Yesterday—a sunny day, a gift from the gods, the grape harvest, like back then, I drank and I cursed, I poured out all of my rage—yesterday, yesterday, as you know, yesterday it was two years, two years back, since we met in Suché mýto, in the capital city of our captive/embraced Tatrania-Slovakland, since then I’ve been writing to you, I write these Jottings for the Beloved Lutécia, which I will never send you, which they will certainly later seize and scatter.
You don’t know, dear Lutécia—Leticia Parisiorum, Leticia to your Parisian friends, why I write you these jottings—for you, which I know in advance, that I’ll never send to you. Other than that, meanwhile, I write you letters, which I regularly send to you by air mail, that don’t fly from Prague, although, although they are innocent, at least from a political standpoint, as lilies. In the jottings that I won’t send you, I injure you, I verbally claw at you as if you are a bird of prey, a forest buzzard, a sacerdotal czarist griffin, I explain in the letters, that also don’t fly to you, I’m grazing on you with the big gentle muzzle of an elk or a horse, I’m fumbling with the elk’s muzzle, I’m groping the rounded, endlessly gentle shapes of your body, of our soul, fumbling with the gentle elk’s muzzle all over you, from afar, inaccessible because of the invented borders, I the captive animal, captive and starving like you, I’m finding in myself, in the expanding eternal memory, my animal devotion before you with the mystery which in the grasp of pleasure and pain excreted me into the world of the cosmos like a blind ray and was licked all over, completely, like a fresh wet calf. I am embraced by the felicity and grace of the language of my mother and my lover, who give birth to me, throwing me out of themselves, placate me, reconcile me with the cosmos, with their language, breath, words.
[. . .]
Once then, two years ago—by the way, I remind you, that the day of our meeting was not only the day of the grape harvest, but also the first day of the four-week election campaign; the walls and windows, from the ground to the sky, everything was plastered with red: I’m voting, we’re voting, we’re going to vote (manifestly) for the happy future of our children (human contentment for all time). That same day, a friend, a friend from Prague, as if he smelled the young wine, sent me a bunch of money, enough for two weeks’ sustenance. It’s not a mistake, don’t send it back, I’m paying you back a debt, he added. The hell you’re paying me back, you’re splitting it with me. I got up right away in joy, two weeks’ sustenance, which my wife doesn’t know about. It also seemed a little funny to me, that I’m getting dressed up like this as if for a trip into the big wide world, although I only had to crawl down from my little hilltop into town, to buy tobacco in the nearest tobacconist, maybe also some juniper brandy from Trenčin and maybe I’ll also drink two deciliters of stum standing up at the Šenkvice wine-bar. You know, the reflex of freedom, to put it in an elevated way. A need for movement. For ten years now I have been tied up to my doghouse, by the invisible but more strangling chains of administrative measures. When I got that small change from my friend in Prague, I spat on it superstitiously, may it be fruitful and multiply, right away I felt like a world traveller. I put on, rather unsuitably, my old Swiss hiking trousers, my Yugoslav windbreaker, and hung the Polish linen bag, with which I had travelled quite a bit, over my shoulder. That was my subconscious self-stylization, which means, I’m taking on features so that people recognize me because of them. My soul can never have its fill of wandering. I guess I’m a nomad. My first published prose was significantly titled Journeys. I passionately wrote the book Man on the Road about my love of the countries of different nations, about dying on the road. The Catholic Existentialist philosopher Gabriel Marcel was touched, perhaps, that I wrote a travel book with the same name as he had, maybe also by my Catholic name, and offered me the great prize of Erasmus of Rotterdam, which he had received. May I travel, and live where my heart desires.
Yes, a man means well, but has an impact of destructive evil. The philosopher unwittingly called attention to the fact that I am a vagrant and certainly, according to my name, also Catholic. The main national apparatchik Agin ascertained all this and proposed to the Soulcrusher-Woodbreaker a punishment for me. We can break this vagrant like this: first, in the name of the higher interest, we will take away his passport; second, we’ll tie him to his doghouse with the invisible chain of measures; third, we will let him be tormented by his wife, who should not have any suspicion of this—she will receive an international scholarship, she will receive a passport, she is promised a travel permit, if, if she coaxes one little engaged proclamation from him, that he agrees, that he sees, and saw, in the “entrance” the wise, even brilliant wisdom, of the leader.
Bartolomej Slzička (Bartholomew Teardrop), that is, myself, hasn’t read the newspapers for years, and doesn’t know that the whole city was plastered with red from night until morning. In front of the Štefánia café, at the nearest tobacco shop, he stops and stands, stares, in his soul he manifestly votes for a happy future for his children and for human contentment for all time, a figure like a scarecrow in a poppy field, unsuitably dressed in a warm Titoist windbreaker, bourgeois hiking trousers, with a Polish Catholic bag on his shoulder, with the money from his Prague friend in his pocket.
Slzička knows, he knows in advance: when he steps down from his little hilltop, it’s all over. Someone always meets him, explains their case to him and it’s all over, he won’t be able to get to what he wanted to do that morning. For his contemporaries, he has become a coat-hanger on which, with admiration or love, they hang their own mistakes, their stupidity, their weakness.
And it happened this time, too.
There on the busy intersection in front of the Štefánia café, on the first day of the intensifying election campaign, the Academician stops next to him. Slzička turns away from the window with at least three months of fresh illustrated news.
The Academician, a silver-haired stooge, grabs him by the sleeve, pulls him toward himself, and pathetically attacks:
“Bartolomej, dear Bartoš, it’s been ages since we’ve seen each other! Don’t you even look at me anymore?”
“As you can see, I don’t look at you.”
But the Academician himself, probably in the passion of the intensifying election campaign, doesn’t hear and doesn’t see.
