After I bought cans of food, salami, and a huge round loaf of bread in the store, I would stop off at the pub, and the pubkeeper and villagers would come and sit down at my table and ask how I liked it here in the mountains, in all this solitude. I was enthusiastic and told them stories of things that no one had ever seen before but were actually there, and I told the stories as if I were only passing through by car, or had come for two or three days, I talked as though I were on vacation, like a nature lover, like a city person who babbles romantic drivel whenever he comes to the country about how beautiful the woods are and the mountain peaks in the mist, and how it is all so perfect that he would like to settle here for good. And I talked in a jumbled way about how beauty had another side to it, about how this beautiful countryside, like a round loaf of bread, was all related to whether you could love even what was unpleasant and abandoned, whether you could love the landscape during all those hours and days and weeks when it rained, when it got dark early, when you sat by the stove and thought it was ten at night while it was really only half past six, when you started talking to yourself, speaking to the horse, the dog, the cat, and the goat, but best of all to yourself, silently at first — as though showing a movie, letting images from the past flicker through your memory — and then out loud, as I had done, asking yourself questions, inquiring of yourself, interrogating yourself, wanting to know the most secret things about yourself, accusing yourself as if you were a public prosecutor and then defending yourself, and so arriving, in this back-and-forth way, at the meaning of your life. Not the meaning of what used to be or what happened a long time ago, but discovering the kind of road you’d opened up and had yet to open up, and whether there was still time to attain the serenity that would secure you against the desire to escape from your own solitude, from the most important questions that you should ask yourself.
2 thoughts on “Passages: From I Served the King of England, by Bohumil Hrabal”
Love the round loaf of bread analogy. There is little better than mountain living for deeper and deeper self-reflection, like mining mountain veins for some hidden treasure. But the one thing Nietzsche got right: Zarathustra had to come down eventually to really get it.
He also had to come down to speak, also.