On theWings of Fallen Angels
RichardOzanne c 1999
It seemed a long time ago but still fresh in my mind, a brief but focused memory, those streets of Prague and those slalom structures, a thousand spires that built the city. The town breathed with the hearts of ancients as well as some surrealism left in bygone ages that were sandwiched between ages, with soft coals smell drifting through the streets and a subtle bent of newness entrenched within the Gothic parable of by gone ages, gray, mustard and tinder.
Icould feel the riddle written in the streets between Nove Mesto andStarometska, a fulfillment of the treats of sausages baking on thegrills between places down towards the center of the old village,still patched and scraped with memories of all who lived there.
Itoo was the walker and sojourner of these channels and matrix ofstreets wandering ever impatiently as a new comer, feeling a fallenspirit placed here again.
I walked these streets a good dozen miles a day at times, and perhaps more on some occasions. The stone beneath my feet always played an uneven sway in my step as centuries had worn them, prominent ages, and providence giving me a chance once more having a glance at the raised towers and history which made this town drifting through my head on each walk, and journey throughout the streets from the old and grayly musted Jewish cemetary, with its oracle crows calling “break” at the falling of another eve, to the young lovers whos hearts beat tenderly together in the magic of youth and of love which was admired as wellas jealously wanted.
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 Opalatova 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. Still the dream like essence of Prague was insistant on my attention.
This was my nightly path betweenthe center of Prague and the subway line to “Museum” or rather“Halavni Nadrazi” (The train station) which was a mark half wayhome from the center. Usually I was taking the bus, but on somenights I walked the parallels between the crowds, elbow room only,Germans, Italians and then some Russians.
Touristsarrived like clockwork here, different groups every week, arrivingand departing on their holidays. Somewhere here seemed at times likea city that was between spacial references, way out there in themidst of a gigantic international world. Today it was a group ofItalians that were gathered walking evenly following their guide, hispole 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 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.
Irolled around through the turnstile of a revolving door into thelobby. It was like a merry go round between centuries, entering thelast of the 20th through a portal of the 19th.
Apassing friend from the hotel tipped his gray Czech brow in welcomegreetings. I could smell the cafe, something fresh was cooking thatincluded 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 20thcentury 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.
SoonI was at my street and viewing my apartment building, not as ancientas the old town amidst a group of 1920's era 12 story structures. Thelarge door opened and I walked in, tired from the walk as usual, upone 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 appertife. 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.
Tatyanawas a lovely lady. Her inspiration was Prague for me, her smile aneffervescent light at the end of an often dark street, living andtrying to make it in a totally foreign land. It was my first year. Ihad been lucky.
Iwent back in memory at that point to the first sight of Prague fromthe train station, the time when I stepped off the train was given aroom at the Hotel Europa to stay and all of the dramatics that I hadseen. Memories had their willing target, I a nostalgic person. Butthis was my first year and I had started teaching via a good schoolin Czech and was invited to teach continuing education courses at theFaculty of Pedagogy as well as at the television NOVA. It consume allmy time, but these posts were work and paid a bit, though I wasalways open to more prosperous projects, and still a most willingsubject to my own visions, as an artist and designer, independent andworking for myself. In the larger picture it seemed as thougheverything I had done in Prague was work all the time to this finetime when I pulled forth my Becherovka to my lips, forgot about thepast and brought that sweet liquid to my lips for a partialfulfillment of the present.
Ilooked at Tatyana and gave her my full devotion with a kiss and sweetwords for the dinner table was set.
Themeal was phenomenal as usual with fresh baked bread and sausage,sauerkraut (Cabbage rather) and some home-made dumplings with awedge of Pork. I loved the simplicity, but moreover I loved to returnhome to a kind and warm setting, appreciating Tatyana for her abilityto keep a happy home, and kindness on he lips despite the storms Ioften encountered.
It was such an evening when lightning was crashing, and the rains were gathering puddles in the streets the water heard down below beating, as one could catch the flashes outside over the silloettes of the buildings and dim lights along the structural walls and chasms of the apartment buildings in Zizkov.
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. I looked into her smiling eyes with a touch of sentiment, and not so shallowly to bestow a radience of love that was sparked here. Her eyes breathed the light of a nearby candle as the softness and glow of her temperment set golden promises adrift in throughts, both hand tenderly embraced and promises made, I knew that this was an engagement.
The phone interupted some drift in conciousness here, as always at such subtle moments before the touch of love, bestowed an empassioned moment with intercourse following.
That gnashing ring, obnoxious, as though an old woman was letting loose her rage of not being young, that damned phone rang and the talk began. It was Lesha, and then Johanne, two students who schedualed lessons.
Afterward the desert was brought. Zmirslina, or ice cream and cake of the best variety, followed by light coffee and then small talk, Tatyana relaying to me something she had forgotton.
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.
“Wellanother night..”I said to myself as I told Tatyana that I had tomeet my associate in Prague, apologizing that it would only be anhours meeting. Tatyana looked sad but we came to a half way resolveof the issue to meet in town later in the evening at yet another cafeGulu Gulu in another portion of Prague.
Igrabbed my bag and set out. It was still only 7pm and the night wasyoung.
