Dark clouds on the horizon. A soaked wet Read On returns. Black clouds arrive never alone. My finger I crash in the door. A bottle of water crashes down to the ground. Broken pieces everywhere. Queen Cat refuses the food offered. Of course its her favorite food that costs me a fortune week after week. In order to express her disgust properly she digs out the roots of my last surviving orchid. The orchid is gone. The bread dough is hard as a stone, even after long hours in the gentle heated oven. Furious I throw the dough in the bin, when I open the bin two hours later the dough has risen a good quarter. The vegetable soup smells and tastes of parsnips. I hate parsnips. The grocer’s wife annoys me with her nuisance, I buy a package of eggs, back at home two eggs have cracked shells and slip through my fingers. „Grocer’s wife!“ cry I, but she is the last to hear. Queen Cat still can not make up her mind in regard to her food. „Ungrateful thing“, I snap at her and she turns her back towards me, now deeply affronted. I feel like the horrible Aunt Norris, who teases poor Fanny Price all day long. My hair looks horrible, like such of a half- wild Shetland pony that never sees a stable. Gross and ugly I tell the mirror just to turn away. My sister finally comes up with a wish for a birthday. A scented candle is her deepest desire. I ask Dr Google and Dr Google informs me that the candle is sold in the US only and shall cost 80 Dollar. 80 Dollar I burst, for a candle? My sister and Queen Cat truly would be a perfect match. Maybe I should look for some red ribbon? For the forth time the vet cancels our dinner appointment, the lambs, he explains hastily on the phone. My nephew is disappointed that I do not know how to make gold. „I have been horrible at chemistry!“, I try to soothe him- without any success. On the horizon, new dark clouds appear. In thirty minutes at latest it will rain again.
One child, a boy of nine years or so climbs up the old magnolia tree. Concentrated he looks and when finally he reaches the top he looks proud. So proud that he rocks and shakes the branches till white snowflake like magnolia blossoms fall onto the ground. A group of three girls passes by, maybe ten or eleven years old they are. They closely walk arm in arm, whispering and giggling. A few minutes later they drop their bags under the tree, still exchanging secrets. For the hero in the treetop they have no eye left. Two, new girls appear on the scene. They are greeted frantically by the girls under the tree. A kiss here and a kiss there, a big hug then a second and a third. You would think they did not see each other for long and desperate years. The boy in the treetop still remains invisible for them. The girls start to brush each other’s hair. This seems to be a task of highest importance. Concentrated they are, stern looking, working with both ambition and endurance. Unseen still the boy climbs higher, climbs out of the sight of the still, young leaves and fresh, just green- grown branches up to the topmost part of the tree. Over the whole village, the boy can now look, he might even see the lake a few kilometers far away, and maybe the voices of the girls, who now are dancing to the music from their iPods disappear. An adventurer of his kind of course listens to other things as to a silly pop song. It might be the case that he spots a group of friends over there, that he now wants to show that its him, who made it up to the tree- top. This needs admiration and attention. Francis Drake once got a medal from Queen Elizabeth I herself, for raiding up Spanish ships and plundering, so at least the group of boys approaching with mountain-bikes and skate- boards should notice. Especially the boy with the red, most expensive and very fast looking bike, who even while only ten looks already like the most cool person ever born should learn something about true adventurism and the spirit of exploration. Hey, shouts the boy from above, and then a second and a third time, „hey, it’s me up there.“ Finally the group of boys and the girls notice him and stare into the tree to make out their friend among all the white-creamy leaves. But then things start to get terribly wrong. If the boy let loose of a branch, while making himself known or the branch he was standing upon was brittle after the long winter or just slippery from last nights rain, I am unable to tell you and maybe he himself does not know. Then it is only a matter of seconds, a mighty thundering, a cry, shaking branches, a tree moving heavily and a hero, an adventurer rushes down and lies on the ground, his nose bleeding. After a few seconds of astonishment, the girls shriek and jump away, but when the boy after a minute or two gets back on his feet, he can read their verdict very clearly. No admiration, not at all, pity in the best case, he sees in their eyes, in other words total defeat. The boy with the red mountain bike, he himself surprised by the quite spectacular fall, starts to laugh out loudly. Loser, he shouts and the other ones join the chorus. Then they quickly pick up their bikes and race away. The girls are following, they have better things to do anyway. Alone and silent, without looking up again, the hero ashamed limbs away. And so he can not hear me telling him that one day, he will be back, not on the top of a tree maybe, but one day, he will leave them all behind, standing on top of Mount Everest, while the boy with the red bike sits in a damp office and all the girl’s hearts will beat just for him. But of course in the moment this does not help much.
