Readings — From the December 2019 issue

Protocol or: A Contribution on the Renaissance as Compiled Jointly with My Uncle Josef

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From Why I Write?, a collection of prose published this month by Karolinum Press. Hrabal (1914–1997) was a Czech writer known for his novels Closely Watched Trains and I Served the King of England. Translated from the Czech by David Short.

If one of Christ’s pals had been Rímský, the celebrated baker Rímský, who kicked a whore’s false leg an’ snapped it in two an’ gave some cops such a thrashing that they needed medical attention, then things would be better. Long before Christ, the same idea was shared by the European Renaissance, Sophocles, Themistocles, Socrates, Mozart, and Goethe, the quest for a refinement of emotion and libertinism. But Christ studied among old Jews, did his translations of the Old Testament, a huge guy ’e were, ’andsome, one as knew ’ow to handle women until the rest was all envious of him, like Martha, thou art careful an’ troubled about many things, he’d talk to any man an’ any woman an’ Martha were a gossip an’ he didn’t like that, because he were a doctor an’ professor, a great mind an’ a great scholar, an epileptic, otherwise they wouldn’t have recognized him as a king and a god. Let someone try that, acting the martyr for the sake of love, an’ not be a tinkling cymbal? The trouble it takes to teach an idiot geography, geometry, sometimes the teacher don’t get it either. And suddenly it’s like He, out of the blue, has come an’ seen that this world ’asn’t got itself educated to this day! It’s like when you’re a student or apprentice. Does everybody ’ave it written in the stars that they’re purveyors to the court? An’ on top o’ that being a purveyor of love, ’aving everyone ’ang on till his death, through great obstacles an’ hard times an’ hunger an’ sickness, ’aving ’em work each according to his powers an’ abilities, an’ also instilling all that in every idiot near an’ dear to him, no pope or archbishop ever managed even half an idea of what it is to go barefoot about the world an’ sleep in a stable, with just a bit o’ bread an’ water, it’s terrible, that, an’ for a chap not to sin even in his thoughts among all that vermin, there’s few as are up to it, apart from Christ himself, an’ those highfalutin, supernatural ideas he had, they were what broke him. An’ what is God? Someone tell me that! Like them missionaries, no fornication, no dirty goings-on with kids present, an’ no consorting with more than one woman, in the army, too, they give you your orders before coffee time, that it’s drill tomorrow an’ physical jerks, an’ mind you’ve got your rifle polished, an’ if it weren’t, the captain would summon the sergeant, one guy shows up, coat covered in blood, got pissed somewhere, the major’s sittin’ on his stallion an’ has everyone searched, an’ then comes trouble. So Christ is also responsible for his cohort, he’ll also wind up sittin’ on his little donkey in front of the Almighty an’ surveyin’ his imbecile flock an’ then there’ll be no excuses, none of your sorry, guv, I didn’t ’ave the time, Christ’ll ’aul him out, kick ’im around a bit an’ give ’im a sock in the teeth an’ they won’t feed ’im an’ they’ll even lock ’im up, ’cos in the end even an emperor will fly off the handle. Then try governing nations according to the European Renaissance! I’ve put ladies to the test, to see which one likes what. With one it’s a new dress, one a ring, or another the passionflower of love. Yeah, an’ I’d like a million! I was just larking about an’ all those bitches, except the passionflower, declared they’d go barefoot all the way to Prague to find me . . . An’ so missionaries go crisscrossing the world, wearin’ black caftans, their chins not like Elijah but shaven clean, a silk rope doubled at the waist, rosary like what you see Capuchins with, an’ birettas on their heads, not like a parish priest but three-cornered like an archbishop’s, a massive crucifix ’ere with a gold Christ, an’ they used to go around fulminatin’ the whole time about love, not ’ow to hug a girl, but like when some poor fellow’s short of a thing, one who’s got more than enough should let ’im ’ave some. That’s real love, not doin’ somersaults on a sofa, for if you gained the whole world, it profits not, there’s just that pure soul, an’ the Renaissance has to cultivate that from infancy. Freethinkers often badgered ’em wi’ monkeys an’ fishes, but that were just biological and psychological fantasizing. A freethinker asked: Where did the first chicken come from? An egg of course! the missionary bellowed back. An’ so they spent the next two hours shouting at each other till they agreed that egg an’ chicken are both God, an invisible spirit, an’ that Eve were seduced by a doctor of medicine, like Havlícek taught us, an’ isn’t it odd that Adam were made of mud an’ Eve of a bone, but where on earth’s the chicken then, an’ where’s the egg? An’ so missionaries got the odd clip around the ear for their gloss on the cosmos, not even Christ ’ad a bash at that one, let alone any piddlin’ pope or silly little archbishop. We can’t believe things that are impossible, even Christ taught that, an’ anything that’s done without conviction is bullshit an’ to ’ave a spirit is to ’ave a sound brain an’ sound blood, an’ once that goes, you’ve ’ad it. There’s just the good deeds you left behind, but if you can’t control yourself, then it’s goodbye, you’re not a human, you can’t go about hittin’ people an’ swearin’ at ’em, that’s so ill-mannered, an’ nobody’s helped by mass murders. After all, the world’s a big place an’ can feed twice as many people, so what’s the big deal if I eat my fill? An’ if there’s a little extra bit o’ lovin’? What bliss it is when a twenty-five-year-old he runs into a twenty-year-old she, it’s like a flower openin’, but old folk, that’s just two wax figurines, corpses, it’s only the young, the first ones, as the writers of the Renaissance tell us, an’ wi’ oldies, that’s just wishful thinkin’ an’ just the gift of givin’ an’ of loving everything, as a substitute for lovin’ lasses. An’ there’s the acrimony that causes distress, like over who’s the better-­lookin’, or ’ad an education, an’ over this one’s bein’ the daughter of a monarch an’ the other’s a dollar princess, an’ whether that fellow’s a writer or an editor. It’s that wretch nature that sets people against one another, an’ it drove Jesus crazy. Wearin’ clothes, that’s the rule in colder climes, but where it’s hot they go naked an’ in places like that there’s no lechery like wi’ people who wear clothes, it tickles people’s fancy, she don’t know what he looks like, but folk with no clothes on don’t even notice each other, an’ among nations that go about naked there’s a lot less pickpocketin’. An’ so all things are governed by control of the emotions and passions and debauchery. Wee Mozart or the writer Goethe, they can’t fly off the handle like some carter an’ yell: “Young lady, you can kiss my. . . !” Instead they get a grip an’ write a little poem or a little tune an’ send it to ’er with a bunch o’ flowers as is right an’ proper. That’s your European Renaissance, but Christ ’as no part in it, because it isn’t enough for ’im. ’E wants everything an’ that’s ’is weakness. If only ’e could be pals wi’ Rímský the baker, a chap who sought justice by wreckin’ pubs an’ demolishin’ ’is cell, door an’ all, an’ beatin’ the livin’ daylights out of prison wardens, ’im as they ’ad to spray water in ’is eyes wi’ a fire hose.

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