|Jean Metzinger, 1911, Étude pour le portrait de Guillaume Apollinaire, graphite on paper, 48 × 31.2 cm, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris|
THE PRAGUE PASS
By Guillaume Apollinaire [1880-1918]
Excerpt from “The Heresiarch & Cie,” 1910.
In March 1902 I went to Prague.
I arrived from Dresden.
From Bodenbach, where the Austrian customs are, the appearance of the railway employees had shown me that German stiffness does not exist in the Hapsburg empire.
When at the station I inquired of the order, in order to deposit my suitcase, the clerk took it from me; then, taking from his pocket a ticket for a long time used and greasy, he tore it in half and gave me a half, inviting me to keep it carefully. He assured me that, for his part, he would do the same for the other half, and that, as the two fragments of the note coincided, I would prove to be the owner of the baggage when it pleased me to return to his possession. He greeted me by removing his disgraceful Austrian kepi.
At the exit of the station François-Joseph, after having dismissed the faquins, of Italian obsequiousness, who offered themselves in an incomprehensible German, I engaged in old streets, in order to find a lodging related to my purse of a poor traveler. According to a rather unseemly habit, but very convenient when one knows nothing of a city, I inquired of several passers-by.
For my astonishment, the first five did not understand a word of German, but only Czech. The sixth, to whom I spoke, listened to me, smiled, and replied in French:
"Speak French, sir, we hate the Germans much more than the French do. We hate them, these people who want to impose their language, take advantage of our industries and our soil whose fertility produces everything, wine, coal, precious stones and precious metals, all except salt. In Prague, we speak only Czech. But when you speak French, those who know how to answer you will always be happy.
He pointed out to me a hotel in a street whose name was spelled so that it was pronounced Porjitz , and took leave, assuring me of his sympathy for France.
A few days before, Paris had celebrated the centenary of Victor Hugo.
I was able to realize that the Bohemian sympathies, shown on this occasion, were not in vain. On the walls, beautiful posters announced the Czech translations of Victor Hugo's novels. The storefronts of the bookstores seemed true bibliographical museums of the poet. On the windows were pasted excerpts of Parisian newspapers recounting the visit of the mayor of Prague and Sokols . I still wonder what the role of gymnastics was in this case.
The ground floor of the hotel which had been indicated to me, was occupied by a singing cafe. On the first floor I found an old woman who, after having debated the price, took me to a narrow room where there were two beds. I specified that I meant to live alone. The woman smiled, and told me I would do as I thought; that in any case I would easily find a companion at the café-chanting of the ground floor.
I went out, intending to walk for as long as it was light, and then dine at a bohemian inn. According to my custom, I inquired of a passer-by. It happened that he also recognized my accent and replied in French:
"I am a stranger like you, but I know enough about Prague and its beauties to invite you to accompany me through the city.
I looked at the man. He looked sixty, but still green. Apparent clothing consisted of a long brown coat with otter collar, black cloth trousers narrow enough to mold a calf that was guessed very muscular. He was wearing a large black felt hat, as the German teachers often wear. His forehead was surrounded by a strip of black silk. His soft leather shoes, without heels, stifled the sound of his equal and slow steps like those of someone who, having a long way to go, does not want to be tired when he reaches the goal. We went without speaking. I detailed the profile of my companion. The face disappeared almost in the mass of the beard, mustaches, and disproportionately long but carefully combed hair, of ermine whiteness. Yet we could see the thick, purple lips. The nose prominent, hairy and curved. Near a urinal, the stranger stopped and said to me:
I followed him. I saw that his pants were decked. As soon as we were out
"Look at these old houses," he said; they preserve the signs which distinguished them before they had been numbered. Here is the house to the Virgin , that one is to the Eagle, and here is the house to the Chevalier .
Above the portal of the latter a date was engraved.
The old man read it aloud:
-1721. Where was I? On the 21st of June, 1721, I arrived at the gates of Munich.
I listened, frightened, and thinking I was dealing with a madman. He looked at me and smiled, discovering toothless gums. He continued:
I arrived at the gates of Munich. But it seems that my face did not please the soldiers of the post because they interrogated me in a very indiscreet way. My answers did not satisfy them, they tied me up and led me to the inquisitors. Although my conscience was clear, I was not very reassured. On the way, the view of Saint Onuphre, painted on the house currently numbered 17 Marienplatz, assured me that I would live at least until the next day. Because this image has the property of granting a day of life to who looks at it. It is true that for me this view was of little use; I have the ironic certainty of surviving. The judges set me free, and for a week I went for a walk in Munich.
