Jim Haynes newsletters

Newsletters No. 661, 662, 663, 664 and 665
Newsletter No. 661

Beware of pure concepts
Prague Writers' Festival, J Haynes' blog, 9 May 2007

 

In late October 1981, I made by first visit to Prague. While attending the Warsaw “Jazz Jamboree”, some friends connected with Solidarity asked if a letter could be taken to Václav Havel. We agreed to the undertaking and headed South in a car to Kraków and crossed the frontier into Czechoslovakia and on to Olomouc. Two days later we arrived at an address in Prague. Only to be informed by Ivan Havel that his brother was in prison, but that he would accept the letter.

This was the first of many trips from my home in Paris to countries in the East. These trips enabled me to create a series of Guide Books that were later published in Great Britain and the USA under the name People to People. In the end, five were published to include ten Eastern European countries and Russia. They were unlike any guide book ever created because they contained no information that one normally finds. Instead, there were 1000 short bios of people open and ready to meet travelers. Tourists go to see things (monuments, museums, etc) and travelers go to participate in the daily life of the local population. My books were an attempt to transform tourists into travelers. And from the hundreds of letters I received over the years from people in the books and from people who used the books, our aim was achieved.

Then in the Spring of 2002, Michael March and Vlasta Brtniková invited me to participate in the Prague Writers’ Festival. I accepted with great excitement.

On April the 20th a Czech Airlines flight takes me from Paris to Prague. An American writer, William T. Vollmann, is on the same flight. Michael March mets us at the airport and welcomes us to Prague. William and I share a ride to our hotel in Dlouhá Street, a street where Kafka once lived.

After we have checked-in, go back to the lobby and find that old friends, John Calder and Christopher Logue, have just arrived from London. Also see Vlasta Brtniková and she greets me with a radiant smile. And to my pleasant surprise, see another friend, Mylène Sylvestre. She is with The Guardian, a newspaper I have been reading since 1956, and which is one of the main sponsors of the festival. I have even written a few articles for the paper over the years. She introduces me to Gary Younge, who writes a column for The Guardian. Learn that Gary and I both attended Edinburgh University.

Michael March announces that we are expected now at the Hall of Mirrors and he leads the way. I walk with Christopher Logue. It’s a short walk and we soon arrive. An impressive room. A part of the National Library that dates from the 17th century. We get speeches of welcome from Michael March, from Vojtech Balík, the Director of the National Library, from Miroslav Kula, the president of Czech Airlines. Mylène says a few words on behalf of The Guardian. Snacks and drinks flow. People mingle. Vlasta introduces me to a Marina from St. Petersburg and she and I exchange words in French. Talk with Elmore Leonard and meet his attractive wife, Christine. Sit a while with John Calder. He is one of my oldest friends. We met in 1959 when he traveled North to Edinburgh to sell his books to me. I had just opened the first all paperback bookshop in Great Britain next to Edinburgh University. Later we meet Ivana Bozdechová, a very attractive Assistant Professor of Czech Literature and Language at Charles University. She has also translated a number of Irish writers into Czech. Ivana introduces us to Jim Naughton, who is a Professor of Czech Literature and Language at Oxford University as well as a translator of Czech literature into English. Ivana tells us about Caffrey’s, an Irish pub, whose proprietor, Frank Haughton, is supportive of literary projects. John and I suggest we visit the pub after the reception. Somehow in all the confusion, John and I make our way to an Italian restaurant where we have an excellent meal.

The next morning at breakfast there are lots of more meetings. I sit with a writer from South Korea, Ko Un, and his wife. Afterwards John Calder and I go for a stroll in the bright morning sunshine. He wants to purchase a Czech/English dictionary. We find a small bookshop and John is successful. John is a member of the Kafka Prize jury for a second year. Last year the jury met in the Milena Café, so John suggests we go there for a light lunch. Later Michael March tells us the café is named after Kafka’s last woman in his life.

Back at the hotel, Michael introduces us to Rossano Maniscalchi, the official photographer of the festival. He has a new book entitled Second Thoughts. It contains photographs of writers who have attended the festival over the past twelve years.

We all walk the short distance to the Mayor’s residence. Stroll with Mylène. We collect John Calder on the way. One of the first people I see is the Czech writer, Ivan Klíma. He and I have met at the “Lahti Writers’ Reunion” and at the Edinburgh Writers’ Festival. Then see my favorite assistant professor, Ivana Bozdechová. The mayor Jan Kasl welcomes us to Prague and hopes we all have a great week at the conference. John Calder and I sit in another room and wonder how many people from all over the world have sat in these extremely comfortable chairs.

This year’s festival is dedicated to Jean Genet. Tonight we have a one-woman performance of Genet’s Prisoner of Love. Lara Bruhl has brought the production from Paris. It is a moving and an excellent start to the festival. Another reception afterwards. More talk.

