|Note: This journal is based on notes from a meeting of IAGA, the International Association of Geomagnetism and Aeronomy, two dozen years ago. Names are actual, and it is hoped details are fair and complete. Feel free to skip the few science details which were not omitted.|
notes and provided the comments included here in italics.
August 3, 1985
Soon we were crossing the Charles Bridge. It was evening now, but the bridge was as crowded as ever, mostly by young people of whom many looked like visiting students. The Jůzas led the way through streets torn-up by the construction of Prague's third subway line, scheduled to open soon. The music hall lobby was crowded and hot, the talks had just ended and a long break preceded the musical part. No one checked invitations, we just walked in and found seats near the front, next to the Whangs, who were quite interested in the Jůzas --and the Jůzas in the Whangs, the Chinese being regarded in Prague as somewhat exotic people. They tried to explain to the Whangs the Czech significance of "Má Vlast" and I when filled in some gaps, Zdeněk looked at me and said: "You know!" The music was played well and the Czechs could hardly have found a better keynote for opening the conference.
Tuesday August 6th.
This was the day of the symposium of division 3-1, and I attended sessions for most of the day. During the lunch break, however, I went into town to look up Rabbi Daniel Mayer.
The rabbi's office was on the second floor of the Jewish town hall building, at 18 Maiselova street: as in other public places, a doorkeeper sat in a cubicle by the stairs and had to approve any visitors allowed upstairs. The rabbi's office was in a large vaulted room, his desk stood by the window, an ark of the covenant faced it and various Jewish pictures and objects were scattered around the room. Rabbi Daniel Mayer was a chubby young man, wearing suspenders and a dark hat, and he received me with a smile. He spoke neither English nor German, but we found a common ground in Hebrew, in which he was fluent. Later I saw by his desk a Hebrew Hermes 3000 typewriter--same model as mine, only his was beige while mine was blue.
Earlier this year he completed six and a half years of study in Budapest, came to Prague, accepted his post and was married. Now his first priority is to keep the Czech Jewish community alive. There are two active synagogues, Altneu and Jeruzalémská--he generally goes to Jeruzalémská on Friday night, he says that's where the older people are and they need him for the minyan, and on Saturdays he attends Alt Neu, where many tourists go. In addition Alt-Neu also held also an evening service (mincha), with a "se'udah shlishit" (third meal) and havdalah. On holidays larger services were held, about 100 attended on Yom Kippur and New Year, and on Simchat Torah the children participated. There also were special celebrations on Chanukah and Purim, and last Purim saw a professionally staged a "Purim Shpil" show which was quite successful. A controversy later arose because some dissidents used the occasion to gather, but this had nothing to do with the Purim Shpil, it took place after the play had already ended.
Actually, I don't have any clear recollection of that meeting, first in the rabbi's office and then at his home. In the office I met a friend of the rabbi, a fairly young man, a manual worker named Honza (in German Hans, maybe short for Johannes). And after some searching on the upstairs floor, I also met Mr. Bohumil Heller, the visitor from Děčín. He was (according to his business card) the vice president of the council of Jewish religious communities in the SR, and the chairman of the Jewish community Ústí-nad-Labem, where he said a "betstube" (prayer room) existed, but no synagogue. A stooping man of 73, he welcomed me to visit his home in Děčínbut warned that his wife was very sick, I should not expect too much. He must have belonged to the party, since he asked me to note that the Jews were supported by the government, and that no Czechs suffered extreme poverty--and how was it that in America some people lived out on the street?
He also told me about the synagogue in Podmokly, it still stood. For many years it was abandoned and its roof caved in, but then the government decided to fix it up and use it for its own archives. The Podmokly cemetery however no longer existed, the last rabbi, Dr. Farkaš, had sold it, and now some factory stood there. Dr. Farkaš himself had retired to Köln, and some say he has died.
Later we ate lunch in the kosher dining room in the town hall and then went to the rabbi's home, where his wife Channah met us, together with her girls by first marriage, Elizabeth aged 8 and Clara aged 6. They were the ones who would not open the door for me--they thought I was one of the neighbors. I brought along a xerox of the Washington Post article from March 6 1985, describing the Jewish Community of Prague, and proceeded to translate it into Hebrew from start to end, for the rabbi's benefit. That article had been quoted by the "Voice of America" as saying that the situation of Prague Jews was bad, but after I read it the rabbi said that the radio had misquoted it and had distorted its context.
[Wiener: "The entire building was stuffed with bugs. When I visited the place, František Kraus, the Executive Director (tajemník) just showed closed lips and we went out for a stroll. On the street he spoke freely, in the building according to the rule."]
The apartment had been recently renovated, having just being assigned as official residence of the Prague rabbi. Apart from some new and massive buffet and wardrobes it had little furniture and in particular, the main room lacked a proper table. Furthermore, there were as yet no mezuzoth on the doorposts, and the ceremony of affixing them was scheduled for 2 pm the following day, Wednesday.
The rabbi told more about the community. They published a "Věstník", a newsletter--he showed me some issues and pointed out in one of them a translation (his own?) of Yehudah HaLevi's poem "My heart is in the East and I am in the furthest West." This was distributed to all Jewish communities in Czechoslovakia, and according to Mr. Heller, there existed 13 regional councils like the one at Ústí. I told the rabbi about my 1981 visit to the last remaining synagogue in Edinburgh, where I found ten old men (and no rabbi) holding Friday services in a small side room of a magnificent building. He sounded surprised, "even Ostrava has more than that."
Although most members were old, there existed young converts. The young people would have liked to set up a mikveh (ritual bath), but first some problems needed solution. An old mikveh existed, dating back about 100 years, it had been sold to the government but the community could get it back. However, to fix it up one needed help from a factory--it was apparently not a question of money but of skilled people willing to install the plumbing. Every such undertaking took a long time. As an example, Rabbi Mayer pointed out the renovation of the Pinkas synagogue, whose wall had collapsed because of moisture. After five years, it was still incomplete, and "only 2 1/2 people work on it."
[Wiener: "I was told that as soon as moisture showed up, they closed the Pinkas synagogue for repairs and these lasted until the fall of Communism. When I saw the synagogue there were no names whatsoever. Even near the ceiling. They just scraped all off."]
The center of Judaism in eastern Europe seemed to be in Hungary. The Hungarian community had about 20 rabbis and even publishes books, and Rabbi Mayer showed me two of them, a biblical history and a book about Jerusalem. The kosher meat available to the Prague community was slaughtered by a kosher butcher (shochet) who periodically came from Budapest. However, his last visit was not a success, his luggage stayed on the plane (or train) and continued to Berlin, making another appointment necessary.
The rabbi would have liked to start providing some Jewish education, similar to what about 80 Catholic children in Prague received. According to official regulations, if a school had 9 children of any faith, these children could receive there after classes one hour of religious instruction per month. With 18 children, two lessons per month could be offered, with 40 or more the lessons could be given weekly. But there existed no suitable text. The rabbi reached over and pulled down what he had--a yellowed Hebrew text "Haleluia" dated 1936, with a full-page picture of President Benes in official regalia.
[Wiener: "I have it at home, only President Beneš'es picture was cut out. Written by Dr. Richard Feder who survived Terezín to become the Chief Rabbi of Czech Lands (Zemský Rabín, Landesrabbiner). He passed away in 1970."]
Occasionally, the Prague community received the "Jewish Chronicle" from Britain--it was all right to send the "Jewish Week," he said, but later I wondered, because a small fraction of the material may be regarded by the government as politically controversial. Czechoslovakia broke relations with Israel in 1967 and Zionism was still officially a heresy, though the rabbi was allowed to publish his translation of Yehudah Halevi's love for Jerusalem, and the Věstniacutek carried archeological news from Jerusalem.
At lunch I rode the subway with Bill Burke to Wenceslas Square, to find something to eat. We left the subway at Mů and took one of the many exits from the station: just outside the exit was "Koruna" which I remembered from the Prague of 1939, it used to be (if memory serves ) a crowded and rather good self-service cafeteria, and I often ate there. It has now become a rather dingy place, it still offered snacks (mainly pastries and hot chocolate) but one had to wait in line, and after that one ate standing up, there were no chairs.
After getting our food (I forgot what we paid--about 6-8 crowns, it seems) Bill and I moved to one of the little tables, to eat. Suddenly a woman approached us--did she hear us speak English? Her husband spoke English, too. We accepted her invitation and moved to their table: the husband was gray-haired and retired. He learned his English in the Free Czech army during WW II, under British command, and after D-day he served in France. After the war, until 1948 (the year of the Communist takeover) he had a small business. And then? For a while, he still had the business, he said, but he did not want to tell any more.
The sessions resembled those of meetings of the American Geophysical Union and many faces and talks seemed familiar from the AGU: Americans dominated this part of the meeting. Some other symposia featured good speakers from the continent and Britain, but there too, it was mostly an American show.
My talk was scheduled for half-past-four, by which time attendance was down to around 40. Furthermore, the room had become stifling--the windows, double-glazed, were sealed, and no air conditioning existed (it got worse on later days, when temperatures outside rose to the 80s). I gave my Czech introduction and was applauded by the Czechs, and then I ought to have translated but didn't, instead I said "I better continue from here in English", and went into my prepared presentation. I had brought both vu-graphs or slides, and a good thing too, because the slide projector was too dim--and although in my hurry I forgot the mike and spoke without amplification, my voice came across. At the end Helfried Biernat asked whether my model could accomodate a quadrupole (yes, easily), and George Siscoe wanted to know whether I could show where the polar cap was. I said this required an expanded model and I planned to derive one, but added that this matter was too long to discuss, and that Frank Toffoletto was already working on it. Siscoe recommended high priority for this task.
Next day I put up the text of my talk as an unscheduled poster presentation and collected ten names of people who wanted copies.
Another speaker was Igor Alekseyev--my notes say "an old guy, top balding, teeth look old, but his theory was not bad, and he spoke slowly enough to be understood." He assumed an external electric field derived from MHD flow around an obstacle, just as Toffoletto had done. However, he then went on to postulate a resistive boundary layer with magnetic Reynolds number Rm ~10,000, which gave 300 volts/RE on the boundary and a total potential drop of some 60,000 volts (I have notes). I felt that Rm should be much larger, but then again, anomalous effects may exist.
I had a hard time listening to him, because at the same time Lisa Antonova was bending my ear about what a great man her teacher Tverskoy was. She had a big chin which made her appear pouting, and talked nonstop and rapidly. She said that Tverskoy was the first one to devise the theorem attributed to Vasyliunas and gave me a 1969 reference (actually Harold Grad was the very first, in 1964), she gave me references, and she also claimed that Tverskoy did Knight's calculation before Knight published it in 1973. I did not get a chance to say that Knight's calculation was rather incomplete, and that it was probably largely due to Dungey, as someone (Strangeway at Yosemite?) once told me. After half an hour of this I gave up any attempt at communication, the gap was too wide. She worked on auroral acceleration and had theories for everything--said she knew my paper on E-parallel. Strange woman.
In the evening an official party was held at the Hotel Intercontinental--singers, dancers, a lot of food (enough to replace dinner) and an incredible amount of booze. I drank a jigger of gin and constantly had to fend off waiters who offered more. In between I spoke to Al Lazarus, who said he was interested in Prague Jews, being "Jewish but not observant." And Mel Goldstein and Witt both said that they might show up for the mezuzah ceremony the following day.
August 7, Wednesday.
Today was a wipe-out as far as lectures go, but I had interesting conversations with Alekseyev and with Helfried Biernat from Graz.
I met Alekseyev by chance after sessions broke for lunch. When sessions end there follows a period of milling around when people decide where to eat and with whom, like the swarming at the entrance to a hive, where bees wait to find out about flowers worth flying to. Rain was falling outside, not intensely but continually, and Alekseyev was standing by the door, in gray jacket and a shirt of a different gray, with neither raincoat (I wore one) nor umbrella. When I invited him to lunch at the Mensa, he protested for a moment but then came along, and we talked about physics as we dodged raindrops.
I had a better look at him now and felt he was probably no older than 45, his top was bald but a crown of graying hair grew all around it. I said, I have heard your talk, it was nice. But a magnetic Reynolds number 104 is low. How about 1012? And he said, of course, if you use the Coulomb collision time, it may be 1012, which makes the calculation inapplicable. But if you use the frozen-in field condition, you get infinite electric and magnetic fields, and that cannot be. To make the physics fit you must introduce some sort of anomalous conductivity, and this brings Rm down to 104.
At least, that is what I remembered. He also said that the finite flow speeds calculated by Spreiter and Briggs, which I pointed out to him, were incorrect due to the finite mesh sizes used by them. If they had made their mesh fine enough, he said, their flow speed would approach infinity. What boggled him, I think, is something similar to the effect I obtained in the dipole-in-a-sphere model (northward Bz), where the velocity at the subsolar point rises to infinity, because a field line arriving there has to flip from front to back in zero time. This requires the electric field to be infinite, though the magnetic field inside is not affected. However, Alekseyev should have realized that Spreiter and Briggs ignored the magnetic field altogether.
He also said that the claim made in my talk, that he gave up using parabolic harmonics after his unsuccessful attempt in 1972 (inferred from his paper in Planetary and Space Science) was not true. He later used them successfully, but all those papers were published in Russian journals. One of them, "Geomagnetic Tail Current System" appeared in Geomagnetism and Aeronomy in 1975 and had a shielded tail current a-la Tsyganenko and Usmanov (or maybe more like that of Williams and Mead). The shielding potential had a form which diverged logarithmically
Before that he tried a rectangular current not touching the flanks of the magnetospheric tail, but such a current obviously had a non-zero divergence. He said that if I spread out the thickness of the current sheet (corresponding to passing from the Williams-Mead model to that of Tsyganenko and Usmanov) the singularity at the edges disappeared, but there still remained rather large excursions of B near the edge, and he drew them (sketch). I smiled and said, I knew, I had tried to get a tail sheet model ready for Prague, but it created neutral points on the boundary near the inner edge. As a result, my talk stopped short of the magnetic field of the tail. Then he smiled, and we parted in a friendly way, each knowing that the other one knew.
(I have since overcome that problem, as described at the Fall 1985 Meeting of the AGU in San Francisco.)
Alekseyev belonged to the Institute of Nuclear Physics at Moscow State University and he had come by train, a trip of 32 hours. Quite a few other people from Moscow came, including Yasha Feldstein, Antonova, Zaitsev and Troitskaya, but no one from Leningrad, so I never got to meet Tsyganenko as I had hoped. Ching Meng, who convened a session on the auroral oval, later told me that this was the first foreign trip Feldstein had been granted in a long time, he made a point of inviting him and ran into a lot of trouble, since Feldstein was Jewish. It was rather unfortunate that after all this Feldstein's talk was rather tedious, droning on and on and hard to make sense of.
Before we parted Alekseyev criticized the ring current model of Tsyganenko and Usmanov, saying that it intersected the boundary, so that part of it lay in the magnetosheath and thus was unphysical. I said that the addition of a boundary surface allowed this part of the ring current to close through the magnetopause. I said the same held for the tail sheet, and drew current lines for him: that was when he started talking about his tail model. Again and again I urged Alekseyev to publish in Western journals, preferably in Planetary and Space Science which did not demand any page charges, but perhaps even in JGR, which had special provisions for authors unable to pay.
At first he dismissed this, saying that Geomagnetism and Aeronomy was all translated (true, but people tended to ignore it, because of many poor articles which do not seem to have been refereed), but gradually he began to agree. But, he said, his English was not good enough. I countered by saying, in Moscow State U. you must have an English department, surely you can get a professor of English to help you. No, no, he said, they did not understand what science is all about. Helfried Biernat was a young post-doc at Graz, supervised by Sigi Bauer. He had derived a 2-D magnetospheric model with pressure equilibrium and wanted to know how pressure equilibria entered my own model; I explained they didn't. He had also derived pressure-balance magnetopauses for a quadrupole source, which could be appropriate for the earth's field during magnetic reversals, and that motivated his question following my talk.
I asked Joe Lemaire of Belgium for a copy of the preprint by Neil Brice on the interchange instability, which he had cited in his 1975 plasmapause paper as "Brice, 1973." Joe was a bit uncertain about that work, he thought it was written in 1974, shortly after Neil attended a meeting in Dallas; he may have meant the 1972 Houston meeting on electric fields, where I first met Neil. In any case, he said he had received that preprint, or a xerox of one, from Michael Rycroft: he promised to look for it when he came back and send it to me. A few days later I saw Rycroft, now an administrator of the British Antarctic Survey: his memory about the paper was equally uncertain, but he promised to send it if he found it.
[P.S.: Rycroft sent me a copy not long afterwards, an imaginative if speculative paper. I submitted it to JGR, 12 years after Neil's tragic death, and sad to say, it was rejected by the referees. Lemaire finally had it published, with comments. I think in JATP].
I arrived at the rabbi's home at 1:50, before his return from the office. His wife had set a makeshift table for 9 people, really two small tables joined together. Rabbi Mayer arrived around 2 and was followed by various members of the Jewish community council, including Heller and a stooped man who served as cantor, Wolf (officially: Viktor) Feuerlicht. The prayer quorum of 10 men was completed by me; it was exceeded a short while later when Mel Goldstein arrived, wearing his green windbreaker.
The rabbi rummaged and found 5-6 old siddurim of different vintages and said we would start by affixing the mezuzoth, then pray minchah, and finally eat. He then brought out an equally diverse collection of mezuzoth--of brass, of tin, of Jerusalem stone, a tiny mezuzah with just one nail hole and two encased in plastic, one of which was to be nailed to the doorpost outside the main door. A brand-new stepladder was brought, nails and a hammer, not the best hammer for this job, it had a tapered head which had to be aimed carefully to avoid striking the mezuzah. The rabbi said a benediction while the eight old men seemed to retreat, they appeared oddly aloof from the ceremony. Later when the remaining mezuzoth were put up by the rabbi (no benedictions for them), they retreated altogether to chat in the dining room. Mel and I stayed with Rabbi Mayer, assisting him and handing him nails. I would hold a nail for him while he hit it (he did not seem to have much experience with a hammer) and for the last few strokes I improvised a nailset from a coin held edge-on.
