Paths of the Monarch
During my residence in Czech Republic I had the curious and unusual paths that crossed with other individuals who seemed to assume part of the background but had familial ties that were very old...and gobbled up by past regimes. Paths of the Monarch is an interesting chapter of intrigue of Central Europe.
Breakfast with the Archduke
Coffee, Croissant, and Butter
On a brief tour of Czech Republic in 1997, lasting 6 days, and including smaller towns of the country, the train pulled into
Ceske Budejovice, a small town famous for its famous beer near the southern territories and Austria-
I was staying at the Hotel Europa, a hotel destination right across from the train station in Ceskw Budejovice for a period of two days in response to a minor set of showings crossing the country -The hotel was not a fabulous, richly ornamented but seemed to serve its purpose- One must remember Czech “Socialism” was a very pragmatic and functional environment often sterile in its environment but functional in that purpose of being, well, cold and function-filled. After nearly 7 years since the fall of the Berlin wall there had been little change in many environments becoming more western or modern. Many things were still drab and gray, but had their function, hotels being one example. I checking into my room, grabbed my bags and container of works for exhibit and moved them up the staircase to what was given to me, a small room with shower, room 32 on the 3rd floor.
It seemed they always put me in the same room, I had been through Budejovice a number of times before.
Europa was not a grand hotel now. Perhaps it had seen its highlights in the days way past at the turn of the century when times were different. Most all of the embellishment had been shaved off. The gold and ornament was no more, left was a commercial cavity of early 1960's Soviet modernism, clean, gray and unaffected, like so many hotels that one might stay if one was on a budget.
My room was no different. One could say it was Spartan and without flavor. But this is what I needed at the time. My schedule here was forward as an artist with exhibitions to be made on my promoters list.
First there was Prague and the schedule continued in 2-3 day stays for exhibits at places like Tabor, Plzen, Karlovy Vary, Jinhikova Hradez, so on and so forth in a longer series that would end up in Prague, move to Dresden (Germany), Katowice (Poland), circle around and hit smaller cities along the way that few westerners visited. All told in 6 months would be a circle of exhibits, labeled in large red letters “International Exhibition Here” was summed up as a device by my promoter, some 20 in number during the season, my name a glitch on a roster of Czech, Bulgarian and Russian artists which included no Americans making me a novelty at times, however a challenge. I only visited these to bring new work and appear for the possibility of a solo, or perhaps take part in a regional festival. It was this way, the long road of hopes during my first years in Czech.
Along my tours through Central Europe I would meet people of many different experiences and vast varieties. Their names would be hard to remember in English, but the experiences were rich in foreign culture exchange. I was doing my job of travel in this case, another night and another gallery, city hall exhibit, or festival. Along the way I would carry a series of sketchbooks and materials for the next selections of paintings to be created. I created 7 new additions in this case for exhibit, the older works were sold at a fair price, and the seven paintings, in a portfolio were replacements.
As the sun began to set I dragged my baggage and my portable Yamaha keyboard through the corridors of the long hallways and into my room placing it along the wall. I moved to the window opened the curtains and windows for fresh air and looked out to see the silhouettes of the buildings behind being encased in shadow, a few children playing in the street below. I settled in with a self per-packaged dinner I had pulled together of ham or sausage sandwiches, juice, a couple pieces of fruit. There was no television to watch and few places to visit beside pubs this evening, a usual setting of a Sunday evening in Budowica.
The evening passed working on sketchbooks or practice on the keyboard with headphones, or do some extra work on my paintings, a series from the Czech Countryside that was to be seen later in Prague. This night was like many others in its setting. Soon hours had past and the clock read past 11 pm. I rested my head against my pillow and went into the fields of dreams with possible encouragements of tomorrows gift of possibilities for a solo exhibit down here.
The morning broke with the sunlight streaming through the semi-transparent curtains. I lifted from my bed, got dressed and grabbed my bag and breakfast meal ticket since this had been included in the room cost.
I wandered down to the breakfast room which laid adjacent to the front desk at the very end of the front hall. Several tables were dressed with white and red table cloths, a buffet was being set up complete with three open bowls of cereal and two jugs of juice and one of milk laid in a very sterile orderly fashion by the white-suited workers of the hotel.