It is a superb five days. Meet so many people it is difficult to remember them all. But I do remember Alain Robbe-Grillet, Duo Duo (from China but lives in Holland), Spiros Vergos (a poet from Greece). Homero Aridjis (a poet from Mexico), Ersi Sotiropoulos (a novelist from Athens), Jirí Grusa (a Czech writer), an attractive woman named Milena Findeis (who tells me she is the assistant manager of the Hotel Josef), and meet Ivan Havel again. Ivan and his wife, Dagmar Havlová, host a small dinner party in their superb restaurant, Cerný kun. I tell him that we met way back in October 1981 when I delivered a letter to him for his brother from Solidarity.

My next visit to Prague was in November 2003 with Susi Wyss and John Flattau. We stay in the Hotel Josef – thanks to Milena. It is another fabulous trip.

 

 
Jim Haynes
Jim Haynes for the Prague Writers' Festival J Haynes blog , 9 May 2007
more on the Prague Writers' Festival Website

Atelier A-2,
83 rue de la tombe Issoire,
75014 Paris

 

Newsletter No. 662

Delivering a promise at Hotel Josef
Prague Writers' Festival, J Haynes' blog, 16 May 2007

 

Today is my birthday. I like to think that every day is my birthday. Nevertheless, thousands of hours and days and weeks ago, launched into life by my sweet mother. The same day her only sister got married and her brother played an important football game. I don’t know who won. Remember I was not there. It was, I have been told, an exciting day for all concerned.

Monday, 10 November: The location for all this activity was Haynesville, Louisiana. A town named after a relative who supposedly founded the town. Oil discovered in the area at the beginning of the 20th century. Many rich people as a result. Fortunately no oil discovered on our land. Otherwise my life would have been very different. And much less interesting. I happen to like the way my life has evolved. (A distant cousin who I do not know, whose name is also Jim Haynes, is reputed to be worth millions. I do not envy him his millions.) I left Haynesville in my mother's arms some five weeks later and have almost never returned. Both my mother and father are buried in the local cemetery along with many other relatives. Spending my first ten years in Shreveport, Louisiana, attended a local grammar school. It was a fairly typical American childhood. This was to change radically when my father accepted a position with an oil company in Venezuela. Thanks, papa. I have always been grateful to you and mother for this. My first flight from Houston. It took three days to get to San Tomé. Thus my wanderings begin and still continue. Many adventures and many trips. Many stories…
Old friend, John Flattau, calls to say he has arrived in Paris and that his hotel room is not ready. He asks if he can come over. And is soon here. He and I are taking my neighbor, Susi Wyss, on her first trip to Prague. Susi's mother was born in that corner of the world and Susi has never been there. Years ago we promised to take her and now we are delivering this promise. We are to fly very early Thursday morning.
John and I met many years ago, in 1960, when he was a student at Edinburgh University and I was running my bookshop. It was to be a profound friendship of now almost fifty years. After Edinburgh, John returned to his home in New York City, finished his studies at Harvard Law School, became a lawyer, then gave it up to start a publishing house for photographic books. Later John gave up publishing to become a professional photographer. I organized exhibitions for him in St. Petersburg, Vilnius, Warsaw, Budapest, Athens, Havana, Edinburgh and Paris.
Susi Wyss is an amazing creature. Born into a poor family in Zurich, she obtained a scholarship to attend the Beaux Arts College, married a fellow student and ended up living in Paris (via first going with her husband to South Africa). Her life has been extraordinary. She became one of the great courtesans of the 20th century. And the hostess of a salon in Paris that mixed Cabinet Ministers with pop stars, industrialists with actresses, and taxi drivers with multi-millionaires. Susi was not only one of the most beautiful women in Paris, she was also a fantastic cook. Her candid conversations in German, French and English enchanted everyone she encountered. Susi always wanted to travel to Prague and Bratislava. Her mother began life there. John and I once promised to take her. And now we were keeping our word, we were taking her to Prague.

