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A Birthday Present For Kafka – Party On!

kafka_mimi
(sweet baby Kafka)
03 July is Kafka’s birthday and –  I forgot.
I could say (without any honesty) that I am distracted by COVID-19 and all the changes (some of them fundamental) which are happening around me. {I had my own two week self-isolation to deal with}. BUT Kafka not only lived through the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918, he contracted the disease. And he survived, even though he already had the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him six years later.

But, this morning, a Twitter respondent from across the Atlantic reminded me. I have already thanked her. So, I will repost my Kafka Birthday blog.

First, is the letter I have written to him (as yet, unanswered).
Second, is the diary entry I gave him for his birthday, from my novel, Kafka In The Castle.

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

My Present / Your Future

Still in this World

A Life Away

Dear F:

You would find it perverse to be wished a “Happy” birthday, but your response would be gracious. Such is the reality you understand, and how you deal with it. I have found that your reality is actually real.

Although it will give you no pleasure – well, ‘little’ pleasure – you are correct in all your observations.

Governments become the tools of the bureaucracies which run them. It doesn’t matter what type of Government, from the monarchy under which you lived, to the right wing horror of fascists that called themselves socialists, to the inept socialism pretending to be ‘for the people’. All three governments held their sway over the city where you spent your life. All three oppressed the people they ruled. All three looked after themselves first.

Writers are either writers or they aren’t. The urge to write encircles one like a snake around its prey. Feed it and it won’t quite squeeze you to death. You can not ignore it – even at your peril. It is with you every hour of every day, ever inquisitive and (sadly) always looking for something better.

Love is a see-saw of extremes. Every high guarantees a low. Every low reaches for a high. Every high reaches for a high. When these hills and valleys are eventually levelled, they are still desired.

Sex is highly over rated. The thing of it is, even rated fairly ’tis a consummation devoutly to be had. Yes – I know – you appreciate Shakespeare. On a par with Goethe, even if you can’t bring yourself to say the words.

People are just one damned thing after another. Of course, so many people have brought you blessings, you throw up you hands to ward off the snake. And sometimes – some few times – it loosens its grip.

There is no castle with walls thick enough to hide against the perils of being human. Which is why you never tried.

Except the grave, of course.

Except the grave.

Yours,

D

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

03 July 1918
 
The anniversary of my birth.
 
In celebration of the day, I did not make it my last.

Kafka Sees A Ghost’s Shadow From The Window

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An Excerpt from my Kafka In The Castle, where I fill in all of his missing diary entries. Kafka never avoided life – if anything, he perhaps plunged too deeply into it. But I think he never felt he was a part of what went on around him. He understood reality too well.

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

01 June 1917

I have been on the outside, looking in – the darkness of the night behind me, the fog resting close upon the harbour.

I’ve watched diners at their ease, the fire colourful through the grate, the rich hue of the glass raised to the lips. And my own face, peering back at me as I look in, reflecting like a ghost’s shadow from the window.

And the very next night, I have been on the inside, looking out – seated at the very table I had previously observed.

The fireplace at my back, its warmth more than welcome. And I glanced out at the harbour, its fog higher than the previous evening, but not yet obscuring the lights of the ships. Their portholes wavering.

And, as I brought the red liquid to my lips, I saw my own face dimly doing the same in the window, imposed and distant between me and the fog. And I felt as alone as I did the night before.

Whether I was sitting or standing; whether in the warmth, or in the fog – I was still me.

Always K.

Always observing.

When They Poured Across The Border / I Was Cautioned To Surrender ~ L Cohen

ctm-0806-canada-us-border

I crossed the border yesterday, in this time of Pandemic. On an intercity bus. Restricted to nine passengers. At least I had a seat to myself.

The last time I crossed a border under threat of reprisal was decades ago. I entered (and left) Czechoslovakia (as it was then called) by train. I had gone to Prague to follow the footsteps of Kafka. Then the concern of authorities  was all about smuggling. Dire consequences that could put you in prison. And, on my way back out of the country, I was subject to a random search. Open my luggage, and spread what items the soldier decreed upon the seat and aisle, as he poked and prodded. He took interest in an object ( I forget what it was) which quite quickly could be seen to be a commercial souvenir. Thankfully. My careful packing had then to be shoved helter-skelter back into my luggage. Better a jumble than a jail.

