Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Few Droplets

     If it has been raining so much and continues to do so, I will add a few droplets to it. Besides, that might make it stop; if it only lasts five minutes I’ll set my writing down and go for a walk.


     I noticed years ago that during all the larger storms they always announce a disturbance or depression over Iceland. Beautiful weather has something to do with the Canary Islands, from where “regions of high pressure” trundle along as a rule, but rain and sleet and cold always come from Iceland; it is clearly the specialty there. No one ever announces a depression over Kardašova Řečice in Southern Bohemia or a region of low pressure over the district offices in Trutnov; it just goes to show you that even after the handover of power we remain dependent on foreigners, at least so far as the weather is concerned. As for Iceland, it must be a strange place, for (according to Otto’s Encyclopedia1) it is a land with “a coarse, cold, and damp climate,” but also a “comparatively mild” one; they suffer from tapeworms and asthma and in the past they banned love poetry by law2 which seems sensible enough; their main industries are sheep, fish, volcanic eruptions and rain.
     Of course it just started raining again.


     This year the harvest will be bad on account of the terrible rain; otherwise it would be bad on account of the prolonged drought. But prolonged drought is better for the farmers, because then we suffer from “catastrophic climactic threats” and especially “hail the size of pigeons’ eggs,” (the size of pigeons’ eggs only being referenced in this context) whose result is the forbearance of certain taxes and “speedy relief from the responsible agencies.” We didn’t hear anything this year about the size of pigeons’ eggs on account of all the bad weather; repeat it a hundred times and you will feel the sweltering heat, the piercing sun, the oppressive humidity of an incoming storm. The farmer carefully looks up at the sky, the chickens already having hidden themselves, and sees the booming heavens, the downpour beginning to splash and spray, and suddenly “hail the size of pigeons’ eggs” will ring down. But that has simply failed to happen this year.
     Besides, the sun just came out once more. I’m going outside for a bit.


     The summer solstice is a time when children from country schools take excursions to Prague. I met at least a dozen such excursions today at the very minimum. The children are all holding hands and not even looking to the right or to the left, as they have a horrible fear of getting lost; getting them across the street, for instance, is a very tricky maneuver indeed. These little country moppets are quite agitated, and the children do not let go of each others’ hands even at night (for the world is an evil place), and I haven’t even mentioned the country trousers yet; neither long or short, but the famous “trousers you’ll grow out of,” and the little girls pattering around like mice with supernaturally large umbrellas, and the teacher bringing up the rear with an umbrella and his overcoat over his arm, counting his charges at every corner. It is a wonder one female teacher did not burst into tears when she sat her group down in pairs by the National Theater and suddenly realized she had three girls too many. How it happened and what she did with them I have no idea. But nothing is more touching than when it is raining quite steadily and the bridge looks like it has been swept clean of people, and one of those children's crusades is straggling along it with soaked hair and dripping umbrellas and numb hands, just to see “the great city, whose fame…”
     God, it’s started raining again!


     "And the Lord sent rain down onto the earth. It rained unceasingly for six moths. The waters rose and inundated the earth forty cubits above the highest summits." That is the description of the flood in a variation of the Bible from Turkestan. The prophet Noah also built an ark in this version; but when all the animals were going on board in pairs, the devil caught the ass by the tail and held him. The ass stomped and brayed and would not go on. "Come on, come on, you devil," the prophet shouted at him. At that the devil dropped the ass' tail and dashed for the ark. "Wait," said the prophet, "who called you?" "You did," the devil replied. "You just said 'come on, come on, you devil,' and that is me, after all!" So Noah had to let the devil on the ark, and that's how the devil escaped the flood. Now you know why the flood--in light of the devilishness of the world--was completely unnecessary.

     There is a relevant detail to this story which the Bible has left out: that it really smelled in the ark, on account of all the filth from the animals. That angle on things surprised me and utterly convinced me. Noah even prayed to God about it. But the Allah of Turkestan, instead of creating the broom or the shovel, created the dung-beetle instead, which removed all of the filth in question. Since then God has left it among us, to get rid of the mud and all kinds of unclean things.

     It rains no more. I'm going out.



1 [Otto's Encyclopedia was the largest Czech-language encylopedia. Of course Čapek had access to a copy; I'm sure it was his Google/Wikipedia.]
2 According to this site, the Gray Goose Laws forbade, among other types, "poems praising a woman." In an era more conducive to blood feuds and blood money, I suppose this made sense. However, it also says such laws were frequently ignored, which also makes sense.]

