The following story is based on historic events that occurred in my favorite place in Prague, Wenceslas Square, by my favorite cobblestone.
These streets. These cobblestones. They have witnessed. Experienced. Even participated. We can talk about it for days. Each one has its own tale. Prague is laden with thousands of them. Each one, different than the next, but for right now I am going to focus on just a singular stone; perhaps the most important stone in all of Prague.
That cobblestone on the right side of Wenceslas Square, yes, that off-grey one, about fifty feet past of the colossal statue of the badass cavalryman, that one that just kind of sticks out and is reaching, almost climbing, at you and tells you its story.
To understand this stone you will need to know about its background. Its first moment of significance was in October 1918 (the same year the Red Sox became cursed by the Great Bambino). Some guy with the last name Jirasek had just finished reading a document that pretty much said the country would now finally be independent.
The square was bustling in honor of the occasion. Hundreds were celebrating and drinking in honor of this momentous occasion. But one noise stuck out, it was the thunderous synchronized clapping of the bright red horse carriage racing up the square.
The destination of the carriage is not important but the journey would end up altering one man’s life and ultimately world history.
Six-year-old Jaromir Janak is on his fathers shoulder witnessing the historic event.
Jaromir is like most six year olds and does not comprehend the magnitude of the moment. So he nags. Even Pulls. Finally he tickles his dad’s ears until he is let down.
Trying to escape the crowd he takes a serpentine rout like Kaa (the snake from the jungle book). He wiggles in between the tiny gaping holes in the packed celebratory crowd. Finally. Air. Space. A Breath. Time to play. He’s on one knee playing some variation of Jacks. Jaromir is a premier Jacks player.
Clip-clop, clip-clop, the red horse drawn carriage is barreling towards Jaromir. But he is oblivious of the one-ton squared G-force coming directly at him.
Clip-clop, clip-clop, Jaromir is heavily invested in his game of Jacks, as he always is, his azure eyes are zoomed in on the piece he wants.
Dark oak eyes. Larger than a black hole now.
They are the driver’s eyes. He sees what is about to happen and he knows it’s too late, but he rips into the reins of his stallions and pulls with every fiber in his body.
A deafening shriek. A choreographed set of ear-piercing neighs, and then silence. Fragments of a broken horseshoe. Deep sighs of relief.
One of the stallion’s horseshoes got stuck in between the cobblestones stopping the carriage in its tracks less than a foot from an unaware Jaromir. The driver looks up at the sky to thank God for the miracle, Jaromir does the same, however he is thanking god for the miracle shot he made in his game of Jacks.
This would certainly not be the last saga linking Jaromir and the cobblestone.
1945. It is the apex of the Prague uprising. Jaromir is a new father and a swiftly rising commander in the fight against the Nazis. As he sharpens his blade with an almost sadistic smile, Jaromir thinks to himself “too many good men have been lost in this fight, it’s time for some revenge.”
Wenceslas Square. A place the Nazis have been using to host rallies. Disguised as Nazi soldier Jaromir is wading his way through the crowd. Like a shark searching for his prey he is looking for that will quench his hunger.
About fifty feet to the right of the horseman Jaromir trips on a stone, that very same cobblestone. He remembers playing games here as a child and one day hopes to take his son there as well, but that can wait, right now he has a different agenda.
As he regains his composure a reflection from the sun glimmers in his eyes, “three stripes will do just fine.” The general is standing with two women and is removed from the crowd.
He is waiting for the moment when that Nazi on the top of the square reaches a point in his speech that will induce applause. With his prey just in front of him slowly pulling on his cigarette with his arm around two beautiful women, the three-minute wait feels like eternity.
Thunderous applause. A wide grin. Jaromir surgically slices the generals heart into two halves. A stain of rose red infects the general’s uniform and exponentially begins to multiply at the same pace of Jaromir’s ever widening grin. He will have to run soon, but Jaromir stays for extra ten seconds or so to savor the moment.
He removes the blade, turns, and walks away as gracefully as the swans of the Vltava River. He opens the door to the grey Mercedes get-away-car. The windows are down so he can enjoy the sunny and crisp day in May.
The women begin to shriek as his car pulls away he grins as he realizes that soon he will be able to take little Josef to that cobblestone and teach him some beginner strategies in the game Jacks.
March 28th 1969. Jaromir has had little to smile about in months. The communist regime did not care about Jaromir’s effort in the war.
Still Jaromir is able to find a silver lining in the light of his dreadful life under communism. His Josef is a rising star on the Czechoslovakian national hockey team. Even though his son has been taken away from him in order to train, Jaromir thinks to himself “at least he is eating well, getting trained by the best coaches, and doing what he loves, playing hockey.”
Tonight is a special occasion. The Czechoslovakian national team is facing the dominant USSR team for the second time this year. Jaromir goes to his favorite pub to listen to the game with his friends. The Czechoslovakians have already beaten them once. Another victory would all but break heaven loose for the citizens of Prague.
The game begins and the Pilsner begins to flow. Every mention of Josef on the radio brings the pub to its feet.
A Czechoslovakian goal!
The crowd celebrates “More Pilsner!“
The game is over. Josef helped lead the team to another unlikely and historic victory.
The pub empties out and the party is going to Wenceslas Square. With Jaromir on his friend’s shoulders, and Jaromir is met by 150,000 other euphoric Czechs. However there are people who don’t like to party as the Czechs do. Agent provocateurs begin to riot and smash windows to induce fear.
Glass shatters everywhere. Police swing their clubs senselessly. What was once a joyous occasion is now a turmoil.
Jaromir is not built like he used to be. He must run rather than fight, a few months ago he may have considered it, but the food rations have not been kind to his aging. Jaromir is thrown on the ground by an officer.
Jaromir sees the club rising towards the sky. He sees it swing down at him like a falcon hitting him square in the ribs. Helpless Jaromir can only lie there and wait for help. The officer was not satisfied with only a rib shot so he tries to walk around Jaromir to get a headshot, which he can brag about to his comrades.
A thud. The officer is on the ground. He is swarmed by the crowd and the tables have turned as the crowd mercilessly beats the officer. Jaromir slowly rises and watches the chaotic yet glamorous scene. Jaromir takes in every sound and visual until he is sure to have gotten his revenge.
Jaromir turns to walk away and his foot strikes the cobblestone. He realizes that the officer tripped on the same cobblestone, and suddenly the memories begin to flood his mind. He and the stone are connected forever.
Velvet Revolution. 1989.
Jaromir, Josef and Pavel are eating dinner together. Three generations of Janak’s is an elegant sight. Tuned in to the radio, it is confirmed; the first massive and peaceful rally is being held in one hour at Wenceslas Square.
As Jaromir leaves his apartment it is clear, he knows exactly where he is going to stand with his family, by that cobblestone on the right side of Wenceslas Square, yes, that off-grey one, about fifty feet past of the colossal statue of the badass cavalryman, that one that just kind of sticks out and is reaching, almost climbing, at you and tells you its story.
Photo: Flickr user traveltipy