So, crossing the border in the same country in this time of Pandemic was not as filled with anxiety, though anxious I still was. Although travel restrictions are being loosened and (at least in this neck of the woods) the Curve is being flattened,

Death stalks the Land / and keep washing your hands.

I did change my seat once, because a passenger changed seats to “have a better view”. That seat was across the aisle from me.

I was handed a form to fill out by the bus driver at a transfer station (nearly empty of people) to give to the border guards if they asked. Apparently they did not ask for it all that often. Where are you coming from/where are you going to. Name. Full address. Reason for travel. Do you have any symptoms?

So, with mask in place (well … a lot of the time  – though always when off the bus) I had a reasonably pleasant trip on a reasonably pleasant day. Lots of elbow room. There was an hour’s delay at the actual border. When it was the turn for the bus, no officer actually did board to check us out. Or take our forms. However, the driver handed his PA microphone out the window so the officer could tell us that: “Anyone breaking the fourteen (14) day quarantine upon arrival was subject to a $1,000 fine.”

I’ve got thirteen (13) days left.

 

[image] https://cbsnews2.cbsistatic.com/hub/i/r/2018/08/06/8ae2e881-5500-4b09-876f-e1cf5bdecaad/thumbnail/1200×630/bda4ff327e62a7e92030aad7cc2e1693/ctm-0806-canada-us-border.jpg

To Die As Kafka Did Is Not Easy

Franz Kafka inches toward being dead for 100 years.He died on this day, 03 June, in 1924. he did not go gently into that good night, though he probably was just as happy to be gone. It was difficult to satisfy Kafka,

I wonder what Kafka would think about the worldwide communication and information of today. He was a rigid fixture of the staid (he hated using the telephone). He also was a keen observer of the world around him (he wrote the first newspaper report about aeroplanes, and he invented the safety helmet). It was more this deep divide in his personality which caused him his problems, about which he so famously wrote.

He did not fit into his personal world, yet he fit into the real world perfectly. He was adored by his friends and by many ladies. He was respected at his work and rose to a position of power. His stories were published to acclaim in his lifetime. 

Kafka lived a Kafkaesque life. He died a Kafkaesque death (he caught tuberculosis because he drank “pure” unpasteurised cow’s milk). He was rigid in his personal beliefs (until proved wrong), yet he was a beacon of compassion to others.

Kafka was always on a tightrope. He looked at things with such accuracy that his comments can seem bizarre. Supposedly his last words were:  “Kill me, or you are a murderer.” They were to  his doctor, as Kafka beseeches for an overdose of morphine.

I have written much about Kafka. I will share but two.

This is the diary entry I had him write in my fictional novel “Kafka In The Castle”:

03 July 1917

The anniversary of my birth. In honour of the day, I do not make it my last.

And this is a short story.

      The old Rabbi moved slightly on his bed, and the young man raced over.

     “Yes, Rebbe?”

     The old Rabbi opened his eyes, showing the cast of death which had almost consumed him. “Ka … ” he groaned.

    The young man had been told the dying Rabbi would never regain his senses, and he did not know what to do. He was scared, almost horrified, but he leaned closer.

     “What is it? What do you want?”

     The old Rabbi struggled for breath. “Ka … Kaf …”

     The young man gazed at the face, saw its pallid features and the clouded eyes. He touched a shrunken cheek, raised his voice to a shout. “What is it? What can I do?” He could hear wheezing, the struggle for air. He put his ear directly over the gaping mouth.

    “Ka … Ka …” One last ragged breath, a low hollow whisper. “Kafka died for your sins.”

(image) https://2.bp.blogspot.com/-Mj5aC-_baiQ/VU8ja5psBxI/AAAAAAAAWqY/y6gyF6mst2g/s1600/Kafka%2BGrave%2C%2BPrague%2BCU%2BDetail.jpg

Kafka Never Slept In This Prague Hotel

hotel-century-old-town

When I visited Prague to research my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I went to many of the places that were part of  Kafka’s life. One such place – the small house where he wrote a whole book of short stories – became a setting for a third of my novel.

However,the building where he was employed, The Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia in Prague, I only saw at a distance across a Square. It was not a happy place for Kafka, though he was very successful at his employ, and rose to an administrative position of importance. It was not really much of a setting for my novel.