Today, many, many years ago William Shakespeare was born and what do we know, maybe he fell down one day as well and remembered the laughing faces and created the many heroes of different kind we all know. Today as well is World Book’s day and to celebrate books always means to celebrate all those heroes and heroines we meet between the pages. And I am convinced so many new heroes might be discovered by you and me and everyone of us. One most extraordinary book „Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither“ I want to give away today. It was written by a most fantastic Irish writer Sara Baume. What the Irish Times thinks about the book you can read here.
A book perfectly to read underneath a tree or if you are brave- hearted enough high up in his top. While I am curious as an owl that lives in the tree-trunk of the most massive and old trees, I would ask you to let me know in the comments which is your most favorite, most beloved or most pitied hero you came across in a book till the 28. of April 2015. Sometimes it is as simple as this.
When I saw your for the very first time, Valeska, I was only fourteen years old but I had just irrevocably realized that I would never be a pretty girl. You were not only pretty, you were a beauty. And in the moment I saw you I fell in love with you. You marked quite a beginning of many years of constant, hopeless falling in love. I was very good at this and still am. But first I saw you in the old, half-rotten staircase, you leaned in a half open door in the late hours of an afternoon, dusty and dirty was the floor, and quite sharp reflected your appearance against the dampness in the empty hallway. You wore a white dress, I thought you were a bride, you were not at all. The skirt ended shortly above your knees and I stared at you bare legs, you kept in a nearly ninety degree angle, leaning with your back at the door. Oh, Valeska, how can one not fall in love with these, with your legs. Milk- white was your skin, I never saw such white ever after, and I still wonder, because the sun burnt down all day long, all year-long, how you could appear like this, but you did never mind. You waited for your lover to come, and you smoked patiently. I tried for many years to smoke like you, but I never had a chance, my fingers too clumsy and never lady-like enough. When I looked down from my window, down in the wild and rotten backyard, I saw you kissing your lover, slow and deep. Oh, Valeska, how could one not fall in love with your mouth, with the tip of your tongue, your neck, swanlike, your back pliable as such of a dancer and a dancer you probably were. And I could not stop looking at you, how you stretched your arms out to your lover and it was as if you would embrace the world. I fell in love with you Valeska and when your lover beat you up hard and I saw you running down the steps I had lost my heart. A few days later you were back, your right eye was black. Oh, Valeska, how could one not fall in love with your eyes? I could not help it, and drowned deep. I swore to g*d and myself that I could see to the ground of the sea in your eyes. While I spent my afternoons, wrapped in black cardigans and layers of scarfs on the rooftop terrace reading, you came from time to time, to take a sun bath. You opened the buttons of your dress, just let it drop and laid down. Big-sunglasses covered your eyes. But you smiled gently in my direction and then you touched your breasts. Oh, Valeska, how could one not fall in love with your prefect breasts? Not even Jean Seberg’s were as pretty, as perfect as yours and no, Kate Moss is no comparison at all. My heart skipped a beat and I tried to hide deeper in my always too wide cardigans. But you just leaned back and I was in love. I loved your ear lobes and your nostrils, your toes and your upper-lip. This afternoon remained the only one, where we met so closely. When you got up, you gently leaned over to me and touched my hair. I felt close to paradise. A few weeks later, you rushed down the steps again, your lover had kicked you out and I never saw you again in the dusty doorway or on the rooftop terrace. But for many years, I watched out for you Valeska, grown-up, still not pretty at all, still in love with cardigans and books and still remembering you. I fell in love unhappily again and again, with more men than women, but when they as they do here in the moment angrily discuss if a man might be allowed to marry a man, and a woman might kiss a women with legal acceptance, I just wonder that there truly people exist, who are not able to fall in love with a perfect pair of earlobes or breasts or a marvelous modeled back.
