What a mess! Everything, except for the biggest stuff. The winter has been dreadful (although today and yesterday we’ve had a thaw), the kind that only ever rages on the cruel capitalist continent. You guys over there have no idea how bad we have it here. One day, it was colder around here than in Alaska. It’s true that the heating has been going full blast everywhere, but still – I just got over something they call “intestinal flu“ here, or “forty-eight-hour flu“. It doesn’t last long but it’s no trifling matter. I have a backache, a burn on my arm, my eye hurts, a canker sore in my mouth – you get the idea. I’m just telling you so you know that not all that glitters is gold. I’m keeping busy: I just finished a paper for a literary conference in Denver, on the Baroque style of Comenius. It’s hardly patriotic but let’s keep our hopes up. The semester’s ending so the exams are under way, I have to do my taxes, go to Cambridge and Denver – und so verbringt man seine kurzen Tage. The other day, as we sat chatting, somebody quoted Jakobson quoting Goethe: man muss arbeiten. And I say that Beethoven, when his rent was due, scribbled on the side of a music sheet: muss es sein? And replied to himself: es muss sein. Isn’t it fortunate that we have these greats to show us the way?
Don’t say that I can picture you in my head more easily than you can picture me. I can see you in that apartment in Karlín like it was today. It was raining and I was wearing black, and I was carrying Rykr's umbrella. But I can’t picture you in Vršovice. It's like trying to picture Vančura and Novomeský in Villa Tereza. I can conjure up an image but the reality was different. Not that reality, or some aspect of it, ever really matters. You have described the situation well, and I imagine it from your description, yet I’m sure that’s not how it really is, in living reality, which is the only reality in which it has validity after all.
I think that Czech poetry has good qualities, that it is equal to the poets of other nations today. The situation in prose is worse. The best stuff out there, in the past 25 years, is just a commentary on life, although something is better than nothing.
I don’t have your book yet. Hopefully I’ll still be able to get it. To make you feel better in the meantime, I’m sending Mrs. Jiřina a $5 coupon for Tuzex. I’ve been meaning to do that for a long time but wasn’t sure how to go about it. Now a friend told me how. Perhaps Mrs. Jiřina would like to buy coffee or tea or stockings. The friend told me it was doable. I’m writing so you’re not alarmed when you get a strange coupon in the mail.
I know that you are a Talmudist and that you know that the Scripture is the only certainty. But I would like you to smile, I remember your smile. I know you keep me in your memory, but I keep you in mine, too.