 

That building is now a fancy hotel, and Kafka’s office is a room for rent. It is even designated The Franz Kafka room, and contains mementos. It is where I plan to stay when next I visit. I hope there is not a long list of folk wishing to spend the night there, too. It even includes a restaurant named after his fiancée, Felice.

 

Following is some information about the hotel, and some photos of the room.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The hotel is situated in the heart of Prague, next to the Old Town Square, where the famous medieval astronomical clock is mounted on the southern wall of the Old Town City Hall. The Neo-Baroque building was built in the 19th century by Alfonse Wertmuller, a famous architect in Prague. It was formerly the office of the Workers’ Accident Insurance of Kingdom of Bohemia, where Franz Kafka worked as an insurance clerk from 1908 to 1922. His spirit can still be felt in the hotel, as his bronze bust welcomes guests in the lobby in front of the majestic stairs.
hotel-century-old-town
room
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In addition, this is one of the few diary entries I wrote, set in his office building,

 
Excerpt from Kafka In The Castle

16 February 1917

There was a commotion at the office today. It was late morning, and from far below, coming up the stairwell, I could hear a voice bellowing: “Doktor Kafka. Doktor Kafka.” It was a terrible voice, full of blood and darkness.

I got from my desk and went to the door. There were other voices, trying to calm, saying: “He can’t be disturbed.” But the voice was louder, more horrible, close in the corridor.  “Doktor Kafka – for the love of God.”   My secretary wanted me to stay inside, hoped the man would just move along the corridor until the police were summoned.

But – I was curious; the man had my name, and his voice was … terrified.

I opened the door and stood in front of it.  “I’m Kafka,” I said. The man lunged at me, and went to his knees.  “Doktor Kafka?” he said.  “Yes, I’m Kafka.” He reached out, grabbing for my hand.  “Jesus, Jesus, for the love of Jesus – they say that you’ll help me.”

He was a heavy man, and looked as if he had the strength to pull off doors, yet the tears burst from his eyes.  “I can get no work. I fell from a bridge, and my back is twisted and in pain.” He slumped against the wall, looking at my eyes.  “I have a family, Doktor Kafka. A baby not a year old.”  “You were working on this bridge?” I asked.  “Yes.” His voice slid down his throat. “I was helping repair the surface.”  “Then you deserve your insurance. Why can’t you get it?”

He straightened up, and tried to stand. “I have to fill in papers; the doctor can see no wounds; the foreman said I drank; because my brother is a thief, I am not to be trusted.” I held out my hand, and he slowly stood. “I’m telling you the truth, Doktor Kafka.”

“If that is so,” I said, “you’ll get the money due you.”  “I’m so tired,” he said.

I gave instructions to those standing around – no other work was to be done until this man’s case was decided. I took him to my office, where he sat.

He sat – practically without a word – for five hours. I summoned a prominent doctor to look at him. The doctor prodded, and the man screamed. Officials from his village were telephoned. I helped him with the details on the forms. His truth was in his pain. He left our stony building with money in his hand, and his worth restored.

The people who assisted me had smiles on their faces.

A man had needed their help.

Kafka Dreams A Dream In Place of A Dream

franz-kafka-statue-prague
A dream of dreams
Is a dream confused.
 
Do you wake up
Into another?
 
Do you blend
Into reality?
 
Do you pick up
Where you left off?
 
Or leave off
Where you joined?
 
If it’s not making sense,
Is there sense to be made?
 
Did Kafka have the answer.
Or was Kafka the question?
(Image)www.npennydreams.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Franz-Kafka-statue-Prague.jpg

Altered History With Hitler And Kafka

 

10

[Kafka’s passport]

There are rumours (none of them started by me) that Kafka had direct dealings with Einstein, Joyce, and even Hitler.

The first two are more than possible. Einstein taught at Charles University when Kafka was a student there. Joyce was in Prague when Kafka lived there. It is quite probable they travelled in the same literary circles. Went to the same coffee houses (which Kafka frequented). Attended the same readings, or literary events, or even book stores.

The Hitler connection is far more tenuous, but based on fact. Hitler was treated, in Munich, by a doctor who had dealt with Kafka’s family in Prague. And Kafka did visit Munich in the right time frame. Kafka did, after all, predict Hitler’s world as much as he did the Communists.