The village of mine, this sleepy, a bit drowsy place, where the sheep rule with crown and sceptre, suddenly wakes up on every Saturday morning. The reason is as simple as obvious, big SUV’s arrive from the towns, those who get off bang with the doors, as if we would need a wake-up call of those who want to experience the uniqueness of the countryside. For whatever reason they all wear Wellies or Dubarry boots, such as if they expect to pull a tractor out of mud hole in due course. Ohhh, the women sigh and look at the crooked house I live in. Cuuute, they say and then they all shoot many, many pictures with the newest iPhone. I do not want to know how many instagram accounts are full with“ look we went into the countryside and there we saw this old, tiny, tiny, crooked house“ and how medieval, a rather weird-looking women lives inside. People, who search for the unique experience do not feel offended by a fence and a bell, but just walk into the front-yard and make signs of surprise that inside, behind the window, someone sits, eats Porridge and tries to convince a big cat to move a bit, so she has the chance to catch a glimpse of the newspaper. But adventurer’s are most often not patient enough to fancy a cuppa or to chat, but rush on, they race down to the meadows where all the sheeps live. Sheeps, they cry, look, sheeeeps. In their enthusiasm they fumble through their bags and they produce the most awkward things from there. I saw people offering yoghurt and marshmallows to the sheep. The sheep looked offended and hurt in their pride. Now they do not even look up any more, but as soon as they see adventurer’s approaching, they move their back to them. That’s pretty direct. But adventurer’s of their kind do not mind or do not find in their dictionary „Sheep-English, English-Sheep“, the right expression. So they offer more stuff, just to be more ignored, take their obvious photo shots, and walk on. They storm across the churchyard, ignore the priest, who wants to offer a tour through the church, race up and down the three streets the village has to offer. Their cries of aahhh and oohhh are astonishing and widely to be heard. Then, the good, fresh air we all enjoy here, makes hungry, they enter the village’s last and only store, run by the famous grocer’s wife, whose appearance would remind anyone of a Jane Austen novel, even those who never read Jane Austen. The grocer’s wife beams of joy, adventurer’s means big business and new gossip for the coming week. Only on Saturday’s the daughter helps out in the shop, while the vet is still stubborn and does not even think of asking her out to the pub, the grocer’s wife hopes for a Prince Charming of Dundalk or even Dublin. But so far, without success. Scones eat the visitors and apple crumble,they enjoy her famous Eggs Benedict the grocer’s wife serves with pride. But sometimes even the grocer’s wife gets a bit annoyed, especially when the adventurer’s won’t believe that there is no chance to get an almond milk triple shot latte, because the only coffee you will get is black as turf and comes with 3,5% milk, fresh from the farmer, the visitors have passed, before entering the village, but they drive far too fast to notice. When the vet enters to grab a coffee before he gets back to a farm to vaccine calves, all women present are close to a stroke, the grocer’s wife and daughter included. Rural masculinity at its best. But the vet does not care, he indeed is always in hurry. And in the early hours of the afternoon, the visitors head back home, amazed by the quietness, the peace and the uniqueness of the countryside. They all agree that food never tastes this delicious in the town and the air, so fresh, so clean. Then they leave in their big off-road cars. Half an hour later nothing, but a coke can there and a bit of trash there, reminds of the adventurer’s who are off to greater things by now. The grocer’s wife puts her legs on a stool, the vet is nowhere to be seen, the sheep turn themselves around normally, the priest plays chess with a neighbor, the pub owner smokes on the street, and I sit on the little stone wall, finally read the news and the sun shines warm on my back. We all breath out with deep relief and not because of the fresh air, but sometimes I wonder how easy it is to forget about all the perfect countryside pictures that the countryside is no paradise at all. The bus just comes twice the day, the library is closed, a cinema has never existed, the loneliness exists here as same as elsewhere, the fresh air does not help much against the boredom that exists here, and we all know the spots off-road, silent and sad, where again and again people are found who end their life in silence. Sometimes not even the vet can help, then the slaughterer arrives at a farm and we all stand in silence behind the windows of our so pretty, so picturesque, so very crooked houses.
