jumped in the water or dancing slowly with the men on their side. The summer likes strawberries, red and glancing, the juice dripping of the corner of the mouth, running down the chin and raspberries too, the blackbirds, these pirates of the sky like the cherries best and cherries they have all day long and the summer laughs and laughs on taking you by the hand, swirling you around again and again, leaving rose leaves in your hand and a branch of lavender beyond your ears.
Queen Cat yawns when I open the door. Hey, Queen Cat say I, I am back, but only the royal whiskers move a bit as an answer. You are called feline I say to her, because you are supposed to hunt around midnight, to dance on exclusive balls organized by the “ Swinging Cat Association” and be admired by the manly world of the cats. But Queen Cat just looks annoyed in my direction, being quite distracted in the very same ways most of my teachers were, pointing at me to show how an example looks like, which is not able to understand the easiest things and won’t become much more than a care-taker in a hostel at the motorway if I would be lucky. Then Queen Cat jumps on the bed, of course on my side of the bed and falls asleep two seconds later. Sometimes I think it can’t be much harder to live together with this queen than with a dragon, who cuts his golden claws every Tuesday and reads novels by Patricia Cornwall. ( This is what these species normally does, so don’t believe anyone telling you about fire and smoke.)My neighbor’s window shimmers blue, on the screen flickers one of the many sports games, taking place night after night, and every evening after evening people are getting excited. But in my place, on the table the lilac in the old white vase is not blossoming anymore, a whole lot of violet and white crumbles are on the table, next to the pile of unread papers and the organic box. For the first time in the year there are no turnips or parsnips in the massive bag arriving at my door week by week. This means that even in Ireland the summer has arrived but it does of course not mean that the woolly socks will disappear in the drawer, that’s an all year survival tool. While I share my bed with a queen of true origin, which means to arrange with little space for myself, I think of the old emperor Francis Joseph, who slept on a camp bed in the massive castle, the “Hofburg” in Vienna, and I remember the book I read recently, containing the letters between the emperor and the actress Katharina Schratt. The relation depicted there, showed a woman, who begs constantly for money, which he will not only grant, but fervently show him worshipping her and her wishes. There is no wit, no love, not even sympathy, but constant claims and wishes. She is not entertaining, nor is he, no one ever has something to tell beyond the common place, there are no anecdotes to be expected but endless tearful talk to be found, till money is needed again. But maybe even this feels like love for someone who sleeps on a camp-bed, left alone in a massive palace, where servants are the only ones left to be heard or then and when an antique wooden- clock reminds the old emperor that his time already passed by and the new one would soon take over, leaving behind the old world destroyed in bits and pieces. But maybe the emperor never cared and dreamed happily of a greedy actress, because we get what we deserve sooner or later or at least are being told so, before we understand that the luck only visits few and most often not us. The old wooden clock in my parlor went asleep too, maybe yesterday or already the day before, somewhat around four o’clock. But today is already over, the sea is silent, the moon is full and always smiles sadly and the time runs by, even if the old wooden clock tries to pretend that tomorrow, might not come tonight.
Where I grew up it never rained. There were clouds in the sky, big ones and small ones, storms arrived often and brought sand with them, so much sand you could not open the doors or windows anymore. But the clouds or the storm never brought rain. Where I grew up, people said prayers for the rain to come, they sang songs for the rain to arrive and danced for the rain to start but the rain never came. Most of the people never saw the rain, even if everyone often spoke about the rain. There was only one woman left, who did not only sang, prayed and danced but who, even if it was long time ago knew the rain by herself. Even if I met her everyday, I don’t know her name, she was called Bibi Mvua, Grandmother Rain by everyone. She was the slimmest and strongest woman I ever met, she chewed betel all day and spat on the floor, she had nearly no teeth left but when she smiled she looked like a queen, she did not liked to be asked for stories but I did ask her anyway, coming back to her door across the street, day after day, sitting next to hear, waiting till she started to tell the old stories, till she told me from the rain, described to me the smell of the rain, the green around and showed me a single photo, depicting her father who had some cattle, but then the war came and the rain stopped and she too, did not speak further, did not tell me more about the war, the cattle and the missing rain.
