Life in a Nutshell
Brno, the maternity hospital U Šilhanů, then a park called Šrébrák, but also Lužánky Park, my urban landscape, beginnings of memory. On the corner of Demlova and Zemědělská streets is a dairy; bottles of milk in crates out front every morning. On the opposite corner the stationer’s where I once smashed the window with a stone. And the Na Rybníčku slag pitch, my first football game with what was then Zbrojovka (arms factory). From my second year at school, I travelled through half the town to get to school. On my own, with my own tram pass. What a source of pride! (I secretly longed to meet a ticket inspector.) Then, we moved to a green house where the Haas brothers had lived before us. Yet in 1973 there were just three large gypsy families and one elderly academic painter. I used to play football with the Horváth boys in Petrov Park. I lived with my mother and younger brother; at school, endless troubles with being “too lively”, culminating with the headmaster’s serious intent to transfer me to a school for the mentally retarded. A reason was discovered later: the year I started primary school (1970), my father immigrated to the USA.
From ten years of age, a village: Janovice na Úhlavou, near Šumava. Childhood paradise: no more Bs for Behaviour on the school report card, as it was in the days of the (political) “normalisation period”. The family got larger – stepfather-alcoholic and two more siblings. Our wild “Granny Mery” makes things spectacular any time she visits us. “He was both a country boy and city boy,” wrote Ivan Wernisch somewhere. A crucial, formative experience.
I was in the army from the time I was 14: Jan Žižka Military Secondary School in Trocnov. My acute sense for justice tormented me from the start. Building a positive philosophy of life and the first, but thorough, lesson in diplomacy. There was a shift from stubborn protests to an ability to win “inconspicuously”: assertiveness. Fighting skills polished, early maturity, yet a C for Behaviour, even in my final year. Then almost three semesters at military university, accompanied by growing resistance and completed with expulsion from school. Half a year as a sapper in Litoměřice leading to one thing only: leaving the army. (Technically, it was impossible “to leave”.) The most reliable and fastest way was through a stint in jail. So I spent eight months inside.
This chapter could carry the name FREEDOM I: after six years, a return to “normal life”; finally a real start at the age of nearly twenty-one. Three years working at Starlet dance school: it was lucky to meet Vladimír Buryan, who ran Starlet as if it was his own private school. For the first time, work seemed meaningful. Also my first family: six years with Jitka and little Mirča. There was also perestroika and a growing need to become involved in things, new contacts in the grey zone and dissent, leaving Starlet, unemployed for half a year (a risky thing back then). Then “open” (not so controlled) jobs such as working in a used bookshop, as a paper delivery boy, or a stage manager in an operetta theatre. The beginnings of my own activities as an organiser in the world of literature: programmes at the Satelit and Na Křenové clubs.
The experience of my life! What luck that it should happen to me, that I should live to see the day (knowing that others had waited much longer or didn’t even live to see it)! Strong involvement, Proglas, the Ministry of Culture, the break-up of my marriage, escape to Italy, and then the return – Petrov. Hectic times!
Freedom? Never would I have said that I’d be doing one thing for fifteen years straight. Publishing – that was one of dozens of possibilities. Yet something fundamental to so-called freedom was inherent in this: it would only be as good as I myself could be – no more, no less. For me, being ‘too lively’ and longing for diversity meant on the go to all those Bítov, Neon and Olomouc festivals. But Petrov was an anchor and a touchstone, a long-distance run; for me, my biggest challenge. A messy private life and the golden 1990s.
The modern normalisation of capitalist conditions made my feelings and determination concerning “work in the field of national heritage” somewhat problematic. Internally, I was preparing for some five years to make a fundamental change. In 2005 I dissolved Petrov and turned to freelance writing the following year. On 19 June 2008 my daughter Libuška was born. The future has come…