Every night one neighbor bends lowly over his desk. Heavy looks the desk, made of massive, brown wood. Oak, I would guess. But I do not know what the neighbor sees in front of him. Be it sorrows,or happiness he might see or just a book with fine drawings in front of him. But deeply he looks and never he looks up. Every night one neighbor carries her baby through the apartment, back and forward. Slowly she walks, but sometimes she waltzes, elegantly and as if levitating through the air. Always she stops at the window that is turned toward the street. But if she looks for someone, who might wait under the lantern, or just wants to see if the pub is already closed or is just tired of long days alone with the child I do not know. Every night one neighbor undresses in front of the window as if on a stage. But what he sees, when he carefully and never hasty unbuttons his shirt, before he takes it off and starts to reach for the buckle of his belt, till his trousers slip down, again with no hurry, I can not tell you. Sometimes, but not every night he yawns. Seldom he caresses his shoulders, broad and strong as they are. Might it be he thinks himself beautiful, or not or at least fairly tolerable. But maybe everything is different and he has had his way for such a long time that he just does not care anymore. Not for the light, not for the window and not for me, who he must see every night standing at the window as well. Sometimes but not every night I hold a cup of tea in my hand, most often a book, hardly ever I carry hope with me around. But what I am looking for, be it for Queen Cat or the last light to be turned off, he does not know, and most often I do not even know it myself. But we all search night for night and maybe one day we know better or at least stay awake for another silent hour.
One would wish every story about Marienbad could begin with the sentence „Once upon a time“ but this would raise expectations never to be fulfilled. The once so frequently visited place, Edward VII even bought his mistress a hotel, and it is said that the Shah of Persia threw golden coins from the balcony, now is a paradise for the budget- conscious German pensioner. The average age I presume is about 65. But their habits do not reflect their age. They are always in a hurry. In the morning they rush down to the breakfast parlor and look with deep mistrust at my habit to read the paper in the very same time, they race to the buffet for a third time. No, besides of the old facades not much reminds one of the old and famous spa culture. The pensioners however, have no time left to play golf as Rudyard Kipling did here, nor do they know that Sigmund Freund laid in the peat bath as well and thought deeply or just annoyed about the human soul. Now his house is a public library. Of course the library is closed and no signs tells the visitor when and if the doors would open again. It is said of the old Emperor, who was a frequent visitor as well that in every hotel room a picture of his was to be found. Even when the Habsburg Empire had lost all his splendor the old emperor smiled indulgently from the walls. Maybe if not in such a hurry some of the pensioners would remember that this was the case till 1938, when the old Emperor finally was replaced by that of Konrad Henlein, who soon after declared the town free of jews and expelled the Czech population. But the pensioners are all gone, to receive treatments of whatever kind in the basement of the hotel. In preparation to this they breakfast all in blue jogging trousers and horrible slippers. I wonder, while looking at their faces what they are looking for? Are they seeking for tenderness when tender hands were missing for the most part of their lives? Do they believe that drinking cups of sulphuric water will make up years of carelessness? But they are always running by to quickly to catch more than a handful of words. So by 10 AM I am alone in the breakfast parlor, the waitresses chat about things I can not understand, someone turns on the radio that plays horrible versions of Edith Piaf songs and I look out of the window into the snow that falls as if we were in deep winter. Half an hour later, a waiter comes and after many polite formulas I understand that I better had to leave the parlor, they would start soon to prepare the room for lunch. Always the pensioners on their heels. Empty is the town, pre-season says the man at the reception and shrugs his shoulders, uphill I walk up to the old and now nearly decayed building where Edward VII forgot his dreadful mother and smoked too much, maybe close of being happy. Two houses further, Goethe stayed and fell in love. My grandmother adored Goethe and his love letter to Marienbad. I adored my grandmother and so for many years declared that I loved the Marienbad Elegy best. ( Even when in truth I prefer most of his other pieces to this.) But my grandmother, always recited a piece her and a piece there and I wish as desirous as possible to walk with her down the Goethe path. Me listening to her telling me the story of Goethe and Ulrike von Levetzow walking on the very same path, he eager to wake her interest in stones, now you must imagine my grandmother snorting and then laughing about the stupidity of men and the poor girl probably bored to death by the old men with his stones. Chocolate as the story went after my grandmother, he smuggled under his precious findings to keep her spirits up. If he really hoped that the girl would follow him to Weimar, I doubt, even when my grandmother always blamed her parents, but little we know about the stories of others and careful we should judge even an old and a bit ridicule men, who searched in Marienbad for a magic that never would have be lasted in reality. Ulrike however, stayed in Marienbad till she died, at age 95. Maybe the man long forgotten and only a glimpse of glittering paper, where chocolate was wrapped in, remained of the story at all. My grandmother would have not listened to such talking. Goethe was a hero beyond all heroes and with a conspiratorial look, she would have proposed to quit lunch and to start with the cake right away. I always happily agreed, and returning to a café with very wet and cold feet, I eat cake and read only for her Goethe’s farewell of the once so splendid and now so long lost world.
