chapter06

May 1967

My job had perks. Four weeks after I started working, the Professor invited me to see a concert. I had never seen a classical performance, let alone one at the Rudolfinum. The Prague Chamber Harmony (PKO) conducted by Libor Pešek was performing Mozart's 'Prague Symphony' - the piece I heard at the Varady house on my first evening in Prague.

As I was finding my way into the stalls of the gilded baroque building, I could not take my eyes away  from the opulent interior of the red and gold Dvořák Hall. For the occasion, I had shaved and dressed up smartly in my  freshly-ironed suit and my polished shoes. Olga Varadyová, who was wearing a simple black coat over her blue dress and a beret on her head even looked pleased with me, the Professor beamed. Irina Kovačová was wearing a mauve dress with a tweed jacket. 

We did not have much time for conversation because the red curtain rose and the orchestra started playing. Now I saw all the music instruments - cello, viola, violins, flutes, clarinets, bassoons and found the music soothing.

After the concert, the two women and the Professor started an animated conversation in Russian about the warm and expressive andante and the dark and tragic melody. The Professor looked at me and said that 'the appreciation of beauty is a democratic experience'. In his words, the purpose of culture was to enlighten the human mind, this is why museums, theatres and concert halls are subsidized by the government.

From then on, the trio invited me to come along to cultural events once a month, On one hand, this encroached on my free time. On the other hand, I had no other friends in Prague. For a while, this kept me happy, and I didn't mind the tedium of E111 any more. For the next months, I kept up with my personal appearance and felt less lackadaisical. In the winter, tiredness caught up with me because due to absurd nightmares, I did not sleep well at night. 

Instead of tossing and turning in my bed, I would get up at five o'clock in the morning, leave the house and walk through the Old Town up to Kampa Island on the Malá Strana. By the river bank, I enjoyed the solitude as I sat on a bench under the linden trees. It was too dark to see the herons, ducks and other water-fowls on the river, but I could hear the blackbirds performing the dawn chorus. When it rained, I would walk around Kampa Island to the Charles Bridge and shelter under the arches for a while, drinking mint tea from my vacuum flask. The police stopped me almost thrice a week and would ask me about my business. Each time, I told them that I used to get up early in the army and this answer seem to satisfy them. In this country, vagrancy and busking are illegal.

After the latest encounter, as I looked across to the Rudolfinum, I thought that I liked Mozart's Prague Symphony because of its dark mood. This city was tragic and mourning the loss of its freedom. This feeling lingered on especially, when on my daily walks, I looked up to the Hrád Castle. For decades, it had been populated by heartless rulers enforcing absurd legislation. When individuals in power no longer see themselves as the representatives of their citizens and they start behaving in an arbitrary manner, then the citizens can no longer be blamed for mistrusting the government. Those citizens realize that they are living under a tyranny when the states decides that there is a need for an omnipresent police force - or one that is perceived to be so - to curb any resistance. The powerless become too paranoid and too depressed to undertake civic action. The official slogan that we lived in a 'Lidová Democracie - People's Democracy' - was a joke!

From the Habsburgs to the birth of the First Republic, during the Nazi occupation and since the Prague Coup d'État, the Castle has enforced the rule of the occupying forces. We do not things 'the Bohemian way'. 'Praga Caput Regni', the kings do no longer reign but feudal times are still very much with us. Nowadays, we are the vassals of the Soviet Union and its Quislings.

This realization unsettled me because I was well on my way to become a Quisling myself, a collaborator who could not resist temptation.. It was a difficult paradox to live with. I refrained from communicating my qualms because in a 'People's Democracy', suffering from a mental illness such as depression can get you sectioned in an asylum. Unlike prison, you never know when you can leave the asylum.

Comments