Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Spring Storms

     There are two kinds of spring storms: the first kind are those that occur in nature with rumblings, sheets of waters, hail, rainbows, and other ancillary phenomena through to the victorious birdsong at the end. The second kind of spring storm is that which has already begun to take hold in the winter, when the heads of the household begin to notice that they need to paint and knock a hole in the wall here and fix this up and make sure the stove is in order and plane this, hammer that, add a little more mortar to this, seal, lacquer, upholster and the like. There is an astonishing array of professions who wait to come into your home with stepladders and scrub-brushes and screwdrivers and mallets and putty knives and tubs and a bunch of other implements, with whose help they will turn all the wood in your domicile upside-down. Vast and elemental is the destructive power of human ingenuity.

     As far as I can tell, this storm of work is most often unleashed in human accommodations in the spring. I have no conception what all of these professionals do in the winter; perhaps they give themselves over to their victorious invasions and strategies of the year before. It starts out very innocently as a rule; one man comes to your house to have a look around and tells you they will begin work in a week or after the first of the month. Well, nothing can wait a week’s time or until after the first; two or three days later you start to grumble that that darned man should just come and start already. In this manner you are adroitly brought into a state of impatience, and you await an invasion of unfriendly forces as though it were a divine blessing. When you are well and truly worked over, your bell rings at seven o’clock in the morning and some skinny guy at the door proclaims that he is there to work. And he starts to work up a storm with the help of some hammers, chisels, and other tools.

     All of the other professionals have been waiting for this moment, and the varnishers and joiners and glaziers and painters and paperhangers and installers all rush in and begin to quarrel about who is in the way of whom. Don’t get involved, keep your hat on and let them sort it out amongst themselves; from this moment on you have become an insignificant, even unnecessary creature in your own house who isn’t even worth the energy to be told off. The already-named specialists suddenly each to each demolish something else; you have to recognize that they have the matter in hand. A half a day later your apartment is leveled to the ground, and when lunch-time comes they sit victoriously amongst the ruins, eating head cheese and talking about things in Unhošť or Strančice.1 In spite of your dismay at this man-made swath of destruction you are a little excited that it has gone so quickly. “So,” you say ebulliently to these resting men, “you’ll have it all back together by tomorrow, then?”

     But to your surprise: the day after tomorrow instead of this terrible invasion there’s only one man there fiddling with something in the middle of the ruins. The day after that is a Sunday or a holiday and you are resigned to stew in peace on the rubbish heap which once was your place of residence. Them comes a strange and protracted stage when it is a “work in progress,” though this is not at all visible, the dust and filth waxes, the scraps of wood and the splinters, bread crumbs and other sorts of chaos, out of which a new reality does not appear. The following stage is one of mute despair: you come to the realization that the items in the world will never again be put back in order, the situation is clearly helpless and that you cannot expect better days.

     And one day quiet surrounds you, the stepladders and buckets and hammers are gone, and you come out into your reborn living room somewhat cautiously, like a farmer surveying his fields after a storm, to determine the damages after the elements have been unleashed. Well, the farmer says, a man has to find some good in this; this is broken, and that’s a little knocked-down over there… and finally he says to himself, with the indestructible optimism of the human race: “Well, it could have been a lot worse.”


1 [Central Bohemian towns well outside of the Prague metro area now, let alone eighty years ago.]

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