Author's Guide to ... Prague

Testing Love and Jumping Off Bridges

/ by Srđan Srdić

Kafka's statue in Prague.
Franz Kafka Museum

The Messiah will come. He will catch sight of two mechanical men pissing at a map of the Czech Republic. Formidable black Ks in the background, like an open book. Like his sentences which never burnt, but were supposed to. It was a plan. Snow, which started falling as soon as we arrived. The Messiah will leave his footprints in the snow. A boy with a scarf and a smile, as he counts the coins in the fountain. Natasha stands, waiting for me to take another photo, unaware that he is also in focus, behind her back. He seems content, as if he feels good in the city. There’s some kind of confidence in that photo, which will become part of our photo. Inside, everything is imbued with the sounds of a wire stretching, shadows and mirrors. Someone speaks Russian. The Messiah will come, the door will be opened for him by a little old lady from one of Lynch’s films, reminding him to shake the snow off his shoes, as she reminded us. That building has complicated entrails, labyrinthine bowels. It isn’t his museum, but an X-ray of spirit. The Messiah will come, he will watch Natasha and the swans, on the bank of the Vltava. Then he will metamorphose into a monstrous verminous bug.


Charles Bridge

John of Nepomuk wonders at tourists and their selfie sticks and their evil snapping. A queue of people snugly bringing their own wishes. Once upon a time, some people threw others off bridges. Out of windows. It is important to familiarize yourself with the local customs. I would have a lot to wish for. It is strange, at this age. There are some unspoken tourist rules, which no guide, no catalogue, no brochure will ever change. You tell them to touch the tiny figure of a man falling from a bridge, and then to make a wish. Judging from the fingerprints, a woman’s bottom is dearer to them. To these, to those before, to everyone. This will always be the same. I would say that it isn’t bad. What would Charles say of the blasé strollers, their rucksacks and frozen noses? The silhouette of towers in the January mist, crowding around the Crucifix. I take a photo of Natasha’s wish, without the woman’s bottom; Natasha has a disciplined approach to acquiring traditions. I can tell that Charles wouldn’t like us. There would be some flying off the bridge, all over, the river would be glad.


Havelska Koruna

Havelská Koruna, that’s the place to be. You spot a Czech, a hunger artist, then you follow him. You stop in front of a wide window, the menu is tucked into a greenish frame. Good Czechs have been eating well at Havelská Koruna for 650 years, if they are to be trusted. We are given a couple of slips on which the rest of the staff will write down codes from the menu. Natasha holds a fork up in her left hand. Svíčková, we repeated to the uncouth canteen workers. People can be so beautiful while they eat. Svíčková. Czech idea of tourism. We made a fucking accent gaffe, I say. The beef melts in the magic sauce. Accidentally, I asked for the exact number of dumplings, as if that’s the most natural thing, four pieces. As if I had been born in Prague. I wish I had been born in Prague, I thought back then, there. Ingenious addition of cranberries and lemon. At Havelská Koruna, the prices are the funniest in all Mexico. Natasha asks me how it is possible for someone’s surname to be Starešina (in Serbian that means “head,” “senior”). Then she takes a sip of a good old Czech beer. It seems to me that all is well with the world.


St. Vitus Cathedral

We cannot take it, I repeat, we cannot take a photo of the cathedral successfully. There are some things that are too large, we cannot help it. We took some photos, and then we realized that we were powerless. That would be it, the cathedral is beyond us, it surpasses us. There’s no adequate angle. All we can do is be afraid. If it weren’t for the cathedral, there would be no city, this is what I say, no such city. Japanese tourists carry Chinese selfie-sticks, an utterly prosaic detail. All people have Chinese sticks and everything Chinese. We are the pilgrims of Chinese economy, that’s what we are. It says that the pleasure of descent into the catacombs costs a certain amount of euros. We pay, it turns out that Czech kings are unavailable, for technical reasons. Their ashes and their bones, I mean. This is funny. This is so funny. Take off your hats while you are inside the cathedral, says a chatty Czech woman who speaks genuine Serbo-Croatian. An eerie place, the cathedral. I think of the organ, how it sounds here. It must sound like the arrival of the end of all things and all epochs. Then a thought crosses my mind that, in no time at all, the prison chaplain might emerge.


Poet of the Week
Valentina Neri

Vanishing one evening

without a trace.

Without  forgotten clues

on the threshold of my room

and no arrow

to show me the way.

Wherever I could have gone

Would be of no relevance:

Laid at the bottom of the sea

Buried in the darkness of the woods

In China devoid of memory

Looking for a pitiful story

Or in the desert with a shroud of sand.

Everything is fine

As long as nobody ever knows.

Sublime fantasy

Vanishing without a certificate of death

So that one day they will understand

What is baffling me now.

Sex Machines Museum

The village fair contraption is called Love Tester. Sex has also been imprisoned in a museum. Frozen, Cold, Tepid, Warm, Wild, Burning, Sex Bomb, these are available options. You sit down, there ensues an irritating noise which inevitably racks the nerves of the girls at the entrance. I did better than Natasha. Incomparably better. Love Tester is a reliable device, I explain to her, you can’t fuck with it. She threatens me, and afterwards we treat ourselves to a silent Spanish porno film. The male lead has an erection problem. A few viewers in a rather small room. A lonely Japanese guy goes to the toilet. I have certain suspicions about it, but I keep them to myself. I remember socialism at the cinema Partizan, in the immediate vicinity of the Belgrade railway station. I missed that, fuck it. I gather that I am lazy when it comes to all those toys, museum exhibits. Too much plastic, too much mechanics for my taste. Perhaps this Slipknot mask? I can do what I will, Love Tester said its piece. I hug my lady and we go out into the city, into the night. It keeps snowing.  

Srđan Srdić

is a novelist, short-story writer, editor, essayist and creative reading/writing teacher. He has published two novels, two short story collections and a book of essays. From 2008 to 2011 he served as the editor of the international short story festival Kikinda Short. He returned to this position in September 2015.