"You were very young then," I said to say something; very young!
He replied in a tone of indifference:
-More than two centuries old. But, except for the costume, I had the same appearance as today. It was not my first visit to Munich. I had come there in 1334, and I still remember two processions that I met there. The first was composed of archers marching a ribald, who valiantly opposed popular boos and royally carried his wreath of straw, an infamous diadem at the top of which tinkled a bell; two long braids of straw went down to the hocks of the beautiful girl. Her shackled hands were crossed over her venerously advancing belly, in the fashion of a time when the beauty of women was to appear pregnant. This is their only beauty. The second procession was that of a Jew who was being hanged. With the screaming crowd and drunk beer, I walked to the gallows. The Jew's head was caught in an iron mask painted red. This mask hid a diabolical figure, whose ears had, in fact, the shape of the cornets which are the donkey's ears on which the bad children are capped. The nose lengthened in point, and, heavy, forced the unfortunate man to walk bent. An immense, flat, narrow and rolled tongue completed this inconvenient toy. No woman had pity on the Jew. None had the idea of wiping her sweaty face under the mask, -as this stranger who wiped Jesus' face with the cloth called Sainte-Veronique. Having noticed that a valet of the procession was leading two large dogs on a leash, the plebs demanded that they be hanged beside the Jew. I found that it
-You are Israelite, are not you? I said simply.
-I am the Wandering Jew. You had probably already guessed it. I am the Eternal Jew-that's what the Germans call me. I am Isaac Laquedem.
I gave him my card and said:
"You were in Paris last year, in April, were not you? And you chalked your name on a wall in the Rue de Bretagne. I remember reading it one day when, on the imperial omnibus, I went to the Bastille.
He said it was true, and I continued:
Do you often get the name of Ahasuerus?
-My God, these names belong to me and many more! The lament that we sang after my visit to Brussels names me Isaac Laquedem, after Philippe Mouskes, who, in 1243, put my story in Flemish rhymes. The English chronicler Mathieu de Paris, who had it from the Armenian patriarch, had already told it. Since then, poets and chroniclers have often reported my passages, under the name of Ahasver, Ahasuerus or Ahasvere, in such and such cities. The Italians call me Buttadio-in Latin Buttadeus; -the Bretons, Boudedeo; the Spaniards, Juan Espera-en-Dios. I prefer the name of Isaac Laquedem, under whom I have often been seen in Holland.
Some authors claim that I was porter at Pontius Pilate, and that my name was Karthaphilos. Others see me as a cobbler, and the city of Bern is honored to keep a pair of boots that are claimed to have been made by me and which I would have left after my passage.
But I will not say anything about my identity except that Jesus ordered me to walk until he returned.
I have not read the works I have inspired, but I know the names of the authors. They are: Goethe, Schubart, Schlegel, Schreiber, von Schenck, Pfizer, W. Müller, Lenau, Zedlitz, Mosens, Kohler, Klingemann, Levin, Schüking, Andersen, Heller, Herrig, Hamerling, Robert Giseke, Carmen Sylva, Hellig, Neubaur, Paulus Cassel, Edgard Quinet, Eugène Suë, Gaston Paris, Jean Richepin, Jules Jouy, the Englishman Conway, the Max Haushofer Pragois and Suchomel. It is fair to add that all these authors have helped themselves with the little book of peddling which, published in Leiden in 1602, was immediately translated into Latin, French, and Dutch, and was rejuvenated and augmented by Simrock in his popular German books.
But look! Here is the Ring or Place de Greve. This church contains the tomb of the astronomer Tycho Brahe; John Huss preached there, and its walls keep the marks of the balls of the wars of Thirty Years and Seven Years.
We were silent, visited the church, and then heard the clocks at the clock of the Hotel de Ville. Death, pulling the rope, sounded shaking his head. Other statuettes moved, while the rooster fluttered its wings and, before an open window, the Twelve Apostles passed by casting an impassive glance on the street. After visiting the desolate prison called Schbinskawe walked through the Jewish quarter with old clothes, scrap metal and other nameless things. Butchers were laying calves. Booted women hurried. Jews in mourning passed, recognizable by their torn clothes. The children apostrophaient in Czech or Hebrew jargon. We visited, with our heads covered, the ancient synagogue, where the women do not enter during the ceremonies, but look through a skylight. This synagogue looks like a tomb, where the old roll of parchment, which is an admirable Torah, sleeps veiled.
