Tuesday, January 06, 2009

From New Year’s Eve to the Feast of The Epiphany

     As far as I can remember, people say each New Year that the last New Year’s Eve was more fun; why, this year was nothing, but last year’s, there was a party for you! Last year they said the same thing about the year before last, that year the year before that, etc. God, if this decline of New Year’s gaiety has been going on forever, how heathen and debauched must it have been in the youth of Wáclaw Wladivoj Tomek!1 Or during the reign of Maria Theresa! Or in the times of Boleslav the Cruel!2 But I think that even back then they said in a flight of New Year melancholy: “Why, last year with prince Václav, that was an even better one; now that was such a riot, oh, you just had to be there!”


     Everyone I speak to—not just skiers and chestnut vendors— says it should just freeze over already and start snowing. What sort of winter is this? Once it is winter, things should crunch underfoot and nip at your ears and you must slide on the ice and everything: everyone should have bright red noses, there should be icicles on the roofs and flowers of frost on the windows and beautiful heaps of snow along the walkways, so you can collect a handful and hit someone in the back or the back of the head (especially the back of the head). From this we understand that the human need for order has not yet died out, nor the inclination to have things be as they always have been. Humans have retained some firm conception of what is proper and belongs in nature, at least. In such vital matters as snow, we tenaciously remain traditionalists and do not want to see any climatic changes perpetuated. If we were to create the world, if that was in our hands, we would come up with assumptions just as firm as the one that says there must be snow in winter, and we would find a large amount of things that just had to be because they were supposed to be there. In every orderly and healthy thing there is some “has to.” In the republic, in parliament, in the army and in people. We gladly seek out some sort of tradition. The only thing is that tradition is not what once was, but what has to exist right now. Tradition, that is not last year’s snow or the year before’s, but the pretty and fresh snow of this year which just had to be there. I swear it had to; everyone says so.


     It is the ancient experience of occasional poets and columnists that as soon as they praise the snow it begins to thaw outside: as soon as they aver that outside it is black and wretchedly muddy, a blizzard begins to rage. It happened to me just now: scarcely had I written the previous paragraph than a few flakes began to fall outside, as though there had never been a blizzard. I don’t think we scribblers have any influence on it; I think the gods just want to prove that the news is never right. Just let a gambler bet that there is no snow, and lo, snow there is; let him bet that there is snow and lo, there is none. Perhaps there is some meaning in it; perhaps right when the editor writes in the paper that the situation is tense that it is not a whirling maelstrom nor a contorted jumble. Perhaps when the newspapers tell you it is a critical time, the time is not at all critical. Perhaps it is not true that that words of the ambassador Dr. Kramář have created a deep impression. Perhaps it is not even true that commissioner Švehla3 is negotiating with the populists, but the other way around. But if it is true, it is not the journalists’ fault, for it depends on the particular intention and arrangement of the gods that no one else be omnipotent.


     Just the other day I met the Three Kings once again, but there were only two of them, and the bigger one of the two was thin as a rail. Nevertheless they were staunchly singing: “We Three Kings Of Orient Are.” At every door. If they had admitted that “We Two Kings Of Orient Are,” they might have been telling the truth, but they would have ceased to be the true Three Kings and no one would have believed that they were “bearing gifts,” and wouldn’t have given them a thing. And listen, children, we adults do the exact same thing: we sing our political carols, “We, the greater nation,” or “We, farmers,” or “We, the Worker’s Party,” and so on. If we sang “We, the party secretary,” or “We, the high executive committee,” or something similarly honest, our carols would lose all their secret power and no one would give them the least bit of credit.



1 Nineteenth-century Czech historiographer.
2 Tenth-century duke of Bohemia; killed his brother and predecessor Václav (Good King Wenceslaus)]
3 Karel Kramář was the first prime minister of Czechoslovakia, and a member of the National Assembly thereafter. Antonín Švehla was thrice prime minister of the First Czechoslovak Republic during the 1920s

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