Then we assembled in the dining room to pray minchah. The service was non-melodic and hurried, like the one I heard in Edinburgh, dry and uninspiring. The voices of cantor and the rabbi vied with each other, and all others seemed to fade into the background. My own siddur, a miniature one with age-darkened pages, seemed to have no mincha service at all, and I had to turn to corresponding portions of the morning prayers.
When this was over we sat down to eat, all except for Channah, who served everyone and never sat down. The food consisted of small sandwiches with fish, etc., all liberally salted; then kosher slivovitz was brought, in a bottle with Hebrew lettering, and everyone received a small glassful of the potent stuff, strong enough to impart a warm glow to one's insides. I only drank half my portion. There followed a vigorous conversation in Czech, about the proposed mikveh ("malinká čistírna"), about what was kosher and what wasn't, and some jokes which completely passed me by.
Earlier in the afternoon I had a brief encounter with Heller. I said to him that Czechoslovakia had given me a sense of how rich America was. Yes, he said, but you have 12 million unemployed. I told him the US government did help such people--but it did not try to employ them in work which was not really needed. He said: but those people get more and more unhappy if they don't work, and then you get an upheaval.
I forgot how that conversation ended. Heller left early, saying he had to return to his wife, who was ill and in bad shape, something afflicted her brain and he really never wanted to leave her. Before we parted I said to him, look, I really do not care about politics. But my family has been part of the Bohemian Jewish community for at least 200 years, and I would not want that community to end. He said it won't end, don't worry, it won't.
In the end Mel and I did not get much of an opportunity to talk with the rabbi. He said again that Sabbath services were held at both Alt-Neu and the Jeruzalémská street synagogue--in both places cantors ran the services, he himself was unable to carry a tune. As Mel and I went down the stairs, George Witt, we met the Hebrew-speaking Swede, too late for the ceremony. He later said he met the rabbi, but offered no details.
Since a good breakfast was hard to find, I made an agreement with Ernst and with Chris Harvey, an English astronomer now working at Meudon, that we would try to make our own breakfast at the Sinkuleho hostel. I volunteered to take care of the first time--after that, the responsibility would be rotated--and when the sessions ended, I went out to the "Avenue of the Yugoslav Partizans" to shop.
Shopping in Czechoslovakia is not easy, because most people work and stores close at 6 (except for tobacco shops). Stores have no evening hours, perhaps because the government has decided to make everyone's working hours equal, but this means that working people have only an hour or two for their shopping. I went into a grocery and bought some bottles of Coca-Cola (the real thing, bottled in Prague) and half a kilo of tomatoes, but the store sold no bread. A hardware store provided a knife, and as I kept asking in German and English for a place to buy bread, a slim lady stepped forward and said in good English that she would help me, what I needed was a milk store.
She was a doctor, and although in a hurry to get home, she led me to a store which proclaimed "Mléko," where I joined the end of the waiting line. Ten minutes later, with the store already officially closed, my turn came and I asked for a quarter loaf of bread ("čtvrt chleba") and a jar of jam. This left half loaf which the person behind me bought, and none for the last one or two in the line. It was brown barley bread with a soft crust, rather dense and stale, far inferior to Czech breads I remembered from childhood.
In the morning we had our breakfast, and although it was a success, we never repeated it. I had one more breakfast in my room with Alekseyev, but that came later.
I also found out about laundry that evening: I had only brought fresh underwear for one week, with the vague hope that Prague would have laundries or laundromats. I never found any, but it turned out that the dormitory had a laundry room tucked away next to the dark landing at the bottom of a staircase.
I already forgot how I discovered the place: I think someone was bringing up laundry and I asked him to show me where the machines were, and how to run them. There were two of them, small boxy machines, standing perhaps 2 1/2 feet high, open on top, they looked like the standard Czech home-issue model. The machines had to be filled from a tap with a rubber hose, they had green rubber hoses through which water was pumped out, and to prevent the water from running out during the laundry cycle, the pipe's end had to be blocked with a rubber ball. The rectangular space for the wash had on its side a small agitator wheel, which had to be completely covered by water or else the entire room got splashed. After the wash cycle ended the dirty water was pumped out into a large bathtub on one side of the washroom--the bottom of the tub had rusted through, but it did not matter because the tub's only purpose was to divert the water towards the floor drain.
Also in the room were two spin dryers. A large one, institutional size, sat on a pedestal and was activated by ball-shaped handles, but the man who showed me around could not figure them out. However, there was also a small cylindrical dryer (again, probably a home model), which would start spinning when its detachable lid was pressed down and which kept turning on pure inertia for two minutes after the lid was removed. Luckily I had my clipboard with me and was able to note everything down, because it all seemed too complicated to remember.
Later upstairs I met Dr. Kono of Japan, the man who showed that declination alone would not uniquely define the geomagnetic field, even within a constant multiplier (a theorem similar to Backus'es, applicable to paleomagnetism). He wanted to get his laundry done, and even though I had not yet used the machines myself, I said to him, no problem, we have a laundry room. And I proceeded to take him through the paces, learning in the process how to do it myself. Someone had left in the room a half-full box of detergent, so everything went fine: only the removal of the hot clothes from the open washer posed a problem, ultimately solved by fishing them out with a broomstick provided in the room, perhaps for that very purpose.
Next morning I wrote home, sitting in one of the rooms set aside for committees. The hosts had kindly provided an East-German "Robotron" manual typewriter: it had a special button to produce w i d e typing, to emphasize text, like underlining, a common practice in Hebrew which might have come from Eastern Europe. I decided that as a public service to other residents, and maybe also for a little fun, I would write down a set of instructions for the laundry machine, based on my clipboard notes. Here is what came out (my Czech was helped by the English guide for new immigrants, given to me by its author Josef "Pepík" Lustig and based on a similar guide for Vietnamese refugees):
As an afterthought, I put my address and room at the bottom, which led to further developments the following week. I did my laundry on Thursday, having purchased a box of detergent at the drogerie. I also bought there a tube of "Anti Po" athlete's foot lotion, which I badly needed: manufactured in Bratislava, it was labeled as "balzám pro nohy" or balm for feet, and by the trip's end it was nearly used up.
In the evening I was invited by Naoshi Fukushima to dine at the "Flora", an old hotel at the eastern end of town where he stayed. Fukushima had officially retired from Tokyo University in March and he then accepted the prestigious "Gauss professorship" at Göttingen, in the Germany he loved, to last until the end of 1985.
He worked with Magsat data and had some strange interpretations of the results (recorded in the notes from the working group session). Earlier, before retirement, he wrote a "history of substorms" and promised to send me the manuscript. I suggested to him that he submit it to EOS, together with his note about Professor Terada's recollections of the last days of Kristian Birkeland, a note never formally published. We also talked about the book "Surely you are Joking, Mr. Feynmann," and I promised to mail it to him.
The Flora is an undistinguished hotel on the fringe of town, on a main street solidly lined with houses of 4-5 stories, rather deserted at night. Its restaurant was small and dingy, decorated with two large paintings dark with age. The menu seemed good, but my original choice was "not available" and in the end we settled for tough rump steak with knedlíky, the ever-present Czech dumplings, and a dessert which the waiter completely forgot about.
For a drink we asked for water--we did not want wine, beer or soda--and the waiter brought two bottles of Marienbad mineral water, which suited us, except that Fukushima's bottle contained some floating scum, like cork or wood shavings. Fukushima did not want to make a fuss, but I called the waiter and pointed at the water: "nečistý" (dirty)! He looked at it and said something like, it is not my bottle, you have ordered it and you pay for it. If you wish, I will bring you another one, but you pay for this one too. And he took it away and brought another one. The bill came to 85 crowns, and Fukushima left one crown as tip: he paid it all with his own coupons, but I will get even by sending him Feynman's book.
The trip back by metro was remarkable in several ways. When I went down to the metro station, a girl in a hurry passed me on the escalator. Then we both walked out to the platform, where not another soul was present, at 10:40 at night. Never in New York, I thought--not me, not her, not both of us all alone.
The train arrived 6 minutes later, and a funny thing happened. On the way we picked up enough passengers to fill the car, many young, unkempt and tough-looking, but all well-behaved. The only trouble came from an English kid, obviously drunk, yelling "what the hell" at the Czechs, who politely humored him.
But his behavior triggered off another drunk in the back, a rather old one with conspicuous gaps among his teeth, who began to sing loudly. At the Malostranská station he left the car, but once outside he turned around, leaned on the window and looked in. The train would not move, and suddenly a voice came over the loudspeaker, asking "step back" or something like that, and the horn tooted. The drunk then slowly staggered back, yet the train waited until he had backed off 3-4 feet, past the white line on the pavement, before it started. This was the first evidence of human control in what till then appeared to be completely automatic machinery.
Thursday, 8 August.
Maria Ortová, Dr. Ort's mother, visited my room in Sinkulova during breakfast. There were four of us--me, Ernie Deutsch, Chris Harvey and Chris'es roommate, eating bread sliced on my clipboard, a half kilo of tomatoes and indifferent apricot jam (the bread and tomatoes just sufficed for us four), and washing it all down with coke. Suddenly there was a knock on the door, and it was Ortová--she received a letter from my mother, whom she knew well, having visited New-York eight times. She already had come once before, on Saturday, leaving a note that she would be on vacation in the country during the beginning of the week, and she was huffing and puffing from the climb to the first floor. She was very nice, however, and brought a present for me or my mother, a glass candy-basket, a heavy dish, and asked about my trips, the one of the preceding Sunday and the one planned for the following one.
The day was mostly spent in sessions, but for lunch I went to the kosher restaurant in the Jewish community center--the subway is very quick. Pretending to be Czech, I went to the table at the entrance and when the man sitting there and looked up at me, I said
"Chci jíst" (ch-tsi yeast, I want to eat).
He said "Dvanáct korun. Co pijte?" (twelve crowns. What will you drink?).
So he added a bottle of mineral waters. Mel was nowhere to be seen. For tourists the price of the meal was 25 crowns.
The meal was pretty good by Prague standards, much better than what was served in the university cafeteria--soup, chicken with noodles, stewed fruit, all served in chinaware bearing the mark of the Jewish community in Karlovy Vary. I had decided to sit next to young Czech people, if I found any, and almost sat down next to a fellow in a knit kippah, sitting by the side, but he seemed strangely aloof. Then I saw the rabbi and sat next to him. He seemed strangely aloof.
I asked who the fellow was. He is a dissident, said the rabbi. What do dissidents want, I asked. "I don't know." Later the rabbi's mother arrived and then his family, and I ended eating with them--he himself had already finished his meal.
The hall was big and looked like a synagogue, even had a balcony and a holy ark. But the rabbi said it was a meeting hall, not a place of worship, and the ark on the stage was a work of art on display, due to be sent to Germany, to a home for the aged, it was handcarved in wood by a member who had passed away several months earlier. The same carver had left many other pieces of work and they might be exhibited in Prague in October; earlier it was tried to arrange such an exhibition in France, but the government, specifically the ministry of culture on which the Jewish community depended, refused to allow it. The ministry's controlled what the community could do: it recently allowed 5000 chumashim [printed copies of the books of Moses, publicly read from a scroll during servces] to be brought into the country, but it took years to get that permission.
I also asked the rabbi whether I could sing some melodies used in Greenbelt at Friday night services, suspecting those services would be as dry and unmelodic as the previous day's mincha [afternoon prayers]. He said he had to ask the cantor's permission.
From my notes: "There is something funny here. I think the rabbi suspects that I may be an associate of dissidents. Are they really opponents of the regime, or of the rabbi inside the organization? Perhaps I should now stop proposing things to the rabbi. He has not asked me anything--not about my background, not about Jews in the US, nothing."
In the evening I had dinner with Chris Harvey his stepsister's friend Blanka, and a few others--Marge Kivelson (UCLA), David Southwood (Imperial College), and also Blanka's friend Nadia.
Here is how it came about. Chris is an Englishman working in France, at the Observatoire de Meudon, and after his mother died, his father married a Czech woman. That woman had a daughter who stayed behind in Czechoslovakia, and Chris was looking forward to the conference as an opportunity to meet her. But it was not to be--just when the conference was held, the stepsister received a long-sought visa to visit her mother in England. From the airport she called Chris and told him, "do not worry, I have asked my good friend Blanka to take care of you."
We arranged to meet at "U Kalicha" (The Flagon), the drinking house made famous by "The Good Soldier Schweik" (in Czech: "Švejk"). That was where Schweik and his friend Sapper Vodička agreed to meet "at six o'clock, after the war", before Vodička was hauled away by the military police for drunk brawling. It was a rather dingy place with pictures on the wall in the style of Lada's illustrations in "The Good Soldier Schweik" and it was terribly hot, for in Prague the worst heat always occured late in the afternoon.
Marge had a rented car and took us in it, but found no parking spot close to the tavern. In the end Chris and David were dropped off at "U Kalicha" and I accompanied Marge as she drove to a rather distant but legal place. Walking back, we talked--about Czechoslovakia and the Czechs, and about East vs. West in general. I said Czechoslovakia used to be far more prosperous, but now under state management people had less enterprise and diligence than what they used to have. I then added, it was not necessarily because of Communism--the Chinese Communists, for instance, seemed quite ambitious and bent on modernizing their country. In thirty years, I said, I would not be the least surprised if they took their place with the industrial countries, the way Japan and Korea have done [Postscript 2012: As actually happened].
Marge's answer was unexpected. In 1983 she visited China for six weeks as guest of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, she said, and she was surprised to find that China had very little of the ambition and determination ascribed to it--Chinese in other countries, e.g. in Singapore, Hong Kong and the US may have such virtues, but not those on the mainland. People worked long hours, she said, but were not particularly diligent, and their efforts were poorly coordinated. Furthermore, she was surprised to find that around lunch every day all work stopped for a sacrosanct rest period, from about 11 to 2. Contrary to the belief of many westerners, she felt that China still had a long way to go before it reached modernity.
With Blanka came her friend Nadia, and we all piled into Blanka's French car, a status symbol paid for by the foreign exchange which she earned. It was still daylight and Blanka said it was too early to go out and eat, she would take us to one of Prague's scenic places, to the castle of Vyšehrad overlooking the Vltava at the southern edge of town.
One reaches Vyšehrad by the Gottwald bridge, spanning a deep gully. I wondered then why such a large bridge was built over a dry valley, until I discovered near the end of the meeting that its main purpose was to carry the tracks of the metro, in a concrete box beneath the roadway. At the far end of the bridge stood the glassy-modern "Palace of Culture" convention center, and just a short way further, reachable by side streets, was Vyšehrad, a place of history and of legends, one of the two strongholds around which Prague grew (the Hradčany was the other one). Now great Czech musicians and artists were buried in its cemetery. The fortress reached to the top of a 200' high cliff overlooking the river, so close to the water that the riverside highway must tunnel through the rock. An old legend (recounted by Zdeněk a week later) told of a warrior in Vyšehrad (name: Horymír) sentenced to die and given one last wish. "To ride my horse" he said, so the horse was brought, the man spurred it and with an impossible leap, jumped off the rock into the river and escaped.
Many old and historic buildings stood inside the fortress walls, the most imposing of them a soot-darkened stone church, under restoration. Each of its twin spires contained four separate stone columns, reminding one of Gaudi's unfinished Barcelona cathedral, and slivers of the sky were visible between them. There was no legal parking spot anywhere. but Blanka parked anyway and took us for a short walk to an overlook, affording a wide view of the river and of the Hradčany castle in the distant haze. Hardly any other people were around, and since night was finally approaching, Blanka decided it was time for dinner.
The restaurant had the decor of a hunting lodge--a mounted boar head, a fake fire in the fireplace, chairs lined with furry hides, and so on. The menu centered on game dishes, e.g. reindeer, and in the end we all had excellent venison stroganoff, except for Chris who ordered rabbit. All dishes, of course, came with sliced Czech bread-dumplings. Dessert was a delicious rum mousse over crumbly pastry, and to drink with the meal, what else but Pilsner beer. I was a bit taken back by the label "12%" on the bottle, but this must refer to the hops, not to alcohol, since the fine print stated "no less than 3.1% alcohol." It tasted OK, a bit on the bitter side.
No dill sauce, however. Blanka said few restaurants carried it any more, though she herself and her mother sometimes made it--traditionally, it went with boiled beef (Koprová omáčka s knedlíkem a hovezím masem, dill sauce with dumplings and beef), and she confirmed that traditionally the dumplings are cut with a thread stretched between two hands, never by knife. She also identified Dačice, where my grandfather's family came from, as a town in Moravia, near Jihlava, about 60 km east and a bit north of České Budějovice. And when I mentioned my father's home town she said it was strung out along the river to proverbial length, people still said "as long as Lovosice."
Blanka lived with her mother and worked as "advance person" and organizer for a choir of 18 voices. The choir traveled throughout Czechoslovakia, and also through Eastern Europe, and less frequently, to the West, and that enabled her to earn a good income and more important, foreign exchange (hence the French car). On the other hand, it was a strenuous job, with much time spent on the road and with long hours. She was responsible for bookings and lodgings, a job fitting her go-getter attitude, and she appeared to belong to the small elite with much more interest in their work and many more responsibilities and rewards than those of the average Czech.
The same held for Nadia, who was a bit older. Nadia worked for the American embassy and her salary was actually paid by the US.
Her most recent problem, she told us, was an unexpected visit by Congressman Neal (Tip O'Neill?) and ten other congressmen, which required quick preparations and a lot of paperwork. Her story reminded us that without papers or radio, we were cut off from news of the world. The little that reached me (a Japanese jumbo-jet hit a mountain, an earthquake shook Budapest and Bratislava) came almost by chance, through word-of-mouth.
Nadia gave us her condensed version of Czech history. It all started with three brothers, Czech, Russ and Pole, living with their clans by the river Dniester.
The original legend, retold in an 1894 book, mentions only two brothers--Czech and Lech, forefather of Poles, but not a Russian one.)
