An excerpt from European Trash (2009):
I visited Prague together with my father right after the fall of the Berlin Wall. We stayed with Eli Solakova, who, inside her stove, burned old worn-out shoes she had found in the street. She was always waiting for my father and me in the kitchen when we returned from the antiquary and thrift stores. Eli told us about her life, while my father listened, wide-eyed, there in that kitchen in
. She didn’t hesitate to tell all the worst tales that I knew backwards and forwards from all my visits, but I naturally wanted my father to find out about those times. Prague
Eli turned to him and said:
“Now listen here: then my Dad took Werner’s daughter as his mistress! Can you imagine? She was thirty-five and he was fifty. I was supposed to keep an eye out at the entrance to the mistress’s place. I called home and said: ‘Mommy, I don’t see anything, and I’m freezing to death.’ That’s what you have to do, isn’t that right, Peter? Aren’t I right? I am right. Mommy just said: ‘Stay where you are!’ Then she arrives in a taxi with two girl friends, and they pushed their way into the inn. It caused a big uproar.”
After a pause, she turned to me.
“Does your Dad understand?”
I heard him mumble, “I understand.”
But I noticed that he wasn’t getting it at all, and that he had trouble grasping those East European experiences. This calm, timid man, who loved his wife above all others in the world, sat in Eli Solakova’s kitchen and nodded as if he understood when she said:
“When I saw my first husband walking around in the garden, poking about, like the lazy dog he was, I had a sudden urge to put a bomb right under him. I wanted to blow him apart. You understand, don’t you? Aren’t I right? Yes, I am always right, aren’t I, Peter?”
Eli is the closest I’ve come to finding someone like Fasse, my aunt, after her death in 1988. Eli had been sitting there in the kitchen, with her sewing machine on the kitchen table and her bed in one corner next to the oven, following those crucial changes in my life. And now she was meeting my father at last.
He turned to Eli as if he were replying to her descriptions from marriage Hell, and said:
“Now you listen to me. You have had one of the greatest artists in the world living here in
Prague, Endre Nemes, and for many years I had a watercolor, ‘The Machine Man,’ by him on my wall at home in . Nemes came from Hungary but lived in Prague during the 1930’s, and I shall tell you, Eli, that for me it is a great honor to sit here in your kitchen in this city of high culture, as if I were visiting Nemes and talking with his friend Jakub Bauernfreund. There’s something very odd about Time. You know that.” Malmo
“Bauerfreund! He must have been a relative of my cousins! And about Time being strange, that is something deeply ingrained into little old me. My God, all that political crap going on.”
“It’s so corrupt!”
“Corrupt? It’s bankrupt. I didn’t believe in National Socialism, I didn’t believe in Socialism, and I don’t even believe in Capitalism! If we can’t find a solution soon, I think humanity is doomed. Everyone just thinks about himself. Aren’t I right, Peter? I am right.”
“You must have faith in art, Eli!” my father said.
“Then explain why.”
My father managed to convince Eli that she was part of a cultural milieu that was indestructible. We were sitting a stone’s throw away from Karl’s Bridge, and my father was talking about Endre Nemes’ painting, “Prague Pieta.”
Translated by Erland G. Anderson