| It Has Been A Rough Year |
I am adding this additional chapter to my introduction, because after I initially wrote the introduction, it was very difficult to come back to it and try to make sense of all that I have experienced through the various stages of my life and the trials that I have endured or overcome. I wish ...
| The Birth of Charles Leonard Wiggins |
The story has already been written for awhile on my blog "From the heart of Praise, Prayer and Perseverance. 0; Here is a link to that posting, Below are the pictures of the blessed event.
http://fromthehea rt-dotwigg.blogsp ot.com/2008/03/an other-2-prayer-re quest-answered.ht ml
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| Date Range: 03/15/2009 To 07/20/2100 ||
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On the Wings of Fallen Angels
It seemed a long time ago but still fresh in my mind, a brief but focused memory, those streets of Prague and those structures, a thousand spires that built the city. I walked these streets a good dozen miles a day at times, and perhaps more on some occasions. This was another evening looking up at the sunset between those lofty buildings so old that one couldn’t really describe their history, those coal suited buildings that lay between my eyes and the sky as I walked, feeling those cobblestones under my feet again on such an eve. I was walking from Oplatova Street up, my valise heavy with teaching documents, my class ended in English, I a free man of sorts to think about other issues, a full 4 hours down of speaking, teaching and scratching diagrams all over the blackboard. I was tired, I moved with a quickened pace home.
This was my nightly path between the center of Prague and the subway line to “Museum” or rather “Halavni Nadrazi” (The train station) which was a mark half way home from the center. Usually I was taking the bus, but on some nights I walked the parallels between the crowds, elbow room only, Germans, Italians and then some Russians.
Tourists arrived like clockwork here, different groups every week, arriving and departing on their holidays. Somewhere here seemed at times like a city that was between spacial references, way out there in the midst of a gigantic international world. Today it was a group of Italians that were gathered walking evenly following their guide, his pole held high. They were following, I was escaping.
I could seen the last rays of light spread upon edge of the Museum out the the end of Wenseslas square, watching traffic, being especially careful of the trams that would appear out of nowhere as I moved on my special path up, crossing the street and over towards the Hotel Europa, that hotel where I had residence for many months and sometimes still resided in my mind.
Suddenly a thought passed through me to stop by the Hotel Grand Europa and see if Dieter was working the desk. Dieter had been an old friend who made violins up in the attic of Europa during the days of residence at this legendary hotel. There was the Europa, grand in style and offering music in the Cafe heard from across the boulevard. The old Europa now demoted somehow to one star from five, by the period of reconstruction after the fall of communism. There is stood, and archangel of great gilded times past, the dim lights from within shining, one savored this time of thin harmony of music from the cafe as I approached. It was Bedrick Smetena tonight. Sometimes it was jazz.
I rolled around through the turnstile of a revolving door into the lobby. I could smell the cafe, something fresh was cooking that included meat, onion and garlic.
I sank myself in towards the front, half covered by the red velvet curtain that provided some covering from the doors in winter. Yes, I could feel the snap from the back of me of the cold as well as the steam from the radiator that was at my legs as I peered into the Europa Cafe from the side door, bolted shut. None of my friends could see me here. Carefully I scanned for Petra, Vossek, Dmitri, and Vera. They were not at their nightly chairs at this time, sitting drinking wine or coffee and absorbing this old expensive place and its nostalgia of the turn of the 20th century guild. No, they did not come tonight.
I turned around and looked at the front desk. Peter was tending the desk, the German-Czech with many legends, known and unknown. There were two people just receiving their room keys, and set off. Casually and with a great sense of balance he seemed to turn around and see me there, glancing straight at me as I approached, addressing me with a smile. He reached to the key box behind him and produced a key. It had been many months that I had stayed there, this was still automatic with Peter. He smiled, “My friend...you must have your room key!” I laughed and told him I was living elsewhere, in Zizkov this time and didn’t reside at the hotel but would return one day to my room. He again looked in back of him and pointed to #10, my room, “It is here for anytime..” he smiled, and then asked me about my life and what was new. We talked a bit and then I asked if Dieter was working that evening. Peter paused smiled and then shook his head. Out of the corner of my eye a familiar friend Vacek appeared. Shaking hands, we greeted each other, conversed lightly and bid farewell. I spotted the clock and I had been already almost ½ hour off my usual schedule home on this night. I would have to grab the buss at Halni Nadrazi for the trip up, making some better time. Natasha had cooked some dinner and was egar for me to come home for supper. I bid farewell, headed off into the night, up the street, catching the bus and seating myself on a crowded coach toward Zizkov, paying close attention to the bus stops as they passed not to be confused with my stop.
