Tuesday, March 24, 2009


     There is no point in disbelieving it and deliberately appearing incredulous in the face of this new disappointment—it is already upon us. First of all soot begins to fall in place of snow, beautiful black municipal soot, which darkens the ugly white snow so prettily, puddles and swampy spots begin to form on the ugly smooth ice, the air brings in an auspicious tepidity and dampness, mud and muck seep out of the pores of the earth, fog and pools and all the little vernal messes, and there can be no doubt—spring is upon us. I caught the swollen buds when they were still under the snow; now something quickens in them quietly, and a week from now they will split open and the fuzzy and coltfooted tips of leaves will spring forth. The swallows on the roof twitter their exuberance; it matters not whether it is drizzling, say, or if their claws seize old of damp and miserable weather, the sparrows’ clocks have already struck spring; they fluff themselves up, vociferate and shake themselves, twitching their tails and fluttering their wings as they whirl themselves somewhere into the garden.1 And when night falls, those alto, throaty moans, the longings of the cats ring out from the courtyard. That is the the first spring, the dark and wild spring of the cats, and everything else follows in sequence.


     A large number of gulls come into Prague without fanfare or festivities, having first sent a delegation of their numbers. Now they arrive in full force, happy and healthy, it seems. Mayor Baxa has not welcomed them nor granted them a commemorative ceremony in Prague, although they are foreigners, nor has councilor Čenkov made any proclamation nor has anyone showed them the memorable sites of the City, they were not invited to the Castle nor the famous representation of Libuše, Mr. Strimpl has not received them by proxy for Prime Minister Beneš2; in short nothing has happened in the accustomed manner to make a more pleasant stay in Prague for these pleasant foreigners; perhaps that is why they are having such a good time. They are most fond of holding regattas3 on the Vltava and flying circles around Střelecký Island, going on fishing excursions, swimming (freestyle) and other sports; sometimes they have a content laugh under the March sun, and at night… Wait, where do the gulls go to sleep? Who has seen a sleeping gull? They supposedly nest on the rocks by the ocean; where on earth do they spend their nights in Prague? No one knows this, not even the best experts on the Prague nightlife or the police. It is one of the innumerable secrets that surround us that we cannot bring to light.


     Since every single place I look on the street an egg is rolling or trundling by, since it is the time of the pomlázka4 and dyed eggs, even though I dislike eggs and because it actually could have happen, I will tell you this little story about an egg. Once there lived a hen in Spain, a little over four hundred years ago, an ordinary hen who scratched in the courtyard and cocked an eye at every grain and laid eggs and cackled all the while. Once, however, she lay an egg and did not cackle, she sat on it silently and looked so—well, so solemn and secret that the entire chicken coop marveled. “Please,” a second hen asked her, “you old thing, what has happened to you? You look like a abbess or something. Do you feel well?” The happy hen looked at her with a proud and maternally sainted expression. “Just now,” she proclaimed proudly, “just now I have laid the Egg of Columbus.”5



1 [The Czech had an onomatopoetic expression for the high-pitched noise of bird flight noises "frrrrr!" which was delightful, and which I have tried to replicate here.]
2 Ludvík Strimpl (1880-1937) painter and artist who took part in the First World War in France in the fight against Austria, after which he entered the diplomatic service and later became Head of Protocol for the President of the Republic. [Obviously was considered the only person a Czech from 1948 wouldn't recognize without endnote-based assistance. Edvard Beneš eventually became president and is famous for being threatened into signing the Munich declaration. Karel Baxa was important enough a mayor to have his own Wikipedia page. This Čenkov fellow...not yet that I've been able to track down.]
3 Regatta - a festive, sporting race on the water [oh, 1940s Czech editors, you crack me up]
4 [There's that Easter whip again.]
5 [This is something I had forgotten about too. Columbus...but not quite how you think!]

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