The eldest of these, the queen of the realm, had magic powers and could foresee the future. She called her servant and said, go thus-and-thus and you will find a man building a house, when you arrive he will be putting down the threshold--and that will be the place where my city will be. And so it was, and the city was Prague--Praha to the Czechs, "práh" means "threshhold." There she ruled. But the people resented being ruled by a woman, and matters came to a head one day when she had to judge between two quarreling brothers. So once more she called her servant, told him to take her white horse and follow it to wherever it went. He would find a man ploughing, she said, that will be the man she'll marry, and he will be the nation's king. And so it was, and the man became the founder of the Přemysl ("Przhemishl") royal family.
There followed many kings, but the male line died out and the daughter of the last king married the prince of Luxembourg. Their son was supposed to be called Wenceslas the 4th, but because he was educated in the French court, he preferred to be called Charles, and was known as Charles the 4th.
Charles became Holy Roman Emperor, the elected ruler of a confederation of German princes, and he made Prague his capital. He brought architects to build the St. Vitus Cathedral and Charles Bridge in Prague (begun 1357), and he founded Prague University (1348). He also built Karlštejn castle ("Karlshtain") 20 miles southwest of Prague, to guard his crown and jewels. That crown contained stones from the helmet of St. Wenceslas, the ancient Czech king whose statue dominates Wenceslas square in Prague's center.
Wenceslas had fought many battles but loved peace, Nadia said, and there was a legend that his warriors still lived, asleep in deep caverns beneath the hills and ready to come out to help the Czechs if they ever were in trouble. "They haven't come yet, so we must not yet be in trouble."
The crown of Charles the 4th was now one of the cherished antique treasures of the Czech state. In one of the royal halls of the Hradčany castle overlooking Prague, replicas of the crown, orb and scepter were on display: in 1979, a centennial of Charles the 4th, the actual articles were displayed there for an entire year, and many Czechs came to view them, but now the originals were back in a vault.
No woman was allowed into Karlštejn, by the emperor's edict. Charles himself was married four times, he married a French wife at 15, and later two German ones, and the last, Elizabeth, was Polish, "so strong she could break a sword with her bare hands." Elizabeth became suspicious of the goings-on in Karlštejn, disguised herself as a man and entered the castle. No one recognized her except her husband, who, not wishing to make it known that his law was disobeyed, quietly took her out again.
Charles also planted grapes in Czechoslovakia, but the results were not what he had expected. One day (the story went) he was drinking wine with a Czech nobleman (Bušek z Velhartic, i.e. Bushek from Velhartice) and complained: "You Czechs, you spoil everything. Even my Burgundy grapes don't produce proper wine any more!" But after he drank a few more cups, the wine seemed better: "not Burgundy, it is different, but not bad at all." Then the Czech nobleman said: "See, it is the same with us Czechs. At first sight we may not look good, but after a while you get to like us."
Friday, August 9
On Fridays the kosher kitchen also serves dinner from 7 p.m. and services start at 8. But I arrived late, the rabbi was already well into his meal and people were sitting with him, so I found a place at the end of the table, next to some young people. They introduced themselves as Ted Barnard of Pepper Pike, Ohio, a tourist and a recent graduate in economics, Libor Sukovaty, clerk in a factory for ball bearings, and Ludmila Dohnalova, a cook in a large institute or factory, not sure--about 1000 people ate there. Was she the head cook? No, her position was "small", and she spread her thumb from her index finger by about three inches. I told her that I had an aunt in Israel who had been a professional cook, though now at 75 she was retired. But how come that, while the food here was so good, in the Mensa it was so bad? "Because people do not care."
Libor's hobbies are airplanes and travel. He has been all over Europe, to Greece, Yugoslavia and Italy, and planned to travel in one of the following weeks to Česke Budějovice to watch the European championship contest in aerobatics. He communicated in shaky English.
The rabbi finished and recited Birkat Hamazon, the blessing after the meal, then he left with the elders for the Jeruzalémská street synagogue. I thought that the young people I had talked to would be in Alt Neu (they were'nt) and asked him if it was OK to attend there--he said, OK. So I went to Alt-Neu. You first enter the narrow passage separating it from the Jewish town hall, and then step down through a small door: the synagogue floor is below street level, making the interior more spacious than the outside view suggests. Clustered in the rear were about 25 tourists, dressed with more style and color than the Czechs who gravitated to the front of the bimah.
I had wondered whether I could sing at the service melodies used by American synagogues. I then met Mel Gelman, a scientist from the National Meteorological Center in Silver Spring and a member of Adas Israel, and he agreed that we sing together Lecha Dodi, Ahavat Olam and Adon Olam--two voices sounded better than one. He was staying in room 20 of the Sinkuleho hostel, and his work was with NOAA, monitoring of stratospheric ozone by means of back-scattered ultra violet light, NASA has developed those methods and now NOAA carried out the operational monitoring.
I found a place in the middle of the hall, near a fairly young man with a corduroy shirt and a big bluff face. He told us his name was Gustav and that he was not a Jew, but was interested in becoming one. To Mel he told that he was a lawyer, and asked him how one said "USA" in Hebrew--Artzot Ha-Brit. I however started wondering if Gustav was a policeman, and later shifted to be closer to the front, next to an old man who introduced himself as Mr. Joseph Goll.
I asked cantor Wolf Feuerlicht if Mel and I could sing the three melodies on which we agreed, and he said, we must wait for the gabbai. The gabbai said, Lecha Dodi at the start was OK, and Adon Olam at the end was OK in any case, he would call us to the front for them. But he did not want to break up the service for Ahavat Olam. I said, we did not plan to come forward, we would sing from our seats. He thought about it and said OK.
The service started and for a while I felt lost. The prayerbook was of little help: it was a Czech-Hebrew book, reprinted in 1981 by a committee under Rabbi Arthur Schneier in New York, and all I learned from it at first was that "modlitba" in Czech stood for "prayer." The cantor was mumbling his prayers in Ashkenazic Hebrew, very rapidly, now and then raising and modulating his voice, it later turned out to be the afternoon service for Friday. But then the service shifted to familiar ground, and that was when I moved next to Mr. Goll.
The cantor recited psalm 92, "a song for the day of Sabbath" ("Mizmor shir Le-Yom Ha-Shabbat") and when it ended he started it again from the beginning. I turned to Mr. Goll: "We have already read it!" "It is read twice," he said. "Only in Prague. I will tell you later."
After the service, on Maislova street, I asked him again. He said: it is a custom, only in Prague. There is a story that many years ago, Rabbi Yehuda-Loew of Prague was leading the Friday night prayers in Alt-Neu, and had started on "Mizmor Shir", when suddenly he stopped. He had forgotten something. He had forgotten to remove the Holy Name, the "shem", from under the Golem's tongue. Even though Sabbath was coming, the Golem was still working!
Quickly he left the synagogue, went home and removed the "shem." The Golem slumped down for his day of rest, and the rabbi returned to Alt-Neu and began the psalm again from the beginning. And ever since then, on Friday nights in Prague, "Mizmor Shir" is recited twice.
When the time came for Mel and me, we sang. In "Lecha Dodi" we sang all the stanzas, for we had not agreed previously on any shortcuts, and I never found if any of the visitors in the back joined in, as I had hoped. In "Ahavat Olam" our melodies differed a bit, but at the start and end we fit well, and when it ended the cantor picked up and continued smoothly into the "Shma Yisrael." And Adon Olam went like clockwork. I never found where the words were printed in the siddur but knew them by heart anyway, it was one of the songs I followed mentally as I jogged around Greenbelt Lake.
At the end of the services we all walked out to cobblestoned Maislova Street. After listening to Mr. Goll's story, I went over to cantor Feuerlicht, the cantor. He was a squat man, vaguely deformed (I soon found out why), with a strong clear voice, though he lacked melodies and even his one song "Magen Avot" had only a vague tune and sounded more like a chant. But his voice was powerful. He shook my hand on the street and said, "Yishar Koach" (well done). He liked the melody, and before the group parted, he told Goll and another member, "the whole world sings Adon Olam, even Israel. We should sing like that."
I told him (we were conversing in German) that I would gladly walk home with him, but he said he lived nearby, so we wound up walking in a large circle to Kaprova Street, then to Hotel Intercontinental, and back to Alt-Neu.
I said to him: why were there so few young people at services?
The war did it, he said. There used to be 100,000 Jews in Czechoslovakia, more than 100,000. "What a churban (destruction) did the Nazis make!" There were only about 1000 Jews left in Prague, many were old, and until recently they had no rabbi. Now a rabbi has arrived, and things were improving a bit. Now they also had Dr. Putin, who was perhaps 32 and has studied Talmud (from some translated text sent from America, it seemed): he was young, and has children. And the rabbi will start teaching a parashah every sabbath afternoon. And the children will have children... "without children this will not last more than a few years." He came from Chust, on the Hungarian border (now part of Soviet Russia), which used to have 30 "bale-batim" (house owners) and 36 talmudic students. Where he had trained as a cantor he did not say, but the rabbi later claimed he had "a chassidic background."
When in 1938 the Munich agreement handed over the Bohemian borderland to the Nazis, the Hungarian Fascist government also occupied a slice of Czech soil, including Chust. All Jewish young men were conscripted to labor battalions, Feuerlicht among them. The Hungarians sent them here and there to dig with shovels, and when in 1941 the Nazis invaded Russia, Hungarian troops also participated and he was sent with them to the Russian front. He was in Voronezh and in other places, stringing barbed wire and digging with barely enough food to survive.
But the Russian army surrounded the Germans in Voronezh and captured them. Feuerlicht and other slave laborers were sent to Siberia, where they were given an opportunity to join the Free Czech Army under General Svoboda, later president of Czechoslovakia. That army contained almost as many Jews as non-Jews "because Jews had an opportunity to get to Russia," the way he had done, "while most Czechs did not." He joined the army and was severely wounded.
As he was telling this, Feuerlicht bared his arm, and now I saw that the elbow and half the forearm were missing, leaving a rigid curved limb covered with scar tissue. Maybe he was lucky to be wounded, he said, because most of those with whom he served were killed. But his wound was slow to heal, it was still open in 1947, otherwise he would have gone to Israel to join his two brothers there. "It only closed in 1951" and by then the state would not allow him to go to Israel.
He was part of an extended family of about 50 members, he said, all originally living close to each other. One brother left for Israel in 1939, and another went there with the Haganah (underground) in 1948. I ought to know, he said, that Czechoslovakia was among the first supporters of Israel, and sent it guns when they were badly needed.
[I did not tell him that I had served in the Haganah and the Israel army at that time. In June 1948 I had one of those guns--a Mauser rifle model 1898, stamped "Česká Zbrojovka." Some such guns were manufactured during the German occupation and were stamped with the Nazi eagle holding a wreath with a swastika, overstamped with the emblem of the army of Israel.]
And yet another brother, 17 years old, fled the Nazi occupation to Poland in the company of Czech soldiers. When Poland fell to the Nazis and was divided between them and the Russian, he was in the Russian part and was adopted by a Russian military unit.
Did they ever meet again?
"Yes, but not legally." After the war, the brother settled in Sverdlovsk, near the Urals. They corresponded, but the Russian government would not let the brother visit Wolf, nor would it allow Wolf to come to him. Finally Wolf complained to the Russian embassy in Prague, and was told that Russia's rockets were built in Sverdlovsk, and therefore no foreigners were allowed there, and no one from Sverdlovsk was allowed to go abroad. In 1974 Wolf then applied for a tourist visa to Russia, to visit the resort Sochi on the Black Sea. After he arrived, he cabled to his brother, "I am in Sochi, come and see me." The brother, primed by earlier letters, came--and so they met, they had not seen each other for 37 years
All that trouble arose because of the Russian brother's father-in-law. Early after the war Czechs were repatriated, but the father-in-law did not want to see his daughter leave and hid her husband's Czech papers. He also wrote to Wolf, "your brother cannot come, he has a wife here and two children, and it is not proper to move people just so." Later, Wolf said, the brother "getted" (divorced) his wife, he got custody of one son and she of the other.
Saturday, 10 August
I slept badly. I was up until after midnight writing notes, and then before 3 a.m. woke again, very cold. The room did not seem too cold and I wondered whether it was the flu--Dr. Winch from England was said to have come down with a bad case and had been taken to a hospital.
I did not fall asleep again, and around 6 I got dressed and went shopping. On Saturdays stores were only open from 7 to 11.
Just south of the university several broad avenues joined together in a large semicircular plaza with many shops, and that's where I went. The greengrocer's place was shut, but a small grocery was doing brisk business. I stood in a line to buy half a dozen rolls, some waffles and four bottles of soft drinks, then in another line (same store) to buy a glass of hot cocoa, quite good. As I left the store I ran into Dr. Igor Alekseyev on his way to buy bread. We agreed to share breakfast, in my room, and to invite Ernie Deutsch to join us.
Alekseyev was far better prepared than any of us. Not only did he bring a jar of instant coffee, made in Brazil, he also had a salami sausage and an immersion heater. The heater was wired to two loose pins rather than to a plug, because Czech receptacles had a grounded metal pin sticking out, which did not fit Russian plugs. Every room came provided with two drinking glasses, and Alekseyev quickly prepared three glassfuls of hot coffee for all of us. The notes say: "We tried to lead a conversation, about Russia under Gorbachov for instance, but I now realize how poor Alekseyev's English really is."
After breakfast Ernie and I took the metro to the old town and walked to Alt-Neu, where Sabbath services started at 9 a.m. The congregation was mostly Czech, the rabbi was there and also Gustav, in the same place as the preceding evening. Mel Gelman had a committee meeting and was absent, but several IAGA scientists later arrived, including Mel Goldstein and Dick Goldberg. I was given a woolen black-and-white tallit from a box in the central bimah.
The service was standard, except that Feuerlicht was even harder to follow, his speed was tremendous, his Ashkenazi pronunciation often left me guessing and he sometimes inserted a kaddish where the book did not seem to indicate any. Then came the taking out of the Torah scroll: this part of the service had a melody, in part resembling the one used in the US. The ark was approached by stone steps, had a heavy metal door and was padlocked, and after the Torah was taken out it was carried around and people would lift the fringe of their talith to touch the Torah and then kiss it.
The reading was done in by Cantor Feuerlicht on the central stage, the bimah, beneath the old velvet "Swedes' flag" given to Prague Jews in 1648 for helping defend the city against the Swedes. He used a clear melodic voice, though the tune was not as musical as the one used in the US. No part of the weekly portion was skipped. The rabbi was called up for third reading, and it was noted that his 28th birthday was the following Monday. I was called up next, and the gabbai said a "mi-she-beyrach" for my wife Chava and for Ilana, Oren and Allon. For the 6th call the cantor looked towards Ernie, who shook his head. I then pointed out Mel Goldstein, and he was called up.
We then ate lunch in the town hall, good food and so much of it that I later skipped dinner. Then I went home and tried to sleep, with no success. In the evening I returned for the Minchah services, which were quite elaborate. The Torah was taken out again and three people were called up for the reading, and afterwards everyone retired for kiddush and a "third meal" in the women's gallery. As a meal this was rather symbolic, all it included were pieces of sliced challah and a basket of rather unripe apricots. The rabbi expounded in Czech on some of the reading of the week, and then we went back inside again for more prayers and at the end came the havdalah ceremony that marked the end of the Sabbath.
Ernie has been reading a paperback by Paul Theraux describing a journey around Britain's coastline, "Kingdom by the Sea." In one of the first pages the author stated that every country had its own time--in Turkey it was always 1952, in Malaysia 1937, in Afghanistan, 1910. To me Prague seemed to be permanently stuck in 1935. I mentioned that to someone at the conference and he said "maybe in Prague this is so, but the villages are at least 100 years behind."
Sunday, August 11
This was the day of the planned trip with Zdenka and Zdeněk Jůza to Terezín, Lovosice and Děčín. Originally we were going to ride in the Jůzas' little "Trabant", but then I arranged to rent a Renault from "Pragocar," a larger and better car. The Jůzas met me at the rental agency, they brought in their car folding chairs and tables and food for the trip, and all these were transferred to the trunk of the Renault.
We started from Štěpánská, a side-street off Wenceslas square, drove through the square (more a wide boulevard than a square), past the national museum and the main railroad station, and gradually, under directions from the Jůzas, out of town. The weather was clear and sunny, it could hardly have been better.
Where the road leaves the city and heads north among fields stands a police check point, a little house atop a hill. Policemen stand on the side of the road and occasionally flag a car to a stop, although most of the traffic passes by unchecked. They flagged us down, probably because the color on its license plates marked it as a rental car driven by a foreigner. The policeman then came to the window and demanded passports, ours and the Jůzas' (internal passports). These were taken to the house on the hilltop, leaving us to sit and wait about 15 minutes. Then the passports were brought back: no explanations, no apologies.
Central Bohemia is flat highland, most of it tilled and quite pretty. After a while, Mt. Říp appeared on the horizon, a solitary basaltic hill, an extinct ancient volcano. In Czech legend, Mt. Říp was the place in Bohemia where the Czech tribes first settled. What struck me most was the resemblance in size and shape between Mt. Říp and Mt. Tábor: was it a mere accident that the name "Tábor" took root in Czechoslovakia, the way many places in the US acquired biblical names, or was it a deliberate choice, inspired perhaps by a Czech pilgrim who had been to the holy land, had seen Mt. Tábor and had noted the resemblance?
Beyond Říp the landscape lost its flatness and hills appeared, some were also ancient volcanos and some had castles perched on them. In the distance ahead appeared Mt. Lobosh, overlooking Lovosice, and soon the road descended into the valley of the Labe (Elbe in German) and passed right through Terezín. We stopped short of the town of Terezín itself, at the crowded parking lot of the Terezín memorial.
The memorial museum is in the "Small Fortress" or "Malá pevnost", a large brick star-shaped fort in the best pre-Napoleonic style, with moats and redoubts, ramps and tunnels. Right in front of the fortress, filling the space between it and the road, is a large well-tended cemetery, with row upon row of graves, and some large monuments each marking 10,000 or so victims. The individual graves were of political prisoners who died at Terezín, for the "Small Fortress" was the main prison used by the Gestapo in occupied Czechoslovakia and many "political" prisoners were tortured, shot or hanged there. The big granite boulders, on the other hand, commemorated the much larger number of Jewish victims, imprisoned in the town of Terezín itself across the river Ohře.