Soon I was at my street and viewing my apartment building, not as ancient as the old town amidst a group of 1920's era 12 story structures. The large door opened and I walked in, tired from the walk as usual, up one and then two flights of stairs and a mustard colored Mezzanine, typical of the old Soviet designs.
Ringing the loud harsh sounding doorbell Natasha was eager to see me, gracefully inviting me into the front room and setting me on the sofa for the evening Becherovka, an aperitife.
My greeting home was endearing after the often cold day on the frontier, I one of the very few who seemed to have drifted through Prague, and on this occasion decided to establish a outpost here, and now with the drink of Becherovka, toasting to the day which was not easy, but difficult only now to have my kindness given to me at home before dinner.
Tatyana was a lovely lady. Her inspiration was Prague for me, her smile an effervescent light at the end of an often dark street, living and trying to make it in a totally foreign land. It was my first year. I had been lucky to have stumbled upon a haven of music and art.
I went back periodicly in memory at that point to the first sight of Prague from the train station, the time when I stepped off the train and was given a room at the Hotel Europa to stay and all of the dramatics that I had seen. Memories had their willing target, I a nostalgic person. But this was my first year and I had started teaching via a good school in Czech and was invited to teach continuing education courses at the Faculty of Pedagogy as well as at the television NOVA. It consume all my time, but these posts were work and paid a bit, though I was always open to more prosperous projects, and still a most willing subject to my own visions, as an artist and designer, independent and working for myself. In the larger picture it seemed as though everything I had done in Prague was work all the time to this fine time when I pulled forth my Becherovka to my lips, forgot about the past and brought that sweet liquid to my lips for a partial fulfillment of the present.
I looked at Tatyana and gave her my full devotion with a kiss and sweet words for the dinner table was set.
Glancing around the room I could see the setting I had come home to, a comfortably large modern apartment thought some may say the setting may be comfortable 1955 vintage (new furniture, courtesy an Czech-American engineer who imported it all from New York, and was now contracted in Germany, my Landlord), a large East German Russian Era mahogany verneered television console, I think of the Telefunken brand, in the corner, gray Berber carpet and plush sofas fully endowed with a feeling of home, candles spread around the room giving a warm feeling to the apartment-studio which was my domain for a while.
I sat down into the setting, and breathed a slight sigh of relief, and prayer for the day, the music from a couple of hours practice still haunting my ear, in retrospect and contrast, slow melodies of a concerto of Franz Liszt, most particularly the Concerto Pathetique (an orchestration by Eduard Reuss which somehow had to be shortened and arranged by my hand to be played...), attempting to re-count in my head the beats before the end of a section in some kind of musical oriented insanity, then putting it aside, smiling, pouring a little juice at the table, and watching the setting of the welcoming nights response, a warm smile, out of the weather, shivering, damp and often cold environment of Zizkov, looking out the window to see the essence of lightening and rain unfolding on the windows and blackness of rooftops with a brief mention.
The meal was phenomenal as usual with fresh baked bread and sausage, sauerkraut (Cabbage rather) and some home-made dumplings with a wedge of Pork. I loved the simplicity, but moreover I loved to return home to a kind and warm setting, appreciating Tatyana for her ability to keep a happy home, and kindness on her lips despite the storms I often encountered, from various aspects of being an expat.
As I finished the meal I thanked Tatyana and tipped the napkin to feel away a little cabbage on the edge of my lip. She smiled at me with a most courteous smile and told me of her deep love for me, encountering the position of romance of the highest order, this was an engagement fully fulfilled with a ring upon her finger in promise.
After dinner she told me of a message from Dieter as well as my friends associate Vronkman who managed some of my work in Prague and was a friend of Sarka and Milliomnen. With all the names that went by and their difficult pronunciations I had a difficult time keeping track of the many, coming, going and in between. But the message was from Dieter asking me to accept one of his packages which I may find in my postbox and to please deliver it to an address, given in the message. It was the same as many times before, a letter or parcel or even a piece of statuary given to me to pass along. “Oh yes!” Tatyana added, “Dieter wants to meet you at the Kafka Cafe...he say you know where it is”
All of a sudden the phone rang with that almost yelling bell. I had never been use to it ringing. Tatyana grabbed it and answered, then beconed me to come in to take the call. It was Dieter. “You must...” a strange restrained voice remained, “Meet me tonight at the Cafe ..K.” He then put the phone down. It went into a repeated tone.