I took my place at a table, watching in limited numbers people come and go from “Snidane” or breakfast.
The fare didn’t really look appetizing, I must admit, but it was included in the hotel bill. In front of me I had a plate, a knife, fork and spoon labeled with the hotel insignia. They were light to the touch, not steel nor silver but a pot metal without embellishment except for the letters ROE, the former Czech tourist beaureau. Nothing seemed effected by the west then, still seeing post-socialist times in every breath that was lived from the silverware to the place settings.
I waited for the service, and slow service it always was. Gradually the waiter came and handed me the carefully photocopied menu in English which was grossly misspelled. Three alternatives were highlighted for the morning course.
Eggs, Toast and Juice
Frankfurter, Toast and Juice
Breakfast Buffet, English Style*
*The asterisk highlighting what was covered with the room.
Anything was extra. Service was included.
Eating here before I was use to the breakfast selections. I found a way to pool the weight of possibilities by ordering anything other than the Breakfast Buffet which was a one-trip ordeal having my selections limited to dry toasted flakes, bitter coffee with heavy cream or watered down juice as selections.
It was not the Palace Royal in any case, and each menu item was simple and plain as was rather usual on my tours of the country. By now I was used to it all! Living and travel in Czech was best if it had no western frills. If one were to go to preferred hotels one would pay a ransom of 175 Euros a night. The standard at Europa was 75 Euros. But seeing I was a resident alien, had a green card, I did have a discount of about 50 percent payed in Czech Koruna.
I made my order of juice, coffee and bread, which was sure to come even though it was a 10 step walk away from the buffet to help myself. The waiter checked my hotel card for the meal and then disappeared into the back.
The large room was silent for the most part except for a couple of Czech pensioners who were having a low-level conversation at a nearby table.
Suddenly there appeared a elderly white haired man dressed in a bright red sports coat and tie with a gold handled cane at the entrance of the breakfast hall He was being assisted by his attendant who had a similar jacket, neatly set hair but an entirely different character in the manner of his actions.
The old man walked in slowly his facial features being different than most, his head held a little high but focused, the mask of his face giving a general feeling of the word important during his entrance. As he drew closer one could perhaps find his features telling with bright blue eyes set with high cheekbones, his large hands closely fitting the knob on the top of his cane, his attendant rather aloof to his surroundings almost as though disappearing behind him in his presence.
The old man was sporting a large emblem on his left breast which seemed to indicate some crest embellished in gold on black with a crown. He took his position at the next booth across from me, slowly edging his way in, his attendant scattering about to try to get a menu. With his head placed high he planted his hands together firmly on the table ahead of him and casually looked out the large window over to his right and slowly scanned the room for his attendant which had wandered back and was talking to the host over something on the menu.
Placed on another table was an International Herald Tribune which seemed tossed there and abandoned. I lifted up from my seat and went to look at the cover and contents to see if it was a new edition. The Herald Tribune was perhaps the only foreign paper one could get in Czech Republic and was quite costly at newsstands so I took advantage of the lost treasure and tried to catch up on the news since I had not seen television in what may have been 5 months to that day. The old man looked curiously at me and called to me from the next table asking me if it were the Herald Tribune in very good English with a deep Czech accent. He smiled politely and beckoned to me in a typical Czech manner to come to his table.
“English?” he questioned. I smiled and told him I was...well, American (One never knew the outcome of answering this question in different situations, either hit or miss)
The fellow smiled on my answer, his mouth forming into a glow as he asked me if I would join him at his table for Breakfast.
He asked me the casual questions of where I was from in Czech and what did I do.
His eyes seemed aglow from what I had seen in his face upon his entrance. He didn’t really ask for specifics about job or work as it is considered rude in many cases to ask these questions unless you know someone in Europe. I told him some things though, in particular that I was an artist. (One might add that in Europe it is more acceptable than in the states...one figuring out soon enough that there is a extreme bias in many situations with that word “artist” back home)
He seemed pleased at my profession and asked back my preferred interests, background, favorite artists and styles. (I could just imagine if this were some place in mid-west America where one says they are an artist and one snaps back...”now whatcha really du”) This however was not the case in most circumstance though as I found being an artist a perfectly acceptable profession in Czech.