We followed a set tour of the place along with a group of Czechs, and were shown dungeon-like chambers where prisoners were kept, tunnels, the infirmary, the gallows, even a small room which during WW I served as the jail of Gavrilo Princip, the Serbian who precipitated that war by shooting Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo (Princip died in jail, of tuberculosis). It looked incongruous among the many reminders of Nazi atrocity.
At the end of the tour one emerged in the courtyard and entered a museum, devoted again mostly to the political prisoners of Terezín, especially of course the Communists, and to the "glorious Red Army" which liberated them. But we only saw one small exhibit about Jews in Terezín.
By the time we reached the museum building I sensed that this was not the right place, and though the tour continued to the women's prison, I told the Jůzas I had seen enough. We walked back to the car, and I told them, this did not seem to be what I was looking for, let us drive to Terezín itself.
We crossed a bridge and entered the town through a gap in its battlements. Terezín is fortified in the same style as the small fort and on the same scale, but is much larger, essentially a rectangle divided by narrow streets, 7 blocks long and 5 blocks wide. Most of the blocks contained military barracks, imposing gloomy brick buildings some of which were two centuries old, for Terezín was built in the 1780s by Joseph II of Austria as "Theresienstadt" honoring his mother empress Maria Theresa, a garrison town for 13,000 soldiers. Soon it was obsolete, Napoleon by-passed it, and it ended as a regular Czech town of some 6000 souls.
We parked in the middle of Terezín, in a town square lined with trees. Only a few people were out. On one of the houses hung bronze tablet, stating in Czech, Russian, English and German that here 140,000 Jews were imprisoned during the war, and then noting that the glorious Red Army liberated Terezín and helped stop the typhus epidemic which broke out among the inmates. Another tablet, a quarter-way around the square, marked the former location of the Jewish Community Council, adding that in the attic some interesting Jewish inscriptions could be found.
At one end of the square stood poster boards, under the trees. One held an illustrated chart of wild mushrooms, telling which were edible--one could suspect it had been placed deliberately just to suggest normalcy, to suggest that this was just an ordinary Czech town. And the other, made of sheet metal with peeling paint, contained a map of the town. Historical houses and places were marked by numbers with legends in Czech below, and none meant anything to me except for the last two. Those referred to large white areas outside the walls, north of town: one said "Krematorium", and that I could understand, and the other "Židovský hřbitov", Jewish cemetery. We drove there.
The road went through the town, past barracks which were once again occupied by the military, for Terezín has again become a garrison town: someone later said it held Russian soldiers, though the sentry in one of the gates wore a Czech-style cap. We passed military garages and suddenly came upon a casement by the road, a cave-like vault inside the brick fortification, painted white with a large menorah and two stars of David in it. We stopped.
The front of the casement was barred, but behind its bars was an inscription in the same 4 languages as on the tablets in the town square, stating that here were brought the bodies of inmates who had died, before being carried to the cemetery. This, then, was the place to which my cousin Liesel came for the "funeral" of my grandmother Minna, as she had described in Haifa.
The road then passed a gap in the fortifications and led into an open field with a small house and a large empty parking lot. No one in the house answered the door, and the only people around were some East German tourists crawling over their car, its hood was up and they were busy fixing something. But we knew where to go, because as we drove up we could see among the trees a large stone candelabrum (menorah) about 15 feet tall.
We walked over to it: it stood in the middle of a large field, and all around it were low markers of polished granite, each with a small Star of David on its top. And it was apt, too, because the markers were not in a regular array like those outside the "Malá pevnost", but scattered randomly like stars in the sky. To the left stood the crematorium building, and beyond it we later found a similar burial field, with stone markers around its perimeter, each bearing the name of one of the homelands of Terezín's victims. For Jews from all of Western Europe were sent to Terezín--most continued to Auschwitz, but many also died here, often of hunger, and the bodies of 9000 of them rested in these two fields.
The crematorium itself was a small white building, kept as a memorial. The front room had become a small museum and a kindly older Czech gentleman was in charge: a few other visitors were also there. I have already forgotten most of the exhibits, one's mind wants to forget them. Prisoners' clothes of rough gray cloth, drawings by adults and children, yellow stars imprinted "Jude" (one in Dutch, "Jood") and pictures of the place and of its people.
"See this girl," said the man pointing at a picture, "she escaped, she is now in Israel. Her name is Ruth Bondy." And I said, "Yes, she wrote a book about it." I had tried to buy it in Haifa, but it was out of print.
Past the room one entered the main hall where bodies were placed on trolleys and rolled into four large ovens, some 25,000 bodies in all. The man gave me memorial candles to light and to place on the rails, which I did, and I wrote in the memorial book, "I have come in the memory of my grandmother Wilhelmina Paechter, whose body passed here on Yom Kippur 1944."
Then we all walked out into the sunlight and continued to Lovosice.
Lovosice was indeed as long as Blanka's proverb had it, though not as stringy as Hluboká. It has expanded inland with high-rise apartment blocks of 8 and 9 floors, and south of town stood a large chemical factory for superphosphate, ammonia and other fertilizers. We easily found the house which my grandfather Joseph built across the church, at the center of town (29 Main Street), sticking out into the street, with a globe on its peaked corner--was there still a time capsule in it, dated about 1910? This was the corner where in 1938 I sat at the window and played with a toy traffic light, until a policeman was sent to investigate, for in those days of pre-war tension any blinking colored lights looked suspicious. The house has received fairly recently a new coating of gray stucco and looked good: there were stores at the street level, but because of the Sunday all were closed. I opened the door into its small inner courtyard, with stairs and landings and balconies. A small dog barked furiously from an upstairs balcony, inside but no one was to be seen, and so we left.
North of Lovosice the hills began closing on the river and for a short stretch the view was singularly free of any construction. It was a beautiful place. There we pulled off the road, followed a dirt road for about 200 feet and stopped at the edge of the water to eat lunch.
Zdenka pulled out from the trunk three small but quite comfortable folding chairs (iron and canvas, rather than America's aluminum and saran webbing), a small folding table and food for a picnic--chicken, bread, cake, gooseberries, apricots and juice drinks. It was a good time of the day and a scenic spot. On the opposite side of the river rose a rocky mountain topped by three crosses--my father later identified it as "Dreikreutzberg", Three Cross Mountain. Nobody came our way, but a continuous stream of electric trains passed on both sides of the river, both freight and passenger trains, no more than 10 minutes apart on either side. Halfway through the picnic a coal barge appeared on the river, flying a Czech flag and nudged upstream by a tug at a surprising speed.
After the meal everything went back into the trunk and we continued towards the break in the hills through which the river spilled north. A wide view then opened up, dominated by a tall TV tower on the highest of the hills across the river. We passed a suspension bridge carrying a pipeline across the river and came to Ústí-nad-Labem, Aussig of my childhood, the town from which Victor Hess rose in a balloon to discover cosmic rays. From ahead we could see the castle of Střekov (Schreckenstein) looming atop a cliff on the other bank of the river. Next to it stood a river barrage which I vaguely recalled seeing from a train as a child.
Ústí is an industrial city, busy and untidy near the river, sprawling into the hills and ending there in arrays of high-rise tenements. The road bypassed the business section and soon we were out of town again. From here houses and hamlets followed the road and one wondered how their inhabitants managed to sleep through the constant flow of trains. The roadside sign announcing the beginning of Děčín caught us by surprise: the town had expanded far to the south. We passed what probably used to be a separate town with a large abandoned church, its roof caved in (Rosawitz is a name my parents remembered). The area was filled with factories, manufacturing chocolate ("Diana") and cables, and across the river stood a shipyard, with nearly complete barges ready for launch.
We followed a dirt road to the river's edge to get a closer look at Děčín: the castle stuck out in the distance and beyond it was the gorge where the river passed into Germany, but the old railroad bridge was hidden by a large new concrete bridge, in the modern style of an expressway overpass: it was not yet open, but would soon be. Beyond it stood the old railroad bridge, ending in a viaduct of stone arches slanting across the highway. The road zigged and zagged to pass through those arches, and as we emerged from them, the place suddenly looked familiar.
It was the Vogelwiese, the birds' meadow, a little stretch of floodplain where I used to go to the river's edge, look at the barges and at the castle across, and collect glittering stones from the water's edge, fool's gold or as it was called it, "Katzensilber" (cats silver). This too was where the circus used to pitch its tents whenever it visited Podmokly-Bodenbach. Now the place appeared far smaller than the way I remembered it and half of it had been paved over for a parking lot. Instead of a circus we found here a mobile amusement show, brought by vans parked at the north end of the lot. Children were being whirled around on a small carrousel, in seats hung by chains from rotating arms, and music was playing while parents waited. Stairs led to one trailer and judging by the beeps coming from it, there seemed to be a video arcade inside. I ought to have stepped in and checked, because (as I later realized) I never saw a video screen anywhere in Czechoslovakia, other than on black-and-white TVs: but I didn't.
Ahead was the old steel bridge into Děčín, a single large arch over the river with a red star on top. On the other side was the Děčín castle ("schloss" rather than "burg", a palace more than a fortress) and beyond it the city itself. We had no choice but go there, for the narrow road hemmed between the cliff and the river allowed no turning back. Abreast of the bridge the road made a sudden 90-degree turn and soon we were rolling into old Děčín, past a shopping center, to what remained of the old city square where in 1937 I stood watching the memorial flame burn, listening to emotional speeches in memory of President Masaryk who had just died, while my parents searched for me all over town. Only there were we able to turn back to Podmokly.
Podmokly (Bodenbach in German) is built along a mountain stream coming down from Jílové (Eulau) and is strung along Teplice street, the road to Teplice. Near the river the town broadens a bit and that's where our house was, on Dietrichstrasse 3, actually not our house, for my parents were only renting the upstairs apartment. Following dim memories I found the street, now called "Tomaširská" or a name like that, a short street sloping down from Teplice street to a small park where a gray small church stood, dedicated to the memory of Jan Hus (I had remembered the park but not the church). The house had ornate iron extensions, which allowed the top floor to stick out a short distance above the street. Downstairs used to be a large wooden entrance door, closed by a damper with the word "YALE" on it, a word which mystified me as a child: but the door was gone, replaced by a new-looking glass door.
We continued west on Teplice street--it seemed familiar, but I could not find the synagogue which supposedly stood there. Factories filled the valley: the one my grandfather had built was supposedly taken over by Kooh-i-noor and manufactured zippers. We passed a Kooh-i-noor factory with a large chimney, a rather small one, pressed to the hillside, and later in New York I found that this was the one my grandfather had built. But there was no parking next to it, and it was closed for Sunday. A bit further a side road led up the hill and I decided to follow it, to see whether we might find an overlook.
It was a one-lane road, controlled by a traffic light which stayed red for the longest time. It led to the mountain behind town and then went down into the valley on the other side, where it ended in a maze of little roads, among scattered houses and gardens. Ahead stood a castle-like restaurant, overlooking the river, with strange-looking rock pillars near it and strolling people: but no road led there. So we turned back and had to wait again for a green light at the other end of the steep section.
We then continued up Teplice street to check a bigger Kooh-i-noor factory, located across the creek at the end of a short road. Just outside it stood the gatekeeper's cottage with many flowers, and inside we could see sheds, a chimney and many crates, but again, the gate was closed.
We drove back, once more looking in vain for the synagogue, and parked by the river's edge, near an empty house which apparently used to be a cafe and restaurant. Earlier, when we retraced the road from Děčín, we saw that an elevator had been installed inside the cliff near the bridge, leading to an overlook and a cafe, the same one we had seen from the rear a short time earlier. We decided to go there.
The cliff is called "Pastýřská stěna", shepherds' wall or in German, Schäferwand. A row of houses (some with shops) lines its base, between two of them is the entrance to the elevator, and from there one climbs several flights of stairs, decorated by handsome mosaics. One then comes to a vending machine where tickets may be bought, similar to the universal one-crown tickets used for trams and buses in Prague, only these were issued by the city of Děčín, and two of them were required to ride the elevator either up or down. Then a long sloping stairway leads into the mountain, in a tunnel with a bumpy surface of sprayed stucco. The way is well lit and pleasantly cool: it continues as a broad walkway and ends at a door, and one is tempted to say "open sesame" though pushing a button works better.
The elevator arrives and the elderly man who operates it punches our tickets. On the way up he tells us that the ride is 65 meters high and that from the top one can see the castle of Děčín, captured and burned in 1648 by the Swedes on their retreat from Prague. From the elevator one must climb a few more stairs, finally reaching the outdoor balcony of the cafe, where a magnificent view opens up.
Right in front is the castle, its white front overlooking the river from the top of a low cliff. Between it and the river is parkland and a creek flows there into the river, with a little bridge over it. With Zdeněk's binoculars I watch two children and a dog near that bridge: the children throw something into the creek, the dog jumps in and retrieves it, brings it back to the children and then shakes itself dry the way dogs do.
Beyond the castle stretches the town and in this perfect weather, every small detail stands out. On the right the river is straddled by the box girder of the old railroad bridge, and beyond it is the new highway bridge: across the river, ramps peel off the highway bridge, while the railroad branches into many parallel tracks, receding into the distance: this must be the valley leading to Benzen (Benešov nad Ploučnicí) where my father once practiced law. Between the tracks and the castle is parkland, and further away rise row after row of the inevitable tenement blocks.
Old Děčín is to the left (north) of the castle: many barges and tugs are tied up at the riverside, and upstream in the forested gorge is a loading harbor (for coal, it seems) with large cranes. In the town itself, not far from the water, stands a 15 story building and atop it in large red lettering (or were those neon lights?) "Sláva KS", glory to "Kommunistická strana Československa", the Czechoslovak Communist party. The town extends about halfway up the hillside, but the top is green with forest and yellow with fields of ripe grain, very pretty indeed.
I go into the cafe itself, inside the imitation castle. Music blares inside and the waitress is sitting in the kitchen, reading or watching TV. I call her out and ask for coffee, but she is unfriendly: we may not have coffee outside, even if we carry it there ourselves. Those are the rules, she says and goes back to the kitchen. We walk out, but then a sudden inspiration strikes: how about lemonade? It turns out the rules allow lemonade to be carried to the porch, and that is what we end up doing, with a beautiful view right at our feet.
Podmokly is not to be seen, but a trail in the back has sign "Pastýřská stěna 240 metrů." We follow the trail much further than that but only get deeper into the woods, which are green and beautiful. Articles in "Nature" and "New Scientist" on the ecological problems of northern Bohemia made me expect a dying forest, whereas any damage that exists here is too subtle to be seen. With Zdenka huffing and puffing, we finally reach a small crest and discover we are on the wrong ridge, with an extra valley between us and the ridge overlooking Podmokly. We then give up and return to the elevator and the car.
Back in the Renault we decide to drive up the river to "Bohemian-Saxon Switzerland," a scenic area where as a kid I used to hike, it has waterfalls and gorges and a natural bridge. I soon regret it: we are on a narrow road between a cliff and a precipice, stuck behind a bus of returning East-German tourists. Within sight of the border station (the other side of the river is already German) we turn right into Hřensko (Herrenskretschen), a resort village built in a narrow valley, flanking a mountain creek. We follow the road through a dark forest of evergreens, but there is no obvious place to stop and get off. On top of the ridge stands a hotel and across from it is a well-used campground: we turn back and return to Děčín. Now I must drive on the outside of the same narrow riverside road, next to a sheer drop, every time a car passes us in the opposite direction I watch with great care.
Back in Děčín, I seek out a phone booth which we passed earlier in order to call Mr. Heller. After a search we finally find parking just short of the bridge, I insert my crown and dial Mr. Heller: he answers, but all he says is "Hallo? Hallo?" What I did not realize was that in Czech pay phones you drop the coin after establishing contact, and only then can the other side hear you. Strangely enough, Zdeněk, who stood next to me, did not realize this either. I only found out towards the end of my stay in Prague, after losing several crowns to a pay phone in the Leninova station of the Metro. I asked a girl in the station to help me, gave her a coin, showed her the number I wanted to dial and watched her dial.
It was getting late in the day, so we drove back--through Podmokly, Ústí, to our picnic place (where we stopped to eat a bit more--another car was now there, someone else's picnic), to Lovosice, Terezín, Mt. Říp, and Prague, which we reached in darkness. The last few miles I followed blindly directions given by Zdeněk. For a while we followed the embankment of the Vltava, then we were stuck behind a slow three-wheeled contraption, an invalid's car, and after rattling over cobblestones we reached the front of the Sinkuleho hostel. The Jůzas returned home by Metro, and in the morning came back and guided me back to the car-rental agency.
Monday, August 12
An inventory of Czech technology: the ballpoint pens received as official conference souvenirs were made by Koh-i-noor and were replicas of the Parker jotter, not quite as well finished. The Czech refill in mine leaked terribly, but with a Parker refill it did quite well. Typewriters were all manual; public clocks were electric, but many did not run (e.g. the ones in the coffee shop and in the lecture hall). The railroad net was electrified and extensive and the "metro" subway was extremely good--its change machines were mechanical but always worked.
I never saw even one video terminal in the entire visit, though on the last Friday in Prague I found two electronics stores off the Staroměstské náměstí, the Old Town Square, selling microchips in plastic bags. Saw several hand-held calculators in the office of Čedok, the government's touring agency, none anywhere else, and one portable radio. Also, I saw one small photocopying machine in a side room of the university building of the IAGA assembly, it did not work and according to the operators who were trying to fix it, it was manufactured in Slovakia. The Jewish community council was also said to have a photocopier.
I spent the day at sessions, listening to history talks and to Lemaire's review on the plasmapause (notes elsewhere). The weather had turned hot and humid, the air in the lecture halls became sticky and it drove me and many others out to the hallways. The heat and humidity even penetrated my "waterproof" digital watch and droplets of condensation gradually accumulated inside its crystal: by the end of the visit they covered the inside and I no longer could read the time. Back in the US the watch cleared up again, but within a month it stopped.
The Jůzas invited me for a light dinner of "palačinky" (pancakes) with cottage cheese, very good. I asked about their son Michal ("Miša"), of whom so far I had only a brief glimpse. They said he was busy practicing for a guitar concert scheduled in Brno on the Sunday two weeks hence, while Eva Jůzová, his wife, had a visitor from Norway. However, said Zdeněk, Michal's pottery was on display at the South-Moravian winehall ("Jihomoravská vinárna") and we would go there to see it.
