Thursday, January 01, 2009

If I...

     If I awoke on New Year’s Day as the Lord God—no, wait, that wouldn’t work, the Lord God doesn’t sleep—then if I awoke on New Year’s Day as St. Peter, I would say: “What should I do this year for those confounded Czechoslovaks? They are such heretics, and sometimes entirely ungrateful, blast them; there must be some good in them, though. I think that their weather is too extreme; maybe that is why they are so cantankerous and stubborn. It is hot and stormy in the summer, so they grumble irritably; in the winter it’s so freezing that everyone can only think of themselves, acting icily to others. The climate does that. And so they don’t like anything; winter is too cold and summer too hot; if something is black, it is too black for them, and if something is white, it is too white for them; never in their life is anything just right. They are accustomed to this from this weather of theirs. Wait just a moment, you rascals, I’ll show you; I’ll give you a nice bit of summer, like they get by the seaside; I’ll give you mild winters (with snow, naturally, a little bit of snow is a good thing), and comfortable summers with sun and plenty of moisture—it would be deviltry if I didn’t alter it for you. If you were milder to yourselves, your weather would seem nicer; but if you won’t do it yourselves, I will do it for you. Let the Lord God help you in the New Year!

     If I awoke on New Year’s Day as prime minister, I would marvel greatly at this turn of events and stroke my chin at a total loss. (Aha, I would say, I have to shave.) When I got used to the miraculous change in my existence a moment later, I would stay in bed for a few more minutes, as I had done hitherto as an ordinary citizen, but I wouldn’t go back to sleep. I would ponder. “My word, we have the anniversary of the republic to celebrate this year. I know what; I’ll call the ministers together and say: “Boys, last year we presided over the monument to Austria; this year we have to preside over the monument to the Republic. Look, we have to put things together somehow; left and right wings are for the birds; the republic, it’s like—a circle; how can there be a left and right wing of a circle?” Then a number of other arguments would occur to me, but I would put those off until the ministers arrive; then I would get up, making sure—for luck in the new year—that I got up on the right foot.

     If I awoke on New Year’s Day as the Lord Mayor of the city of Prague, I would gaze a while into the far future and then I would say: “It seems to me that Mr. Čapek is right; they really should have started in with that green ring around our city.1 When I imagine those beautiful lanes...and the clearings for the children...and little groves here and there...well then, let’s get to it.”

     If I awoke on New Year’s Day as a millionaire and a man of the upper class, I would say: “It’s already ‘twenty-eight? God, how time flies! Ah well, this year I’ve got to do something with my money, got to set something up in someone’s memory or establish something so long as it’s worthwhile. It’s worth some thought, but the money will be there; we will take care of that.”

     If I awoke on New Year’s Day as a twenty year-old, I’d turn over to the other side and keep sleeping; I’d have lots to think about after New Year’s Eve.

     If I awoke on New Year’s Eve as my puppy, I would scratch myself a bit with my back leg (having some disorderly flea on the nape of my neck) and then I would say: “This year I won’t anger my master any more, I will go outside peaceably, I won’t scatter bones on the stairs, I will keep clean, I won’t sleep on the couch and I won’t run through every row in the garden.” For that I would receive a cube of sugar and be immeasurably overjoyed with life.



1 Karel Čapek himself had suggested the reforestation of the area around Prague and often returned to the concept of the “green ring” in his newspaper articles in the period around 1927. [Unbracketed footnotes are from my 1946 posthoumous edition. Bracketed footnotes such as this will be my own additions.]

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