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Zürau

Kafka Braves An Ice Storm

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I follow Franz Kafka in my Kafka In The Castle, filling in his lost diary entries. I have him only where he really was, imagining his days. For a number of months he lived, with his sister, Ottla, in the village of Zürau, a couple of hours by train (in those days) outside of Prague. So, if I could actually see out my ice-covered window, past my ice-drooping fir tree, I might see him passing by.

Excerpt from Kafka In The Castle:

05 March 1918

Ice storms the last two days.

It clatters into the chimney, which is quite a startling noise if one happens to be up the stairs, and going about ones usual business. The rattle and ruckus of the ice is an abrasive encounter. More so even than when it beats upon your face as you go along the road. At least there it is expected, and you can be muffled against its intrusion.

Ottla saw to my protective gear, although she did not want me to go out.

Procured, from somewhere, a wide-brimmed hat. Swathed me in scarves up to the eyes. Insisted I put on an outer leather jacket, from which the ice drops merrily bounced. But, she had nothing to offer to assist in the walking. It was, as far as I can compare, like walking through a field of fine salt.

It is not even accurate to say that I slide, for it was actually the ice underfoot which did the sliding. I would find my foot being grabbed and held. I’m sure it was what walking through purgatory would be like.

Kafka And A Hungry Bird Give Thanks

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[Franz Kafka and his sister, Ottla.]

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the many diary entries Franz Kafka either did not make, or destroyed after the fact. He would have made no references to an actual ‘Thanksgiving Day’, but I feel this is close enough.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

30 September 1917

There was a knocking at the window this morning. A polite and concise rap rap rap. It awoke me while the room was barely light.

Who could want me so early? And then again, an insistent rap rap rap. I was confused, wondering where I was. The panic of Prague weighted down the covers, and I was sorry I had opened my eyes. The room, the smells – even the bed – was not familiar, so I was both bothered and assured by the strangeness.

When I realized I was not in Prague – for who could knock on my third floor window – I remembered I was in Zurau, where things were different. Here my window looked onto a yard, and anyone could  be at it. Was there something wrong? Was Ottla after my help? I even wondered, as I searched for my slippers, if her young man had somehow arranged leave from the army, and after much travail had managed to reach the wrong room. I could understand that very well.

I walked hesitantly over to the window, and cautiously pulled back the curtain. Such a commotion ensued that I stepped back in some fright. A bird flew immediately past the glass, its wings frantic as it screeched in agitation. It had been perched on my window ledge, pecking away at the frame. Ottla says it may have been after insects or grubs settled in for the winter.

“Insects in the walls of the house?” I asked.  “Yes.” She was quite matter-of-fact.  “It is a warm place for them during the cold months.”  I was not inclined to argue with the logic, but neither had I thought I would be existing in such close proximity with the tenants of nature.

Houses for warmth and bugs for food. It is a blend of the base and the subtle which I can appreciate. Much – I like to think – as does the annoyed bird.

Kafka Walks In A Winter Storm

Tree in snow blizzard

In Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the ‘missing’ diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. There are some estimates that Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote. 

 

04 December 1917

I imagine the weather experts will howl about today’s storm the way it still howls around our ears.

Their complaints will ring with vindication. Racing unchecked across field and pasture, it strikes with a force I am unaccustomed to in Prague. Ottla was hesitant to let me out into it, but she bundled me into my winter gear, with a scarf just below my eyes.

It was too violent for me to venture far, so I just wandered around the village. I’m sure that if anyone did see me, fingers made circles as they pointed to their heads.

“The Herr Doktor,” they would warn their children. “Do not go after an education like that.”

Fall Harvest from “Kafka In The Castle”

kafka_franz_ottla_sirem

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, where I fill in the diary entries that Kafka left blank, I have him visit (as he, in real life, did) his sister Ottla. She had moved to a small village to manage her brother-in-law’s farm.

(In the photo, Kafka is at the far right, while Ottla is in the middle.)

10 October 1917

A rainy day which halted most of the harvest. I thought there would be grumbling, and the kitchen filled with men drinking tea. But if I’m here long enough, I’ll learn. I discovered that during harvest, most regular chores are put aside, so when some time appears, there is as much activity as ever. Plus, there is the additional anxiety over how long the produce will be delayed in the field. I’m certain that Ottla looks out the window every ten minutes, and asks my opinion of the rain every half hour. I have learned to look with my knowing farmer’s eye, and nod, and grunt. So far Ottla never fails to laugh.