Of course I was also teaching English and preparing for advanced placement for teaching at Charles University at that time.
He was impressed by this and we continued on with our conversation, switching the focus to him as a polite example of how one really is supposed to initiate conversation and continue them.
“Well I’m an oddity!” The old man proclaimed, sort of shrugging and then pointing to the color of his jacket and the embellished emblem on his jacket...”Yes, I am quite odd, I think that is the proper word to describe..”
He paused and looked out the window and smiled back. “I am a Du” (Sounding first like Duck) I smiled politely not knowing if he mispronounced the word. “DoooK...ArcDuke...etc etc” he meandered seeming to try to assemble meaning in this for me.
“You Americans might not understand, Duke! Ohh, it doesn’t matter..” he exclaimed tossing off the matter and waiting for a response.
We made a better introduction and shook hands. He was very gentile in his approach.
I was a little curious...
Appearing out form the back was the waiter with a large tray, on it placed, two plates with bread, juice and a small pot of coffee and tea. He went to my table and noticed my new placement, grabbed my hotel card and brought it across to us sitting at the new table and smiled...
“You have to take the ticket from your table otherwise I can serve you there..” The waiter spliced with his deep Czech accent, “you will be sitting here...is ok?”
“Ano!” measured the old man smiling, and exchanging in Czech a few words polite to my new seating, “He is sitting here now..” the old man smiled and said in English.
There appeared before us our Snidane (Breakfast), both ordering exactly the same.
There was a stack of 4 pieces of brown bread on one plate, a small glass of watered down orange juice, and a plate with a frankfurter placed in the center of the white disk embellished with the emblem ROH.
“This is a Frankfurter...!” the old man exclaimed pointing to the plate, looking at the sad subject of a boiled floppy cylinder still steaming, void of color and having the luxury of taking up most of the disk of the place setting.
We both examined the specimen, looked up in question, prepared for it to lunge-
Then carefully we began to prepare the article of novel, a frankfurter, only one a piece that was to consume our Snidane!
For myself, I needed mustard.
For the Duke, he wanted Horseradish (Kren).
It seems for both of us there was a problem as the table still needed the dressings. We waited for the service to appear from behind the screen.
The old man had a brief smile upon his face as he began to explain about his life, and what I assumed to be former lives.
“It was not always dis' way” he explained, still looking at his lonely meal, approaching it with his fork as a strange creature that crawled there, uninvited.
“At one time things were different...” he continued and began to explain days that were removed from our own: The year was 1925 and he was 7 years old he continued, “Just a young boy...ach!”
There were times far away. My father had it all! Yes! It was the mid 1920's and the former old families were still around, here and there, so it seemed.
We lived on a big estate with large grounds and horses.
The old man again looked at his plate and I thought I saw a tear of some sarcasm come from his eye as he poked the Frankfurter once more. “Ach!!”
Yes...Well we had maids and..how you say..butlers, you see. Nothing like this...we were spoilt..very, very spoil!
It was good, I mean, those days...we had everything, and gold and things! Just things! How can I say, we took for granted..
until..until the Germans moved in.
Yes, the Gerrrrmans, there coming through and needing lodging, taking things over, and of course I was old enough, then to be drafted.
The old man pointed at his knee, joking...”How do you say? I have a wooden knee?..” he said. “..they couldn’t draft me”
And they came with their soldiers and made barracks and munitions depots out of everything with their: Wehrmacht!
At least they gave everything back! Ruined but they gave it back!
The old man glanced sideways to see if the waiter was coming. Only some new comers had entered and were waiting for a table.
“And then it was like this...” The old man added sugar and stirred his coffee.
The War ended, and the new people came...
I sat in awe of the conversation, asking a few questions which could feel rather comfortable, thinking how they might be phrased.
“What were the communists like, when the came...”I asked.
The old man glanced out the window with a stare, pausing a few moments.
“They were like the waiter...here!” he turned and smiled, “Totally oblivious!..but trouble, because they wanted everything and would give nothing for it..” he continued.
It was the 1950's. I remember the first day they came.
Everything seemed like a normal day. We still had my fathers estate and the horses and houses...some might even say castles.