Michal worked in the daytime in a commercial pottery at the southern edge of Prague, near the western bank of the Vltava. He also produced his own artistic pottery, but without the official status of an artist, he was unable to exhibit it in a regular fashion. However, winehalls had a free hand in choosing their decor, and the South-Moravian winehall allowed him to put his pottery there for display for one month, though without any labels. To advertise his exhibition, Michal arranged to have handbills printed (I have kept one of them), announcing the place and time and name of the artist.
When we stepped out of the house, we found a commotion outside: part of a television film was about to be shot in the cobblestoned alley next to it. Horse-drawn carriages stood by, a hydrant was tapped to wet down the street, as if after a rainstorm, actors in garb of around 1800 were standing around, a director and cameraman were overseeing the preparations from the top of a platform, and many spectators were watching.
We moved on and boarded a streetcar or "tramvaj". In Prague streetcars are generally paired together, heavy vehicles which shake the ground until the rails may become depressed and the cobblestones around them were loose. Between the wheels of each bogie is a wide electric contact which slides along the track and completes the electric circuit. The ride is bumpy and costs one crown, same as the bus and the subway.
The South-Moravian winehall was a working-class tavern, consisting of one room, not a big one. Zdeněk had reserved a table in the corner and ordered one liter of red wine--it cost 50 crowns, very reasonable, though one liter was far too much and half of it was left in the carafe. It had a pleasant taste, somewhat like a Cabernet but with more bite and lots of body. Michal's pottery, glossy cups and jars and teapots, stood on small shelves around the room, each piece illuminated by a spotlight, with most shelves too high for close scrutiny. Every piece had already been sold.
All around were young men and women, chatting, smoking heavily, drinking. Everyone dressed lightly and many men came in T-shirts, far more sensible than the suit I wore: the evening was hot and the tavern unventilated and heavy with humidity.
Our reserved corner table was fairly large and at first we had it all to ourselves. But as more people kept arriving, some sat down next to us, until six more were sharing that corner with us, at which point we decided to leave.
Streetcar #12 took us to the bottom of the Petřín hill, south of the Hradčany and covered with public parks. A funicular cablecar runs up to Petřín and the one-crown ticket used on the tram is good here, too. It pulled us up to the top, where we walked to Prague's astronomical observatory--a public observatory, intended mainly to give ordinary people a chance to peek at stars through a telescope. However, it was closed--it always was on Mondays, Zdenka suddenly remembered.
The building was backed onto the "Hunger Wall", a fortification built by Charles the 4th as a public project to provide income in a year of famine. Outside the observatory stood elaborate concrete sundials, pretty and cryptic. We retraced our way, intending to walk down back to Malá Strana. In the top station of the cable car the immaculately polished machinery could be viewed through a large glass window--massive flywheels, equipment built by the Českomoravská engineering company. In the station itself about half a dozen people were waiting for the cable car to arrive and a drunk was singing to them, quite civil and with a strong and quite good voice. No one did anything to stop him, people just looked amused.
We continued along the ridge and passed the "little Eiffel tower" which dominates part of the Prague skyline, it is used for TV transmission and is closed to the public. We then turned to a downhill path, through an opening in the Hunger Wall: a wide panorama of Prague's lights spread out below us, and in the distance a thunderstorm was approaching.
After a short walk we sat down on a bench beneath the Strahov monastery and tried to converse. The Jůzas wanted to know about Y.C. Whang's work, and I ended telling them about the solar wind (sluneční vítr), planets, cavities, my own work, Saturn and its rotation, Voyager 2 and my Uranus model--mostly in broken Czech. But the lightning kept getting brighter and closer, and we walked rather briskly the rest of the way. We passed the shrine of Loretto and the big rectangular building of the Czernin Palace, the building from which Jan Masaryk fell to his death in 1948. Then came the gate of the Hradčany and the house where the Czech president has his office, according to Zdenka. Masaryk's flag with the motto "Pravda vítězí" (the truth prevails) flew atop the building. The street next to it offered another beautiful panoramic view of the city. Then we went down some stairs and past the American embassy, where window air conditioners were going full tilt, the only ones I saw in all of Prague. At the bottom we passed the huge church of St. Nicholas and the Malostranské náměsti (Lesser Town Square), and we bid each other good night. I jogged to the Malostranská metro station and emerged from the Leninova station near the hostel just as rain started falling.
Slightly wet I arrived at Sinkuleho hostel. The thunder tapered off quickly: it was just a narrow squall line, much narrower than American ones, the lightning was mostly ahead of it and the rain itself was rather gentle. I opened the window, let the room cool down and slept quite well.
Tuesday, August 13
I had arranged to meet Zdenka at the Sinkuleho dorm after sessions and to go with her to visit "Inženýr-architekt" Rudolf Hauner, Jiří's father and her brother-in-law. I was late--I thought we were to meet at 5:30, stayed for Southwood's AMPTE talk (delivered with Southwood flair) and only came at 5:16, to find her waiting since 4:30. She said that Zdeněk went to the cottage to take his turn in digging the well, and that he went by train because the "Trabant" had gearbox trouble which would take ten days to fix. I later wondered whether this was related to the movie-making in Lázeňská street, which extended to the place where car was usually parked; it was towed to another street, and Zdeněk had to search for it.
The Hauners lived within walking distance of the university, on a hill overlooking it. That part of Prague is known as "Hanspaulka", since prior to WW I it was the farming estate of one Hans Paul. His mansion still exists and a large orchard remains on the hillside, we took a shortcut through it and saw trees heavily loaded with pears. No one was picking the fruit, however, for the land belonged to the university and the unfenced orchard was marked by "do not enter" signs. It is a relatively recent and suburban section of Prague, and the Hauners live in a two-story house (2 or 4 families) on "Na Čihadle" street which means (if I understood Zdenka properly) "at the hunting blind." The family was out on the lawn--Mr. Hauner was a vigorous man of 74, he could have retired at 60 but he continued to work for the architectural planning department of the Czech government to the age of 70. I asked him about the boxy tenements in the outskirts of Prague: he did not like them, they had to be built quickly and cheaply to alleviate a severe housing shortage.
The Hauners had visitors--their daughter Katka (Kateřina, probably) had driven up from Wiener Neustadt in Austria, together with her Austrian husband Gustav and their sons Michal (7) and Daniel (4 months), and also present were Katka's friend Věra and her daughter, of Michal's age. Because of the heat the two older children ran around the around the garden in swimsuits. The Hauners and the Jůzas were in close contact because their children in New York wrote alternately to one or the other, and the families shared the news. This was one reason for Zdenka's visit, to return to the Hauners a recent letter and a package of pictures which came with it.
Mrs. Hauner, very motherly-looking, brought some cake she had baked and also fruit tarts or "koláče", an aperitif and black coffee (and that turned out to be my dinner). I asked inženýr Hauner whether any bakery shops remained in Prague--he thought not. I then said, what a pity, but at least good baking was still practiced at home. And Katka said, do not think it was easy, you must get up at 6 and you must stand in line ("in a snake" in German) to buy whipping cream and everything you need.
I had tickets for the evening to "Laterna Magika", the famous Prague mime theater. It was located in a basement on National Avenue (Národní třída), but subway construction had torn up the street and had closed up the theater entrances on that side. Every IAGA participant had received a complimentary ticket and Ernie Deutsch'es was for an earlier date, he came to the address (with a friend, possibly Chris Harvey), could not find any entrance and returned home. I kept looking into alleys and watching other people on a similar quest, until at the end I found a tucked-away sign and then, around the block, the entrance itself. The show was good as mime shows go--a clever combination of film and live acting, well synchronized, with actors continually popping from screen to stage and vice versa. But the contents were quite abstract in the East European style, like the science-fiction stories of Stanislaw Lem, a style too remote from reality to be easily appreciated.
I just followed everyone else on the way out. It was dark and we went through courtyards, alleys and buildings, emerging incredibly right on Wenceslas square. Back at Sinkuleho I found a note under my door:
Saw your note on washing machine--thought if you could run a washing machine, you can help me out too.
My name is Supriya (Sup) Chakrabarti. I am from Berkeley. My wife and me just drove in from Nüremberg (poor directions etc. etc.)
I have no idea where the meeting is and how I could get there. Incidentally, I need to change some US dollars for food etc. too.
I went over to room 65, bringing a Čedok map of Prague. Sup was a young energetic fellow and his wife was already in bed. I showed him on the map where the meeting was, one block away, and told him he could change money there--then on second thought we went down to the street. We walked until we saw the building of the meeting, then turned around and went to the Leninova subway station. I showed him how one paid, how one got change and bought bus tickets from the machine--and I think I also recommended not to try to drive in Prague, because of cobblestones and limited parking.
Wednesday, August 14
This day's program focused on magnetic micropulsations, not my area, and I took time off to see Prague. After listening to Southwood's talk on Dungey's work on MHD waves and on its follow-ups, I went to Zdenka, who gave me a tour of the "Lesser Town" or Malá Strana ("small side"). She may be 10 years older than me, and taking two pills daily for high blood pressure (she knows about salt, but uses it anyway), but she can easily outwalk me: when that day ended, my feet had blisters on them. Zdeněk was in Vonoklasy, digging his well.
First we went to the Kampa island, right behind her house, an elongated island which adjoins a weir in the river. Because of the weir, the channel between the Kampa and the mainland, the "Čertovka" or devil's creek, runs quite swiftly. Long ago mills were driven by the creek, and two of their wheels remain, neither working although one is under repair. Because of the fast stream, this is also where Czech kayak paddlers train and hold competitions, and near the lower end of the channel bright red slalom markers were suspended above the water. It seemed a strange place for kayaks, all hemmed in by ancient buildings.
Much of the Kampa is parkland. In a few places one can go down to the river's edge, and at one of them a woman was feeding the river's swans which noisily congregated around her. Charles Bridge straddles the island, we entered near it and left by a small bridge connecting the Kampa to what used to be the property of the Knights of Malta.
Next to that was a passage full of graffiti, the only graffiti I saw in Prague. They included stencils "John Lennon Lives" and a few inscriptions in English ("Fuck the War"--what war?) but most were in Czech. I asked Zdenka if they were political. She said no. I then asked her to translate a few, but it was not easy. They seemed mainly to express frustrations of young people, that life was not kind, love was not easy. Politics, except within the party, seems to have been driven far underground.
We passed a house with a marker testifying that Beethoven slept here, then entered a small garden built on the hillside. Behind the facade of an ordinary house was an elaborate gateway, topped by a sculpture of Atlas hefting the globe, and behind it was a garden with stairs that led to a broad view of the roofs of Prague (Zdenka excused herself and stayed below). Almost every house had a lightning rod and a wire running along the roof ridge, whereas in America, Ben Franklin's invention was almost forgotten.
A few more steps brought us to the massive church of St. Nicholas ("Svatý Mikuláš"), ornately decorated inside. Many tourists sat in the pews, because while it was hot outside, the interior stayed cool because of the thick walls. We continued to the "lane of the five churches" and from there to the abbey of St. Thomas, whose brewery and beerhall still flourished. Then we passed the Wallenstein palace (Valdštejnský palác), though we did not enter to see its famous garden. The best came last--the high tower next to the Charles Bridge. I went up alone while Zdenka returned home.
The entrance to the tower is by a small door--the wall is 2 meters thick--and one pays a fee of 2 crowns to a girl behind a counter. I interrupted her reading when I came, and in return for the money she lent me a typed sheet of explanations in English, encased in plastic. It was a long climb, up wooden stairs between wooden landings, but in the end I emerged on the square walkway extending around the tower. The view was terrific, the bridge was right below me and from the side I was able (just as Zdenka had said) to peek past the roof of the nearest building into the Jůzas' window, distinguished by two potted geraniums. Zdenka was there, waving.
Back in the apartment--surprise, Zdeněk had come back. He had struck water! After months of work, the well suddenly started filling up. Now the next step would be to have the water tested and officially approved for use.
The well used to be 4 meters deep and supplied four families before it ran dry. The families then hired a dowser, who checked here and there, then pointed to a spot and said water could be found there, 30 meters down. After that he was shown the well and he said, why should you dig 30 meters at the other place, you are better off if you deepen this well, another 3 meters down you will probably find plenty of water. And so it was. Lunch (the main meal of the day) was dumplings, caraway roast and boiled cabbage, good. We then went back to the Petřín cable-car.
All over Prague, and in other places as well, on train stations, in towns and on factories, political posters and slogans were displayed in prominent places. I suspect this was one of the stock activities of party cells and members throughout the country. One such poster board, protected from the weather by a glazed cover, was on the street leading to the cable-car station, and it showed blue and white missiles rising from the earth, trailing behind them red ribbons, the whole deliberately resembling the stars and stripes of the US flag. Rising against the missiles was a large hand, motioning "STOP", and the legend next to it (the Jůzas translated) was "Keep weapons out of space."
In view of the undeclared competition between space research and the "Star Wars" military project, it seemed like cute thing to hang on my office wall, and asked the Jůzas where one could get a copy. They did not know, but said "there exist places which sell this."
Next day I was walking across the old town square, when I noted across from the elaborate old clock ("orloj") an entrance bearing the initials KS, the Czech Communist party. Feeling secure with a US passport in my pocket, I went in to find out whether they had that poster. By the entrance was a counter and a man stood behind it: he was talking to a woman, I think she was getting some propaganda material on Nicaragua. Then came my turn, and I tried to communicate in German, raising my right hand to the "STOP" gesture. But the man could not understand, he had nothing like that, he was sorry, and I went out again. On Saturday evening the Jůzas and I walked across the square again, on the way to Alt Neu. As we passed the place, Zdeněk pointed at the entrance and said, see that? It is the most important place in Czechoslovakia, the headquarters of the Communist party.
I said, I know, I was there. And he said, you what? So I told him the story. You must be crazy, he said, no one goes there.
The astronomical observatory on Petřín was open this time and a 40 cm telescope was trained at the sun, though it only used its finder scope: since the time was close to sunspot minimum, there wasn't much to see. A young man was on hand to help with the exhibits, which included poster displays on Halley's comet and an ornate astronomical instrument of unknown use, apparently constructed for the emperor Rudolf. He was a student of geophysics and told us that a visit to the observatory was included in the curriculum of all 4th grade students in Prague.
We continued along the "Hunger Wall" to the Strahov monastery and to the shrine of Loreto (Loretto in Italy, Loreto in Prague) which was closed off by barricades, since the opera "Werther" was being filmed there. However, the actors were still rehearsing, and since people were walking past the barricades, we did likewise. It was still very hot and while the actors sweltered in full 19th century garb (those not immediately needed huddled in the shade of a tree), the cameraman was stripped to his waist for comfort. On the road a horse carriage stood waiting its turn, and market stalls were set up next to the building, obviously part of the movie background. Later the filming started near the entrance to the shrine: taped music played from loudspeakers and the actors mouthed the words, later the sound track would be merged with the film.
The shrine of Loreto is a historical oddity, preserved by the Czech government as a historic relic. After the 1620 defeat of Czech reformation much of the Czech nobility was exiled and replaced by Catholic rulers, speaking German, and to promote the Catholic faith, these rulers decided to import the cult of Loreto which then flourished in Italy. In 1291, supposedly, the boyhood home of Jesus, still intact but threatened by the Turks, was miraculously transported from Nazareth to some place in Dalmatia, and three years later, by the same miraculous means, from there to a site near Ancona, Italy. The pope acknowledged the miracle, the house was placed in a shrine nearby, "the santa casa of Loretto," and the cult still exists--in 1920 Our Lady of Loretto was named patron saint of aviators, maybe on account of that miraculous flying house.
In Prague a replica of the santa casa was built, an ornately decorated box-like structure in the courtyard of the church of Loreto, reminding one of the Ka'aba of Mecca. In the century that followed, patrons of the Bohemian nobility endowed the shrine with rich gifts and gold. The gold ultimately was confiscated to finance the emperor's wars, but some richly crafted religious articles remained and were now displayed in a vault-like room, guarded all the time. Especially notable were communion chalices and monstrances, fancy contraptions for holding the communion wafers, decorated with precious metal and stones--one of them with corals, another studded with diamonds totaling hundreds of carats, the gift of a rich pious lady.
[In November the Czech tennis master, Ivan Lendl, won the European tennis championship and was awarded a golden racket weighing 13.2 pounds, studded with 1420 diamonds. No place seems more fitting for displaying this monstrous trophy than next to the diamond monstrance of the Loreto.]
Later, after we had also visited the display of early Czech art at the national gallery, consisting almost entirely of Christs and Madonnas, and the tombs of the Czech kings beneath St. Vitus cathedral, I remarked, how odd it was that a socialist state gave so much attention to kings and to religious gifts of the nobility. "But they are Czech!" said Zdenka.
From Loreta we went to Hradčany square, where we had been on Monday night, only this time we entered the gate and continued into the huge gothic cathedral of St. Vitus, refreshingly cool, with many footsore tourists sitting in the pews. An impressive rose window graced the entrance, and in the galleries high above, busts of past kings of Bohemia were displayed, each in his own balcony. By the side was a chapel with Saint Wenceslas tomb, its walls decorated by elaborate old paintings, and not far from it was a door leading to the palace, reserved for the entrance of the king. Down below in the crypt other kings lay buried--we briefly visited it and also the national gallery nearby, where we saw masterpieces originally hung in Karlštejn, painted by Master Theodoric for Charles the 4th.
From there we went to the "Golden Lane" where supposedly alchemists lived and worked, a lane of brightly painted small houses which now hold souvenir shops, and then we left the Hradčany by its lower gate and returned to Malá Strana by the "old castle steps" (Staré zámecké schody). Zdeněk felt happy and started singing a song about those old stone steps--by one Karel Hašler, had I heard of him, or of his songs? He wrote before the war and died in Terezín, in 1944. (Not true: he froze to death after being tied up, by the Nazis in the wintertime outdoors of an Austrian concentration camp.) I had not heard of Hašler, but I knew another song in Czech, by an unknown author, and I asked Zdeněk if he knew it:
Ta naše písnička česká
Ta je tak hezká, tak hezká
Jako když na louce kytička
Vyroste ta naše písnička.