11 October 1917

Another day of rain. Apparently, it isn’t just the delay the rain is causing as it falls, but if the fields become too wet, the farmers will still have to wait for the earth to dry out enough so they can work in it. Even Ottla had not been aware of this. She assumed – as did I – that when the rain ceased, she could resume in the fields. Also, some of the produce will rot if left too long. So, a decision must soon be made whether or not to go into the fields in the rain.

It will be difficult and awkward work, and will also mean much damaged and lost produce. There will be a meeting tomorrow of all the farmers, for they will help each other. Ottla surprised me when, after the supper dishes were done, she told me she wished father were present, so she could ask his advice. Wouldn’t that startle him? Sometimes one must give credit even to father – he was never afraid to make decisions.

When The Government And Country Fell, from “Kafka In The Castle”

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Excerpt from Kafka In The Castle

I agreed only to answer questions – that way I could not be accused of fermenting treason.

15 January 1918

This war. They wanted my opinions about this endless war. These earnest, honest men, awaiting the words from the Herr Doktor of Prague.

I agreed only to answer questions – that way I could not be accused of fermenting treason. Even in these troubled times, the law allows a man to answer questions. Assuming that the law prevails.

The law was present in the form of the policeman, attending this questionable gathering while still in uniform. He doffed his hat as he shook my hand. I would rather have him in our midst, than lurking in the hall. We have nothing to fear from him.

“Will the empire last?” This was first from their lips. And they must have needed to hear the words, for even the Emperor must know that all is lost. The Old Order, having fallen into the hands of dull and witless men, must succumb. The complacency of the age must be purged – but that has not yet happened. That awaits the next generation – and the destruction will be furious. But I do not tell them this.

I am skillful in what I do not tell them, for the truth is beyond their power to persuade or control. (Their next questions would have been more difficult had I not curbed the truth further still.) “What will happen to Zurau? What will happen to us?” And they have every right to worry. To suspect. When a society crumbles, it is those at the bottom who get crushed. But I told them that Amerika seemed a just power – not bent on retribution.

I did not tell them that a victor can do as he wants.

And I told them that we live in a secondary part of a secondary empire – the powers of destruction will be concentrated on Vienna and Berlin. I did not tell them that during the death of a snake, the spasms of the tail can be lethal.

And I told them something which could really be of help. I told them, in this coming year, to grow more food: fatten more beasts: prepare, preserve and put away. Fill their cellars and barns to bursting with food and fuel. Buy some things now, which they can use for barter later if the currency becomes worthless. Look after their families and lands.

Look after each other.

Escape From The House of Hell

alh5baf0f_ottla[Franz & Ottla]

Franz Kafka lived way too long with his parents (his discord with his father is famous), and stayed in the city of Prague (which he described as “The little mother with claws”) for most of his life. But his sister, Ottla, escaped both. In my rendition of Kafka’s missing diary entries, in Kafka In The Castle, I show his reaction to his sister’s escape.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

20 April 1917

Fate laughed up its sleeve, and this morning’s post brought a letter from Felice. A letter of no consequence, except for its arrival.

And I, in fact, have answered it. Perhaps too hastily. Perhaps too truthfully.

I have praised Ottla so much previously that F. has, upon occasion, made comments about my admiration.

That was her word, and I think it was not used favourably.

But the truth is – I have great admiration for my youngest sister. She does not think and think and think.

She does not discuss things for weeks.

She acts.

My God – she got away from Prague!

Kafka Encounters The Storm And Weather Of Spring

winter-to-spring2

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the missing entries of his actual diaries.  There are many days to fill, as he either did not write during these days, or he destroyed the record. This is how I imagined he spent the beginning of Spring a hundred years ago. He was staying with his sister on a farm in a small village a train trip from Prague

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

20 March 1918

Tomorrow is the first day of spring. But today it is cold, and raining in torrents. “Welcome to a Bohemian spring.” was the greeting – and the sympathy – of the hired hand. “You may wish you were back in Prague, Herr Doktor.” But then, he doesn’t know Prague.

As usual, Ottla saw to it that her ill and elderly brother was taken care of as much as possible. She encountered me in the shed with an armful of paraphernalia. The winds preclude the use of an umbrella (which sight might be too strange for Zurau anyway), so I was offered either a cape to put over my winter coat, or a long, seemingly oiled garment, to replace the coat. An odd, peaked cap was affixed to my head, which supposedly channelled the water to fall behind me. There was a walking stick (which I rather fancied) to help me probe the depth of puddles and streams. And finally a pair of thick and uncomfortable boots, which came to just below my knees. Into which I had to carefully tuck my trousers. After all this was accomplished, Ottla pointed to my person and said “But I’ve forgotten to get … ” However, I did not wait for further entanglement. Prepared, as even Noah was for his own deluge, I fled into the afternoon.