I was feeding the horses at the stables when three large trucks pulled up. There was no advance warning, except that there 'may be' some...government 'repossessions' (Thats what we called them, they never seemed to apply to us...)
There were at least 20 soldiers on the trucks. I walked over to them and asked if they were lost, after all there was a communication center about 12Km down the road from my fathers estate.
The young man had an envelope and a stack of paper and walked with me to the front door demanding to see the owner of the property...my father, then a very elderly man confined to a wheel-chair.
I told him of the problems but the young man was impudent and started making demands that all the residence of my fathers estate were on issue!
“what issue?” I asked, and he slapped a warrant in my hand that gave my father three choices:
Give our house to the state and we would receive a receipt...
Sell our house to the state for pennies, in which we wouldn’t receive a receipt
Taking our house at that moment, where we would all go to prison if we refuse to comply with the Communist Order of Vacancy!
And thus the story begins on this day:
It was a spring day that they had arrived, and given the summons to give up the property of something long standing for generations. The young corporal had been given his orders, and released the soldiers to scatter around. The young Klaus Von Rosenkranz stood not knowing really what to say as soldiers began to pile into the barn, chasing the chickens about, one soldier grabbing one and bagging it with his hand, strapping it to his belt in a show of force. “You have no right!” Rosenkranz yelled, his voice trembling, catching the corporals papers with one hand as five other troopers passed him and headed for the front door.
Yitka, the maid came running out of the house, followed by Suzanne the chambermaid. Petra, ran out screaming as one of the soldiers grabbed her behind and tried to kiss her. “What is this!” yelled Rosenkranz!
“Our orders!” smacked the corporal, “...right here on the paper, read it!”
Rosenkranz grabbed the orders and crushed them partially with one hand, “There! There with your orders!”
The soldiers scrambled into the house, and one could hear shouts in the background and the clatter of things breaking. Over Rosenkranzs shoulder he saw his finest horses being brought out of the stables by two khaki bandits.
Rosenkranz ran as fast as he could into the house to see the soldiers rummaging through belongings and breaking dishes. One was in the pantry grabbing something from the refrigerator, another stuffing his face with some ham that had been left, partially prepared on a sterling silver service, while the clashing of furniture was evident in the living room. One man was pulling down the fine drapery another chasing the middle-age maid Helga, her eyes filled with terror since she had not seen such tyranny.
A shriek came from upstairs where Rosenkranzs sister came screaming onto the rosewood balcony partially dressed, the top of her dress being torn. Another sound was heard in the upper part of the house, Rosenkranzs elderly father and attendant yelling in a violent argument. “Leave Now!...” Rosenkranz screamed to a soldier that was stuffing his uniform with silverware and trinkets. Teasing Rosenkranz, the soldier dangled a very expensive silver fork and prodded him in his direction. “Silverware? Your lucky to find something to eat tonight!” prodded the soldier, pulling the gun over his shoulder and aiming it in Rosenkranzs direction. Helgas screams were unsettling. Rosenkranz dashed upstairs tripping on one rung before he reached the top but regaining his balance, scattered down the long hall to his fathers room. The door was pushed violently open only to see one soldier wheeling around his father in his wheel-chair, grabbing the back with his feet and playing catch with another soldier, his father yelling, “Stop...please!...Stop!”, tears filled his eyes, his attendant trying to push the bullies away was laid flat on the floor, with a sharp head blow, his hand over a trail of blood from his forehead. Rosenkranz tried to assist him, to no help of his own in the confusion, the screams once again coming down the hall, of his sister, the help being tortured, or tormented.
Rosenkranz scattered back to the large living room and stopped suddenly, all his weight thrust on the balcony. The corporal was in the middle of the room. Three gunshots heard in the front lawn as the commotion grew.
“Ill do anything you say...the house and property is yours!” Rosenkranz screamed.
The corporal stood laughing, his eyes rolling in his head, a disturbed smile on his head. He released his gun from his holster and fired one, two, and three shots in the air at the ceiling. Bits and chunks of plaster fell down. “Stop!...Its time to Stop!” The corporal commanded returning the gun to his holster. There was a sudden silence as the troops came running back from their terror filled play with the residence. Helga came out of her room, her dress half ripped, her face filled with tears crying and resting her head on Rosenkranzs shoulder.
