On my third day in Prague I found a job lead of sorts. I was sitting in the Led Zeppelin Bar when I came across a copy of an English language publication catering to Prague’s expat scene. It was called Pozor! They needed writers. I copied down the address and went out on the street and hailed a cab.
The cab smelled heavily of cigarettes and garlic. A miniature cowboy boot, horse shoe and cowboy hat hung from the mirror. Czech-country music blared from the radio. The driver wore an open-necked plaid shirt revealing the inevitable and de rigueur gold chain.
“American man, eh? Fine. Fajn!” he said. “America, ah! Empire State building. Land of freedom and democracy. McDonalds. Cape Canaveral. Barbecue chicken. Ahhhh, it is my dream to one day go to your great and significant country. Tell me please, what is the highest mountain in America? How deep is the Grand Canyon? Are there again Red Indians in America? Are they living in tepees? Are they hunting the wild buffalo?”
Back-twisting, looking at me rather than the road, pointing out sights of historical interest (“Please, look, I draw your attention to this building, which is very charactoristical of the Czech architectural style”), the driver ran red light after red light, blamming his horn at scurrying jaywalkers, often using both horn and car alarm in unison so as to alert all and sundry of our approach. Pedestrians were not heeded as a rule, and were often targeted. I stared at the cracked plastic dashboard as we tore through the streets of Prague.
“You are interested in Kultur, eh?” said the driver. “That is why you come to Prague, no? America is great country, but Kultur is better in Prague, yes?. Prague is very old city. Two thousand years before the century…Look please, to your left you may see the statue of our king Wenceslas, greatest king of Czechs. Very wise and great man. All citizens of Czech you will find very wise. More wise people you may not find nowhere. Even in America. Czech man great inventor. We make super-radar. It is for this reason your American president Bill Clinton wishes to make military partnership with Czech nation. You are making fantastic great bombers – yes – but what is use of fantastic great bombers without super radar? Eh? I ask you this.”
The driver fumbled for his cigarettes on the dash, brand Sparta: “Mark, Sparta,” said the driver. “Best mark cigarette in Czech.” He took a Sparta for himself and offered me one from his pack, before re-embarking on his rapid fire monologue.
“Other persons from other countries are not wanting to learn anything. Not like Czech man. For instance, I love to talk in the English language with Americhan businessman to improve my knowledges of the English language. I read all! I read, for example, about the ancient Egyptians kultur. Look at this,” said the driver, reaching back and fetching a battered paperback from the seat behind him.
“I read in this book some very interesting informations about the pyramids of Egypt. I ask you, for example, Americhan man, clever Americhan, most intelligent man in the world, how are the pyramids made?”
“With slaves,” I said.
“No, man, not with slaves!” cried the driver. “The ancient Egyptians had no slaves. How were the pyramids made, really? Ha! You do not know, eh? Clever Americhan man does not know how the pyramids are made! Nobody is knowing this. Why? It a secret. All these knowledges that the ancient Egyptians are having have become lost with the Christian religion. With these knowledges the Egyptians can cut stone like butter and lift stones like feathers. Today it is a mystery.”
The driver took out another book left behind by one of his fares.
“Do you read Nostradamus, Americhan man?”
“No,” I said.
“Oh, it is fine. Fajn! Nostradamus (how do you say?) predict all. He predict Hitler and many other things of world-history. Nostradamus predict end of the world. Fakt jo. He predict Super Nova enter into our (what is name for this?)” The driver touched his horn. “This is earth, okay? And this…” he circled his finger around the steering wheel, “this is what?”
“Atmosphere,” I said.
“Atmos-feer! Yes! One day Super Nova come and enter Atmos-feer, and ZAK!” said the driver, bringing his first down hard on the horn. “Katastrof!”
It began to rain. The windscreen wipers smeared the drops into the bird shit and dust making a soupy white film that blurred everything outside, the antiquated Trabants, Ladas, Skodas and Yugos sending out plumes of noxious smoke. Up ahead of us someone was lazily making his way across the street while chatting on a cell phone.
“Kurva!” cried the driver, shaking his fist out the window, as he swerved by the pedestrian. “What are you doing in the middle of the road?!! Gypsy bitch, you have luck!”
After a time, we slowed up, and with a flick of the wheel, the driver skidded up against the curb of the offices of Pozor! magazine.
“Tak,” he said. “We are here.”
By Mungo Park