Then Laquedem read at the clock of the Jewish Town Hall that it was three o'clock. This clock has Hebrew numerals and its hands go backwards. We passed the Moldau on the Carlsbrücke, bridge from which St. John Nepomucenus, martyr of the secret of Confession, was thrown into the river. From this bridge decorated with pious statues, there is the magnificent spectacle of the Moldau and the whole city of Prague with its churches and convents.
In front of us was the hill of Hradschin. While we were going up between the palaces, we spoke.
"I thought," said I, "that you do not exist. Your legend, it seemed to me, symbolized your wandering race ... I love Jews, sir. They move pleasantly and there are some unhappy ones ... So, it's true, Jesus drove you away?
-It's true, but let's not talk about that. I am accustomed to my life without end and without rest. Because I do not sleep. I walk ceaselessly, and will walk again while the Fifteen Signs of the Last Judgment manifest themselves. But I do not walk a way of the cross, my roads are happy. Immortal and unique witness of the presence of Christ on earth, I attest to men the reality of the divine and redeeming drama that ended on Golgotha. What glory! What joy! But I have also been for nineteen centuries the spectator of Humanity, which gives me wonderful entertainments. My sin, sir, was a sin of genius, and I have long since ceased repenting it.
He was silent. We visited the royal castle of Hradschin, with majestic and desolate halls, then the cathedral, where are the royal tombs and the silver shrine of Saint Nepomucene. In the chapel where the kings of Bohemia were crowned, and where the holy king Wenceslas suffered martyrdom, Laquedem pointed out to me that the walls were of gems: agates and amethysts. He told me an amethyst:
- See, in the center, the veins draw a face with flaming and crazy eyes. It is said that it is Napoleon's mask.
"It's my face," I exclaimed, with my dark and jealous eyes!
And that's true. It is there, my painful portrait, near the bronze door where hangs the ring that held Saint Wenceslas when he was massacred. We had to go out. I was pale and unhappy at having seen myself mad, I who are so afraid of becoming so. Laquedem, pitiful, consoled me and said to me:
-Do not visit more monuments. Let's walk in the streets. Look closely at Prague; Humboldt says it is among the five most interesting cities in Europe.
-Do you read then?
-Oh! sometimes, good books, while walking ... Come on, laugh! I also like walking sometimes.
-What! you love and are never jealous?
My love for a moment is worth a century's love. But, luckily, no one follows me, and I do not have time to take this habit from which jealousy arises. Come on, laugh! fear neither the future nor death. We are never sure of dying. Do you believe that I am alone in not being dead! Remember Enoch, Elijah, Empedocles, Apollonius of Tyana. Is there no one in the world to believe that Napoleon is still alive? And this unfortunate King of Bavaria, Louis II! Ask the Bavarians. All will affirm that their magnificent and crazy king is still alive. You yourself may not die.
The night was coming down and the lights were coming on the city. We repassed the Moldau by a more modern bridge:
"It's time for dinner," said Laquedem. "The march excites the appetite, and I am a big eater.
We entered an inn where we made music.
There was a violinist there; a man who held the drum, the bass drum and the triangle; a third, which touched a kind of harmonium with two small keyboards juxtaposed and placed on bellows. These three musicians made a sound of the devil and accompanied paprika goulash , fried potatoes mixed with cumin, poppy seed bread and bitter beer from Pilsen. Laquedem ate standing while walking in the room. The musicians played and then quest. Meanwhile, the room was filled with the guttural voices of its guests, all gypsy ball-headed, round-faced, nose in the air. Laquedem spoke deliberately. I saw that he was telling me. They looked at me; someone came to shake my hand, saying:
"Live the Frantze!"
The music played the Marseillaise . Gradually the inn fills. There were women too. So, we danced. Laquedem seized the pretty girl of the host, and seeing them delighted me. Both danced like angels, as the Talmud says, who calls the angels masters of dance . Suddenly, he grabbed his dancer, lifted her up and went to the applause of everyone. When the girl was on her feet again, she was serious and almost swooning. Laquedem gave him a kiss that slammed juvenile. He wanted to pay his fee, the amount of which was one florin. For this purpose he drew his purse, sister of that of Fortunatus and never empty of the legendary five sous.
We left the inn and crossed the large rectangular square called Wenzelplatz, Viehmarkt, Rossmarkt or Vàclavské Nàmesti. It was ten o'clock. In the light of the street lamps, women were prowling, and we heard some inviting Czech words whispering in passing. Laquedem dragged me into the Jewish city saying:
-You will see: for the night, each house has turned into lupanar.