“Oh my God! Jesus Maria!...What have you done!” marked Rosenkranz. The corporal laughed, his soldiers passing him and heading out the door, everything behind them a shambles. He pulled out a paper and pen, and slapped it on the large cherry wood table which adorned the living room, its fine silken tablecloth ripped from the treacherous crew.
“Sign This!..And if you say a word anywhere about this, to anyone, we will visit you again...He smiled and left for the corner of the room where he stood watching as Rosenkranz creeped down the staircase and grabbed the pen and signed the document.
“As minister of the Communist Authority here..Your house is taken by the people” the corporal commanded as he grabbed the paper stuffed it in a leather folder and headed out the door where the last of his troops jumped on board the transport.
Around the yard was a reminder of what havoc could be brought about in a short time, the lawn ornaments broken, barn doors ripped off their hinges, and three dead horses layed about.
Rosenkranz put his hand on his face...tears rushed from his eyes!
And the waiter did come bringing mustard, Kren (Horseradish) and Ketchup to the table, both the Old Archduke and myself took from the givings of the small jars and spread them upon our plates.
The old man looked up at me as though he had re-experienced something from his past, a tear coming from his eye as he manipulated the frankfurter with his fork and cut it into several pieces at the end.
“Yes” he continued, “There were better days, but those times are with me...” the old aristocrat muddled in his words.
“Tragic...Communism...” I stated with a embittered question tightly sealed on my lips, wanting to be sensitive, to something that may have effected him deeply and tragically, “What was it after the government took your house...what did you do?”
The old man looked up at me with beaming eyes, molten and somewhat swollen.
“It was not the regime...” he spoke forth, putting his finger to his lips “It was the ideologies”
“We can't really speak even today..”he added.
After a pause an a bit of frankfurter, he continued seemingly volunteering the witness to his life, to me as his breakfast partner.
The frankfurter did taste over cooked and definitely boiled. Not much could change the taste. I added a little Horseradish (Kren) to the tube of swollen matter, tasting it slowly, and adding more Kren.
“Well, after the ordeal, things changed...” continued the old man, ticking his fork against the ceramic.
“I had to go to Prague, since the estate was lost...all of it..and made into one of their military depots. All was lost or sold. The garrison spared nothing that wasn’t broken...” he added, “Of course, only...nightmares...but then work...” he augmented.
“I went to Prague. I never went to Prague except for business and the entire city had changed with banners and slogans potted on every building. It was not easy to live at this time. They gave me a blue over-all and I was told to work, given a room to live, and small amount to live on, it was opposite of what I had seen. I went up the ladder, and down the ladder, on the roof until I fell...I wasn’t made for this kind of work! They made me a doorman, and then made me a window washer until they could process the world which I had come from which I had a good degree from the University”
“Ah”, he sighed, “A degree in Philosophy, with top marks!”
“I listened on. Certainly a University degree could have accounted for something in all of this!” I questioned. The old man rolled his eyes.”How long did it take for them to realize I had a degree? I told them, but they couldn’t process...were ignorant...Haaaaccch! Roughian..Thug mindsets!
Finally they understood, but it was not until the government demanded information to be printed on our passports! In the old days, they printed our credentials on our citizen pass which was required. The Soviets wanted men of Sciences, Arts, Literature...Mathematics for their system..or workers, manual laborers...
I replenished my coffee, and added cream and more sugar to the black and bitter mixture. The old man continued...
“They put me in a job that was “suitable”, a clerk at the Skoda plant where I worked doing...papers, and then finally at a hotel in Prague where I worked at the front desk. What could I say? I was neither challenged at life nor did I have lack of basic needs. Except for the Photography club and small articles I wrote for “Gemma” (Arts and Literature Magazine) I joined a life that was Boring, extremely boring...one works and goes to my apartment, works more and returns home...I finally met my wife, we got married and lived in the same apartment for years..and years..until she died...that was that...no children!
His eyes looked again out the window in a pause, his meal almost finished.
Memories of gathering the last bulk of the usable goods and material from the estate flowed through the old mans head as he stared towards the blank wall of the train station.
He had his clothes suit-cased, a wallet filled with documents, some books of Capek and others, and a fistful of koruna notes to see him through the rest of the months.