“Well another night..”I said to myself as I told Tatyana that I had to meet my associate in Prague, apologizing that it would only be an hours meeting. Tatyana looked sad but we came to a half-way resolve of the issue to meet in town later in the evening at yet another cafe Gulu Gulu in another portion of Prague.
I grabbed my bag and set out. There was a cold drizzle, and some lightening, thunder being a backdrop. I aligned with the streets of Prague, the grayness surrounding, the tram, the decent into the underground, and off onto the platform at Starometska. It was still only 7pm and the night was young.
I arrived at the Kafka Cafe about 7:45 a quarter to 8. The place was still open, but not as bustling as usual. Tonight they had the televisions blasting some sports game and a marginal crowd that was interested. I looked for Dieter and he hadn’t appeared yet. Ordering a coffee I settled into a still and dim corner of the main room of the cafe. A few nice looking ladies came in, smiled and took their seats opposite me as I waited for Dieter.
He was never that late. Dieter was a man of precision though seemingly a little show on the catch, too sharp on the catch, a man of a disguise, not of face value. This was kindly Dieter, filled with a joke, forgetting the punchline only to exacerbate on the articles and syntax of the sentence as well as specific words in vocabulary as he slowed, marked it all out, and surprised one with his wit about bending words and sentences. But when Dieter was happy, he was happy, and sad...hum, I can say sad of course as he was filled with a very established diorama of gray emotions. All inclusive, a kind man of honesty and conviction having only one drawback...that was not being late.
I drew the envelope from my mailbox from my coat sleeve and measured it, wondering the contents and placed my hand on it retrieving some news from a vacant newspaper left on another table. It was in English, a preferred language arguably since my Czech was never that good, making attempts at times to learn it conservatively.
It had been 45 minutes and now was approaching an hour, Dieter still had not arrived. I put the envelope in my coat pocket and began to think he got caught up in something, thinking our meeting wasn’t that important.
Suddenly Dieter appeared in the doorway, a 6,7 shadow, the backdrop of light making his silloette seem strange and gnawing. I walked over to him and he stood still and acted as if he didnt know me for one minute, then gave me a word, “I cannot meet you tonight, deliver the mail to Peter...” he commanded in a silent breath, turned and walked out into the dark.
The night passed with a strange feeling, walking over to Gulu Gulu and meeting Tatyana there. We had a few cocktails and then set off for home. She had never met Dieter, but was constantly asking about many of my wareabouts from different times, seeming somewhat jealous.
The next day on my way to a teaching engagement I stopped by the Hotel Europa where I was promptly greeted by Peter and Vacek.
I was given a piece of paper in my palm with my hotel keys by Peter. “On Saturday, your reservation is made...#15” He slipped another envelope to me from the American Center in which I was invited to a formal engagement. “You are very popular!” Peter said and smiled.
I never asked and was never told about the efficiency of numbers, rooms, envelopes, or markings on newspapers as general descriptions of things which I was not supposed to know. I would appear on Friday and continue on to the train station going down to Cesky Budejovice on Saturday, running as an alibi, my location as both Prague and Budejovice had “Hotel Europa’s” I laughed, shuttling envelopes, the most pure white type, or the manila forms. It was the days before internet, presents being given, but underpinnings being less known for the benefit of all.
I played aloof to miscalculations of bills, especially to my benefit, wrong change..to be given a benefit??
Alas this was only a dream, a complete dream of envelopes and documents flying here and there, unknowns being counted among shadows, or packages being delivered in the freezing cold of the night to sources that are mere fog, relating to one point where life was only normal in the Czech Republic at this time. But the enhancement, therein, might maintain a certain element of imagination.
Room Number #15 did not exist but was a broom closet. Room #10 did. Memories of that chasm of Europa's Mezzanine did provide allot for the imaginations getting.
The smiles were there at Europa, with Peter always guessing if it were #10, #5 or #47 or #356 where I would hang my hat for the evening! We laughed, and our party departed.