Thursday, 13 November: Very early up and into action. Call John and Susi to make sure they are up. Agree to pick up John in the St. Michel RER Station. Coffee, shave and shower. Pack, dress and out the door. Walk the short distance to Susi’s apartment, ring her bell and tell her I am downstairs. We soon collect John and continue to Charles de Gaulle Airport. After we have checked-in, we learn there is a delay. Talk with a woman sitting next to me. Learn she is with the Czech Ministry of Environment. We decide to go up for a coffee. And then our flight is called.
Ninety minutes later we are landing at Prague International Airport. Quickly collect our bags, say goodbye to the Ministry of Environment woman, change money and then clear the passport entry procedures. A fellow holds up a sign with my name written on it. His name is Libor and he welcomes us to Prague on behalf of the Hotel Josef. He will drive us to the hotel.
Susi is super excited. She asks Libor to take the scenic route into the city justify. She wants the route that shows local architecture at its best. And Libor does his best to fulfill Susi’s requests. The morning sunshine certainly helps. Libor is an excellent guide. Soon we arrive at the hotel. When we have checked-in, Milena Findeis comes out from her office to welcome us. After Milena and I have embraced, I introduce her to Susi and to John. Milena and I met at the 2002 Prague Writers’ Festival. She mentioned that she was the Assistant Manager of a new hotel and gave me her card. When John and I decided to take Susi to Prague, I called Milena and she booked us into the Hotel Josef. Now I am in room 205. Susi is in 405 and John has 403. The rooms are large and beautifully designed. A large bowl of fresh fruit and a note of welcome from Milena is a further greeting. It looks like we are going to be pleasantly spoiled. (And we are!)
I immediately attack the telephone. Get Michael March straight away. He suggests he come to the hotel tomorrow morning for a walkabout and a long talk. It is agreed he will collect me at the hotel. Before we ring off, I tell him to give his lovely wife, Vlasta, my best wishes. Call next Ivana Bozdechovà and she tells me she will come to the hotel as soon as she completes a few chores at her university office. She is a Professor at Charles University of Czech Literature and Language. She also translates from English into Czech.
I call John and Susi and they will meet me downstairs in the lobby in thirty minutes. Ivana arrives, introductions are made, and it is decided that we will head out to find a place to lunch. Ivana suggests a place she likes called U trech madryeh kouli. It’s a short stroll from the Josef Hotel through the fantastic Staromestské nàm square to Havelska. Our Susi is over-come with joy. Almost speechless. She is enjoying every minute. She cannot believe how beautiful Prague is. John and I spent some time in Prague some ten years ago. And I have been in and out of Prague many times since 1981. John takes photographs as we continue on the way to the restaurant.
After our delicious lunch, Ivana has to leave us. She is teaching a class for another professor. We three walk slowly back to the hotel. Susi goes inside to have a siesta. John and I continue our walkabout.
In the evening, Ivana joins us and takes us to another restaurant for another fantastic meal.

Friday, 14 November: John and I are up early and meet downstairs for a superb breakfast. Susi sleeps. She is not a morning-person. John goes out to photograph Prague. I wait in the hotel for Michael March. Sit and read and observe the coming and going in the lobby. Michael soon arrives and he suggests a coffee house he likes. We stop at the Big Ben Bookshop briefly so Michael can leave a note for someone. Minutes later, we settle into a corner, drink our coffee, and begin to talk about mutual friends and the next Prague Writers’ Festival. Michael tells me the new American Ambassador to the Czech Republic is extremely helpful. As promised, our coffee is excellent. Michael reports that Gore Vidal, Amos Oz, Arundhati Roy, and Edna O’Brien have agreed to attend. I can claim to know Gore Vidal and Edna O’Brien and to have spent some time with Amos Oz in Edinburgh. Arundhati Roy was supposed to attend the Prague Writers’ Festival in 2002 the year I attended, but she was forced to cancel at the last minute. Damn, it would have been fun to have met her. We talk about mutual friends. I learn that Spiros Vergos is in Athens (so now I know why I was unable to get him on the telephone). I give Michael news of John Calder. Our talk is interrupted when I spot through the window John Flattau walking pass. Jump up, and go out and give John a shout. He joins us. Introduce two New Yorkers to each other. Talk turns immediately to Manhattan.
Some time later we three head for the Hotel Josef and find Susi in the lobby. She looks fabulous. Michael leaves us and we promise to meet again for dinner. Susi is hungry. The hotel staff has recommended Kolkovna. So has Ivana. It’s a short walk and we immediately are pleased with the place. Susi loves it. Our waiter, Robert, speaks excellent English. He has family in Santa Monica, California and recently spent time there. Susi has, at last, the Czech meal she has been dreaming about, just like her mother’s cooking. (But not as good she claims.) John has a vegetarian soup that comes in a bread bowl. One eats the bowl when one is finished with the soup.
Full and contented, Susi returns to the hotel. I have an appointment to meet Eva Kacerova, an old friend. John has met Eva and decides to come with me. We take a taxi, get caught in a traffic jam and are late. Both John and I are rarely late for any appointment. So I feel terrible. Borrow a telephone and get her at her office. I apologize for being late. She left a few minutes before we arrived. She tells me to call Steve Gove. He has started a Fringe Theatre Festival. Eva thinks I would like him. I promise to call him.
John and I walk slowly back to the hotel. We pass Dagmar and Ivan Havel’s restaurant, Cerny Kun, in Vodickova. I tell John how I was asked to deliver a letter from Solidarity in Warsaw to Vaclay Havel in November 1981. Daniel Topolski, Katherine Hilliard and I drove from Warsaw and arrived two days later in Prague. We gave the letter to Ivan Havel when he informed us that his brother was in prison. I once had the rights to produce an English-language premiere of an early Havel play when I was Artistic Director of the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. Only at the last minute, for reasons I never discovered, rights were withdrawn.
In the evening, Susi, John and I attempt to dine in a restaurant that someone in Paris has recommended to Susi. Alas it is full. We are refused entry. We cross the street and eat a simple meal in a place called Karavella. Another culinary blast.

Saturday, 15 November: John and I meet once again downstairs to start the day with another superb breakfast. The Hotel Josef certainly knows how to send its clients out in the morning with a smile of their faces. Back in my room, make a few telephone calls. Again unsuccessful. People are away for le weekend.
John and Susi want to go to Kolkovna again. It is certainly easy to go along with them. Robert is our waiter again. John has his same vegetarian soup again. I have garlic soup. Susi is equally modest. Walking back to the hotel, Susi picks up several stones to take back to Paris. I pass a quiet afternoon in the hotel room, reading, writing and making a few telephone calls. No luck in trying to reach Steven Gove.
In the early evening Michael March comes to the Hotel Josef. We all walk the short distance to his and Vlasta’s apartment. The place is beautiful. Just like Vlasta. Out on a balcony, Michael tells us about the recent flood and points out how high the water rose. It is shocking and hard to believe. We are all thinking about dinner. Michael suggests a place he likes called Kogo. Susi is very hungry. It’s a long but delightful walk through many narrow and crowded streets. Finally we arrive. And it has been worth the effort. We are all super pleased. Outside the restaurant there is an exhibition of portraits of world leaders: Havel, Castro, Bush, Putin, etc. All large photographs with eyes filled with tears. Very bizarre.

Sunday, 16 November: Our last morning in Prague. It is a very early start for John and myself. Once again downstairs for the morning ritual. To our surprise, Susi joins us. And she is shocked. She sees the tables over-flowing with cheeses, hams, bacon, different kinds of breads. Why did we not inform her she demands. But I think we did. She cannot believe her eyes. She is surprised by the abundance. Everything is delicious. Why, she asks out loud, did she not discover this sooner?
Upstairs we pay our bill and check-out. Milena Findeis wishes us a good trip to Paris, says he hopes that we enjoyed our stay in Prague and in the Hotel Josef, and that we will come again soon. We assure her that everything was delightful. And thank her and ask her to thank the hotel staff. Especially the breakfast chef.

Smooth flight to Paris. Goodbye beautiful Prague. See you again soon I am sure.

 

 
Jim Haynes
Jim Haynes for the Prague Writers' Festival J Haynes blog , 16 May 2007
>more on the Prague Writers' Festival Website

Atelier A-2,
83 rue de la tombe Issoire,
75014 Paris

 

Newsletter No. 663

Flying to Prague with Peter Stephan Jungk and Aleksandar Hemon
Prague Writers' Festival, J Haynes' blog, May 2007

 

When Michael March informed me that I would be traveling to Prague on the same flight with two writers attending the Prague Writers’ Festival in June, Peter Jungk and Aleksandar Hemon, I thought it might be a good idea to check on them.

Peter Jungk I have known for over forty years. He stayed in my Edinburgh home in the early 60s when his father, Robert Jungk, was on a book tour of Great Britain. Robert Jungk was a distinguished professor and writer. His book, Brighter Than a Thousand Suns, tells the story of how the atomic bomb came to be. Later, Robert Jungk became a Professor of Future Studies at the University of Berlin. Robert and I have been friends from our first meeting all those years ago. And we would see each other every October at the Frankfurt Book Fair and catch each other up to date. Often we would dine with John Calder, who published Robert Jungk in Britain, and who probably arranged for me to host Robert in the first place. I also came to know Peter’s amazing mother, Ruth, as well. Peter was only ten when he stayed in my home in Edinburgh. We really only got to know each other better when he moved to Paris from the family home in Salzburg. Our paths would cross at various parties and literary events. Alas, Robert and Ruth are no longer with us. Even Peter has had several close encounters with Mr. Grim Reaper; he has suffered from two major heart attacks. I can commiserate with him. I had one myself in August 2001. It’s not fun. Someone once said: “Growing old is not for sissies.”

Today, the 15th of May, I call Peter at his Paris home and we have a fairly long talk. He is excited about attending the Prague Writers’ Festival. He tells me he is recovering from another long stay in the hospital, that he is behind on a number of projects, that we can talk again next week when he has finished writing something that is over-due. I tell him that I understand, that I look forward to seeing him soon, that I want him to be 100% fit and in top form.

Then I call Aleksandar Hemon and when I explain who I am and that I would like to meet him, he readily agrees. He tells me that he knows about my Sunday Salon, has read my web site, and fully intends to dine one Sunday before he and his wife leave Paris. We agree to meet in the Village Voice Bookshop at 2 p.m.

I do some research and learn that Aleksandar was born in 1964 in Sarajevo in what was then a country called Yugoslavia. In 1992, during a short study trip to Chicago, the conflict in Bosnia prevented his return. He elected to stay in Chicago, quickly mastered the English-language and began to write for some of America’s most prestigious magazines. His first book, The Question of Bruno, appeared in 2000; his second, Nowhere Man, a novel detailing the adventures and travels of Jozef Pronek was published in 2002.

Metro to St. Germain des Pres and walk the short distance to rue Princesse and the Village Voice Bookshop. Odile Hellier, the proprietor of the Village Voice, greets me warmly. When I tell her that I will be attending the Prague Writers’ Festival and that I will be meeting one of the writers attending the festival in the bookshop in some minutes time. When she learns that it is Aleksandar Hemon, she tells me that she has met him and has read one of his books and that she greatly enjoyed it. Sadly the bookshop is out of stock, but both titles have been re-ordered and I will be able to pick up copies next week.

While waiting for Aleksandar to arrive, my mobile telephone rings and a voice reminds me that we have a meeting in my atelier at 15.00 hours today. I ask if it can be delayed and they suggest 15.15, so I reluctantly say OK. When Aleksandar arrives, I explain my silly situation and he says it is not a problem, We take a taxi to my favorite Chinese restaurant, Auberge des Trois Saveurs, at 82 rue Hallé in the 14th arrondissement, only five minutes from my home.

Helene welcomes us. Our orders are quickly taken and Sasha and I quickly begin to exchange stories. I learn that he met his wife to be, Teri, in Chicago and that since both of them love Paris, they decided to live here for a while. They recently got married in Paris. Teri is a photography editor and has recently completed a book of photographs about Chicago. (I must remember to tell her about my friend, Rajak Ohanian, one of the best photographers in France and his relationship with the city of Chicago.) Sasha tells me that he has almost finished two books here in Paris. One is a novel and the other is a collection of short stories. We gobble down our delicious lunch. It is almost 3 p.m., so ask Helene to excuse us and we slip out and walk to my atelier.

Introduce Sasha to a new house guest, Agnieszka Cybuch, a young architect from Warsaw, who arrived last night. Tea is produced and we learn that Sasha has Polish relatives. Talk turns to Poland and to Ukraine I report that I wish to travel soon to Odessa, Kiev and Lvóv. Sasha has been to Lvóv. And then the estate agent arrives. More introductions. After almost 37 years in my atelier, I have decided to sell the place and start a new chapter in my life. The fellow who has come to see the place, after he learns that I am a writer, asks me if I know John Berger. I say that I do, but that I know his son, Jacob, better. Then he asks if I know Geoff Dyer. Why yes I do. When they have left, I explain to Agnieska and Sasha that I wish to purchase a small 30-room hotel in this neighborhood, that I want to be a Night Porter. Here in my atelier I have run a free “hotel” for the past 37 years, that at the moment there are four people staying here (Beatriz Belfrage from London, Kostas Papacharalampous from Athens, David Lucas from Sydney and Agnieszka) and that two more are on their way here tomorrow morning (Kelly Miller from Seattle and George Abbott from New York City). Sasha rightly asks how will I be able to ask friends to pay their hotel bill. Yes, I admit, this will be a problem.

Sasha says he will come to the Sunday dinner with Teri this coming Sunday. Agnieszka will be back from her karate training in Vichy and will dine here also. Ssaha elects to walk to his home in the rue St. Jacques and asks for directions, I tell him to go out the front gate, turn right and then just continue to walk. My street, rue de la Tombe Issoire, and Sasha’s street are the same – just different names. Give him two of my books, Thanks for Coming! and Workers of the World, Unite and Stop Working! Sasha promises to bring me his books on Sunday.

 

 
Jim Haynes
Jim Haynes for the Prague Writers' Festival J Haynes blog , May 2007
>more on the Prague Writers' Festival Website

Atelier A-2,
83 rue de la tombe Issoire,
75014 Paris

 

Newsletter No. 664

Live from Hotel Josef, Saturday
Prague Writers' Festival, J Haynes' blog, 2 June 2007

 

Life begins at 5 a.m. when noise from the kitchen drifts upstairs. Houseguests have returned from a night on the town. Down to investigate. Find Beatriz Belfrage with her friend Michael Camilleri from Australia. And David Lucas with a woman I have never seen before. Learn she is Lya from Brazil and another friend of Beatriz. They invite me for Sushi.

Thank them and say no thanks. Quickly get into action. Finish packing and quickly wash, dress and out the door and on my way to Prague via RER “B” line from Denfert Rochereau to Charles de Gaulle 2. Find the correct departure gate and also find Sasha Hemon in the queue just ahead of me. He introduces his wife, Teri, and we quickly clear passport control, check-in with Czech Airlines and then go for coffee and croissants. Sasha digs into his shoulder bag and produces a copy of his novel, Nowhere Man, and passes it over to me. They both compliment my autobiography, Thanks for Coming! Teri especially likes the 19 dedication pages. They say that they have enjoyed their time in Paris but that they are returning to Chicago the end of June. Teri further reports a love/hate relationship with Chicago. I tell her about my delightful photographer friend, Rajack Ohanian, who is in love with Chicago.

It’s time to board our flight to Prague. Bags must go through the x-ray machine and I confess to having a bottle of wine in my carry-on bag. It must be given up. Oh no. I was planning to give it to Vlasta and Michael March. I offer it to one of the young guards. He says he is not allowed to accept it. Then he winks.

Peter Stephan Jungk looms into view. Introductions made. He will fly with us to Prague. We all gather free newspapers. I pick up today’s Guardian. It is not only one of the world’s great newspapers, it is also one of my favorites. As well as a sponsor of the Prague Writers’ Festival. Thank you, Guardian, for being a source of sanity in this crazy world. Pick up the Financial Times, Liberation and the International Herald Tribune – three more great newspapers. Teri, Sasha and I are in row 10; Peter is a few rows in front of us. Smooth flight. Soon we are landing at Prague International Airport. We quickly clear passport control and collect our bags. (Although I almost take a bag that is not mine, but it is identical.)

Outside we find a young attractive woman named Hannah Brooks-Motl. She is a volunteer hostess for the Writers’ Festival. She is from Madison, Wisconsin and has been living in Prague for almost four years. But she is about to move to Scotland to continue her studies at St. Andrews University. She also tells us that her boyfriend has accepted a job in Edinburgh. I tell her that I lived ten years in Edinburgh and can give her some tips. She says she knows, that Michael March has suggested she corner me while I am in Prague. It’s a bright warm ride into the center and we soon arrive at the Hotel Josef. Both Peter Stephan Jungk and I have attended the Prague Writers’ Festival in past years. Peter in 2001 and me in 2002, but this is the first time for Teri and Sasha to be in Prague. Nevertheless, we all four are excited. Prague looks great! It always looks great. And the Hotel Josef is welcoming. Michael March is at the hotel to greet us and to give us information packets and lots of party invitations. Milena Findeis, who is the Assistant Manager of the Hotel Josef, comes out to give both Peter Stephan Jungk and yours truly warm greetings. Peter knows her from 2001. I met her in 2002 via Spyros Vergos and stayed in the Hotel in 2003 with John Flattau and Susi Wyss. Now I am in room 707. Michael asks me to sign a few papers and tells me that at 3 this afternoon we will meet in the lobby of the hotel and will be taken to the Swedish Ambassador’s residence for our first reception.

It’s just after 12, so am about to go upstairs to deposit my things Chat briefly with Hannah who introduces me to another hostess, Mollye Miller, from Baltimore. I cannot resist telling them my Baltimore story of how Jane MacAllister ended up meeting Anselm Hollo because I called a writer in Baltimore and when I asked for him, a voice I recognized said that the writer was not in Baltimore, but on holiday in Mexico. I recognized the voice, invited Anselm Hollo to join me, Sarah Bean and Jane MacAllister for lunch. Amselm joined us and he and Jane have been married for about twenty years.

The room is superb – much like I remember from 2003. Unpack and read various festival announcements. There is a knock at the door. The lovely Jana Fronkova has a letter for me from Carina Schramn, Director of Guest Relations. Plus gifts: fresh fruit, a bottle of Vittel, and chocolate. Bravo! Thank you, Carina! Thank you, Jana! Thank you, Milena!

Downstairs, in the lobby to meet Michael March and the others. Michael introduces Gary Snyder and his son, Gen. Leave them and go to the Computer Room and attempt to write a short item to send to Votech Brtnik (also known as PJ) who will handle my blog material for the Prague Writers’ Festival web site. Somehow or other I make a mess, lose everything and must start this at another time.

Back to the lobby. Introduce myself to Ann and Tom Sandqvist. They are from Sweden. Tell them that I was once married to a woman from Stockholm (Viveka Reuterskiold), that I co-produced a future Swedish tax-payer. Mention Viveka and Gosta Wallmark and my wonderful son, Jesper. Tom has written a book entitled DADA EAST that has been published by M.I.T. Press and will be a source material book for not only the Festival but also for an exhibition that Michael’s wife, Vlasta Brtnikova, is deeply involved with and the reason we have not met yet. The book deals with a group of people from Bucuresti who were early exponents of DADA. Share a taxi to the Swedish Embassy with Ann and Tom and with Arnon Grunberg. Arnon is from Amsterdam, but lives in New York City at the moment. He and I talk about Cees Nooteboom, Harry Mulish, Jaco groot, Willem de Ridder, Peter van Straaten, and other notable Dutch literary figures. Tell Arnon the story of Fanny and Marianne and what happened as a result of having dinner with Cees Nooteboom in a Chinese restaurant in Amsterdam.

Walking up the stairs in the Swedish Ambassador’s residence encounter Dominique and Paul Kahn. He publishes New – a literary magazine. I brought the first two issues with me from Paris. Issue No. 2 features Gary Snyder.

At the top of the stairs, meet an attractive woman. She is the Swedish Ambassador. Her name is Catherine von Heidenstan. Tell her that I co-produced a future Swedish tax-payer and then I have to explain. She laughs. Teri and Sasha suddenly appear – both looking very ravishing. Tease them about how chic they are. There is a balcony with a super view. Go out and find Hannah and Mollye. Teri joins us. Michal Prochazka wanders out as well. He is the journalist who came to Paris to interview me. His piece was large and well designed on the page. I was impressed and tell him so. He welcomes me to Prague and says we must have a quiet dinner while I am here. I am all for it.

Then meet Elena Stefoi, a poet, journalist and diplomat from Bucuresti and now the Romanian Ambassador in Canada. I ask her if she knows the Romanian Cultural Attaché in Lisbon. I am thinking of Virgil Mihaiu. But meet also a fellow named Mircea Dan Duta and he knows Virgil. He is not the Cultural Attaché; both Virgil and Mircea are Directors of the Romanian Cultural Centers. Meet another woman from Romania whose husband is Czech and who translates from Romanian into Czech. Elena tells us not to eat a lot because there will be more food tonight at the reception the Romanians are hosting.

Thank the young waiter who tells me his mother did all the cooking. I suggest she come to Paris and cook Swedish meat balls at my restaurant. Thank the Swedish Ambassador. Hannah calls a taxi and Sasha, Teri and I ride to the Hotel Josef.

Sit in my room and contemplate calling various friends I have in Prague, but it seems too much of an undertaking. I will do it later.

Downstairs to the lobby again and sit in the corner with a dozen people from the Festival. Give Elena Stefoi a copy of my manifesto, Workers of the World, Unite and Stop Working! Peter Stephan Jungk joins us and takes my book from Elena’s hands. I tell him to give it back to her, that I have a copy for him as well. Sasha and Teri appear and they say they will walk to the reception in the Zofin Palace.

I share a taxi there with Abraham Yehoshua and his wife, Ika. And with Arnon Grunberg. I tell Abraham that I was a friend of the late Dahn Ben-Amotz and we both agree he was a character. Learn that Abraham has a nickname that all his friends call him. It is Bulli. We talk in the taxi about Peter Stephan Jungk and about his father, Robert.

The reception is perfect. Beautiful terrace. Delightful weather. A view of the river. Superb food. . Lovely waitresses and handsome waiters. Trays full of delicious canapés. Delicious Romanian wines. Two waitresses: brunette Marta and blonde Martina – both I would like to take to Paris. Talk with Edgar (E.L.) Doctorow and his attractive wife about Jaco Groot in Amsterdam and Stanley Cohen in New York City.

Give a copy of my book, People to People: Poland, to Mircea Dan Duta and tell him that I also made a People to People: Romania, but it is out of print.

Talk with Peter Stephan Jungk about Garry Davis and our World Passport adventures. I kick myself for not bringing a World Passport to Prague. It is pure Dada.

Rossano Maniscalchi and I renew our friendship. We met in Prague in 2002. He tells me he has a new baby daughter. And she is here with us and her Czech mother. He also says he has a new book of photography about to be published.

Long talk with the Swedish Ambassador, Catherine von Heidenstan, and with a Czech fellow named Frantisek Janouch. He and his Russian wife have a daughter, also named Catherine, who is a successful writer in Stockholm. Learn that she has written a book that deals with human sexuality. It seems it is too hot for American publishers. I can relate to that. One of my first books, Hello, I Love You!, was never published in the USA because I refused to allow it to be cut.

Thank Elena and Miercea. Sasha, Teri and I elect to stroll to the hotel. We walk in front of the National Theatre and I tell them my Eva Kacerova story. Once at the Josef, they go straight to bed. I decide to write a few words on the computer, but both are occupied. Sit in the lobby and Jim Naughton arrives and joins me. We have our long talk about Edinburgh. Then he gives me shocking news: Spyros Vergos died a few days ago in a hospital in Prague. Both Vlasta and Michael March are in shock. Milena Findeis joins us and we three talk a long time about Spyros. What a shadow that this creates. Spyros was the spirit of the Prague Writers’ Festival. Mister Dada himself. In shock I excuse myself and go up to bed.

 

 
Jim Haynes
Jim Haynes for the Prague Writers' Festival J Haynes blog , 2 June 2007
more on the Prague Writers' Festival Website

Atelier A-2,
83 rue de la tombe Issoire,
75014 Paris

 

Newsletter No. 665

Live from Hotel Josef, Sunday
Prague Writers' Festival, J Haynes' blog, 3 June 2007

 

Up very early. Quick shower and head downstairs for a breakfast feast. See Gary Snyder and ask if I might join him. He says that he is almost finished, but I am welcome. We both talk about how much we are enjoying the Festival and Hotel Josef. We talk briefly about a number of friends we have in common including his London publisher in the 60s. Gary excuses himself and I sit and have a second coffee and some more delicious bread, cheese and ham.

Check e-mail and there is a message for me from Sanjeev Prakash in New Delhi, a friend in Paris and an order for a book from someone in Israel. The miracle of e-mail. I love it.

In the lobby encounter Edgar (E.L.) Doctorow and he is on his way to the Big Ben Bookshop to participate in a book-signing. I tell him that I know the way and am in fact on my way there myself. Outside we discover a newspaper photographer who has elected to show us the way to the bookshop. Edgar asks if there is a dinner in my atelier in Paris tonight. Yes, there is and a friend named Paul Allman is going to be “me” and his wife, Mary Bartlett, is cooking a Thai curry. It will be a feast. The dinners continue no matter if I am in Paris or not.

We discover a long queue at Big Ben. Edgar goes inside to be photographed and to await Gary Snyder who will also be signing books this morning. I stand outside and chat with a fellow named Mark Yates. He is from Iowa and has been living in Prague for four years. And with his limited Czech. He asks people in the queue to be patient until Gary Snyder arrives. Somehow talk turns to bookshops and I tell Mark that I used to own a bookshop, gallery and coffee house in Edinburgh in the late 50s, early 60s. He asks if I know Steven Gove. Yes I do! And we talk about the Edinburgh and Prague Fringe Theatre Festivals. I tell him that I organized the printing of the first Edinburgh Fringe program back in 1960 and that I founded The Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. Our conversation ends when we spot Michael March and Gary Snyder approaching. Michael asks me to come into the bookshop. He tells me that he has not received any blog from me. Damn. What has happened? I promise to investigate. Michael then introduces me to a woman named Alice Horackova who writes about literature for a newspaper entitled Young Front and that now has a further name, Today. We talk briefly. Outside it is beginning to rain. Talk with Gary Snyder’s Czech translator and he introduces me to an attractive woman. Rossano Maniscalchi greets us.

I feel I must get back to the hotel. Walk in a pack of Spanish-speaking tourists. I chat briefly with them in my Spanish and they want to know where I am from and why do I speak Spanish. I tell them about my youth in Venezuela and my many trips to Mexico, Cuba and Spain. I give one of the men a leaflet about my Sunday dinners and he promises to come soon to Paris and to cook a Sunday dinner for everyone. They are all from Barcelona and I tell them how much I love their city.

Inside the Hotel Josef, spot Hannah. Introduce her to Michal Prochazka. Then ask Hannah to come to the Media Center to try and discover why my messages failed to reach Michael and PJ, (the fellow who will put it up). We also learn that Paris did not receive my first blog and therefore it will all have to be re-written. Ah, the joys of computing.

The DADA EAST? exhibition is opening and it demands my immediate attention. A short taxi ride and I am there. Immediately see and embrace Vlasta Brtnikova. She has been involved with the exhibition and this is why we have not seen her yet. I turn around and recognize an attractive woman and suddenly realize that it is Larissa Vergou. We embrace and I begin to tell her how sad I am that her father is not here with us. She stops me to introduce her mother. I tell them both that I was a fan of Spyros, that I was so looking forward to spending time with him in Prague, that he had written me recently that he wished to visit me in Paris. Death is so shocking. It is truly the last tabou. Larissa and I talk about Edinburgh and the Festival. Her father asked me to get her a job in the Festival and I managed to do it. She and I saw each other almost everyday for three weeks in August 2002. She was a big success in the Assembly Rooms. Everyone loved her and many people thanked me for recommending her. And now we are meeting again some five years later. Happy as I am to see her, it is sad that her father is not alive and with us. We exchange e-mail addresses and promise to stay in touch. She flies to Athens tonight. Her sister is about to have a baby and could not make the trip to Prague. There will be a funeral ceremony in Athens very soon.

There are speeches to open the exhibition. Michael March declares that the exhibition and indeed the entire Prague Writers’ Festival is dedicated to Spyros and to his spirit. A number of other people speak including the young mayor of Prague, Pavel Ben. Tom Sandqvist also says a few words. Adrian Notz, from the Cabaret Voltaire, in Zurich, is also one of the organizers of the exhibition.

I slip out and walk slowly back to the Hotel Josef. Purchase a dozen postcards, something I almost never do, and when I am back in my room I write them all to friends in Paris.

In the evening it is the beginning of talks at the Theatre Minor. Almost the first person I encounter is the lovely Ivana Bozdechova. We embarce and catch each other up to date. Michael introduces me to PJ, the fellow who has put my blogs up on the Prague Writers’ Festival website. And we discuss the fact that I have to re-write Saturday’s blog and get it to him later tonight. Teri introduces me to Gordana who is from Bosnia and who is a radio journalist with Radio Free Europe. I also see Martin Belk from Edinburgh and we talk about the Edinburgh Festival and various events he has planned. Sit with Gordana and Teri.

There is a panel discussion about Non-Violence and Terrorism which oddly enough is a stimulating event. Abraham Yehoshua, Sasha Hemon, Edgar Doctorow, Gary Snyder all speak from a singular different and personal position, but the sum total produces an amazing cross section of views that add up to an amazing evening. One line that Sasha throws out is especially provocative: “Here we are a group of literary personalities discussing terrorism. When will a group of terrorists meet and discuss literature?”

Afterwards talk with lots of people in the theatre. Then slip out and walk back to the Hotel Josef and fall into bed. It has been a very full day...

 
Jim Haynes
Jim Haynes for the Prague Writers' Festival J Haynes blog , 3 June 2007
more on the Prague Writers' Festival Website

Atelier A-2,
83 rue de la tombe Issoire,
75014 Paris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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