Memories welled to the first time he was given his apartment in Zizkov, a workers housing, and the thoughts filling his head as to how he would furnish it, clear the dust, the pile of debris that was left static in the gray quarters with partially broken windows, that old coal burning stove which was fixed many times but still worked after all those years.
The first appointment by the beaureau of Work (Communist Human Development Project) where he was first assigned...making a basic wage of 80 koruna a month.
And the memories spilled forth of that job, be it what it may...
“Rosenkranz!...Jesus Maria, where is that Rosenkranz!” The blue suited foreman called forth amidst a crowd of blue-suits, their bodies silently meandering here and their carrying buckets of paint toward a workers building project, banner and hammered, or cicled in the sense of Communism, undigested, “Wher is he!”
Mareck, a union worker pointed him out silently at the top a ladder pitched to a scaffold about 4 stories up. “Careful! You Stupid Idiot! Dont spill that paint!”
Rosenkranz looked down and thought to himself the worst, that his foreman would call him down again, the 5th time in the last week.
“What is wrong with you Rosenkranz!” the foreman suggested as he slid off the ladder. “Your slow!” cried forth the foreman in a billowing voice, “The State Communist Development is about work, not about laziness!”
Rosenkranz's chin sank.
Memories of being fired from that position flowed like fire through his head. He recounted the censors coming to his door, reprimanding him for his status and the problems with authorities and even police visits to his scanty residence on behalf of the Work Office.
(In former Communist Central Europe it was forbidden to not have work. Equivalent to a misdemeanor, one was constantly at the 'work office' hoping for an appointment, and when such an appointment wasn’t found, one was given a job...if refused, then the police would show up at ones door, causing an 'in the door'- 'out the door' repeat of tickets, possible jail time, brow beating and scoldings-sometimes even leading to an arrest. Waiting for positions the lines would be long, the bureaucracy stale, angry and brutal. But this was the 'law' and one had to accept it...)
Rosenkranz waited for another job for months, and even a year passed before he was given job as administrator after a long paper filled trail, at the Central High School where he was granted a desk job, one of the many that he was shifted around to.
Thoughts mingled with the past, of good times on the weekends with friends he had made as well as the political things he had seen, left, right and center in the days ahead, being worn down little by little by the regime and it anti sentiments to intellectualism in any sort.
He had memories of the sweet and love-filled meeting of his wife at Karlovy Vary, and that he was a young man eager to make a family. So beautiful was the sweet memory of a man in his 30's, his wife being a tender 19, the marriage and the time that followed in that apartment where they lived, now made to the best with a fresh coat of paint and lent and loaned furniture as well as a good piano in the corner.
Suddenly spilled the memory of the lost child, and the adversity they faced as Rosenkranz tried to elevate himself into the Communist Party even though dis believing in the tenants. Then came the memory of her tragic death afterwards and that sad phone call at work that she had been hit by a tram on the way to work.
The old mans eyes teared as he looked back and at me...
“This would never happen in Amerrica...” he stated, his eyes blunt at me, smiling as the waiter appeared once again to serve another carafe of coffee to us.
I asked him, being sensitive to his story, if he had ever thought about leaving Czechoslovakia and moving to the west. The old man added sugar to his coffee and sipped it slightly and looked into the abyss of the hall moving his eyes up to the gold filigree of a statue and decoration at the entrance.
His finger lifted and pointed to a statue of a plaster gold cherub at the entrance adorned with a lamp and faux plantings that decorated its body hiding certain sections.
“Like that cherub at the entrance..” he paused. A mix of words became confusion on his lips, trying to find the right way of expression in English. “Like that cherub this was a dream to escape to the west...”
“This was an impossibility!” he muttered, and restated, “Im-possibility...there was no way out” he continued.
“America...” he stated with fondness in his eyes, “ All could bless some freedom, any freedom!...but it was impossible, this freedom!”
I asked some of his takes on the situation and if he tried to get to the west. He casually nodded and then looked away with a fierce expression drawn upon his face.
