‘Grey Dove, Where Have You Been?’, or the frustrated poet

from TOO LOUD A SOLITUDE, Bohumil Hrabal

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…On my way back to the Black Brewery I had a glass of rum and then a beer and then another rum. Not until we’re totally crushed do we show what we are made of.

Through the branches I watched the New Town Tower clock shining neon in the dark. As a boy I had dreamed of becoming a millionaire and buying phosphorescent hands and dials for all the city clocks. The mangled books made a final attempt to burst their bonds. Portrait of the artist as an old mushroom face. A breeze from the Vltava wafts through the square, I like that, I used to like walking along the Letná in the evening, the river scent meeting the park scent, but now the river scent fills the street and I go into Bubeníçek’s, sit down, and order a beer absentmindedly, two tons of books perched over my head, a daily sword of Damocles I’ve hung above myself. I’m a schoolboy taking home a bad report card. The bubbles rise like will-o’-the-wisps. Three youngsters in a corner are playing a guitar and singing quietly, everything that lives must have its enemy, the melancholy of a world eternally under self-rejuvenation, that beautiful Hellenic model and goal, classical gymnasia and humanist universities. But in the sewers of Prague two armies of rates are locked in a life-and-death struggle. The right leg was a little frayed at the knee. Turquoise-blue and velvet-violet skirts. Helpless hands like clipped wings. An enormous side of beef hanging from the hook of a provincial butcher’s. I hear toilets flushing.

Suddenly, the door opened and in stomped a giant reeking of the river, and before anyone knew what was happening, he had grabbed a chair, smashed it in two, and chased the terrified customers into a corner. The three youngsters pressed against he wall like periwinkles in the rain, but at the very last moment, when the man had picked up half a chair in each hand and seemed ready for the kill, he burst into song, and after conducting himself in ‘Grey Dove, Where Have You Been?’ he flung aside the halves of the chair, paid the waiter for the damage, and, turning to the still-shaking customers, said, ‘Gentlemen, I am the hangman’s assistant,’ whereupon he left, pensive and miserable. Perhaps he was the one who, last year at the Holesovice slaughterhouse, put a knife to my neck, shoved me into a corner, took out a slip of paper, and read me a poem celebrating the beauties of the countryside at Rícany, then apologized, saying he hadn’t found any other way of getting people to listen to his verse.

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Too Loud A Solitude


A bad person

from MOSKOW TO PETUSKI by Venedikt Erofeyev

“Well, of course, they all consider me a bad person. In the morning and hung over as I’ve been, I’m of the very same opinion about myself. But, after all, it’s impossible to trust the opinion of a person who hasn’t yet been able to tie one on. On the other hand, what chasms open up in me in the evening, if I’ve gotten good and looped during the day. What chasms.

But so what. So what if I’m a bad person. I’ve noticed that, in general, if a person feels nasty in the morning but is full of plans and dreams and vigor in the evening, he’s a very bad person. Mornings, rotten; evenings, fine—a sure sign of a bad type. But take someone’s who full of energy and hope in the morning, but overwhelmed with exhaustion in the evening—for sure, he’s a trashy, narrow-minded mediocrity. That sort of person is disgusting to me. I don’t know how he strikes you, but to me he’s disgusting.

Of course, there are those for whom morning and evening are equally pleasing, who are equally pleased by sunrise and by sunset. These are simply bastards. It’s sickening even to talk about them. But then, if someone is equally repulsed by morning and evening, I really don’t know what to say about him. That’s the ultimate cocksucking scum. Because our stores stay open till nine and you can always get something at the big Eliseev grocery up till eleven, so if you’re not a scum, by evening you’ll always be able to create some sort of little chasm.”

From wikipedia article on Judith Miller, peer of Foucault at Vincennes in Paris and daughter of Jaques Lacan:

“As a Maoist philosophy lecturer at Vincennes in Paris, her radicalism caused the official disaffiliation of the philosophy department. This occurred after she handed out course credit to someone she met on a bus, and subsequently publicly declared in a radio interview that the university is a capitalist institution, and that she would do everything she could to make it run as badly as possible. After this she was demoted by the French education department to a lycée teacher.”

The Waiter Von Diter Sings

from I SERVED THE KING OF ENGLAND by Bohumil Hrabal.

“In all those decades it had never crossed my mind that I might want to sing and now here I was singing, inventing words and sentences to fill in the places I didn’t know, and the German shepherd began to howl, then sat down and let out a long wail, so I gave him a piece of salami and he rubbed against my legs, but I went on singing, as if through the singing — not through the song, because all I could produce now were squawks — I was emptying out of myself drawers and boxes full of old bills and useless letters and postcards, as if fragments of tattered posters were blowing out of my mouth, posters pasted one on top of the other, so that when you rip them away you create nonsense signs, where soccer matches blend into concerts or where art exhibits get mixed up with brass-band tattoos — everything that had accumulated inside me, like tar and nicotine in a smoker’s lung. And so I sang, and I felt as I was hacking up and spitting out phlegm from clogged lungs, and I felt like the beer pipes the innkeepers cleans with strong jet of water, like a room with all the wallpaper torn off, several layers of it, a room where a family had lived for generations.”