This is the little Czech ditty
It is so pretty, so pretty
As in the meadow the flower grows
So our little song here arose
When this song will end
Then we will no longer be
Nothing will remain, no one will remember
Then we will no longer be
Sing, little people, our little song
In Slovakia, Moravia, land of Czechs.
I learned that song 1938 and 1939, when I was 6 or 7, my parents were refugees and Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Nazis. In 1968, when the Russian army ended the brief "Prague Spring", I was impelled to do--something. I felt impotent, Americans all around stood aloof (it happened in the Soviet sphere, Frank Jones argued) and this song seemed somehow appropriate. Someone gave me the address of the singer Theodore Bikel, who in those days sang in many language, voicing the causes of freedom, and I sent him a letter with the song, begging him to sing it and thus carry to the public the message of what was happening to the Czechs. He never answered.
Zdeněk knew the song well and sang it. It too was written by Hašler--as early as 1932, as if he knew of things to come. It is still one of few songs which can bring tears to my eyes.
Thursday, August 15
David Klumpar (now with Lockheed) has found his family. His late grandfather came from a village near Chrudim where the family had a butcher shop, and David brought with him a copy of his grandfather's birth certificate. During the weekend he rented a car and drove to the area, where he was directed to a village near Castle Rychburk. There he stopped a local man and showed him the certificate: the man became excited, took him by the hand and led him to a door marked "Klumpar", in the cottage where the Klumpar family still lived. He was received with great joy and was asked to stay for the night. Communicating in broken English and German, the family showed him a family tree extending back to 1730, and he added to it his own branch, and noted down parts he was not aware of. The high point came when the family pulled out a box of old papers and photographs: among the pictures he found one of himself, because his late grandfather used to correspond with the family and had sent them David's picture.
The conference has been winding down. In the coffeeshop this morning I met Wilfried Schröder, he asked me why I did not answer his mail. He worked on stratospheric ozone and on history of geophysics, and promised to send me his writings about the aurora and about Emil Wiechert, the founder of the Göttingen school of geophysics (he also asked me for reprints). I said I have seen some of his writings, but since I could not come out flatly and say that they were tedious, I suggested that he should put less stress on chronologies and more on the development of significant ideas. He said that he found it harder to express ideas in English than in German.
Later, around 11, I went into town to see the president of the Jewish Community Council, Dr. Dezider Galský. I had written to Dr. Galský from Greenbelt and learned from the reply that he would be away (in Switzerland, in fact) until the 14th.
Dr. Galský's office was one floor upstairs from the rabbi's and was a much more dignified-looking place. He had a secretary, Mrs. Orlíková, and I waited in her room while Dr. Galský discussed some matters with a slightly younger man, later introduced as Arty (Arthur?) Radvanský, former chemical engineer. Dr. Galský's degree was in history, specifically European history of the 18th-19th centuries, and he used to work for the Czech foreign office before becoming president of the Jewish Community Council, five years ago. He was slim, had steel-gray smooth hair and spoke excellent English.
He said that Mark Talisman, of the Washington Jewish community, was a friend of his, and that the Jewish community had many visitors from abroad, hundreds of them, right now they were expecting three groups, I believe from Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles. What they needed was not money, not even books but more Americans visiting Prague. The visitors would be inspired, they would see services at Alt-Neu and other evidence of Jewish life, and something would be infused into the Jewish Community.
The Czech government, he said, was by its own declaration atheistic, and it treated the Jewish community no differently than it treated any other faith. But Jews were allowed to receive books and their kitchens were supported, even non-Jews came there to eat. And he added, I must admit that people were not living badly, whereas in America there were 30 million poor. In the villages people actually lived better than in Prague [Wiener: due to the fact they grew vegetables and kept poultry and rabbits.], while there were many poor people in the countryside of the US. [Wiener: With me Galský skipped this politically correct chatter.]
I said, people here seemed to live OK. In the US, some people lived better, some less so, and here it was also thus. But something seemed lacking. Take for example the bread. My mother said to me, before I left, "ah, you are going to Prague, they will overfeed you." But I have not been able to find one bake shop. Prague was always famous for its bread and baked goods, and you cannot say it is a question of money, it takes just as much flour to make crusty fluffy bread as it takes to make the hard dense type. Yet no one seems to bake good bread or pastry any more.
I then said, but all this is politics, and I don't care about politics now. I am worried about the Jewish community, because most of the members I see are old. In America, we have different styles, Jews do not restrict themselves to matters of faith and ritual, but stress culture, singing together, history and so on. He said to me (this is an attempt to reconstruct a conversation far longer and more detailed than what I recall): "I want to ask you a question. What do you think will happen to the Jews in the US?"
I said, they too have problems. There was a lot of assimilation. Some Jews were orthodox--but they retreated from modern life to a style which belongs several centuries back. Some intermarried--and when the couple became interested in its roots and history, chances were that it was the non-Jewish partner that converted. However, few Jews were deeply interested in either roots or history.
He then said it was much the same in Prague, they too had two different styles. The pre-war Judaism of Bohemia was liberal with many cultural overtones, and not particularly orthodox. I said I knew that, my father had told me about the organ in his synagogue in Lovosice. Galský said, there was also an organ in the Jeruzalémská street synagogue, but it was only played on High Holidays.
The war, he said, destroyed that community and brought in Jews from Slovakia and Carpatho-Russia, ["Galský was one of them, as he came originally from Mihalovce in Eastern Slovakia"], also people like Cantor Feuerlicht, who had studied with the Rebbe of Satmar and who had a chassidic slant. Many liberals disagreed with that style, but it would be crazy to subdivide a small community still more. To complicate matters, the few young people of the congregation are relatively orthodox, and the few converts among them are quite extreme in that.
Are they active? The cantor of the Jeruzalémská (Dr. Blum?) had a relatively young assistant. When he is ill, the assistant takes over and performs quite well. They did get help from the Joint Distribution Committee and from various organizations--for instance, Rabbi Arthur Schneier of New York has printed 2000 Czech-Hebrew Chumashim and the same number of prayerbooks. They got help to equip their kitchen, which was quite modern. And they published a monthly newsletter, and a quarterly in German and English, and also a yearbook. Could I have copies? He proceeded to find and give me some, along with a stack on greeting cards for the new year, with the picture of the Jewish town hall.
Jews in the US can send almost anything to the Czech Jews, he said, only material directed explicitly against the government is prohibited. He said I was welcome to write to him and he would answer.
I then said, I wish that Alt-Neu were a living synagogue, not a museum. Yes, he said, he knew. He once attended a Bat-Mizvah at Temple Sinai in Washington, and was impressed by a girl reading, she actually used a melody quite similar to the one he knew in Prague. And afterwards there was a party, and the music was rock: it was a different style. He then returned to the division between orthodoxy and liberalism.
He was not sure where the rabbi stood. Rabbi Mayer had studied in Budapest, under a certain Rabbi Schreiber who had recently passed away, he belonged to a religious movement "Neolog", standing between orthodoxy and liberalism, "like your conservatives." I said that I did not get any clear impression of the rabbi, "whatever I say, he says 'yes', and he never asks me anything." Galský said it might be because he was still young.
I had one additional question. I had seen the Jewish museum and was greatly impressed. It was extremely well put together, its scholarly level went far beyond that of the rabbi. Who did it?
Dr. Galský said: "Well, the rabbi must know quite a lot." He had studied 6 1/2 years, and that was more than he, Dr. Galský, had needed for his doctorate. But there was the National Jewish Museum, based just around the corner at 3 Jachymova Street, with more than 30 staff members, most of them non-Jews, they were the ones who had assembled the "Precious Legacy" exhibit shown at the Smithsonian in Washington. If I wished, I could go there, he said, it was the summer season and many people were on vacation. I should ask for one of the people in charge, Dr. Sadek or Dr. Nosek--I probably would have more to talk about with Dr. Nosek, the younger of the two.
At lunch in the Jewish dining hall I was invited by Dr. Galský and Arty Radvanský to their table. Radvanský said that he had spent his high school years in Buchenwald, "a very tough high school." He spoke no English but knew Yiddish, allowing us to communicate in German.
-- "Yobtwayoumat, ya tozhe Chayim!" (*** your mother, I'm Chayim too!)
Then I was off to 3 Jachymova street, a bland house with a narrow passage through it, leading to an inner yard. The house is entered from the passage, and is guarded by a barred door with an electrically operated latch: a woman in a reception booth asks for one's business before the door is unlocked (there was a further barred door on the stairway inside, but it was open). Close to her door, on the inside, was an ornate brass bell activated by a pull string, probably a relic from some extinct synagogue.
I said: "Pan Nosek" (Mr. Nosek). She corrected me, "Dr. Nosek", and dialed a number on her telephone. No answer. She then called up the stairs, talked to someone, and finally opened the door and asked me to sit in the lobby and wait. Two minutes later Dr. Nosek came down.
He was fairly young, dark hair with a few silver threads, a thin man with a lively style. I felt warm towards him from the first minute. He took me upstairs to his office, an old room in what once must have been a residential building. There were book cases, a heavy table, a thick concordance of the bible and a chest of drawers with two of its drawers down on the floor, their contents carefully covered by newspaper sheets extending over their entire area and tucked in at the edges. On the wall were Jewish pictures, one showing a rabbi of around 1800, sitting with a tallith over his head, and Dr. Nosek told me his name, describing him as "not a chassid or a misnaged (opponent of Chasidism, liberal Jew) but a scholar, a liberal."
But the most remarkable object, one which seemed to say that I had come to the right place, was a statue carved of wood, about 50 cm (20") tall, of a man with a big bushy hairstand and large feet in snub-nosed boots, holding a big drawing portfolio under his arm. I knew of this man. When I asked, Dr. Nosek said this was "quite a famous man, a painter, his name was Guttman and he said he was always wandering." I then told him that my mother had a large water-color of him in her living room, and she had told me his story.
Dr. Nosek is indeed a scholar, very much concerned with Judaism. He loves Jewish history and has put together much of the Jewish Museum and of the "Precious Legacy," in fact he had just returned 3-4 days earlier from Hartford, Connecticut, the last stop of the exhibition. He leads one team of scholars, Dr. Sadek another one (or so I understood), and the museum employed ten scholars among a total staff of 38.
He was a delightful man and we talked at great length. I told him of my Czech roots, in Podmokly, Lovosice and Hluboká, and he said that his father used to work for the railroad in Podmokly but was dismissed by the Nazis because of his partial Jewish ancestry. He confirmed what Galský had said about the decline of Czech liberal Judaism. "Until 1944 there was still hope, because most Czech Jews were still in Terezín. But then the Nazis stepped up their transports to the East and murdered practically all who were left."
He has taught a few courses at the University, on old Jewish history, liturgy etc. However, courses in Judaica were sporadic, because the government allowed them to be given only when enough jobs existed for Judaica graduates (so characteristic of the thorough institutionalization of science, and so unlike America!). The museum published a journal "Judaica Bohemiae," and he gave me the current issue, no. 1 of vol. 21. After scanning it, he remarked that this was a special issue, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the liberation of Terezín. He himself had seen Terezín and had tried somehow to get its meaning across to his two children. I asked Dr. Nosek: do you consider yourself a Jew?
He thought it over. I have no religious faith, he said. But I am very much interested in Jewish culture, in Jewish history. They have a meaning for me. In that way, you might say I am Jewish.
He was concerned with many things. Consider dampness: it was hard to find places where old relics may be kept safe from humidity. The space beneath the High Synagogue was too damp, so one exposed balcony of the Maisel synagogue was now used as storage space. It was dampness, too, which crumbled the memorial wall in the Pinkas synagogue, the wall on which the names of over 77,000 murdered Czech Jews were written. Air conditioners cannot remove the humidity because the rooms cannot be properly sealed, especially in synagogues which also serve as museums and are open to the visiting public. When the Pinkas will be rebuilt, one sealed room will be available there.
Right now he was studying the life of a Moravian rabbi, Shmuel the son of--I have forgotten the rest, but "a remarkable man." The result was to appear in Judaica Bohemiae.
When I left, he volunteered to show me the Pinkas synagogue, though it was closed to visitors since it was still being restored. On the way we passed an outline of the Prague golem, traced on the sidewalk in white paving stones among the usual grey ones. How clever, I said to him. Yes, he said. However, tourists who saw it sometimes thought that the winehall next to it, "U Golema" ("at the sign of the golem") was actually the Jewish community's kosher dining hall, "and some of the things there are very tref (non-kosher).
The sheet-metal door to the yard of the Pinkas synagogue was padlocked, and no one seemed to be around. And so we parted.
In the evening I attended my laundry chores, following my own instruction sheet. I then went to room 84 to see Alekseyev, whom I had promised to see before the meeting ended. Around 9 pm I brought to his door some cookies and a cold bottle of lime-pop "Lift" made by the Czech Coca-Cola company, but no one answered. An hour later I was returning from a second or third visit to Alekseyev's room when we met on the stairs, he was just returning from a party. We ended up in his room, talking, eating, drinking and generally being friendly. Alekseyev smoked--he showed me the warning message "smoking is bad for your health" on his box of Russian cigarettes (Czech cigarettes have one too) and said that few people paid attention.
Alekseyev spoke at length about himself, his work and his teen-age son, though now I only remember fragments. He belonged to the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Moscow State University, one of four institutes there, where he worked with Shabansky, and another theory group there included Tverskoy and Antonova.
His current interests were collisionless dissipation processes (which led to his talk on the resistive approximation) and magnetic reconnection. He has programmed a derivation of the tensor B.gradB for a variety of fields, to study particle drifts, especially on split particle shells in the dayside magnetosphere. His interests were mainly mathematical and he did his own programming. He asked me to convey his regards to Voigt who had sent him years ago some codes, though they had never met. We also talked in some detail about parabolic harmonics, but I no longer remember what was said.
Yasha Feldstein came into the room to give Alekseyev things to carry back on the train, for he himself returned by airplane and had to stay within a weight limit. He asked me for a copy of my "Energetics" and also asked to convey his greetings to Don Fairfield.
Friday, 16 August
This was the day of the plenary meeting, which I chose to skip. Instead, I arranged to go with Zdeněk and Zdenka to see their cottage in Vonoklasy and the Karlštejn castle nearby.
We met at the Staroměstská metro station at 8 am and rode streetcar #12 to Smíchov, the southern section of Prague west of the Vltava. Smíchov has Prague's second railroad station (the main one is near the National Museum on the east bank) and we arrived in plenty of time for the 9:05 train passing Karlštejn.
Concerning Czech trains, a story was told at the conference about a group of scientists who planned to return through Vienna, boarding the Berlin-Vienna train in Prague. They arrived at the station well ahead of the time and took all their luggage to a platform where a sign hung "Berlin-Praha-Vienna". No train arrived. However, at about the right time a train pulled up to another platform and people got on and off, while the scientists became more and more concerned. After about 10 minutes, a girl working for the railroads dashed over to their platform. She grabbed the sign "Berlin-Praha-Vienna", unhooked it from its attachment, carried it over to the platform where the train was standing and hung it up there. And immediately, before they could do anything, the train pulled out.
We had no problems with our train except that it was slow and took nearly an hour reach Karlštejn, 35 km away. It was an electric commuter train and the ride was pleasant, along the Vltava and then along its wide tributary Berounka, with many stops. From the window one could see vacation cottages next to the Berounka and children standing waist-high in the shallow river. A while later we caught a glimpse of Karlštejn, high and imposing among forests across the river, and at the next station we got off. Zdenka went to visit an acquaintance in the village, while Zdeněk and I walked the mile or so to Karlštejn.
The road crosses the Berounka on a girder bridge, then turns sharply right and shortly afterwards climbs uphill into the village of Karlštejn. There it follows a steep gully, with a rectangular man-made channel beside the road; red-roofed houses are strung out along it, and each of those on the far side of the channel has its own little bridge. Then one enters the wooded approach to the castle and passes souvenir stands, where one can buy picture postcards, books and slides, Soviet champagne (77 crowns a bottle) and various souvenirs: for 1.60 crowns I bought a souvenir curved metal plate, the kind one attaches to a walking stick. An artist displayed his prints and on the way down I bought several of them.
The castle and especially its huge central tower (Donjon, from which the word "Dungeon" is derived; in English, "keep") are imposing, both from afar and when one stands next to them, though the inside is only sparsely furnished. We paid 5 crowns each to join a tour and the guide who explained everything in Czech continually unlocked doors ahead of us and locked those we had passed. We climbed to the entrance hall, then went on to the yeomen's hall, the royal bedroom and several other rooms, to the paneled audience hall and the chapel, whose 19th century restoration was later carefully undone, because too much had been added. The portraits painted for the castle by Master Theodoric were on loan to the National Gallery, but we had already seen them in the Hradčany: the gold-covered chapel was not included in the tour, and neither did we get to the top of the tower. Overall, the place was more a modern museum than a castle, and Inženýr Ingeduld from the faculty of civil engineering of ČVUT (the technical university where IAGA assembled), who later gave us a lift from Vonoklasy to Radotín, said that he knew castles in Moravia whose original interior was still intact and which had far more to show. But Karlštejn remains a powerful national symbol.
As we walked out we met a bride wearing a tulle hat and holding a bouquet, escorted by the groom and by a man who must have been her father, he wore a festive white ribbon decorated with myrtle. About five additional people made up the wedding party and Zdeněk said they would have a civil ceremony in Karlštejn, it was often done (maybe that was why the stalls sold champagne). Outside the gate two cars were parked which must have belonged to the wedding party, for in each window was a white ribbon, hanging V-shaped between the two top corners with a thin 5" wreath of myrtle threaded through its middle. Myrtle wreaths were also under the windshield wipers.
On the way down we joined a line waiting to buy Italian ice cream (zmrzlina) dispensed from a truck, then met Zdenka at the station and caught the 12:15 to Černošice, a short distance back the way we came. In Černošice we still had time to go down to the Berounka and also to order beer at the local tavern, then at 13:15 (the bus was exactly on time) we caught the bus to Vonoklasy.