Although I have, in my novel about Kafka,  “filled in” his missing diaries, I never give him such speculative encounters – tempting though it was. All events in my Kafka novel are based on detailed research from his own writings, writings of his friends, and multiple biographies.

I have written one short story that is totally speculative, where Kafka is encouraged to meet “the Austrian with the tiny mustache”, so as to kill him and stop an impending terrible war. And save his sisters from the camps.  But that doesn’t  happen in my fiction, either.

If Kafka Welcomes Spring, Can Summer Be Far Behind?

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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.

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

08 April 1917

I seem to end in the most absurd situations. This afternoon, before Sunday dinner, Ottla took me away for some gardening. Rooting around in the earth, with the frost barely gone. Only Ottla could find such a plot of ground in Prague, or expect me to grub about in it like some hungry animal.

It was obviously some sort of communal land – such places are popular during this war. There were even families at work. Children also. One small boy was caught between his interest in the garden, and his desire to be a small boy. And what a dilemma it was. He’d work in the ground for awhile, following the example of his mother, then suddenly race around, exploring like a small boy. He came over to Ottla and me, and hunkered down beside us. He shook his head with a sigh of exasperation, and reached over to put his hands on mine. “Mummy says that’s wrong,” and with great patience and determination, began to show me how to prepare the earth. I thought there could be no better proof to Ottla of how inept I was.

I followed the movements of his hands, and between us, we dug quite a hole. At last the little fellow stood, obviously satisfied. “I go now,” he said, and ran away to see some other entertaining oddity. Ottla hadn’t laughed for fear of offending the boy, but she didn’t show such restraint when we were finally alone.

It fell to me to find the flowers.

Such things prove God’s sense of humour, for I have no interest or understanding for flowers. There was a fellow at university who could talk about flowers for hours. Otherwise, he was quite pleasant to be with. So it seems a joke that I would find them, between a pile of rubble and the wall of a house.

I had been exploring, much as the little fellow had done. In fact, he was running past when I found them, so I showed him also. They were white, with frail leaves close to the ground. Quite nondescript. But the boy was fascinated. He put his face close, although he didn’t touch them.

“Can I tell Mummy?” He obviously thought they were my flowers. “Yes,” I said, and he ran to get her. She followed him as he chattered all the way, and then she too hesitated, looking at me cautiously. “Perhaps your wife would like to see them,” she suggested. It took a moment to realize she was referring to Ottla. The flowers had become my possession. “Yes,” I said, “And tell anyone you like.”  “The first flowers of Spring,” she said, and she went to tell the others, taking care to stop at Ottla first.

Tiny white flowers.

I can still not believe the looks upon their faces, as they crowded around. Even the children were silent.

The relief they showed.

 

(Image)https:/farm5.staticflickr.com/4122/4807642892_042ac4d5f9_z.jpg

Kafka In His Writer’s Burrow For World Book Day

87348a86cd918068ad4e09c1b813c3cf

A burrow offers security and comfort, and Kafka found both in his sister’s tiny house on the Golden Lane.

Ottla – his sister – had rented it so she could spend time with her lover and not be bothered by parents and comments. Her lover was a Christian and ready to go to war. Time was precious.

However, she rarely had opportunities other than the weekends, so she offered Franz the use of the tiny house for most of that time. And use it he did, though he never stayed the night.

Through fall, winter and spring Kafka wrote a whole book of short stories. For one single block of time, it was one of his most creative periods.

When I visited, even under Communist rule, it had been converted to a book store. Of course (which he would have appreciated) there were no books by Kafka for sale. Today he is displayed in the windows.

It was only when I went thorough the small rooms, and looked out the window into The Stag Moat, that I realized how important the house would become in my novel about Kafka. It was cozy – even with the space cramped by tourists. It had been little altered and I easily imagined Kafka looking through the same glass and walking through the same doorways. No doubt stooping because he was tall. Research met reality.

One of the last stories Kafka wrote, during his final year in Berlin, was called The Burrow. A version exists and is published, though a longer version is supposed to be among his ‘missing’ papers.

In it, a tiny animal keeps incessantly burrowing to keep away from an enemy. A vague noise convinces the animal to burrow deeper, and deeper, and deeper.

Something Kafka himself attempted to do.

(image)https://i.pinimg.com/736x/87/34/8a/87348a86cd918068ad4e09c1b813c3cf.jpg

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