This afternoon was the same episode, along the same line, distributing myself to various quadrants in Prague at 2pm an hour in a basement, on an old grand piano which I was allowed to practice and at 3:35 another episode with a class in Hradczany, moving again to Biscopsova St, for another hour session with a private client, and then the rite of evening classes at the Pedagogical institute in which I would pay 2 hour dues until that 7 o'clock bell would ring, I remaining hoarse from talking the full period about vocabulary to attentive students.
It was the same regiment every single day, changing clients to Pancrac and another client down in the center of Prague at periods. Indeed what was made of the day? Hours of walking, tramming and then the silent period of practice, possibly a concert for an hour waiting, as the other assembly would play, first a flutist, then a classical guitar, I pulled out in all excellence for a Chopin Etude, or set, disguised in my name for a group of anxious tourists wanting to hear Mozart, Bach and The Beetles, alias “Concert Tonight” Prague. It was a small event, appearing and disappearing as the case may be, nothing grand but seemed at that time to make the promise of keyboard practice in the basement worth it at that time.
One day I sat besides myself, fulfilled in the abstraction of a living breathing creator, here on this planet, to do a variety of things, not always known, nor seen, in the prejudicial variety show of commercial culture, only to be an artist, creator, making money as an English teacher and a piano player where Liszt was liked, and Chopin was liked, now disappearing again to a class where I would garnish the same suit, maintain another profile and live in Prague unaffected, being simultaneously known and unknown as the per chance episode would have it. I was assured by my Czech agent Mr Sovoda, however, that there was a task at hand in travel, a brighter future with engagements he was planning, some exhibitions of art, displays, and events. Surely from the roster of many exhibits he had arranged in group shows throughout Central Europe this would all reach fulfillment in a grand solo. But it was obvious the little contention of one, singular, away from the grand spotlights at this point, a worker, laborer, a teacher of art and language, an expat holding a ‘Prukaz’ in Czech Republic. Each day was a puzzle to be solved, my direction, a meaningful existence.
Slowly I walked on my 2pm day journey to that mustard colored building and in through the back loading area, then seven steps around, those blackened ancient doors of this particular building reminding me of some gateway to paradise for a couple of hours at least, down one level and then to another. Here there was a long corridor filled with long pipes, seats, boxes and drama from the last century. At the end of this was a clearing and a long black piano laid with thick padding that was open, and somehow always in tune for its age. It was there that I practiced and there that I weaved my soul with music as the workmen would sometime come, smile and sit listening but not disturbing me.
I would look overhead at the thickly coated pipes and the mesh door that looked as a chasm to a corner, and then the table where there was as much music as could be had, where I stored all that wasn’t needed on my shoulder or in my briefcase for another days trial.
The hour would end, and like clockwork the busy workmen would come through gathering ladders and buckets and smile as the started their afternoon work packing.
It was like this was a hiding place for me. I could get away here. I could come and go if I chose in the afternoon or evening so long as those great doors were not locked. The guards name was Peter, and he knew me. His demeanor was that of an Austrian soldier, one chisled out of time, a friend with a slight smile, a keeper of keys, St Peter. If he was at his post during the night, he would rush to the door from a small blue room, with a window up near the ceiling, unlock the doors and, extending his hand downward in a greeting, let me in for practice. If it were eleven at night that I would arrive, I knew Peter would be there, although I was later given a key.
Sometimes I would be frustrated, in need of music, one breath to my path on this earth before surfacing into the chasms of the streets in Prague, to appear once more.
Its not as if Prague were a seat of classical culture with all however, I must admit. The conversations on music were kept in close quarters, often the same of being an artist in the west, it comes up in the story somewhere, better to lay low and accept. My practice room was sacred. No one knew this except for me. There was a obvious secret kept silent in some perspectives Bohemia not being filled with Bohemians, many people especially westerners being rather common minded and not understanding fully the realms of higher realms of music, feeling at times like a druid, I kept to myself, this ancient space, this old piano was my sanctuary during off hours. The pay, a bottle of Slivovice, a pack of western Marlboro to Peter, small gifts, but nothing too ostentacious.
Sometimes after class I would come. Sometimes late in the evening. My refuge would change as the months passed to a similar place in Old Prague, an old school, a basement once more, or a teaching room where the perspective of a portrait of Brahms would tower over me, a manuscript page enclosed in an ancient worn gold frame, Mendelssohn there feeling free to express, and I insulating myself until I was finished, and closed the door behind me walking, marching to another session of teaching in another vicinity of Prague always leaving hours open to remain at my flat in Zizkov for artwork to appear, a studio and sessions like clockwork for some exhibitions, be they many, untold, and undiscovered among the cataclysm of renowned centers here and there.