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.
Idrew the envelope from my mailbox from my coat sleeve and measuredit, wondering the contents and placed my hand on it retrieving somenews from a vacant newspaper left on another table. It was inEnglish, a preferred language arguably since my Czech was never thatgood, making attempts at times to learn it conservatively.
Ithad been 45 minutes and now was approaching an hour, Dieter still hadnot arrived. I put the envelope in my coat pocket and began to thinkhe got caught up in something, thinking our meeting wasn’t thatimportant.
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.
Iwas given a piece of paper in my palm with my hotel keys by Peter.“On Saturday, your reservation is made...#15” He slipped anotherenvelope to me from the American Center in which I was invited to aformal 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 Budowica on Saturday, running as an alibi, my location as both Prague and Budowica 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.
RoomNumber #15 did not exist but was a broom closet. Room #10 did.Memories of that chasm of Europa's Mezzanine did provide allot forthe imaginations getting.
The smiles were there at Europa,with Peter always guessing if it were #10, #5 or #47 or #356 where Iwould hang my hat for the evening! We laughed, and our partydeparted.
This afternoon was the sameepisode, along the same line, distributing myself to variousquadrants in Prague at 2pm an hour in a basement, on an old grandpiano which I was allowed to practice and at 3:35 another episodewith a class in Hradczany, moving again to Biscoupsova St, foranother hour session with a private client, and then the rite ofevening classes at the Pedagogical institute in which I would pay 2hour dues until that 7 o'clock bell would ring, I remaining hoarsefrom 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.
One day I sat besides myself,fulfilled in the abstraction of a living breathing creator, here onthis planet, to do a variety of things, not always known, nor seen,in the prejudicial variety show of commercial culture, only to beanEnglish Teacher and a piano player where Liszt was liked, and Chopinwas liked, now disappearing again to a class where I would garnishthe same suit, maintain another profile and live in Pragueunaffected.
Slowly I walked on my 2pmjourney to that mustard colored building and in through the backloading area, those doors reminding me of some gateway to paradise,down one level and then to another. There was a long corridor filledwith seats, boxes and drama from the last century. At the end of thiswas a clearing and a long black piano laid with thick padding thatwas open, and somehow always in tune for its age. It was there that Ipracticed and there that I weaved my soul with music as the workmenwould sometime come, smile and sit listening but not disturbing me.
I would look overhead at thethickly coated pipes and the mesh door that looked as a chasm to acorner, and then the table where there was as much music as could behad, where I stored all that wasn’t needed on my shoulder or in mybriefcase for another days trial.
The hour would end, and likeclockwork the busy workmen would come through gathering ladders andbuckets and smile as the started their afternoon work packing.
It was like this was a hidingplace for me. I could come and go if I chose in the afternoon orevening so long as those great doors were not locked. Sometimes afterclass I would come. Sometimes late in the evening. My refuge wouldchange as the months passed to a similar place in Old Prague, an oldschool, a basement once more, or a teaching room where theperspective of a portrait of Brahms would tower over me, Mendelssohnthere feeling free to express, and I insulating myself until I wasfinished, and closed the door behind me walking, marching to anothersession of teaching in another vicinity of Prague always leavinghours open to remain at my flat in Zizkov for artwork to appear, astudio and sessions like clockwork for some exhibitions, be theymany, untold, and undiscovered among the cataclysm of renownedcenters 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”, a Phd 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 dramaticly form two years process, the feeling of this anticlimactic being a little of memory.
I turned around and there were afew of my students that cheered me on from a different table, Sarkaand Denis were there, George (The American) and old Zdeneck who soldthe candles of Lenin, Stalin and Marx was passing again around theplace. Choosing to sit down and enjoy the atmosphere, a thick cloudof smoke enduring the entire cafe was layering the visual, as onefriend rushed toward me and announced that Tatyana was going to comesoon.
I smiled, knowing she had aphone and I was at the mercy of that decrepit payphone adjacent toGulu Gulu. Somehow everything worked out always, like precision, asper some kind of thought mail.
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” To her it Its a most amazing place...” she added, “where couples can be lost and found in the many coridors of the streets, a bench or special park where lovers would wander, find themselves and suit themselves to entanglement in passionate love making at the feet of Macha.
Tatyana seemed to know mywhereabouts as though by telepathy. How she did I never could know.Tonight she was specially graced in a black skirt clear to herankles, a high collar, the pitch of her hair, extravagant andelegant. She stood in the doorway of the Gulu Gulu, and people didwonder of the occasion when she entered, peering up in surprised atan elegantly dressed lady. She was dressed for me not for thesituation, as jeans and T-shirt would be enough.
I didn’t have a phone at thetime, but she always appeared many times out of the blue, in directconnection to where I was in Prague. How this was seemed amazing butkindly!
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. She always dressed well whether in tasteful dress or sneekers and T-Shirt, the latter not too well remembered as she always mesmerized my attention.
Of course she was always askingabout the days events. Many days were ordinary. Same..Same teachingand of course waiting for some time to do some more, tranquil andintense 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 fascination!
(Editors note:Nine Minutes Before Eleven Transcript--Similar)