The young woman at the reception has very long and very red fingernails. They rather look like very elegant claws of an ancient animal, an opossum maybe? „Excuse me, say I, but I am looking for the place, where Franz Kafka stayed when he visited Marienbad in 1916.“ The woman looks at me with a mixture of astonishment and wonder. „Franz, who?“, she asks me again, just to reassure herself that someone, who at the first glimpse looks quite normal, asks such a weird question. Ummh, I say, and spell again slowly: K-A-F-K-A, a writer I add. But this does not impress the woman. In 1916, I add, the hotel was called Balmoral and Osborne, it should be quite close, don’t you think so? But the woman does not think so. She and this becomes very obvious did not think when joining a school for hotel management, it could ever happen that a guest asks, where to find a dead poet. Nervously she looks on the screen of her computer, the fingernails of her right hand clack nervously on the table. Kafka, she murmurs, Balmoral, she whispers, while her fingernails are clacking faster. I smile at her. In my right hand I hold a thick book, Kafka’s diaries. After ten very, very long minutes, the woman looks up and with a deep sigh of relief, presents her findings: „Hlavni trida 390“, she says. I renew my thanks, admire again her nails and with her view in my back I leave through the doors, where rustic German pensioners now enter the lobby in swarms. Uphill I walk, I pass more hotels all built in splendor in a time when Marienbad became for a short while the centre of Europe’s desire for a brighter and better future, made possible by modest walking and careful drinking of water. What a dream! And further uphill I wander, till I turn to the left, and there it is, a bit backwards and therefore easily overlooked, the Hotel Balmoral and Osborne appears in all its grandeur. Even the name has not changed. But is painted below a broad portal. And still it is possible to walk up the three steps and to open the door that is shrieking, but one should be mild to things that are old. In the inside of the building it smells of long years of socialism, a perfume made of bleakness, mindlessness, cheap linoleum and too much ideology, here spaciously spread out. In a hall, I stand with dimmed light and in its right corner, where probably once the reception had been, now a wooden construction was built in, where a bad-humored reptile- forgive me, a guard lies deathlike in a massive armchair, in the background a TV flickers. Carefully as it is advised in relation to reptiles- pardon- guards, I approached the massive armchair. With deep mistrust all my movements were examined. My greetings did not find a reply. But one should not expect too much in life. Again I ask, for Franz Kafka and Felice Bauer, mention the two connected doors in the summer of 1916, but before I am able to get on, the guard jumps off the armchair and barks loudly: No, Kafka in here. And so I repeat that of course, now Franz Kafka is not here at all, but nearly 100 years ago, but the guard, who feels annoyed by my second approach, barks again, that she is not aware of a certain Kafka. No Kafka, she shouts, no idea of a room or two, never heard of a woman called Felice Bauer, no, no, no, no Kafka, she knows nothing. Indeed, I think and I annoy the reptile- pardon me- the guard again, while asking if she would mind me taking a look around the place. The guard now in a state of desperation about such an annoying person like me, leans forward, and unable any longer to speak in full sentences, coughs darkly: „strictly forbidden.“ I nod and walk to the big windows, look up to the staircase, still the reptile lurks behind me, a young men enters the door, in his hand a BILLA bag, the guard snorts shortly, just to sink back into her massive armchair, then she turns the TV on loud again, and I leave the Hotel Balmoral, where Franz Kafka might have kissed Felice Bauer and while I walk back down the street I hope,that the students living in the big, old, once splendid building now, make frequent use of the two connected doors.