 

21 March 1918

Colder than it has been for the past couple of weeks. Around here called a “cold snap”. Enough to return ice to the puddles. Otherwise it is a glorious and sunny day. When it is said that someone can change their mind like the weather, this is what they must mean. It was joy to go into it (no hour of preparation from Ottla), and I went for a longer than usual walk. The warmth of the sun upon my face. The wind – fortunately – at my back when I returned. Content as the dumbest of animals.

(image)http://www.davidfirth.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/winter-to-spring2.jpg

Sex And The End Of January (from) “Kafka In The Castle”

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(Franz & friends)

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the entries  missing from his actual diaries. A hundred years ago, it is quite possible he had thoughts like these.

Ottla is his sister. and Fraulein G is a *young* lady from the village of Zürau, where Franz is staying with his sister. In this photo, Ottla is third from the right. It is unknown who Fraulein G really was.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

25 January 1918

I can not tell (and such thoughts often consume me) whether I’ve gone after too little in life – or too much.

 

27 January 1918

Fraulein G. came to dinner this afternoon, and although we all had a good time, and the meal was pleasant, I felt that she was being too familiar with me – with us. Of course, I am taken aback when even Ottla expresses affection (her laughter, and the way she touched my shoulder a few days ago), so the fault no doubt lies in me. There can be nothing more personal than a touch – written words can be read by anyone.

Well – she is young. As much to be envied as excused. Ottla turned an indulgent eye upon us, and then I walked her home with a bit more speed than usual. We both thought it wise – at my suggestion – not to linger long at her gate. She thinks us discreet (which, indeed, we are) but she has somehow not grasped the fact that the only thing faster than the village tongues are the village eyes.

 

28 January 1918

A month ago I said good-bye to F.

 

29 January 1918

Sometimes, no destination seems far enough away.

Franz Kafka Prepares For The End Of Civilization

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(Image drawn by Franz Kafka)

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in his lost diaries.  Here, as the learned Doktor of Laws, he has been asked to speak to the citizens of the small village where he is living with his sister for a few months. He speaks the truth, and avoids the truth.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

15 January 1918

This war. They wanted my opinions about this endless war. These earnest, honest men, awaiting the words from the Herr Doktor of Prague.

I agreed only to answer questions – that way I could not be accused of fermenting treason. Even in these troubled times, the law allows a man to answer questions. Assuming that the law prevails.

The law was present in the form of the policeman, attending this questionable gathering while still in uniform. He doffed his hat as he shook my hand. I would rather have him in our midst, than lurking in the hall. We have nothing to fear from him.

“Will the empire last?” This was first from their lips. And they must have needed to hear the words, for even the Emperor must know that all is lost. The Old Order, having fallen into the hands of dull and witless men, must succumb. The complacency of the age must be purged – but that has not yet happened. That awaits the next generation – and the destruction will be furious. But I do not tell them this.

I am skilful in what I do not tell them, for the truth is beyond their power to persuade or control. (Their next questions would have been more difficult had I not curbed the truth further still.) “What will happen to Zurau? What will happen to us?” And they have every right to worry. To suspect. When a society crumbles, it is those at the bottom who get crushed. But I told them that Amerika seemed a just power – not bent on retribution.

I did not tell them that a victor can do as he wants.

And I told them that we live in a secondary part of a secondary empire – the powers of destruction will be concentrated on Vienna and Berlin. I did not tell them that during the death of a snake, the spasms of the tail can be lethal.

And I told them something which could really be of help. I told them, in this coming year, to grow more food: fatten more beasts: prepare, preserve and put away. Fill their cellars and barns to bursting with food and fuel. Buy some things now, which they can use for barter later if the currency becomes worthless. Look after their families and lands. Look after each other.

 

16 January 1918

I did not tell them that war is the end result of injustice and arrogance, and that it is oftentimes necessary. I did not tell them that when the natural balance is upset by human action, the cost of righting it must be made in human payment. I did not tell them that a country where neighbour is cruel to neighbour is a country mean for war.

 

17 January 1918

I did not tell them how the Jews will always suffer in time of war. How we will be searched out, then driven as far as the east is from the west, and then be persecuted. How there will never be safety for us. Yea, even unto the land of Israel.

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