Sunday, October 12, 2008

Puttin' On the Ritz

As a former international fashion model, I've paraded down my fair share of catwalks and appeared on the covers of the world's most prestigious fashion magazines wearing all sorts of fancy dress (and undress - sometimes, I bare it all!). At the risk of sounding a tad immodest, everyone knows that I put the Armani tuxedo on the world map in the 1980's. Nonetheless, it's always a treat to have the opportunity of putting on a top hat - even if it's someone else's - every now & then. Today I was combing the streets of Bratislava's Old Town when a throng of Japanese tourists asked me to have my photo taken with the statue of Ignác Lamár - a local character whose likeness has been memorialized in bronze.

Ignác was born in the somewhat impoverished neighbourhood of Petržalka (it's still a sea of ugly communist block apartments) 111 years ago to a very poor shoemaker who was himself the son of a famous clown. Even at that time, Ignác was considered by many to be someone who lived his life in the past. Ignác - known by locals as Schöne Náci - epitomized the elegance, courtesy, and gallantry reminiscent of the Austro-Hungarian empire in an era pretty much bereft of those qualities.

Many today believe that he was mentally ill - and maybe he was - but, in spite of everything, he paraded up and down the streets of Bratislava - especially in the area between St. Michael's Gate and the Danube - with a smile on his face, a cane in his hand, dressed to the nines (wearing a velvet frock coat with tails no less!), opening doors for people, bowing to passing ladies with the words ruky bozkávam ("I kiss your hand") in Slovak, German, and Hungarian, and doffing his signature top hat. He survived on the generosity of locals who gave him food from the Old Town's many cafés, or by working on and off as a carpet cleaner.

A legend has grown up around Ignác which says that he ultimately went insane because his beloved was taken by the Nazis and died in a concentration camp. Poor Ignác!

Ignác died of tuberculosis on October 23rd, 1967 and was buried in Lehnice, a town in southwest Slovakia. In 2007, his dreams were (belatedly) fulfilled when his remains were brought to Bratislava where he was finally interred in his hometown - in the city's beautiful Ondrejský cemetery (I was there last week but I didn't see his grave). Hundreds of people attended his "second" funeral. His gravestone is engraved with ruky bozkávaman ("I kiss your hand") which appears in all 3 of the languages he greeted Bratislavans with on the streets of the Old Town.

Currently, his statue can be found on Rybná Brána Street in the Old Town which many consider to be an unlucky location since it's been vandalized a number of times over the last five years. Often it is his top hat which suffers the most. Even in death - and now immortalized in bronze - poor Ignác has had a hard time of it.

Ignác have made a great freelance Good Will Ambassador? Or better yet, maybe I should say: isn't Ignác a great freelance Good Will Ambassador?


Anonymous said...

Mr. Grey Bear
Do you suppose they will be erecting a statue in your honour some day soon?
I doubt if there is another bear who has travelled the world as much as you.

Grey Bear said...

It would be a great honour of course, but I don't think I deserve one - except maybe for my humanitarian works, but not as a world traveller.