Monday, August 17, 2009


I managed to post "Sunday" on a Monday, and I managed to post Pentecostal only two and a half months after actual Pentecost. (May 31st). Whoops; this is a little delayed, isn't it? I hope this isn't one of those projects that fall through the cracks; I seem to have a lot of those.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


     When I, a heedless child, was instructed in the highest secrets of the faith—namely the Holy Trinity—by Mr. Bret the catechist1, it was not at all strange to me that there were three personages of God; for me there I simply recognized three gods in heaven the way I recognized three gods on earth—the notary public, my father, and the chairman of the parish council, having chosen those three among other the others for their physical size. It was something else that bothered me: what exactly did the Holy Spirit do and what was its purpose? The business of God the Father was clear to me—the creation of the world is a tangible work, after all. God the Son was at least a man, and had once been a child, and I could color his clothes with the most beautiful red and blue colors in the Bible stories I had. I just didn’t know what to do with the Holy Spirit; I didn’t know what he looked like and I couldn’t define exactly what his function was; he seemed to me a little undervalued and occupied by internal affairs, without a defined and practical sphere of action. I maintain that everyone had the same problems with the Holy Ghost.

     Since that time I have not made much progress in matters of religious expertise, having instead been forced to turn to more humanistic concerns, and it is still a question of spirit which makes my head spin. For even we people know full well how to value material work and control over matter; we know how to love out hate human leaders, saviors, and the shapers of the church; but our stance on the mere soul which does not do this or that is uncertain, diffident. The human spirit concern our very faith in humanity, but does not have a defined sphere within it; we regard intelligence or education as some sort of honor or adornment, but not as a worthy goal or sense of living. Not long ago a survey of pedagogues resulted in a distaste for impractical education, which supposedly was poor preparation for a useful life. Yes, the spirit, which does not serve strictly practical needs, seems somehow useless and poorly regulated; we esteem it but we do not know what to do with it. It is the same with the Holy Spirit; it rules nowhere, but makes everywhere sacred. It cannot be measured by the results of its work; its sphere is everywhere.

     For that reason we should celebrate the human spirit at this year’s holidays, that tongue of flame and universal language; the spirit, which did not create this world and does not lead it, but sanctifies it; a spirit wholly impractical and unfettered, useless, unregulated by defined limits. It is difficult to define the function of the spirit, of education, of culture; we know that we cannot find it and we cannot sow a field or grease a wheel with it. It may be more personally valuable for us to recognize it in the actions of the law than in music; it will clearly be more fruitful to manufacture nails than read verses, and it is certainly more useful to cultivate turnips than to cultivate atomic theory. Culture is indefensible on practical terms, but that was the case millennia ago, when people composed useless music, verses and paintings and enumerated the stars and wasted their time in hundreds of similar ways, as we do today. Education too is indefensible except by saying that whoever that exciting tongue of flame descends upon recognizes through some secret fashion that it is all worth it, that it is worth more than any sort of useful or profitably or popularly-regarded deed. In its ultimate sense the spirit serves nothing else at all besides humanity; it does not exist for any other reason.It does not nourish anyone, or lead anyone anywhere, but it grants one thing: a life of value.



1 Mr. Bret the catechist--teacher of religion and friend of the Čapek family in Úpice, who is also mentioned by [Karel's brother] Josef Čapek in his autobiographical writings and by [their sister] Helena Čapková in her autobiographical work Malé děvče [Young Girl].

Thursday, August 06, 2009


     I don’t know whether it is an atmospheric effect or an acoustic one or something else, but the fact of the matter is, that (though I never know what the day is or the date, usually figuring this out from the masthead of the newspaper) on Sunday mornings I usually feel some special pressure right when I wake up, a disinclination to rise, an overall weakness of will and a simple insufficiency of enthusiasm for any task or type of work; you could also call it indolence, sloth, spleen, or just plain boredom. Normally I am vexed by confusion about this sudden depression for a little while until I finally say: “Oh, it’s probably Sunday.” And it always is.

     So, as I have said, I do not know where it comes from, maybe it is some atmospheric pressure or magnetic disturbance or something. It is possible that something in the universe just does not work on Sundays, by which the daily order of things is disrupted. It ought to be scientifically ascertained if the trees or grass grow on Sundays, or to test if it is an empirical fact that it rains more on the red days on the calendar or is hotter than usual; if spiritual activity is dampened, if the dogs stink particularly badly and the children are more vexing, to see if it is always windier outside, if more people drown, if there are a larger number of automobile accidents, actors performing worse, the trains and trams run badly, problems with digestion and beer and handwriting are worse than at any other time. It is possible that there are periodic cosmic interruptions on Sundays and holidays and that one wakes up on Sunday with a tangible foreboding that something is not in order. There is the hidden trouble.

     Or perhaps it is an acoustic phenomenon; one awakens and does not hear the vast and wide hum of human endeavor; the result of which is that something seems lacking. Is is as unnerving as a mill that ceases to turn. That explanation is a simple one and consequently it cannot be correct, for I wake up with a catastrophic feeling on Sundays in completely foreign cities, even alone in the mountains, and if a storm cast me on a deserted island without so much as a Friday I would still wake up one morning with a terrifying feeling that something was not in order and that I didn’t feel like doing a thing. “Aha,” I would finally say, “it’s probably Sunday.” And indeed it would be.

