Prago slabo poznam. To je kmalu ugotovil vsak, ki me je obiskal. Vedno sem se zadrževal bolj v svoji soseski. Obakrat, prvič v osemdesetih in drugič konec devetdesetih sem stanoval v starem delu, le kakšnih sto metrov stran od znane ure. Tako sem nakupoval v istih trgovinah in hodil v iste gostilne, seveda v tiste, ki so še ostale.
Pogrešal sem vinarno Narcis, ki je bila nekoč odprta vso noč in v kateri so opiti nekdanji džezisti proti jutru obvezno zaigrali prelepo Življenje je le naključje. Ali pa jih je zaneslo in so improvizirali, dokler jih ni šef ozmerjal. To je tisti Narcis, v katerem je vsako noč sedela že zelo postarana nekdanja lepotica z belo napudranim, kot maska otrplim obrazom in z ogromnimi trepalnicami. In je govorila le nemško, proti jutru pa izginila skozi službeni vhod in nihče ni vedel, kam. Pogrešal sem leseno barako, v kateri so Vietnamci prodajali vsemogočo robo in imeli lokal s pijačo odprt podnevi in ponoči in so gostje po prekrokani noči z natakarjem vred spali z obrazi, naslonjenimi na mizah. Pogrešal sem tudi trafiko na vogalu in popravljalnico igrač malo naprej. Je pa na istem vogalu še vedno sedel star invalid in požiral meče ter si v nos porival dolge, debele žeblje, da so se mimoidoči od gnusa umikali na drugo stran ceste. In še vedno je bila gostilna Pri dveh mačkah, kjer sem bil nekoč priča zelo zanimivemu pogovoru svojih dveh sosedov. Prvi je namreč razlagal, kako mu po umivanju las ostane še ravno dovolj šampona za pod pazduho. Drugi pa, da mu ga ostane dovolj za pod pazduho in še za spodaj.
Ni pa bilo več kavarne, v kateri so bili v prvem nadstropju plesi za starejše. In kjer so ob prvih zvokih orkestra starčki kot pobalini odskakljali po izbranke. In kjer so nekoč starčka, ki je preveč vneto plesal, na nosilih odnesli iz kavarne, on pa je še vedno milo gledal proti soplesalki, kot bi ji hotel reči, da naj kar počaka, saj bo takoj nazaj. Vendar ga ni bilo. Starčka sem poznal, stanoval je v sosednjem stopnišču naše hiše, in že naslednji dan sem videl nad vhodom viseti črno zastavo.
Pogrešal sem skupino gledališčnikov, s katerimi smo pol leta, vsak dan, brez honorarjev vadili predstavo, ki naj bi jo igrali v velikem vojaškem šotoru na otoku sredi Vltave. Vendar so jo po obveznem ogledu generalke prepovedali. Predstava je bila sestavljena iz starih praških zgodb, od katerih se mi je najbolj vtisnila v spomin naslednja:
Nekoč so v starem praškem samostanu razpisali natečaj za izdelavo kipa križanega Kristusa. Prijavilo se je veliko kiparjev in rezbarjev iz vse dežele. Vsi so si želeli naročila. Še posebej goreče pa si ga je želel reven rezbar, ki je dan za dnem, podnevi in ponoči iskal model s tako trpečim izrazom, ki bi ponazoril Kristusovo trpljenje. Po mesecih iskanja je končno našel želeni izraz na obrazu bolnega in sestradanega berača. Odpeljal ga je k sebi in mu dal jesti ter piti. Ko pa si je berač opomogel, je rezbar z grozo opazil, da se mu je trpeči izraz spremenil v hvaležni smehljaj. Rezbar je pobesnel in privezal berača na križ, ki ga je imel pripravljenega za poziranje. Trpinčil in stradal ga je, vendar brez uspeha. Minil je teden, berač pa še vedno ni imel dovolj trpečega izraza. Rezbar je postajal vse bolj okruten in nor. In ko je nekega dne veselo opazil, da berač spet dobiva svoj stari trpeči izraz, je ta dvignil trudno glavo, pogledal rezbarja, se nasmehnil in z nasmehom na obrazu izdihnil.
Old Pragues stories
I am not that familiar with Prague. This was immediately clear to anybody who visited me there. I spent most of the time in my neighbourhood. The two times I lived there, first in the 1980s, and then once again at the end of the 90s, I lived in the old part, a mere hundred meters or so from the famous clock. I would shop in the same shops and visit the same bars – the ones that were still there, of course.
I missed the Narcissus vinery, which used to be open all night and which was a refuge for intoxicated elderly jazz musicians who always played the beautiful Life is Just a Coincidence as the morning started to show its face. Sometimes they were carried away and started improvising until they were told to stop by the boss. In this same Narcissus an old former beauty sat every night, with a white powdered face with long eyelashes, motionless as a mask. She only spoke German, and towards the morning she would disappear through the staff exit and nobody knew where she went. I missed the wooden hut, in which the Vietnamese sold all types of merchandise and had a bar that served drinks all day and night, and in the end the guests would, after an all-nighter, sleep with their faces on the tables, next to the waiter who did the same. I also missed the kiosk on the corner and the toy repair shop a few steps further. However, on that very corner, the old disabled man still sat and swallowed swords and pushed long, thick nails into his nose, making the passers-by cross to the other side of the road in disgust. The restaurant U Dvo Kocek (Two Cats) in which I once witnessed an interesting conversation between two people from the neighbourhood, was also still there. The first one was explaining that when he washes his hair, he always has exactly the right amount of shampoo left to wash his armpits. The second one said that he always had enough for his armpits as well as for down under.
The café that used to host dances for the elderly on its first floor was no longer there. This is where old men would jump like young boys, grabbing hold of their dance partners as soon as the orchestra played its first notes. This is where I once saw an old man, dancing vigorously until he was carried out of the café on a stretcher, and he was still looking longingly at his dance partner, as if he was trying to tell her to wait for him, for he will be back in a tick. But he never returned. I knew the old man, he lived in the house next to mine, and the very next day I saw a black flag flying above the entrance.
I missed the crowd of theatricals, with which we, for six straight months, day in, day out, with no pay, rehearsed a play, which we were supposed to perform in the large military tent on the island on the Vltava river. However, the performance was cancelled after the obligatory viewing of the dress rehearsal. The performance was created from old Prague stories, from which the following stuck in my mind:
A long time ago the old Prague monastery held a tender for a statue of Christ on the crucifix. A number of sculptors and carvers from all across the country applied. And all of them wanted to win this tender. But a poor carver was especially desperate to win the tender and day after day, day and night, he searched for a model with an expression of suffering that would reflect Christ’s suffering. After months of searching, he finally found the expression he was looking for on the face of a sick and starving beggar. He took him to his place and gave him food and drink. As soon as the beggar was refreshed, the carver noticed in great terror that the beggar’s suffering expression had turned into a grateful smile. The carver flew into a rage and tied the beggar to the cross that he had prepared for the posing. He tortured and starved him, but to no avail. A week had passed, and the beggar’s expression still failed to reflect the suffering of Christ. The carver became increasingly cruel and crazy. One day he joyfully noticed that the expression of suffering was returning to the beggar’s face, and as soon as he noticed it the beggar raised his head, looked at the carver, smiled and died smiling.