Vonoklasy means smell (voní) of ears of grain (klasy), and the area is covered by fields of ripe barley, wheat and oats, overdue for harvest. The village sits on top of a low ridge following the north side of the Berounka and contains the retirement home of Czech president Antonín Zápotocký, Zdeněk said it was a relatively modest home, befitting a relatively modest man ["But he was placed on the list of war criminals by the Dutch for being a Kapo in Sachsenhausen"] Zdeněk's own cottage was beyond the village in the corner of the national forest preserve of Karlštejn, and was reached by a deeply rutted gravel road. From the bus station one followed the road downhill towards a forest, to the second cluster of cottages, hidden by the slope and only visible when one got quite close.
Their wooden cottage was built over masonry foundations, it had one room divided by a partition into sleeping quarters with a bunk bed and a small kitchen (water must be carried in). A porch lined the front, facing downhill; the Jůzas kept there a portable TV and reception must have been terrific, for facing the porch on the opposite ridge was the TV tower of central Bohemia.
The cottage was erected from a kit in 1967, in little more than a day, and the price of the kit was 7000 crowns. The whole outlay was 12,000 crowns, while nowadays such a cottage may be worth 100,000, especially if one counted the new well, down in the gully near a small stream. Zdeněk removed the cover of that well to let me peek down: the old casing consisted of three concrete culvert pipes stacked to a depth of 4 meters, and below them the hand-carved section continued into the chalky rock. An iron pipe ran down the middle of the well, and has already been extended to the new section. A few swings of the pump handle brought up water, still yellowish from the digging: two months later Zdeněk wrote that official tests have found it fit for drinking. One neigbor had installed a pump to draw drinking water from the well, and Zdeněk had set a similar pump to draw irrigation water from the creek.
Beneath the highest corner of the cottage was a tiny root cellar where Zdenka kept potatoes and also stored eggs in a "cold chamber" with doors, set in the wall. Growing in her garden were tomatoes, kohlrabi [kedlubny] and strawberries, small but sweet. The garden also had several fruit trees, one of them recently broken by a storm, still alive but probably beyond saving.
Zdenka whipped up a sumptuous meal--bread, cheese, sausage, eggs, tomatoes and radishes from the garden, also sardines, coffee and juice, all brought outside to a small table. We had an enjoyable outdoor lunch, for the day was pleasant and not as hot as the earlier part of the week was. One jarring note, Zdeněk was stung by bee that blundered into his sandal on the way back from the well: the sting was lodged in the thick sole-skin and was soon removed.
We met one neighbor, inženýr Ingeduld, who offered a ride in his car back to the railroad, and in the end he drove us past Černošice to Radotín, at the southern end of the Prague bus line. On the way he gave us some news--an earthquake had hit Hungary, in Budapest its intensity reached 6 and in Bratislava 5, but no damage was reported.
As the bus carried us back, Zdeněk pointed out the sights. A bridge over the Vltava with long shallow arches was "the bridge of the intellectuals", built in 1954 by prisoners of the Gottwald regime. About 70,000 intellectuals were in jail at the time and this particular bridge was built even though no need existed for it, no road ever crossed it and even now it was only used by the railroad and as a pedestrian overpass.
We passed a factory for prefabricated concrete panels, used in high rise tenements. The workers included some Vietnamese--part of a group who came to Czechoslovakia to learn this kind of construction and who have stayed. Many foreign visitors came to Prague: on the street I have met an Egyptian, in the Sinkulova I ran across an Ethiopian student of engineering, and apparently there were many visitors from Nicaragua (I might have seen some in Terezín), for political reasons ties to Nicaragua rated high in newspapers and on posters.
High on the hill to the left of the road was Barrandov, "Prague's equivalent to Beverly Hills" where Czech films were produced and where many actors lived. At the foot of those hills was Misha's pottery, in an old house with a massive rectangular chimney. A little further, in southern Smíchov, Zdeněk pointed out the house where Karel Hašler was born. It was empty, waiting either to be rehabilitated or to be torn down, Zdeněk was not sure which. Finally, the bus reached the end station of streetcar #12, which took us back to Malá Strana.
I had bought tickets for a cruise on the paddle steamer "Vyšehrad", leaving 7 p.m. from the Palacký Bridge ["Named after František Palacký, 19th century Czech historian and politician"] . But it was still early, and Misha and Eva invited me to their part of the apartment. With them was Asbjørn Restan, a psychiatrist from Bergen, Norway, a close friend who had stayed with them some time, though he would be leaving the next day. Since neither Misha nor Eva knew much English, Asbjørn did most of the talking, though the two others listened and smiled to show they understood. Asbjørn's sentiments were close to theirs.
His ancestry was mixed, Norwegian, Czech and Russian, he learned Czech at home and studied in Prague for seven years, graduating three years earlier. He said it took the first four of those years before he really got to know the Czechs, and he loved Prague.
We sat in their tiny dining room and talked. I wanted to sit in one of the regular chairs, but was asked by Asbjørn to take the seat of honor, an elaborately crafted folding deckchair, much like the deckchairs on ocean liners, its footrest capable of being tucked in below. What made it the seat of honor was its history, for it used to be the personal chair of Josef Jan Frič, founder of the Ondřejov observatory, designed by him for his own retirement.
In 1898, when the Czech nation was struggling through music, art and literature to assert its own identity, Josef Frič founded a Czech astronomical observatory, not just as a scientific enterprise but as a cultural one too. He built it in Ondřejov, 40 km southeast of Prague; in 1928 he donated it to the Czech people and it has now become the main Czech astronomical institution. I had seen a detailed account of it in the February 1984 issue of "Sky and Telescope" (p. 113, vol. 67), and posted a xerox copy at the IAGA meeting.
It turned out that the children and grandchildren of Frič were close friends of Eva and Misha, who viewed Frič as a Czech hero: I was reverently shown a photograph of him, in old age. Asbjørn had large blueprints made of the chair and planned to have it reproduced in Norway, and with the blueprints he had an English text, describing the background of the chair and its historical significance.
We discussed why a rich country like Czechoslovakia was reduced to such a grubby existence. The problem was politics, Asbjørn, and nothing could be done about it, although if the climate changed, as it briefly did in 1968, it would take but a few years for the nation to become lively again. "We Czechs have a tradition of independence from the time of Jan Hus" he said. I was also told that Russians were greatly resented, and anyone speaking Russian in a store, or recognized there as a Russian, was likely to get poor service. And did I notice there were no Russian soldiers to be seen in Prague? They were only allowed to enter in civilian clothes. I said that I had originally thought that German would be the language to avoid, because of the memory of the Nazis. No, said Asbjørn, the war was too far back and few remembered it.
Misha was not just a potter but also a singer and a frustrated poet. Unable to publish his poems, he put them to music and sang them. He gave me two tea-cups hand-crafted by him, with elegant flowing handles, and Eva said that their olive-green glaze was characteristically Bohemian and was also used on the tiles of ceramic stoves for heating homes.
Our conversation could have gone on for hours, but a cab had been ordered for 6:30 p.m. As I took my leave, I asked Asbjørn, what was it I could do for their sake? Nothing could be done politically, he said, either here or there. But I should visit Prague again.
The paddlewheeler "Vyšehrad" takes tourists on a three-hour evening trip up and down the Vltava every Tuesday and Friday, and the weather this Friday was nearly perfect. The ship was tied up next to the eastern embankment, halfway between the old town and Vyšehrad itself. Two similar steamers were moored nearby, next to some smaller vessels, remnants of the pre-war Elbe (Labe) fleet, steamers with folding funnels just like the river ships I remembered from childhood. Indeed it could be that I had ridden the Vyšehrad before--according to its registration plate it was "ship number 187" built 1937-8 for the Czech-Saxon Steamship Co. at Ústí-nad-Labem.
Most of the passengers riding with us belonged to a tour group of East-Germans, and when we arrived they were already crowding by the gangplank, clamoring to get aboard, while a crew member and a large lady from Čedok wearing a lavender dress barred their way. There was loud argument and suddenly the way was opened and everyone rushed aboard, including us. In the confusion no tickets were checked, neither then nor later.
The ship had three decks. Down below was the dining room into which most of the Germans crowded, eager to be together. Also down below was the engine with its huge piston and crank, visible from the passenger area above through windows. The main deck had two large rooms, separated by the engine room: the one on the front side had a bar, and in a corner next to the bar we found a table with a good view of the river. At the other end of that room was seated a 7-man wind orchestra, brass instruments and clarinets. Their sign let it be known that they came from Žižkov, and they all looked past the retirement age.
"Probably earning their 20,000 crowns" said Zdeněk, explaining that Czech retirees were allowed to earn up to 20,000 crowns per year without having their pension reduced. He himself had such a job in Smíchov, programming computers in Cobol and Fortran from October to spring every year. "That's how we paid for our trip to Yugoslavia", he said.
Wide stairs led to the top deck, the one with the best view, where we sat for much of the trip. It was amply provided with benches, and in its front part a steersman stood in the open, as we later found out his cabin had been temporarily removed, probably to allow the ship pass a low girder. In the middle of the top deck were engine-room windows, propped open, a large round hole to let out the engine's smoke, and next to it in a boxlike compartment the folded-down funnel, like a giant penis at rest. A Czech flag flew from the bow and one of the "German Democratic Republic" from the stern, possibly a concession to the many German patrons.
Apart from Zdeněk and Zdenka no Czech passengers appeared to be on the ship, and soon all seats were taken except for a few scattered ones. Then our Čedok lady arrived with four Italians in tow and proceeded to bully some of the Germans at the table next to ours, moving them down the room so that the Italians could sit together. "Look, we have for you at the next table seats even better than the ones you have now, they are such nice seats, you will want to move, and then these people will all be able to sit together." She made it sound like a personal favor, ignoring their protests and finally getting her way. Then the lines were cast off and the ship backed out.
A waiter brought beer for everyone, except for Zdenka who wanted none and who instead got a stein of lemonade. As the ship was gliding towards the other bank, Zdenka opened her pocketbook and showed me some photos she had brought. One was of her daughter Zdenka at 4, already recognizable, and another of herself as a young girl, very much resembling her daughter. And a picture of her and Zdeněk shortly after their marriage in 1945, both young and fresh, sitting in an orchard and feeding each other cherries.
Soon dinner arrived, dumplings with meat, far too much meat (I left most of it on the plate), and a printed sheet (German on one side, English on the other) telling about the ship and its route, and also giving a recipe for Czech dumplings, with club-soda to make it fluff up rather than yeast (my mother's method too). For desert we received a dish of Czech fruit tarts, "koláče". "A Czech family can live on this for a week" says Zdenka, and before we left she crammed what was left of the tarts (most of them, actually) into her pocketbook. I said no, no, you have your old photos inside, and she said, don't worry, the photos are below, they won't be touched.
Meanwhile the ship slowly edged into a lock on the other bank, to by-pass the weir in the river. It barely clears the walls of the lock and to make sure it does not scrape, crew members stand ready with planks, prepared to interpose them where required. But everything goes smoothly and soon the large gate shuts behind us and the ship slowly eases down, to nearly 2 meters below its entrance level. Then it glides out of the lock and passes a riverside monument to Czech rivers, each represented by a slender but vigorous woman: flanking two sides stand figures representing the Berounka, the Otava, two more face away from the ship, and on top is the triumphant Vltava.
Zdenka explains that each All Souls Day (November 1st) the statues are decorated in memory of those who had drowned in the river. We float alongside the Kampa and pass under the Charles Bridge. Crowds of people on the bridge stare at the ship and wave at it, and we wave back--by that time, dinner is over and we are back on the top deck. One girl waves to us as she sits atop an abutment, on the very brink. The air is clear and cool, the sky is partly cloudy and the view of Prague is excellent. Soon "Vyšehrad" is beneath the Hradčany, with the building of the Czech parliament below it--that is, the statehouse of Bohemia, not the legislature of all of Czechoslovakia.
Then comes the Svatopluk Čech bridge, elaborately decorated with statues and pillars, leading into a tunnel above which are public gardens. Here, says Zdeněk, a giant statue of Stalin used to stand, gazing over the river. Was it just taken away, or was it broken up? Zdeněk is not sure, thinks it was broken up [Wiener: "Taken apart, stone by stone. I watched it.]. On the far bank of the river is the old city and further downstream is the law faculty building of the Charles University. My father graduated here in 1922, and he asked me specifically to pay a visit to the great aula, the antique hall of the university where he received his diploma. However, the aula was being renovated, along with the Tyl theater next door where Mozart's "Don Giovanni" was first performed, and both were closed to the public. ["Your dad might have received his diploma in Karolinum, the old Charles University hall that is effectively next to Tyl Theater"]
Finally, as factories and a large island loom ahead, the "Vyšehrad" turns around and heads back to the Charles Bridge. All that time, on and off, the band played light brass music in the Czech style, echoes of which rose to where we sat on the top deck. I asked Zdeněk whether the band could be asked to play Hašler's music. He thought it could, and said he would ask them later (afterwards I realize he wanted them to play it as we passed Hašler's birthplace in Smíchov).
But I felt they might be more likely to respond to a tourist, so I went down and asked the band leader--"Sprechen sie Deutsch?" "Ein Wenig" (a little). Did the band know a song "Ta naše písnička česká," and could they play it? Yes, and they could. I return to the bench upstairs, but soon Hašler's melody rises up to where we sit, and we all hurry down, stand by the bar and join the singing. The song penetrates the soul, I sing and cry and suddenly all of this Czech experience, all the sadness of this unfortunate nation echoes inside me. Zdeněk sings loudly and his voice is good. The orchestra takes its time, playing the bars again and again, and when the song ends, we applaud with all our strength. Then the next melody starts, and it is something else.
The ship returns to the lock and continues south, and after it passes the railroad bridge, the large funnel slowly and silently rises. Vyšehrad looms over the skyline, and on an island across from it is a grandstand for viewing boat races. Hašler's birthplace is somewhere inland. Slowly, the day turns into night.
Suddenly, the Čedok lady comes up. She orders everyone to sit, nobody should remain standing, and she proceeds to enforce her edict without any explanation. Only later, when the funnel starts to retract by folding down, does the reason become evident. The ship is approaching the Antonín Zápotocky bridge, still under construction, and a falsework girder supports it from below, barely high enough for the ship to pass. Anyone standing could be bashed on the head, indeed when I stretch up my hand my fingers get slapped by the edge of the steel. The bridge passes and the funnel rises again.
Finally, past the "bridge of the intellectuals" the ship stops and turns around. We are already beyond the city itself and the river has become so narrow there is barely enough room to turn. In the dark reeds by the edge of the water two boats are anchored together, with two fishermen: they surely don't appreciate the ship suddenly looming over them and then churning up water all around. But the ship clears them safely and heads back to the city's lights.
The tour guide now brings the orchestra to the topside deck and Zdeněk sings with them, he likes those old melodies. Zdenka goes to them to ask them to play another song by Hašler, but they do not have it: perhaps it is also that they cannot use notes on the top deck where it is dark. It is nearly 10 when the ship docks, but the guide says no one may leave, because the tour is supposed to last until ten. The band is now back in the central salon, it plays dance music, and the guide encourages couples to dance.
A few minutes later it is ten, and now the guide says we all must leave. The band strikes up a brisk march:
Na tom pražkém mostě
Nikdo ji tam nezalejvá
Ona sama roste...
("On the Prague bridge, grows a daisy, no one ever waters it, it grows by itself").
We walk back to Malá Strana, stopping by the great building of the national theater (Národní divadlo), an ornate landmark of Czech culture, atop it rises a great sculpture of the goddess of victory (or whatever) driving a team of three horses. Slightly further down the street stands the new national theater, a rounded cube all covered with rippled glass, a showcase of the current regime. The Jůzas tell me that their son-in-law Jiří, an architect, did not like it, saying it was too much in the style of a Hilton hotel.
Not far down the road is yet another monument, a square spire with an elaborately carved top and many lower figures all around it, exquisitely made. But the central focus is missing, the statue of Emperor Franz the First which, Zdeněk says, used to stand in the niche of the spire. Yet another statue (Prague is filled with them!) stands on the river bank facing Charles Bridge, on a little round overlook near the weir: a thoughtful pose of the composer Bedřich Smetana, larger than life. We cross the Charles Bridge amid tourists and students as lightning begins flashing across the sky.
Saturday, 17 August
The Congress ended on Friday and I meant to sleep late, but was woken at 7:30 by someone knocking on the door. I opened it and faced Dr. Atsuhiro Nishida, chairman of Division III of IAGA. What contrast! Me, rumpled and barely awake, in front of an unmade bed in a beat-up dorm room, while Nishida wore a neatly pressed suit and was obviously bent on official business. I listened to him as well as I could, then sat down and asked him to repeat everything while I took notes, since I doubted I would otherwise remember.
He told me that at the concluding session Ching Meng and Bill Olson proposed for the 1987 IAGA Assembly in Vancouver, the next one scheduled, a session devoted to "Quantitative modeling of the linkage between the ionosphere and the magnetosphere." Nishida liked the idea, but for various reasons (perhaps politics) did not want either of them in charge, and at the recommendation of Larry Lyons proposed me as convener and Alekseyev as co-convener (later adding Lou Frank to represent experimentalists). He went on to describe four other scheduled sessions and their conveners and co-conveners, and after brief reflection I said, yes, I will do it.
The congress building was still open, though Čedok workers were already dismantling their offices. I retrieved the "Sky and Telescope" article about Ondřejov for Eva and Michal and typed a last letter to my parents. After that I rode the subway to the old town square for last-minute souvenirs, then crossed the Charles Bridge to the Jůzas.
The previous day began with overcast skies and my raincoat ended up folded in Zdenka's bag. This time I left the coat behind, which was bad judgement. It rained all afternoon, though mostly a gentle Czech rain: when it got heavier I shared Zdeněk's umbrella, when it tapered to a drizzle I just ignored it. Yet even rain brings an unexpected dividend: it allowed me to see the gargoyles of St. Vitus in action, spouting water. For they are really downspouts carved in stone, hanging down diagonally from the roof right above the road on which we walked.
