the foundations flew up on high
the altitudes dove down in the deep
Libeň, November-December 1916

Ladislav Klíma, in: Bohumil Hrabal: In House Weddings

The house I was looking for had a generally pleasant impression, a gas street lamp stood in front of the gate, the sidewalk paved with cobblestones must have been rolled up long ago, and the ditch was recently covered again. The gas lamp was already burning, I could see that the number was the correct one, twenty-four. I entered. The hallway smelled of spilt wine and coldness. The plaster was crumbling from the damp walls like flaky pastry. As I entered the courtyard, I could barely leap aside. A blonde woman in a bra and purple pants was pouring water by the pailsful up to the window-boards, then she pushed it with a broom into the small sewer. I waded through a long puddle to the stairs, I went up six steps, and I arrived in a second, smaller courtyard. Upstairs, an external corridor decorated with cast iron railings appeared along the first floor, and above it towered the wall of the neighboring building, nothing but a two-story high bare wall with crumbling plaster, a gigantic wall without windows, and so long that it weighed down the house with the external corridor and with the lit up window. To the left there stood a frame on which carpets are beaten, and behind it, the open door of the laundry yawned and exhaled the smell of washing-powder and sewage. And I went forward, seduced by that light on the ground floor, the cold light of the lamp that could be pulled up and down. In contrast to the pleasant atmosphere of the small courtyard, that window on the ground floor sent forth such a coldness that I was shivering. Two woodbines grew in front of the wall, running along the wires stretched across the little courtyard, their trailers and tendrils hanging down and then turning back and growing upwards again, easily touching my shoulders, and I screwed up my courage and stepped to the window.

I was given accommodations in Libeň, v Domě Vědeckých Pracovniků, in the House of Scientific Workers, at least at that time this is how they called the ten-story concrete tower rising as a solitary obelisk in the outskirts of Prague on a hilltop, in the middle of an improbably empty field, above the vineyards, meadows, small cottages and the highway running in the distance. Vysočanská street continued from Sokolovská meandering, soon the “Beware of the dog” and “No admittance” signs were left behind, the dirt road went on in the open field, I had to turn back twice to ask whether I was correctly informed. But before that and before everything else I wanted to make my pilgrimage to the house which at that time meant for me Libeň and Prague, all the good and creative power, by way of which one could prevail over the sea of evil in that period.

I followed a relatively new map, the best you could buy in Budapest, but at that time, one year after the revolution, it was already transcended by reality; Prague was stretching its cramped members as if just awaken from a dazed sleep after a messy and drunken party, the fabric of the streets was cracking, the foundations flew up on high, the altitudes dove down in the deep, I was looking for Na Hrázi, the Street of the Dam, the Dam of Eternity, as Hrabal, Vladimír and Egon Bondy called it, at the gate of Libeň, near the backwater of the Vltava, where Tekla, the Hungarian countess, the wife of Vladimír

bathed naked at noon, the fishermen cast their nets astray, a cyclist flew through the riverbank weeds and voluntarily jumped into the water, what a body she had, eh, tell me, what a body,

but I could not continue on Zemklová, because it was a one-way from the opposite direction, only for trams, I parked the Trabant at the small bus terminus behind the recently built Palmovka metro station, where I found some free place between the clumsily placed new curbs and the piles of building rubble, and as I was getting out of the car, I immediately knew that I was in the right place, because the large five-story brown building with its emptily gaping windows and closed ground-floor shops and with the art deco globe and inscription SVĚT formed of rusty iron on top, that building was

the fast food, palace, restaurant and cinema bearing the name ‘World’, where we went to every screening. In that neighborhood called Židý there was an estate whose owner was called World. After long ruminations he found that it was by no chance that he was called World. So he sold everything he had, he even contracted a loan, and he built the palace World. At the premiere of the cinema, an American film, The Flood, was screened. While on screen it was pouring down rain and the Ark of Noah was floating on in the tempest, the subsoil water of the Vltava broke into the basement of the cinema, the audience was sitting in water, but the film had to be screened to the end. This is how mister World wasted one million crowns on the World cinema. He blew his brains out. Now you can hear the pumps working beneath every screening, and the building is adorned with an iron globe and the inscription ‘World’,

but the little street had no name, so I went forward along Na Žertvách, after the synagogue I turned right, and then to the right again along U Synagogy, to the left onto Ludmilina, and then I was right there on Na Hrázi, the numbering of the houses grew on the right side, eighteen, twenty, twenty-two, and then I arrived at the little bus terminus behind the recently built Palmovka metro station, where at the place of number twenty-four, among the piles of building rubble, just as far from the clumsily placed new curbs as the entrance of a building, there stood the Trabant like a benevolent and patient old horse which every night carried the drunken coachman Hausmann exactly to the gate of his house in Běrkovice. And then I understood that I was late, that the flood of time splashed over the Dam of Eternity, the altitudes dove down in the deep, in the cavity of the Palmovka metro station, and the foundations already forever

hover above us like the clouds of the ideal buildings on a Baroque painting.

[The quotations are from Bohumil Hrabal’s autobiographic works that are mostly set in Libeň: the In House Weddings trilogy and the Tender barbar, his novel I have liked the most.]

1 comentario:

Effe dijo...

what a small and nevertheless great voyage.