In the long summer holidays I visited my grandmother in Germany, my grandmother was called Ami and I thought maybe my grandmother could tell me more about the rain and maybe show me the rain itself. And when she asked me, picking me up from the airport, if I had a wish for the long holidays to come, I asked her to show me the rain. But the sky outside the window was blue and crisp clear, everyday, when I woke up, I drew my grandmother to the window, asking her when the rain would begin, but my grandmother shook her head, not even a single cloud appeared on the sky. But she took me upon her lap, put up a record on the old, vibrating player and the tempest began. I was frightened, this should be the sound of the rain? My grandmother told me the story of Donar, the frightful ruler, standing on his billy-goat drawn carriage ruling with lightening and thunder. But I preferred the much more friendly rain pouring down on the streets, the cattle and the strawberries of my grandmother’s garden beyond the house. And finally after a long time of waiting, one day, very early in the morning my grandmother woke me up, the rain she said, it is here. And we both hand in hand ran barefoot down the stairs into the garden, she turning me around till we both were soaking wet, me licking the raindrops running down my cheeks away, she with undone hair, both of us standing in the rain, laughing and singing silly rhymes. And later that day I filled a bottle with rainwater for Bibi Mvua, the woman who knew the rain when no one else did anymore and when I was back, I ran to her house across the street and without in need of saying a word, she saw the bottle, full of grey, mouldy water and knew that the rain was back in a place, where after the war, the rain did stop coming and like her father probably would never return.
Friend O. calls, he will arrive later because of someone business to handle beforehand. In these days especially in Vinohrady,a district of Prague everyone seems to be very busy and beside of me, has some business to do. But I can walk along the streets, where new shops selling watches or clothes or cosmetics all advertising with the prefix „luxury“. At the market you won’t find vegetables and fruits anymore as you did for so many years,now replaced by smoothies, fresh pressed pomegranate or carrot- ginger juices and superfood stalls. The people on the street look extraordinary good. The women are slightly sun-tanned, they sit with their mobiles phones in one hand in front of the many new-openend cafés and bars, stretching out their legs, to be admired from the passengers, drinking prosecco with strawberries, smiling beyond their enormous sun-glasses and talking either into their phones or to their exactly as good-looking friends next to them, from time to time they open their handbags or just flip away an imagined crumb, because the women are all very slim and tall, not even thinking of ordering a cake . And probably they look at me, neither blond, nor tall nor super-slim, let alone beautiful, eating cake and now everyone of their good-looking friends around Vinohrady already is informed that there is someone around, who eats cake with chocolate. I better hurry, because I am afraid they might start taking pictures for the „Most horrorful street scene Vinorahdy awards 2014“ named the „The cake eating monster“, there are some glorious chapter in life I am very happy to miss,but if you are in Prague without some business to do,or just waiting for your old friend O. to come as I did, Vinohrady with its beautiful Hapsburg buildings and even more its inhabitants is worth a visit and I absolutely want to recommend the Prádelna Café, a former laundry, now a wonderful and friendly place to sit for hours and watch the street life. Their cake is excellent but you definitely should try the homemade herbal lemonade, the herbs coming from a basket placed next to the door. And you should directly order a second one, for your old friend O. who tries to park his SUV and arrives in a shape, where you can see that this was some kind of a hard business to do.