Since this was my last full day in Prague, each of us had a surprise for the other. I gave the Jůzas most of my money. I did not want to trade any of it for Czech crowns, there seemed to be nothing worth buying and no time to look properly anyway. On the other hand, the Jůzas had been quite kind, and when they protested, saying it was too much, I told them, your Zdenka has made new teeth for my mother, this was the least I could do. I also said, you need not use it here, but if you go on a vacation to Yugoslavia, it will help.
As it turned out, the money was more timely than I realized. Zdeněk had always dreamt of visiting Italy, but could never afford it, and after 1986 the laws for trips abroad would be tighter, making it uncertain he would ever go. Now suddenly the dream became possible: little more than a month later they were in Italy, and a card from Rome told of a good time and many thanks. Their little Trabant gave no trouble and they spent a total of 16 days in Italy.
I also brought my good towel and the unused bar of American soap. Good towels were said to be in short supply, and I had more than enough weight to carry, "but please wash it, I used it here for two weeks!"
They had presents to, impressive ones. A beautiful large picturebook of north-western Bohemia, including color plates of Děčín castle from the top of Shepherds' Wall and of Ústí and its river, just as we saw them.
They showed me a somewhat similar book about north-eastern Bohemia by their daughter-in-law Eva, in a slightly different format, a larger ratio of text to pictures, essentially, a guidebook to the region. Czechs overall publish an enormous range of books, as Americans did 50-100 years ago; many bookstores exist (there is even one on the middle level of the Leninova Metro station near the hostel, underground), they are well-stocked and books are cheap. I saw many people reading books while riding on the metro (hardly anyone with a newspaper), and Zdeněk said private libraries of 500-1000 books were common. He also told me that every month a list of new books was sent to members of the "book club," they first went on sale on Thursdays and on such days lines formed outside bookstores early in the morning. Zdeněk showed me such a book list--the selection seemed somewhat random, and the translations were of relatively dated works, e.g. books by Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Mann.
Of course, they planned to mail the book to the US, along with others I had bought, they were are too heavy to take on the airplane.
And other presents: Michal's cups, carefully wrapped, Czech playing cards with suits such as "acorns" for my father who used them, and a record of old Czech songs, from movies of the 1930s, starting with "Písnička česká" sung by Hašler himself. They played the record, a slow melody sounding like an old-style record (it probably was copied from one), and I cried again.
Zdenka served a vegetarian lunch of fried cauliflower, new potatos, slices of tomato and cucumber, beer for Zdeněk, soft drinks for us (she drank neither coffee nor alcohol). We have a busy schedule ahead, she said, we must see what we had missed in the Hradčany castle.
We catch tram 22 at Malostranské náměstí, near the big church of St. Nicholas, and follow the winding road past President Husák's house, where guards and dogs are said to be posted. On top of the hill stands Belvedere, the summer pavillon of royalty, but we continue further to the side entrance of the castle, where we alight in the rain.
The entrance road crosses a greenery-covered moat, "Jelení příkop" or buck's moat, quite deep with a tower built into its far side. And then we walk and walk, until my blisters hurt again, but what can one say? This is the last day and one ought to cram into it as much as one can. Into the Czech museum we go, ancient relics, rusty broadswords, goblets and chain mail, real medieval stuff which Ilana's friends would have loved. On the wall hang maps of the "Great Moravian Empire" which once stretched from Silesia to the Adriatic sea, and in a glass case in the last room are crown, scepter and orb of Czech kings, the crown a wide golden band with four equidistant fleur-de-lys and many large rough saphires and garnets attached to individual settings. It is just a replica, crafted in a vocational school, but Zdenka saw the originals in 1979 and said one could not tell the difference.
Then to St. George's 12th century church which looked quite new, perhaps the stone inside was recently cleaned. In the church is the grave of Ludmila, mother of kings.
Then to the Vladislavský hall where coronation ceremonies were once held. It is a large hall whose big windows stand out in any view of the Hradčany from the city, elaborate stone arches hold its ceiling and its wooden floor constantly creaks as the many tourist walk over it. The hall is filled with visitors like us and suddenly, in the middle of the hubhub, my ears pick up Hebrew. This had happened once before, in a crowd near the Old Town Square, where an American tourist (it later turned out) commented in Hebrew to his wife that with all these people, he still had not heard any Hebrew.
This time the speaker was a Czech woman, Hana Heitlingerová.
There isn't much to see in the hall itself, but it has many side rooms. On the side facing away from the city is a room on whose walls are painted heraldic shields of the nobles of the land in order of lineage, then a room of shelves filled with thick numbered books of land deeds. And finally, the throne room, appearing just as one would expect a medieval throne room to be, austere yet dignified.
On the other side of the hall is the historic room where in 1618 the emperor's two emissaries were hurled through a window (guides point out which one) into the moat, precipitating the thirty-year war and the downfall of Czech reformation and Czech self-government. The moat's bottom sloped and was filled with rubbish, and thus the two survived, unlike Jan Masaryk, who in 1948 fell (no one tells how) from the building of the Foreign Office behind the Hradčany.
And not far from there a small balcony offers what may be the most perfect view of Prague. Although it is raining, the balcony is crowded and I must wait before a place opens by the bannister. Zdeněk has brought binoculars, and in them Prague stands out, almost within touch. Just then, a disturbing memory: "didn't Hitler stand right here, at this spot?" No, says Zdenka, the photograph (there does exist a famous photograph) was taken over there. But yes, Hitler probably stood here, too.
We must go on, to the Czech national gallery. Pictures by Lucas Cranach, drawings by Breughel, paintings by Rembrandt--one gets spoiled about such art by living within the range of the US National Gallery, whose pictures are not just more numerous but also much brighter, having been carefully restored. But I enjoy the two Kokoschka canvases in the last room, sunny impressionistic renderings of the Charles Bridge. Next to them hangs a crazy composite painting of Hitler and Mussolini, Hitler wearing the sign of the double cross used by Charlie Chaplin in "The Great Dictator."
Down and down we go to a gallery of French painters, Delacroix to Piccaso. As we leave the castle by way of the "new castle stairs" (to be distinguished from the old ones of which Hašler wrote), I feel thoroughly saturated. We have coffee and cake at the apartment while the weather clears almost miraculously, and then the Jůzas escort me back over the Charles Bridge, it is crowded as always and this will be the last crossing, at least on this visit.
I walk to Alt Neu (the Jůzas call it "the Jewish church"), to attend Mincha services which start at 8. We cross the old town square with its "orloj" clock and its large statue of Jan Hus, go down Paris avenue and say our farewells; the Jůzas will see me off at the airport next morning. At the synagogue I am let in by a fairly young man, Leo Pavlát, a writer of children's books, he tells me [currently, director of the Jewish Museum] . I ask him what could we in the US send? Send books, he said, Hebrew books with vowels--books, any books. Send books to Dr. Galský, books sent to private citizens may or may not arrive.
The service is again led by Feuerlicht, and I now notice how short he stands, no more than 4'6". The man who seemed to be a policeman sits in the same place as before, wearing a nylon windbreaker over an undershirt--rather casual for a worshipper, must be a cop. Some visitors stand in the back and there is argument--perhaps they were not expected to be there. But finally the service starts, visitors in the rear, regulars in front, the Torah is lifted by Pavlat from its safe-like depository, is carried to the center, and as on the preceding Sabbath, a short portion is read. Joseph ben Mordechai Goll is called up first, in place of a Cohen, and I am called up last of three. Then the Torah is returned and the service continues, very rapidly, as before I am continually losing my place and only the kaddish helps me reorient.
"El Maley Rachamim", the memorial prayer, is recited three times in memory of a member who has just passed away. Then comes the "Barchu", the call to the evening service, which itself is read very rapidly, the "Shema Yisrael" is almost lost in the stream of words. Then another standing prayer, and I see people folding their prayer shawls, soon it will be time to go to the women's gallery for the "3rd Sabbath meal" which again consists of stale bread and hard apricots.
This time the rabbi is away and Feuerlicht leads. We sing "Psalm of David", "Yah Ribon", "Shabbat Menuchah", all at breakneck speed and all dominated by the cantor's voice. Then we all symbolically wash our hands, an inch-high plastic tumbler with water is passed and people dip their fingers. We number little more than a bare minyan, the prayer quorum of ten. Then Feuerlicht gives a sermon, a "word of Torah" about the reading of the week, which is "Re'eh" and which begins, "See, I give before you this day good and evil, choose good." Why does the scripture say "I give"? The cantor explains, citing Rashi's commentary (around 1000 years old), but he speaks Czech and I cannot quite follow.
He expounds another phrase from the reading, "aser te'aser", "surely thou shalt tithe." Why "surely"? Rashi says, you tithe so that God will give you the wealth from which you tithe. And there is a hidden sign: the numerical values (gimatria) of the four letters of "te'aser", "thou shalt tithe," are 400, 70, 300 and 200, add them up, take one tenth and you have the number of "mazalcha", "your luck."
And he ends with a story supposedly told of the Besht, the "master of the good name" who founded the Hassidic movement 250 years ago. A Jew was walking through the forest, he met the Besht and they walked together. Suddenly they came to a fork in the road and did not know which way to choose--whichever road they chose, it might be a wrong one and lead into danger. And then the Besht said, when two roads are open to you, and each one may be bad, maybe the right road is the third one. And somehow he found that third road (my Czech failed here, indeed what I write is guesswork) and they reached safety.
Some day later the same Jew was imprisoned and falsely accused. But the accuser lacked definite evidence, so the judge ("procurator") decreed that the Jew be given a choice between two folded slips of paper, on one was written "life" (život) and on the other "death" (smrt), and whatever he picked would be his fate.
The man's enemies contrived to have both slips labeled "smrt," but this was found out by one of the Jew's friends, who told him. And the man remembered the Besht's words: when two bad ways are open, find a third way. So when the day of the trial came, he picked up the slip so, he rolled it up so, and he tossed it into his mouth so. What could they do? Then the procurator says, let us look at the other slip! Which they did, and it said "smrt," so they figured that the other slip must have said "život" and set the man free.
After that we all returned to the sanctuary for another quick service and yet another brief standing prayer, and then the Havdalah, the lighting of a candle which symbolizes the end of the Sabbath (on Sabbath itself no lighting of fire is allowed). Everyone came forward, the candle was lit, a kiddush was said over a glass of wine and several close standers sipped from it, leaving enough to douse the candle. An ornate spice box was passed and the service stopped until everyone had a sniff, "a gite woch" (a good week) was hummed and later sung, candlelight was used to examine fingers, putting the light to a profane use and thus showing the Sabbath to be over, proper blessings were incanted and finally the wine left in the glass was poured into a flat dish and the candle was extinguished in it. Worshippers addressed each other, "A good week!" And Feuerlicht did something I have not seen before: he dipped his finger in the wine four times and quickly dabbed with it the four corners of his face. Maybe to be absolutely sure of a good week.
On the way out I passed the charity box and unloaded my Czech currency except for some small bills, then headed for the Metro. Back in my room I packed my bags--discarding the old shoes which Audrey hated, winnowing from many papers those worth keeping. The job took until close to midnight.
Sunday, August 18
Not much more happened to me in Prague. The Jůzas showed up as promised at 8:45, and the things meant to be left for the next occupant of the room--the remaining half-jar of apricot jam, my 6-crown knife, my beat-up Sears towel and my old shoes, all of these they took. You don't throw away things in Prague.
On Leninova street the 119 bus was exactly on time at 9:05 on time and it took us along Hanspaulka hill, past new tenements, past the towns edge, past the rocky black hill named Šárka, to wheat fields and, at the end of the line, the airport. And we drank a last espresso together, kissed and said good-bye.
Then through customs, and a long wait in a segregated lounge, and finally, a walk across the tarmac to a waiting Lufthansa Boeing 737. As we emerged from the building those waiting to see us off became visible, standing atop the terminal. Zdeněk and Zdenka were waving frantically, big waves of both arms, and I waved back and blew back kisses. Then I stepped into the jet, into another world and another century, and that evening I was in New York.
*** *** ***
It was a long flight, time enough to start to sort out thoughts. So much to remember. Czech words--"no no", which means yes-yes ("no" is short for "ano", Czech for "yes"), "kočičí hlavy" or cats' heads, meaning paving stones, "kachlovy kamna", tiled oven. "Nebozízek", gimlet, also the name of the drinking-house halfway up the cable-car tracks on Petřín, and ježek, the hedgehog which scurried across our path on Petřín and into the darkness of the bushes.
I had discovered my Czech heritage. I had always felt as belonging to several intersecting circles--as being American, also Jewish, also an Israeli, also a physicist, also a historian or someone interested in history. Never before in my memory have I felt Czech, except as a transient and distant phase of one's life, and I never counted Czech among my languages. This may now need amending--one more circle, one more tradition to keep.
What does one make of this country? Why isn't it as rich as its busy industry and green land seem to promise, why isn't it the Sweden of central Europe? Zdenka said that even social services, on which the government prides itself, were not as good as those in Austria, that Katka, daughter of the Hauners, received there a longer maternity leave and better maternity pay than she would have got in Czechoslovakia.
Why? Because the government tries to run everything, manipulate everyone, and repress any mode of communication which isn't official. Zdenka said that when she worked, she had to attend 10-minute indoctrination sessions in the morning and in the evening. Once she was asked to come up with an essay on the socialist economy: "How can I do that?" Zdeněk was denied a promotion because he did not join the party, and for the same reason his daughter was denied an opportunity to enroll in graduate school, towards the "kandidát" degree. Zdenka showed me a letter from America which was slit open (there were photos inside): the post office stamped it "damaged in transit."
That impression I had of stepping back a century also held true in a different sense. In the 1800s the Czechs were ruled by outsiders, whose language and culture were German. The rulers built schools and railroads and made the country fairly prosperous, but the Czechs wanted more, they wanted to be free. Denied self-rule, they did the next-best thing, they cultivated their Czech identity: restored castles, composed music, built a National Theater, published books, even built an astronomical observatory.
Fulfilment came with the first republic. But then came the Nazis, later the Russians, and now, through a cruel trick of history, the Czech nation was back where it was a century ago. The place of the ruling nobility was now held by the party, "they" wanted people to do such-and-such, always "they." "They" may have built a great subway, "they" instituted retirement at 60, but as before, what Czechs wanted is to be free.
What can a young Czech do? One cannot get rich, no one earns much more than the average, about 3000 crowns per month (Zdenka's pension is 1300, her monthly rent 300). But one can write, sing, draw, perhaps make movies: there seems to exist an enormous outpouring of individual creativity (individual because it is difficult to communicate, one cannot organize without arousing the antibodies), all distinctly Czech. You can read in Czech, and cultivate Czech memories, it is an existence familiar to a Jew.
I have stayed in the country too briefly to note enough, and was only a visitor, not someone speaking the language. But the heavy hand of the government is evident, it stifles communications and initiative. The independent social circles which bring interest to life are not allowed to develop freely, and the thousands of small improvements of life due to individual creativity are missing, all the patented gadgets and clever twists Americans so dearly love. There is no reward for initiative, no feedback to provide it: the indifferent service at restaurants, the waiters at the Flora and at the International who forgot orders, the clumsiness of Čedok, they all point at this.
Yet someone must be working, for factories produce, the subway gets build, bread gets baked, even if it is a horrible dense bread, seemingly days old when bought. I suspect that whenever the job is such that people can be ordered to do it, it gets done, under watchful eyes perhaps, at state factories which can reward workers beyond their salaries. But where willing diligence is called for, it may be a different story. A lot gets done as labor of love (such as Michal's cups), but not officially.
I don't know if I ever will go back. One feels depressed in Prague, one wishes it would shed its grayness. If times change, if some day a statue of Jan Masaryk stands on the square outside the Hradčany, by the Foreign Office building, the temptation to go back will be very strong. I have no doubt whatsoever that one day that statue will stand there. Whether I am going to live so long is a different question.
Zdenka's friendship with my parents and myself has continued: divorced and remarried, she now has a 7-year old son Andrew and a successful dental practice in New York. Her parents have visited the US several times and even came to our house in Greenbelt. Her mother, alas, suffered a stroke several years after my Prague visit, she recovered but much of her memory of previous years was lost, including all recollections of the events described here.
After the visit I corresponded for a while with Rabbi Meyer in Hebrew, and also sent him the Bialik-Ravnitzky book of Jewish lore and some texts teaching Hebrew. I also sent a note to Dr. Nosek, but all these contacts gradually dwindled away. Dr. Galský was removed from his post shortly after my visit, and Heller was appointed in his place.
Came the "velvet revolution" of 1989. Dr. Galský was reinstated, while Rabbi Meyer was removed from his post after being exposed as a paid police informer, not so much of a willing supporter of the regime as a weak character caving in to pressure. The "Washington Jewish Week" of 14 June 1990 cited the New York Newsday of June 12 and wrote:
"Mayer admitted to 'making regular written reports to the police for his entire career and accepting instructions for monitoring the activities of the community', the Newsday story said. According to Mayer, the secret police targeted him almost from the moment in high school that he decided to go to rabbinical school. He said that under 'great pressure' from the police, he signed a commitment to collaborate with them in 1979, during his second year at Budapest's rabbinical seminary.
'I tried to have as little contact as possible and not expose anybody' to the police, writer Roy Gutman quotes Mayer as saying. 'I was trying to help the Jewish community survive.'
... Mayer said he believed that most of the Jewish lay leadership had collaborated similarly with the police. The president and secretary of the Jewish community, Bohumil Heller and František Kraus, were removed from their positions last year, the only religious leaders in Czechoslovakia who had refused to condemn the police beatings of student demonstrators that led to the overthrow of the communist regime."
The issue of the Jewish Week also carried an interview with Galský, who unfortunately died not long afterwards in a traffic accident. It also had a long article about Leo Pavlát, who became Czech cultural attaché in Israel. A later article in The Jewish Week on (6 August 1992) stated that the community expected the arrival of a new rabbi, Karol Sidon.
I have yet to hear about a memorial to Jan Masaryk outside the Hradčany, but chances of seeing one within my lifetime have dramatically improved. Miracles do happen sometimes, after all.
[Postscript: there is one outside the Černín Palace]. .
Author and Curator: Dr. David P. Stern
Mail to Dr.Stern: david("at" symbol)phy6.org .
Last updated 7 May 2012