In the eve of an exceptionally hot day, a blossoming park in front of my block of flats attracts, like a magnet, boys and girls (and a few ladies like me in the final phase of blooming) into its greeny lap. Long into the night, the park rocks us in the rhythm of Brazilian jazz. It is as exotic as it gets, for me, at this very moment.
In the heart of Letna, a famous Prague park, there is a panoramic view of the Old City and Carlo’s Bridge, sealed in most of the postcards and pictures. At this historic spot, there are several beautiful girls sitting in straw hats, leggings, flats and polka dots, wrapped in sashes. They are so beautiful and simple, either sitting with straight back or leaning against boys who have just stepped out of a year book at a renowned college back in ’58. Healthy teeth and thick fringes. A slipover worn over a checked shirt (are they hot wearing them?) and trousers of mustard colour. Nicely laced shoes, clean and tidy.
On the perfectly trimmed lawn blankets and weaved baskets scattered around. On the marble pavement, dancing couples change, lit by the tired setting sun. In front of the café, deck chairs, which no longer provide the view of the Vltava, since a parapet against which you can comfortably lean your legs blocks the view. A display of slippers, flip-flops, trainers and neat toes.
It seems as if time itself has stopped, the working week has finished for all the students, bank clerks, agents of various kinds, girls studying acting and literature, tourist guides and nurses.
And all of them have, in a well-coordinated manner, slightly masked themselves into happy and carefree people and hurried to get to Letna. It seems to me to be so. And no one of them has brought any anguish or fog and that’s why time has disappeared here since there are no walls of conscience against which it would crash.
The atmosphere irresistibly reminds of certain special places in Belgrade which easily become everyone’s house in tropical nights, when nobody is keen on going home.
What would you do at home, everybody knows you there. Untranslatable to the Czech language.
A picture. The taste of spritzer on a Sava raft-restaurant, people you know only partly, at first lightly tightened and then loosened flirts and flip-flops with freshly polished toes. A huge pair of specs on the nose, we look like Hollywood stars. We are drinking and paying later when we have the money and we are smoking other people’s cigarettes, not because we can’t afford them, but because we have forgotten the money, the box, the purse… We are deliberating on the height of the gray bridge watching us like the doom itself, us, the Belgrade good-for-nothings. The bridge is always the same – in summer fickle with all that scorching concrete, in winter insidious, as if silently drawing suiciders to its middle… And a Belgrade graffito “What are you looking at”. It says: “what are you looking at”, while we all imagine only lifted brows of a short-tempered delinquent writing it.
What are you looking at, a fish-hook we’ve been swallowing since we were kids. What do you want, what are you gaping at, you need something?…. We are laughing, rolling a joint secretly on the latest novel by Bernard Schlink. Deep in the pages there remain the traces of tobacco which I find years later on. Then I remember the heroes of the past days and I ask myself what’s been happening with them today…
Another picture. Clasped knees on a short parapet overlooking the confluence of the Sava and the Danube and New Belgrade, the core of a new spirit and managerial mugs.
From that point, for example, you can very well see a boat-restaurant where lovers, without any shame, take their future victims, liberated from the fear of being seen by anyone. Next to it there is a raft which looks deserted and wracked, but at night it turns into a space-shuttle under a sovereign rule of a morally fallen gang of Belgrade naughty teenage girls who can stay up all night without limitations. On the river bank, not far away from there, there is a restaurant with the dirtiest toilette in this part of Europe... still, this is the place where most young parents bring their children and aging parents on weekends in order to have them watch their grandchildren ride bikes without supporting wheels.
Yet another picture. Stairs at the sports centre “25. maj”. After the midnight in hot July nights this is the place where legs are plopped into the dark water of the fast-running Danube… there we sit doing nothing. One year you are sitting alone, the next year with a Peter, the year after that with a John, and then again alone, and it starts all over again…. When you meet Peter or John in winter, you only mutter a “hello” to each other. In June you again start dillydallying late-night hours collecting change from your pockets to buy some cold water at a kiosk.
Or... more pictures.... checked table-cloths in a kafana next to a green market. A piece of Turkish delight on a saucer, with a small cup of Turkish coffee garnished with a thick ring of foam and even more aromatic smell. A wheeled shopping tote bag with spring onion feathers sticking out. The same slippers worn at the market and when going out in the evening. The same beauty of mine and of other Belgrade women.
In summer, my city has wide shoulders like a strong cocky sailor... all of us, the ones with distinctive taste and the ones with no taste whatsoever, as well as the ones rushing through it and the ones whose life goal has been reaching it, like to cuddle up in those shoulders from time to time.
For example. Topčider graveyard. Heavy, green canopies above my childhood, above the grave of my father, of my great-grandmothers, grand-fathers, above the grave of my first love’s late father... and all those countless Sundays studded in my memories like shamrock, when the granny was strict, but fair, full of energy and shopping bags with flowers for her father, mother, great-grandmother, great-grandfather and others who are there, but whose names we do not even know. Firm steps of communist wives-neighbours which make the parish priest slink off through the door of the chapel like a gray mouse and wait there cuddled in silence until the women finish what they came to do and clatter away through the graveyard gate.
I am looking at the lovely sky above Letna, and these postcards replacing one another with every new “picture”. Then, I shut down the whole scene, as if turning off an interactive board and stay there staring laid back into the deck chair on a beach above the Vltava, among all those carmine lips, lush breasts, boys with puppy look, canopies, lights, kites, memorials, with the sound of jazz, without the sound of jazz, rattling of a skateboard in the distance, the smell of cigarettes and a legal joint and at some point there is just a click – I click. And that’s it.
I make another postcard.
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Illustrated by Ema Brown Owl
Author Tamara O.
Translated by Ljiljana Smudja