100 20 Praha 2
In Dresden people seem to be very proud of everything. Their town is nothing more than splendid, their castle the most beautiful castle, outshining every other castle ever built, their museums are the most exclusive, especially the green vault has the most impressive, most precious and most impressive collection of royal treasuries ever seen before, of course the food is the most delicious ever tasted and especially a cake, called „Eierschecke“ is not only a cake made of egg, curd cheese and meringue but a specialty of highest popularity. The cafés in the town centre are, how could it be otherwise, delighting and full of saxonian charm, nearly every second visitor is over 65 years old, wearing either wearing khaki colored trousers, on khaki colored sweaters or preferring wild and ornamental floral designs in the colors, dark red, violet most of them sequined. Nearly everyone who gets off the buses, wears an outdoor jacket ( khaki or grey ) and a belly bag. I can only guess, but looking at the garments of the tourists you can’t overcome the feeling that Dresden is after all a city, where you have to be prepared to get robbed off or a climate only to be found in Himalayan regions may occur at anytime. Of course, the walk along the riverbanks is the most joyful promenade ever to be found, the scenery is indeed picturesque and nearly everyone who passes by is a proud owner of a camera made to win every picture of the year award, and the most heard sound of any walk is the steady, click, click, click rhythm of the most amazing panorama ever seen before. And if you are walking along, as I did trying to escape the armada of buses, you should not be surprised if out of the blue a group of most racy bikers drives with the most extraordinary speed towards your direction, shouting „Out of the way!“ and you would as I did, jump into the slope, in the very comforting feeling, that you fell indeed into the most impressive and extraordinary bank you will never be able to find elsewhere than in the city of Dresden.
It is a silent afternoon. Here everything is far away, Prague, Berlin and Vienna are names but no places and at exact twelve a o‘ clock all the shops are closed for two hours, the butcher lowers the blinds, the baker closes the curtains and no more shops than these two are left in the middle of a small village, which goes to sleep for two long hours in the middle of a sunny and dusty day in early summer. For half an hour I sit on a bench, sleepy myself from the long drive and when I get up, the curtains are moving so slowly that I can only guess if it is the wind or the people behind the curtains. Half an hour later I reach Vrchotovy Janovice, the same Janovice, which for Karl Kraus became an arcadian dream. The castle inhabited by his great love, Sidonie Nádherny who drove down to the station to pick her lover up, who arrived three times a week with the night train Vienna-Trieste and wrote the most magnificent love-letters I ever read. And still today, the castle is there, even if the train station does not work even more. And still today, you can walk through the park, look at the tame ducks who follow you, you still can sit at the „Kraus-Table“ where he spent many long summer days looking up, into the tree tops that are all much older than any of us and forgot about Prague, Vienna and Berlin. You can buy ice cream, soda and in the former stables, you can sit and look at the craftsmen of the village, who eat meat, with potatoes and boiling hot red cabbage, while the radio plays czech pop music. At around one a clock, a bus full of very old women and a few old men arrives at the gate, you get a leaflet and follow the guide inside the castle, where maybe Sidonie and Karl slowly waltzed around the floor. But today the castle is a wild mixture full of heroes of the nationalist czech movement, garments and dusty foliage plants. The old women are amazed of the garments, the old men are bored, the leaflet explains the heroism of the czech nationalist movement and I look out of the window, where the garden overlooks the pond, where Sidonie swam early in the morning. Only two small rooms remind of this splendid, autonomous, sexy and very intelligent women, who drove with her car through North Africa, who loved her brother and even more her dogs, who wrote letters to Rilke and fell in love with Karl Kraus. But even in this silent and dusty regions, where the mountains look friendly and the meadows are wide and full of poppy, the war came and with the war came the German invasion, the SS troops threw Sidonie out of the castle, and when the SS was finished with the destruction and the devastation of a whole region, the communist party and the former neighbors of Sidonie came, taking away her belongings,and forbid her even to approach her castle and the park, she once created as her home. Sidonie von Nádherny left and died alone nearby London. But the tour through the castle is already finished, one of the old woman explains to the group that coffee and cake will be prepared nearby and this promise keeps the spirits up and as surprisingly as they arrived, they leave, leaving behind the dusty foliage plants, the faded garments, the nationalist heroes and the nearly forgotten Sidonie von Nádherny, who loved and was loved by Karl Kraus, in a very small village, in a castle surrounded by old trees, a deep pond, with tame ducks and a dog sleeping in the long and sunny hours of a long and sunny early summer day, where the world seemed so far away, where life felt so safe and love meant a promise for an endless, long summer, with a sun never leaving but the sun still today, even if the castle, the pond and the bench made of stone are still there, never came back to Vrchotovy Janovice and never will be as warming as in these days.