It was true. At each door stood, standing or sitting, head covered with a shawl, a matron mumbling the call for love at night. All of a sudden, Laquedem says:
-Do you want to come to the Royal Vineyards district? There are girls of fourteen to fifteen years, whom philopedeans themselves would find of their taste.
I declined this tempting offer. In a nearby house we drank Hungarian wine with women in bathrobes, German, Hungarian or bohemian. The party became foul, but I did not interfere.
Laquedem despised my reserve. He undertook a Hungarian knuckle and fessue. Soon disheveled, he dragged the girl, who was afraid of the old man. His circumcised sex evoked a gnarled trunk, or this post of Redskins, variegated with Sienna, scarlet, and the dark purple of the stormy skies. After a quarter of an hour they came back. The weary girl, in love, but frightened, shouted in German:
-He walked all the time, he walked all the time!
Laquedem laughed; we paid and departed. He tells me:
- I was very happy with this girl and I am rarely satisfied. I do not remember such pleasures as in Forli, in 1267, when I had a virgin. I was also happy to Siena, I do not know what year the XIV th century, with a Fornarina bride, whose hair was the color of toast. In 1542, in Hamburg, I was so in love that I went to a church barefoot and begged God in vain to forgive me and allow me to stop. That day, during the sermon, I was recognized and accosted by student Paulus von Eitzen, who became bishop of Schleswig. He related his adventure to his companion Chrysostome Dædalus, who printed it in 1564.
-You live! I said.
-Yes! I live a life almost divine, like a Wotan, never sad. But, I feel it, I have to leave. I'm tired of Prague! You fall asleep. Go to sleep. Farewell!
I took his long dry hand:
"Goodbye, Wandering Jew, happy and aimless traveler! Your optimism is not mediocre, and they are mad who represents you as a hasty adventurer and haunted by remorse.
-Remorse? Why? Keep the peace of mind and be mean. The good ones will thank you for it. Christ! I flouted it. He made me superhuman. Farewell!...
I followed my eyes as he walked away in the cold night, the play of his shadow, simple, double, or triple, according to the light of the street lamps.
Suddenly, he waved his arms, uttered a lamentable cry of wounded animal and fell to the ground.
I ran screaming. I knelt down and unbuttoned his shirt. He turned to me with lost eyes and spoke confusedly:
-Thank you. The time has come. Every ninety or one hundred years, a terrible evil strikes me. But I heal myself, and then have the necessary strength for a new century of life.
And he lamented, saying:
-Oi! oï, which means "alas!" in Hebrew.
During this time, all the jewish quarter of the Jewish quarter, attracted by cries, had gone down to the street. The police ran. There were also barely dressed men who had hurried up from their beds. Heads appeared at the windows. I walked away and watched the procession of police officers carrying Laquedem away, followed by the crowd of men without a hat and girls in starched white robes.
Soon there remained in the street only an old Jew in the eyes of a prophet. He looked at me defiantly and murmured in German:
-It's a Jew. He will die.
And I saw that before entering his house, he opened his coat and tore his shirt, diagonally.
For the complete novel thank The Gutenberg Project for bringing it to its public domain site in English. Click here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Guillaume Apollinaire was a French poet, playwright, short story writer, novelist, and art critic of Polish-Belarusian descent. He ran in the same Parisian circles as Pablo Picasso, Amadeo Modigliani, Jean Cocteau, Jean Metzinger, Henri Rousseau Gertrude Stein, Max Jacob, Andre Salmon, Andre Breton, Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp and others.
Apollinaire is considered one of the foremost poets of the early 20th century, as well as one of the most impassioned defenders of Cubism and a forefather of Surrealism. He is credited with coining the term "cubism" in 1911 to describe the emerging art movement and the term "surrealism" in 1917 to describe the works of Erik Satie. The term Orphism (1912) is also his. Apollinaire wrote one of the earliest Surrealist literary works, the play The Breasts of Tiresias (1917), which became the basis for the 1947 opera Les mamelles de Tirésias.
Apollinaire was active as a journalist and art critic for Le Matin, L'Intransigeant, L'Esprit nouveau, Mercure de France, and Paris Journal. In 1912 Apollinaire cofounded Les Soirées de Paris, an artistic and literary magazine.
Two years after being wounded in World War I, Apollinaire died in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918; he was 38.
If you wish to go on a literary adventure into the 1910s to discover additional layers of Guillaume Apollinaire, a poet, brave soldier, artistic pornographer, friend to Picasso, influential literary critic, an occasional journalistic scoundrel, accused art thief, who was later released from prison because he did NOT steal the Mona Lisa from the Louvre...Click here.