Saturday, April 18, 2009


     When I was a little boy playing in the fields and wiping my nose on my sleeve, every year I experienced one moment of ceremonial excitement, and that was resurrection. We1 had a deacon, may God grant him eternal praise, and he was supernaturally fat: spiritually, officially, exaltedly fat; his rotundity had none of the vulgarity of the lay people, but there was some special divine love visible in it—in short, he had an immaculate deacon's corpulence. And when our town square glowed forth in the mild spring evening with rows of candles in the windows, and a flow of white-dressed ministrants flowed out the cathedral doors with burning candles, and the large white figure of the catechist behind them, and then the deacon himself in golden vestments with the shining monstrance under the silken baldachin2, that being carried by Mr. Kut’ak and Mr. Blahouš and two other municipal leaders, and everyone dressed in black with glittering furs, with Mr. Temín and the town choir trumpeted the sacred, ever-so-sacred intrada, and four ministrants ringing little bells, and two little boys swinging censers, and Nyklíček the sacristan ringing the giant bell, ding dong, ding dong, and lo, hallelujah, hosanna, hooray! The deacon sailed along like a fantastic, glowing cloud, redolent of incense, there it was, God, so beautiful, so unusually beautiful, that I (a low and godless boy) cast myself on my sinful knee, unable to tear my eyes from those slowly-moving lights, candles, tongues of flames, banners and gonfalons3, torches and the monstrance and the baldachin and all that glory, and my stomach rose in envious, wretched bitterness: why was my father, my big, strong, and dignified father not carrying the baldachin behind the deacon, or at least a banner or the littlest light; and that was the yearly pain of a godless boy.

     Since then I have not witnessed a resurrection, because I do not want to spoil that one great and sacred impression, but every year around White Saturday a certain Catholic nostalgia befalls me. And now tell me that it is aestheticism! Well, of course I was quite the aesthete at age eight, the same sort as the natives in the Congo or New Caledonia who watch their own processions and dancing magicians and torches and other such wonders; the same aesthete as the citizen of Prague or Madrid or I don’t know which man on the street staring at his famous funerals, parades, processions, and celebrations. This aestheticism is as old as the world and sophisticated as an Indian; it somehow doesn’t suit this age, but…

     “Yesterday at twelve o’clock noon the mayor Dr. Baxa welcomed Spring in the Kinský garden in the name of the municipal committee of Greater Prague and the the population of the capital city. Accompanied by representatives of the town councils, the chairs of municipal offices, representatives of the guilds, firefighters, municipal organizations, the uniformed clubs etc. etc., he visited the First-Blossoming Crocus and assured it in a lengthy speech of the overjoyed feelings with which the capital city welcomed Spring into its ancient and celebrated walls. Thereupon the police band struck up music and the chrous Hlahol sang the moving choral “Lo, Spring Arises.” Simultaneously all the bells in Prague rang out, ten cannons were fired from the Mariánská fortress, and squadrons of airplanes crossed over the Vltava River. Innumerable throngs of the citizenry voyaged to the First Crocus, guarded by honorable patrols of the Sokol, security forces, municipal clubs and the Worker’s Gymnastic Union…”4

     “Our president welcomed Spring at an intimate celebration in the Castle garden. Nuncio Micara5 expressed tremendous feelings of joy in the name of the diplomatic council, and they along with the government and its representatives welcomed spring in general and especially into the territory of a state as flourishing and wisely governed as is Czechoslovakia…”

     “All political parties took part in the arrival of Spring with meetings and camps of people, after which they departed in streams for general merriment in Stromovka park…”

     “The general inspector of the Czechoslovak army saluted Spring at a formal parade undertaken at the training-ground near Invalidovna. The sun extended its blessed rays from early that morning…”

     Why go on like this? Democracy is beautiful, fine, but it doesn’t know how to celebrate at all. Mayor Baxa did welcome the participants of the trade fair, but he did not welcome the First Crocus, nor will he, although the first crocus is something better and more sacred than the whole trade fair. And our mayor is not leading the ceremonial Procession Over The Frozen Vltava, nor is he celebrating the fantastic and exciting Departure of The Ice to the peals of the cathedral bells. We still accept Christmas and Easter and All Saints from the fading hand of the church; old Catholicism still maintains the sacred division of the year, but we the godless have found nothing, nothing at all, to replace it. I do not know what contemporary democracy is lacking more: a little poetry or a little positive thought.



1 i.e, in [the author's hometown of] Upice, [which we've seen before]
2 [Wikipedia was again very helpful with some of the specialized religious terminology.]
3 [Sure, I could just call it a pennant, but I remember the word from a translation of the Song Of Roland I have back in Vermont, and if it can be used in a baseball context, I consider myself justified enough.]
4 [The Sokols (Falcons) were a patriotic Czechoslovak national organization. The DTJ (Workers' Gymnastic Union) was an phys. ed organization founded by tailors(!) in 1897. Both still exist, at least with American successors. Also, say hello to Mayor Baxa again!]
5. The [main] papal diplomat.

No comments: