|Prague Writers' Festival, J Haynes' blog,
31st May 2008
Saturday: Alarm rings and gets me up and into action. Quickly
wash, pack and out the door. Walk the short distance to Denfert-Rochereau
and the RER to Charles de Gaulle 2 and the flight to Prague. Manage to
check my small bag, get a boarding pass, clear passport and security controls
and head for the duty free shop. Michael said that Vlasta, his attractive
wife as well as co-organizer of the Prague Writers' Festival, likes cassis.
Alas, the duty free store is out of stock.
Sit near Gate 70 where the flight is to board. Begin a conversation with
a fellow sitting next to me and he is from Managua, Nicaragua. His name
is Octaviano César and he is the Czech Honorary Consul General
as well as the representative of the Czech company, Lom. His wife is introduced
to me. We three have a stimulating conversation. People are beginning
to boars for the flight. We discover we will be sitting on the same row.
It is a low number so no need to rush. When finally we do elect to board,
it is a shock to discover that our Prague flight gate has been changed.
Gate 70 passengers are on their way to Munchen. We are at another gate.
Needless to say, we rush to this gate and discover no one from Air France
is present The Czech Air Lines plane is parked down below, still connected
to us. So near yet so far. We ask various Air France staff for assistance.
But all report the flight is closed and there is nothing that can be done.
We are too late. Another fellow has also failed to make the flight. His
name is David and he is from Chicago. None of us heard any announcement.
David, in fact, checked his computer for flight information and learned
that the flight had been delayed for 20 minutes.
We rush to an Air France desk. The next flight departs at 13.10. Both
David and I need to go out to the booking desk and get new boarding passes.
What a pain. Finally all is accomplished and we are ready for the next
departure. Once again I am sitting on the same row with the couple from
Nicaragua. Bizarre. But not as bizarre as some years ago when I sat next
to a young couple from Budapest on a flight to Warsaw that was followed
a year later on another flight from Budapest to Warsaw with the same young
couple sitting next to me. There have been even more bizarre incidents
like this. But now is not the time or place to relate them.
Smooth flight. Change 200 euros. Say farewell to Octaviano and his wife.
Stand with David. Will our checked luggage arrive or not? Get a message
from Michael March wondering what has happened to me. Give him a call
and report missing the flight, that I am at Prague airport and will be
coming to the Hotel Josef as soon as I can. Suggest to David that we share
a taxi into Prague. To my pleasant surprise, my bag appears. David doesn't
get his. He reports the missing bag to the Czech Airlines and they promise
to deliver it later tonight to his hotel, the Intercontinental. It's a
beautiful warm sunny day as our taxi makes its way to the two hotels.
Give David the Chicago Tribune article and invite him to dine when he
is next in Paris. Continue to the Ministry of Education hotel that is
around the corner from the Hotel Josef. Tonight the Hotel Josef is full,
but I can move there tomorrow morning. Leave my bag in my room and walk
the short distance to Hotel Josef.
Michael March welcomes me. After our warm embrace, he reports he is tired
and needs a nap and some rest and suggests I get some as well. He leaves
me with Guillaume Basset. He is from Lyon, is in Prague more or less by
accident (because his girlfriend, Laure, got a job here teaching French
and he followed her). He discovered Michael March and the Writers' Festival
Guillaume also obtained a teaching job and became involved with the Writers'
Festival. He introduces me to another assistant, Helena Stingova. She
rushes off to change clothes for tonight's welcome dinner in the Prague
mayor's residance. Another woman comes up to speak with Guillaume and
we are introduced. Her name is Sophie Pons and she is a correspondent
I spot Margaret Atwood and get up to greet her. She and her husband, Graeme
Gibson, just arrived from Toronto, She goes upstairs to rest a bit before
A woman approaches. It is Milena Findeis. She has been involved with the
Hotel Josef since 2002, the year we were introduced. She apologizes that
the hotel is full and I must stay elsewhere tonight. It is not a problem.
She also tells me that Rudolf Ploberger, the proprietor of the Hotel Josef,
sends his greetings and best wishes to me. I ask her to return my good
wishes to him. I have come to love the Hotel Josef and to greatly appreciate
the kindness of Rudolf Ploberger. I know that Michael March is grateful
to him for allowing the Prague Writers' Festival to base its operations
here and the fact that he extends hospitality to such a large number of
writers. Milena and I talk about her life and about her son, Jan. She
seems to be involved in journalism this year and will be interviewing
a number of writers attending the festival for Kurier, an Austrian newspaper
based in Vienna.
Michael McClure looms into view. I get up and tell him that he and I met
in the mid-60s when his play, The Beard, was presented in the Royal Court
Theatre in London. One evening Michael and Rip Torn read poetry in my
Arts Laboratory in Drury Lane. He smiles
and says he remembers the evening with great pleasure. I am introduced
to an attractive woman named Amy who I believe is his wife. They excuse
themselves and go up to their room to get ready for tonight.
Mollye Miller, from Baltimore, who was one of the assistants last year,
is once again involved with the festival. She says that both she and Hannah
Brooks-Motl are hostesses for the writers' festival again this year. Hannah
will be flying into Prague from Scotland tomorrow. Hannah, from Madison,
Wisconsin, lived in Prague for almost four years. She spent the past year
studying in St.Andrews University. (Also Votech "PJ" Brtnik
is on the team again and will handle my blog material for the Prague Writers'
Festival web site.)
Martin Belk, one of the people responsible for the publication One Magazine,
is here from Edinburgh. I tell him I dined last night with Mary Folliet,
Sheila Colvin and John Calder in the Terminus Nord in Paris and that they
all send greetings to him. Martin introduces me to Geraldine Sweeney and
Jonathan Pryce who also are involved with the magazine. He thanks me for
the help and support I have given the magazine. I tell him that I read
the new issue, that Mary Folliet gave us copies in Paris and that I found
it to be better and better as it evolves. Because I am a Consultant to
the Calcutta Film Festival, I found the article, '"Europe's New Faces"
- the second annual New Europe Film Festival piece in the current issue
extremely valuable. Martin says that he is pleased I like the magazine
and that he will put me into contact with the Festival Director, Jan Naszewski
About 19.30, Michael March gathers a number of writers in the lobby of
the Hotel Josef and leads us via a scenic route to the residence of the
Mayor of Prague. I walk with Gunter Kunert and his wife, Erika. He and
I discuss our obligations to past events. He feels the havoc Germany unleashed
upon the world means he can never forget and that he must bare this like
a heavy weight on his shoulders for the rest of his life. I suggest that
if his grandfather kicked my grandfather in the ass, it has nothing to
do with our present relations, that we must live in the present and forget
the pain and injustices of the past He disagrees. He feels we can never
The hip mayor of Prague, Pavel Bém, is hosting a welcome dinner
in his fabulous residence. It is an amazing building. See lots of faces
I recognize including the attractive Ambassador to the Czech Republic
from Sweden, Catherine von Heidenstan. She gives me a warm smile and tells
me that she is sorry not to have attended a Sunday dinner since our meeting
last year. I tell her she has another year to make it. I see Larissa Vergou.
She is visiting her mother. I also learn that Michael and Vlasta have
created a literary award in honor of her father, Spyros Vergou. Roots
in Time. The Spiros Vergos Prize for Literature will be awarded for the
first time this year to Natalia Gorbanevskaya tomorrow night at the Theatre
Minor. Larissa is here tonight with her mother. I remember meeting her
mother last year, so go over and throw her some kisses. I tell Larissa
that I miss her father, that he had a great spirit and that he contributed
so much to the Prague Writers' Festival. It is so good of Michael and
Vlasta to create this award in his honor.
Meet Michael's surgeon and we discuss medical practices in Britain, France
and the Czech Republic. See the fellow who is the proprietor of the Big
Ben Bookshop. His name is Miro Peraica and he introduces me to his lovely
wife, Ana. He is with two assistants from the shop, Matt Murphy and Radana
Rossano Maniscalchi and I meet once again. We first met at the Prague
Writers' Festival in 2002. Then last year we crossed paths again and he
reported he has just had a new daughter. Now this daughter is walking
around and enjoying the evening, looking absolutely breath-taking, a future
Michael March introduces me to a group of people that includes the current
Ambassador from Mexico, Jose Louis Bernal.
As we all know, there is no such thing as a "free lunch". Next
we have the speeches that welcome the writers to this delightful event.
It is a small price to pay. Vlasta Brtnikova gives a welcome in Czech
that is translated into English. Michael March also thanks a number of
people. The Mexican Ambassador relates how the events in Mexico and around
the world in 1968 shaped contemporary Mexico for the better. Then we are
encouraged to eat and to drink and to enjoy ourselves. The food is excellent,
especially the duck. I thank the chefs.
Walk into the back room and find the dessert. Discover once again how
pleasant these rooms are. I remember them from 2002 and last year. Sit
with Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson and we enjoy the peace and fresh
air. Draw them a map back to the Hotel Josef and cross my fingers that
they will make it.
Join Martin Belk and his group. They introduce me to a woman named Susan.
She is with the National Library in Great Britain. I mention that I will
be giving a talk the 24th of June at the National Library of Scotland.
Susan mentions Jim Naughton and says that he will not be here with us
now because he has been promoted and that he must over-see examinations
It is getting late. The five of us cuddle under two umbrellas as we make
our way back to our hotels in a heavy falling rain. It has been a long
day for most of us. I fall into bed and sleep