The market-place is a very regular square. The big church St. Bartholomew is to be seen from every angle. The town hall was built in the late 1580s. The tourists all leave the town around 11 AM in big busses to see a brewery somewhere outside. This is excellent, because then you have the city just for yourself. And slowly, as slowly as it pleases you,you walk over the market, look at the children, who run around the new, golden fountains, still wrapped up, waiting for a warmer season still to come, but in their hands they carry willow sticks, with colorful ribbons that are sold everywhere. You might then, it is not even 12 yet, enter a rather functional building, where the Western Bohemian Gallery shows pictures from the vibrant and energetic art scene emerging in Munich around 1900. It might be well the case that you laugh as hard as I did about the excellent caricature of Franz von Lenbach, whose vanity always stuck me as a bit ridiculous, but maybe you admire Lenbach and you do not stop in front of the wild and always a bit furious looking Jan Autengruber, whose two self-portraits made in the short distance of only three years are impressive, not only because all of us wonder, where are we and who will we be. But as always I could not take my eyes of, Gabriele Münter’s view on Murnau, the small village she lived in, where the sky is violet-grey, the house an exception and the mountains are white- blue, and a carriage leaves slowly. And while you might go on to Gabriel von Max, you will find me sitting in front of Marianne von Werefkin, who looks at the world from a far away point, where everything is lined out clear and sharp. When you get back into the daylight, the tourists are still far away, but you with the all pictures still in your mind, you greet the church and the market-place as old friends and then your feet carry on, without much asking for directions, and street for street you enter more closely the old and long ago destroyed world of the Old Habsburg Empire, and while you look at the massive houses all built between the late 1880s and early 1900’s you might believe that in Vienna the old Emperor is still alive. When you are lucky, a door is open any you find yourself in an old courtyard, cracked tiles tell the story of lives long lived, the staircases are as old as the houses and when you look up at the ceiling you still see art déco decorations and carefully painted scenes of frugal life. And if you have time enough, you might sit for twenty minutes or longer on a rusty, half rotten chair to listen, voices from far away you may hear or a shrieking piano, where a nervous child practices Chopin, or a telephone rings but no one will answer. When you close you eyes, it might be truly possible that Max Brod, who knew all the timetables of the old monarchy by heart may stop by and look at you and than on his watch. And don’t be worried, even when you open a third or a fourth door, no one will feel disturbed by you. The people, who still live in the formerly so splendid streets, with their magnificent houses, know probably better than anyone else that people come and go. The facades still tell their very own stories, of arousing Czech Nationalism, mostly represented in dancing woman and stern looking man, the Jewish bourgeoisie had to be as ever careful, not too show too much. The German minority was still not too sure that art nouveau was the new thing to have, but they all looked into the direction of the Skoda factories, the railway, the future that should become a brighter one, to the day it was destroyed. But you by now a bit cold, and tired, you walk back into town. The tourists still out of sight! „Le Frenchie“ is a most cosy and heartily place to rest. The men have beautiful beards, the women are all looking like working for Vogue but do eat cake, and the cake indeed is very delicious. Before you get back to the market, you as I did might want to see the synagogue, once splendid, now renovated, but without any sight of life, you feel your heart beat faster, not a single believer is to be spotted on Pessach. But in the later afternoon sun, at least the roof shines bright and golden and about some things its better not to speak now. Better go back to the market place, greet the old cathedral, the town hall and finally the tourists, who arrive with plenty of plastic bags.
Le Frenchie café
Smetanovy Sady 332/6