Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Metamorphosis of Grey Bear

As Grey Bear awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.

Well, not really. As you can see, I am still a bear. And I always have nice dreams. But 93 years ago, readers in Prague and soon around the world read these opening lines (except it was Gregor Samsa and not Grey Bear who awoke from uneasy dreams) and followed the sad tale of the transformation of travelling salesman Gregor Samsa.

Franz Kafka - who wrote the Metamorphosis - was born in Prague and his presence is keenly felt throughout the city. I read a little Kafka when I was a bear cub and, I must admit, found his themes to be a bit depressing. There's so much misery in the world - and as a freelance Goodwill Ambassador I see a lot of pain and injustice firsthand - that I don't want to spend my few
leisure hours dealing with troubled individuals flailing about in a nightmarishly impersonal and bureaucratic world. I can spend time with my Bipedal Attendants for that.

As I said, you can find Kafka everywhere in Prague's Old City
. Naturally there is a museum devoted to him, and you can see several of the houses he lived in. My favourite of his houses is the one on Golden Lane, in the Lesser Quarter near the castle (photo, below right) because it's the cheeriest all his homes. Having read Kafka, I'm surprised he didn't paint it black.

His statue (above left) appears next to the so-called Spanish Synagogue in the Jewish Ghetto on Dusni Street, across from one of the houses he lived in. I don't pretend to understand it - it's a little bizarre. The tall black sculpture is of a headless man in a suit with a smaller figure of Kafka sitting on his shoulders. And of course me. In one short story, a young man rides atop another's shoulders and walks through the streets of Prague at night - and it is this story which inspired the sculptor. No bears though. Too bad.

Interestingly, Kafka almost emigrated to Madrid where his favourite Uncle Alfred lived. Uncle Alfred was trying to find work for his nephew with Spain's national railway and had that job materialized - which it didn't - I have to wonder if Spain's picture-perfect blue skies and ruby rioja wines would have had an impact on his writing. Maybe Kafkaesque would have come to mean something completely different. Maybe that cheery blue door on Golden Lane was a sign of the inner happy Kafka.

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