chapter19

December 1968
T
wo weeks later, while Monika was in Dubrovnik visiting her family, Stefan slipped on the steps outside the Opera House and broke one ulna and sprained his other arm. An ambulance took him to the General Hospital. His mother brought him home, Stefan had both his arms in plaster-casts.  Olivia  said that he could lie down on the sofa in the bookshop's back-room and keep us company rather than be stuck at home on his own. Stefan said that the prospect of wearing trousers with an elasticated waistband and sleeveless shirts was dreary. Did the hospital have to cut off the arms of his new shirt? Olivia said that he could wear Lukas' old coat because the sleeves were wide enough for the plaster-casts. I added that we would go to a good retailer and get him a new suit once the plaster casts were off. Stefan quipped that he wasn't a big opera fan. 

 Olivia said that perhaps Stefan and I could sift through Adolf's boxes now that he had so much time on his hands. Stefan retorted that opening boxes felt like Christmas (!). I brought down the heavy boxes to the back-room and prepared a carafe of water with lime for us. Stefan had this ingenious idea to drink through a straw.  The first box contained clothes, Adolf Schaden was much slender in his younger days and liked elegant clothes. With his fashionable pencil moustache, he looked very much like a matinee idol. There were some other personal effects such as an Art-Nouveau mantel clock in the shape of a sunburst, a gramophone, some old '78 records. Adolf liked Mozart's music and a bit of Beethoven, Martinů  and Tchaikovsky. The second box contained photographic equipment from the days he used to scour the city with his brother in- law. At the bottom of the box, there were three box-files. 

We looked at the photos from the first box-file, most of them were portraits of extras. They all had cardboard frames around them. The frames were decorated with ink drawings and the pictures were signed. Olivia did not know who these people were but said that they looked like portfolio pictures. They were beautifully composed. There was a woman with a ukulele, another one with a balalaika, there was an African woman modelling a silk dress, a man dressed as a Napoleonic soldier, some people looked like they were reciting speeches. All in all, a charming collection of a hundred theatrical portraits. The second box-file contained architectural photographs. Olivia told us that Lukas and Anton were commissioned to take photographs of Red Vienna's council homes. There was this revolutionary idea at the time about big windows being beneficial to children's health. One of these places was the Karl-Marx-Hof where the Schaden family lived. A few years before, the painter Oskar Kokoschka had drawn pictures of sick children living in bad housing.Wherever Lukas Votova went and whomever he met, Schaden met them and photographed them. I pictured the pair as a pre-war Beilermann & Leuchtengruber. I got the impression that  Adolf Schaden led a carefree life. Perhaps, his mistake was to meet Maria Koblarova who was far too sensible for him. Or his mistake was to use Maria Koblarova as an excuse for his undercover work in Czechoslovakia. Perhaps, he became bored of taking photographs of models and wannabes, or his politics saw this as pointless. A commerce student who hated the capitalist trade, a society photographer who disliked bohemians. a Napoleonic historian who despised emperors – Adolf Schaden spent a lot of time with his ideological opponents. 

I suggested that we could sell the photographs and the cameras. The money could be credited to the shop. Olivia said that this was a good idea. We could go to the camera shop in the Josefstädter district and get a quote. Stefan suggested to visit the City Hall and ask them what to do with the commissioned architectural photographs. We should also visit the Burgtheatre to find out about the extras. We were unsure what to do with the portraits, then Stefan suggested that having a few human faces on the wall could infuse some life to the old books on the shelf. After all, it was people like them who used to own these books. Whoever recognized themselves or a relative could have the portrait against a donation. Olivia placed an advert to the local newspaper that read:

“Between 1932 and 1934, Votova&Schaden photographed aspiring actors and models at Vienna Burgtheatre. Could you be in one of these pictures? Please visit the Votova Bookshop and see for yourself.”
This campaign provided the bookshop with publicity and some good sales. The cameras yielded a fine profit and Stefan bought a more recent model for us. He explained that we too could take photographs and sell them as postcards in our shop. Did I know how to make cardboard mounts and frames ? I said that I would give it a go. I liked the idea of us being creative. Apart from providing us with stock, I found this activity very therapeutic against my low mood. I also liked the fact that Stefan never went back to 02B45. A job is supposed to reward us for our work, a job is not supposed to destroy the soul. When workplaces reward the workers not only with a decent wage but also decent working conditions, then everyone is much better off. Pondering about the books in the bookshop and the point of writing those... Doesn't a story suck the essence of real life? What should the narrator leave and take out? The writer would say that writing is an art-form and therefore any story is something artificial. A conceptual writer would tell me that they don't want to teach anything. Some writers are in it for the money and watch their word-count. There are those who can't resist exploring the subconscious in search of the hidden meaning. Some are mathematical about the whole experience: hypothesis, experience, analysis, synthesis and conclusion. Too much logic drives the mind insane as it tries to follow the guide, a figure in white who is holding a rose and hovering through time and space. If I was logical, there was only one thing to do. 
....
Prague. I wiped out the condensation and looked out of the window. All railway stations look the same. Práha - the sign said. It seemed like nothing had changed. An old woman whom I helped carrying her suitcases asked me whether I was from Práha. I said that I was from Kostelec. Now I no longer felt like a tourist on a vacation. I was back home! For a while my life had seemed as if it had been re-recorded over and over again. But now I was home after that long holiday in Austria and the memories of Austria had vanished into a dream. The Golden Town with the thousand spires and the proletarian palaces. The flats in the Nové Mesto had large windows, but sometimes the frames are not properly fitted and the wind blows in. The Charles Bridge and the Old Town looked shabby and splendid. The Hrád Castle was still perched on top of the hill. The sun was going down like a golden disc behind the pink clouds. Tomorrow, I would visit the university but I knew that I had neither flat nor job. So I took a room at Hotel Evropa and left my suitcase there. I sat down at Kávarna Modrá and ordered a Budweiser beer. The beer from Budejovice not the exile beer from the USA. I looked around and had this feeling of being observed. What was I doing here? How could I ever expect to find happiness in this town again? Nothing had changed. I hurried away and ended up across the Manosav Bridge on the Malá Strana and rested for a while by the river-bank on Kampa Island. Then I went back into my hotel, collapsed on the bed and fell asleep. It was a deep sleep, not the usual semi-unconscious experience. The night without stars covered the city... These words woke me up: 
"Police, open the door!"

My blood froze instantly. I got up. Stunned by sleep, I slipped into my trousers and put a shirt over my vest. My heart was pounding. I looked at my watch: it was five o'clock in the morning. I opened the door. Two policemen wearing pale raincoats stood in the hall. The inspector showed me his identification card: 'Statní Narodní Bespecnost' - state police. "Are you  Karel Skodaček?""Yes..."
"Can I see your ticket please?" the tram conductor asked. 
"My ticket? Of course here is my ticket."

I got off the D-tram at the Morzinsplatz where the Old Metropol Hotel used to stand and walked back to the Votova bookshop.
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