“ Were going to move south, across the frontier, up around the mountain ridges...the time of our crossing will be 3 am” Karel Vortash, explained, a guide from the underground which was known to move people across the frontier and to the west. Rosenkranz, his wife and two others were in the basement of a rural apartment planning an escape to the west. Vortash was known for his expertise and any divisive planning to this point was dangerous, and could mean jail or extreme punishment if they were all caught. “Here are our papers...” Vortash explained opening up a portfolio, the group gathered among pipes and boxes at a table, windows pulled and blacked out, as each of them had the essence of fear written over their faces in this project to escape Czechoslovakia and to Austria. “Tell no one! Absolutely no one!” he explained as the group parted and went their separate ways.
He remembered on their last meeting the evening of the escape when they all headed up to the meeting place only to see a line of police and authorities gathered, guarding the meeting place that was now found out, machine guns in hand. Rosenkranz recollected that winter day when they escaped through blind alleys of Prague’s center, to move away from the scene and disappear into a tavern that was still open, the militia going from place to place looking for 'unidentified people' who may have been part of the plan for an escape to the west.
Remembering the telephone call, and the sudden appearance of the police at his door was a memory, as well as the grilling from authorities, and the lies that had to be said for their protection. That their escape was foiled was one thing, but the sheer terror of the authorities was another issue, entirely relating to a nightmare. Those memories went to clear in silence of the past, a brief second in recounting the moments of the old era.
“Impossible!...” The old man recollected, and then lifting his finger to point at me with a very fierce statement, “Your lucky your American...you never have to see this...Never!”
The last bit of the breakfast frankfurter was finished, its unappetizing taste only providing nutrition as I scooped a little Kren on my fork, and mixed it with mustard.
I felt terribly patriotic all of a suddenly and with a fervor to the aspects of freedom which I had never thought of.
The bill arrived for 84 Koruna that was a combined tab, both our bills put into one that hadn’t been separated.
“Ah, it takes this money...not easily had” the old man stated as he separated his currency, the 20 Koruna Coins lined up on one side and the 2 Koruna coins on the other.
“You many as well ask, if you haven’t though already..why..I cant pay your bill as well as my own” the old aristocrat said as he was shelling out the change, a little humor coming on his face. “You have enough!..use the paper 20, there..and the aluminum koruna-cents- there” he remarked in the transaction.
I looked at him and smiled, the old man anxious to tell me his story as the waiter took the change and stamped our tickets before leaving.
“Aristocracy is not always about money!” he stated, rather like a old uncle that was giving me the truth after thinking for many years that it was something other than it actually is. “Definitely, Nobility...Nobilita..is not about money...rather” he said clearing a mistake he had felt he had made.
He grabbed a 200 koruna note from his wallet an placed it on the table. “This is allot of money...maybe not to Americans” he pointed out.
Look at how richly it is ornamented and the 'art' that is on the front of the bill. and the back of the bill” he demonstrated turning the bill face up and down again.
“It is just paper...the paper only stands as paper!”
“No...this is only standing as what we value in the paper”he remarked, once again flipping the bill.
“The paper has no inherent nobility or authority only then it can buy the awful breakfast that we just ate” he said, half halfheartedly joking about the breakfast that one could say was...on the lower side of mediocre.
“I am a Arch Duke...one many say, if not, they can disapprove!” he continued, “but in essence the concept of nobility has nothing to do with how much I have in money, rather to history...” he explained.
I began to feel a bit nervous at this point, when he calmed my condition with a few sentiments.
“I am an aristocrat!...” he poised, raising his finger, in a autocratic style, more in memory to books and legends,“I am an Arch Duke!..both, yes and no.”
He keyed me into his families history and it was impressive, stopping suddenly and again raising a question in history, “I am”
At first I thought this was a test in arrogance, but the rather kindly old gentleman was giving me his story, seemingly in kindness, any kind of arrogance to one side.
“I Am...meaning, I am you...and I am at the end only having meaning in a piece of paper established with authorities and duties, which may only be to appear, wear this red coat with the emblem, and return to the box...” he said, his eyes glancing over to his attendant which was approaching. “Its time..” his attendant Johann said as he approached. The old man, struggled to his feet and addressed the situation with a sigh. “We must meet again!” he exclaimed and grabbed my hand in a gentleman’s handshake as his attendant handed him his cane.
We agreed to meet for breakfast the next morning, commenting briefly on the possibility of having something better for Snidane...breakfast, as we both parted.