     I maintain that weekends, excursions, and all human holidays are just desperate attempts at flight from this Sunday depression; people think they have to fatigue themselves to forget the crushing burden of holidays. Woe to them; for Sundays find them at the feet of St. Jan’s, in Divoká Šárka4 and at the stadium of Sparta. Better served is he who confronts the streets of his town face to face or passes his Sunday at home, lounging around as though he has the flu. Well then, in cities people show that it is possible to bear Sunday afternoons after a fashion—actually, there is almost something exalted about it, for the girls are prettier and on top of that you get to read the Sunday papers. Well into the afternoon a true Sunday state blooms, as the city shrugs off its somnolence and people come into the street whom you never see at any other time. There are thousands of people who only exist on Sundays; old women, widows, orphans, mustachioed men, uncles and aunts, nuns and grandmothers, strange people who look like they were put away in the wardrobe thirty years ago and let out on Sundays so that the moths do not eat them. They have strange, washed Sunday faces; pale, long-nosed, whiskered, ginger-haired, freckled, and doughy, dressed somewhat poorly, as a rule, but the clothes are clean; there is something old-fashioned about each of them, even anachronistic; other than on Sundays, you only meet these people and these sorts of clothes at a third-rate funeral. Towards about four or five o’clock you meet whole families who only exist in public on Sundays; on normal days you meet families with unpleasant little boys screaming at every step, with little girls peeping out from the edge of their mother’s skirts, with a mother swaying like a ship, and with a father smoking a cigar in a holder and criticizing the state of the roads and the construction. I swear to you that this is human nature on Sundays, which is exactly the same in Rome, Paris, or London, and which returns the whole world to an indestructible and horrible thing: into a small town. The town dweller does not flee from the city and its uproar, or the small town and its boredom, its slow pace and its slothful disorder. This suppressed small town, hidden during the week in shops and work floors and houses has Sundays and holidays to itself to dominate the streets; these aren’t walks, these are a manifestation. We are here. We, the old maids, the fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts. We the anachronistic. We the eternal.



1 [Svatojanské proudy (St. Jan/John's rapids/streams) no longer exist, having been dammed downstream and turned into a reservoir. Pictures survive, of course. Divoká Šárka is a large park and nature preserve in the northern outskirts of Prague.]

Monday, August 03, 2009

Uproar At The Edge Of Town

     It changes endlessly, and that is the truth; sometimes it glistens in the rain or almost rings under the sun; sometimes there is frost or fog or snow and sometimes there are the most strange and beautiful clouds overhead that it is almost unbelievable; but all in all they are still the same roofs and chimneys (and the occasional chimney sweep) with the same windows, with servants (sometimes different ones) shaking dustcloths out the windows, and the same yards and the neighbors’ children—in short, these are just the sort of things you can see out of any window. It is probably the same for you.

     And in addition to these daily sights there is another view, an auditory one, if I might put it that way. The same sounds come in the window every day; you scarcely note them as they happen, but you know that if they did not come at their appointed time that you would notice something lacking and begin to listen intently. This is why Sundays and holidays are somehow oppressive, because that daily aural backdrop is different; suppressed and thinned out. The world is not so full or so real on those days. How could you not recognize the sounds of your part of town? I know them so well I know nothing of them as they happen. Hammer away, carpenters, shaping the timbers of a new row of houses, you are no bother; rattle on, coal carts, roar and shout, heavy motors straining up hill; and you, airplane, droning overhead—it does not touch me. What sort of new and unaccustomed sound would there have to be to summon me to the window? The bugle and bass of country musicians would do that; I’d jump up and go look and the old man blowing into his horn. Or the sounds of cows and heifers and the high-pitched calves, that beautiful, husky, the thirds and fifths of the mountain pastures. Or a song for seven singers. In any of those events I would leap up from my work and tear over to the window to see where—where—

     Suddenly I hear a boom. It is ten-twenty in the morning. So what does that boom imply? Maybe the soldiers are drilling down in the fields; perhaps it is a mortar or a detonation, as they call it, but the soldiers nearby have already finished drilling and are headed home singing, “oh, you will regret, you will regret this, my love.” Well, it could be the trams clanking, or the boards pounding over at the construction site; perhaps they have torn down some scaffolding. A number of loud noises have already fallen into this beloved daily din at the edge of town. Whooo, whooo, wheezes the powerful locomotive; and hear the iron squeal on the bumpers. And that freight truck tries to brake as it hurtles noisily downhill. “Hey, hey,” the coachmen might shout, “why did they load on so much?” And I know that other sound, that is the children whistling as they go to school. The barking of a puppy. The clanking of a steamroller. The sonorous clacking of bricklayers laying. I don’t have to get up from my work; repetition has already brought these sounds here into my space, and so much the better, for they are so extensive and vibrant.

     At ten-twenty there was a gas explosion in an apartment a few blocks away. It was a proper boom, but before I could evaluate it, is disappeared into this living, bustling, crashing polyphony at the edge of town as though it belonged there, as if it had already been written down beforehand in the sheet music.

Boom. One strike of the drum to keep the beat.