This day was like others. Tonight I returned home tired of the day, same routine, only stopping briefly at Gulu Gulu before my return home to see if one associate of mine, a quite intelligent young fellow from Lebanon “David”, aPhd in Chemistry in residence, was available to pattern, edit, and put some of my notes on Disk, the only fellow who had computer in Prague that could proceed with this at that time. It was 1997 and the Internet Cafe was a weak commodity in Prague without signing up for rather expensive sessions. I would write everything in hand-script only for later transcription for editing on my lusciously equip 486 laptop, slow but sturdy archaic element from days when E-Mail was a relatively unknown thing and Face-book a dream, especially in Czech.
As I walked into Gulu Gulu David was present, as usual drinking a firm glass of Pivo (Beer) and affirmed that he could process some 150 pages for me at a reasonable cost on his bosses computer. I had been formatting this document in what seemed as a forever time...the last part of my so-called dissertation, changed dramatically form a two years process, the feeling of this anticlimactic being a little of memory.
I turned around and there were a few of my students that cheered me on from a different table, Sarka and Denis were there, George (The American) and old Zdeneck who sold the candles of Lenin, Stalin and Marx was passing again around the place. Choosing to sit down and enjoy the atmosphere, a thick cloud of smoke enduring the entire cafe was layering the visual, as one friend rushed toward me and announced that Tatyana was going to come soon.
I smiled, knowing she had a phone and I was at the mercy of that decrepit odd, box labeled Telefon (payphone), cunched on one side, adjacent to the Gulu Gulu Cafe. Somehow everything worked out always, like precision, as per some kind of concept related to thought mail *
(What one could derive as a thought driven email).
I turned and there she was, neatly dressed from her work at the design shop. We greeted each other with the usual overwhelming embrace as Sarka stood and came over announcing in a giddy voice to us, “She knew the power of Prague when it came to Love”
Tatyana seemed to know my whereabouts as though by telepathy. How she did this seemed a kind of magic, assuming there is such thing. Certainly Prague had this essence of magic.
I didn’t have a phone at the time, but she always appeared many times out of the blue, in direct connection to where I was in Prague. How this was seemed amazing but kindly!
I could never get over Tatyanas incredible light blue eyes, fair skin. It was always hypnotic. As always I was taken in a kind of mesmerizer and a dream world when it came to her appearance.
Of course she was always asking about the days events. Many days were ordinary. Same..Same teaching and of course waiting for some time to do some more, tranquil and intense work at home in my art.
We laughed a bit, I held her in my arms and we decended into conversations about world events, and living in Prague.
I remember those days with facination! Stories of Prague abound, the intrigue and interests, those things in conversation that would be scarcely even had at a table in the west.
Conversations about old culture may appear, as with those lucious romantic and involved talks about the simple and elegant nature of flowers, or if someone saw a certain exhibit at the National Museum of Prague. Czechs are very educated people, and not too encouraged by nonsense, or spinning in ones chair, rehashing the same material over and overwhelming. Rather two-way conversations were usual as were interjections and, yes, arguments. Sometimes the conversations were lucious, and sometimes spearheaded. One reasonably should know their stuff when dealing with some conversations in Prague, even the nature of the students at the Charles University, would give a Masters degree at least to their four-year graduates, involved conversations could be as Cambridge debate.
But then again, there were the talks and learning about culture and the arts which were interesting, perhaps never found in general conversations at a table in America.
Prague was filled with circles of friends...and would be competitors, especially in the mid-90's before thorough saturation of western media and involvement.
Unfortunately it seemed that this saturation was growing. More western tourists, more western ideas. It sometimes felt like Prague was being built again for tourists, the old town and native inhabitants now dissapearing for wild-eyed Americans, western travelers and students pounding through to get their Pivo and have it. Things that were sublime were often times put to the back burner, wild times and drink brought out front, sometimes seeming like a modern Amsterdam, but not...Prague was my town. Seemingly I was meant to be placed here at this time, after months feeling very different and a little more Czech, European than my native-held American background.
It happens when one lives in a place for several months, perhaps a year or so now, this permeation of culture upon one. I was beginning to understand Czech, though speak it terribly...even lessons didnt work well, the language slipping on my tongue, but somehow working it through, getting the jist, at times understanding the conversations at the table, in Czech, as well as English, and replying..hesitantly
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