“Bartolomej! The years are passing. Do you want to stay alone, completely alone, like a thumb on a hand, like a sparrow on a rooftop?”
“Screw you, all of you.”
“That’s all right, more power to you, that you estrange yourself, as we know from the theory of Viktor Shklovsky. But it’s harmful, I tell you, harmful, when you separate yourself from us, only you, only you don’t want to be among us and with us. Every moment you keep such distance that no one remembers you anymore. You’re becoming, soon you’ll become, a living corpse.”
“Screw all of you, all of you. Do you hear me?”
“You dare to reject a hand offered to you from the highest places?”
“Academician, let’s drop it. Now I’m thinking of what I want to buy. If I buy brandy or local rum, I should buy Taras Bulba tobacco and rolling papers, I won’t have enough for Mars cigarettes.”
“My God, how you’ve fallen, that you and you, like such and such, need to think whether Taras or Bulba? Pull yourself together. They’re offering a hand to you from the highest places. We want to welcome you among us, so don’t be so stubborn, like an old ram’s horn. You know, in politics you can’t always do things straightforwardly.”
“Academician, doesn’t it seem to you that you’re offending me, when you call my opinions on my personal path to socialism, to democracy, the stubbornness of a ram? They were your opinions too, the opinions of a man who offered you a hand from the highest places, who raised you up to be an Academician, who let bygones be bygones, the fact that you took the stand against him as a false witness. I grew up in this republic, it was always my republic, I think that my, your, everyone’s responsibility, the responsibility of the party and the state organs was to protect the sovereignty of our, let’s say, imperfect republic. And that’s why I left the Party.”
My political opinions haven’t been interesting for a long time. I just want to say that the Academician and I went at it wildly with each other, then, on the first day of the election campaign. There on the busy intersection in front of the Štefánia café, we barked at each other for about an hour and a half. It’s not important that we, two former friends, were barking at each other, but what was important was that it lasted from ten until half past eleven.
And your first sentence, when I told you, was:
“By chance, by chance I saw you from the tram, how you were standing there with that pillar of the academy.”
I paused immediately at that sentence. Why are you emphasizing that. By chance? Hardly. You weren’t dressed like that. Your sentence should have gone like this: By chance I was going by in the tram and I saw you, how you were standing there. But if not by chance, you send the authorities after me. Later in the Royko arcade in front of the flower shop window, I embraced you with a wedding bouquet of orchids and for god’s sake, you asked me:
“Are you going to vote?”
Although your question didn’t necessarily have any meaning in the town plastered with red for the election campaign: I’m voting, we’re voting, we’re going to vote (manifestly) for the happy future of our children.
Then, there, it happened: a long-legged, light-footed nymph leaned out of the tram, jumped off at the stop in front of the Soviet Bookshop. I glimpsed a golden helmet of smoothly-combed, curled-under hair, the color of my faintly-green clothing, a light open-necked blouse, a light draped and triple-stitched skirt, on her feet, light linen sandals, black lacing on her calves -- but with her movement, her walk, she fell into my eternal memory. She walked with a light swaying step, the way long-legged, light-footed women walk.
You didn’t walk, you sashayed; you sashayed, as they say.
An excited woman, a turf mare or a doe in heat sashays, glides like a wave in the tide is rearing up—she arrives, dips her knees, trembling in the delightful feeling that now, now with every movement, she is the best, the best. She relishes her walk, every step that she takes, like a dancer.
That’s how you walked, and that’s how you now walk around Paris.
As a boy, I forded horses across the Váh River. Once long ago, the forgotten feeling is kindled in me by your movement, your walk, Lutécia. It appears to me, something comes back within me, as she sashayed—straddled by naked thighs, a mare in heat, which we had just forded, bathed, in the river.
Around you streams of women and men are flowing, ladies fatigued from sitting, standing, and overeating, greyly dressed in ready-made clothing in their resigned corpulence. This nation swarms, rolls along without excitement, rather than going, walking with its own stride, towards its own goals. I feel sad when I see how “since then” our cities have grown grey and heavy behind their fat masks.
Thus this woman sashays more beautifully, with her golden helmet of freshly-washed blonde hair, slim-waisted, light, light in her step, dress, excitement, light with the feeling in her crotch, winged with imagination. That’s how it is, that’s how it’s always been, light legs are beautiful, not heavy wives who stuff themselves with sweets. That’s how it is, the lightness of its women has its own, its own moral value: when you want to be loved, at least don’t stuff yourself, don’t dissolve yourself in fatty insensitivity. I know for myself, this kind of a small space of freedom that I kept with my modesty: it’s enough for you to eat this and that, to be dressed like this and that. Since the entry of the armies, for ten years I haven’t bought anything for myself to wear, I haven’t even been to the barber, my daughter cuts my hair. “Funny, funny,” for such a price, insignificant, I can think: “Screw all of you.” But when I saw you like that, how you sashayed, at every step in the light breeze your light dress of Indian cotton clung to your breasts, belly, crotch, the saliva brought forgotten delightful words to my tongue: “Smooch, let’s smooch, let’s sleep, let’s pretend that we have fallen asleep, but let’s smooch. Like a shaman, a madman, an obsessive, with every one of your movements, every step, I whisper like a Christmas carp in the bath, I open my gills with and without noise: Smooch, smooch, smooch, smooch. You’re not from there, you’re not a woman of the state, like they all are here, other than old ladies. Stay with me, smooch, smooch, they won’t throw you out of the university, the school, the office if you stop next to me. I gaze at you, frowning like a storm cloud, you know where I’m gazing at on you. You’re smiling, it’s not unpleasant for you, coming from me, we’ve already met somewhere. Where?
As a boy, on the ridge above the village I could sit without moving for several hours, just to lure a falcon toward myself, into my reach. There.