Thursday, 4 November 2010

Švejk's Adventures in Vršovice

Just along the street from Jaroslav Hašek's apartment in Vršovice is the church of St Nicolas, which appears several times in this blog and also, famously, in the first part of The Good Soldier Švejk.  The story goes something like this. On his release from a variety of lunatic asylums and garrison gaols where he has been placed on account of his imbecility, Švejk becomes batman to an army chaplain, Otto Katz, who has about as much spirituality in him as one of Švejk's specially-brewed pints of grog.

On the morning of the departure of a detachment of troops for the front, Katz requests Švejk's assistance in the administering of the traditional Mass, but lacks one important item of church furniture - a portable field-altar which he has accidentally left tucked underneath the seat of the sofa he sold the previous week to pay for drink. Švejk finds out from the furniture dealer's wife that the item was sold on to a retired teacher in Vršovice;  but the good old man, believing the altar to be a divine gift, has already donated it to the church of St Nicolas. There follows this exchange between the chaplain, Švejk, the teacher, and the parish priest:

'We don't think this at all funny,' said the chaplain. 'An object of this kind which didn't belong to you, you should at once have taken to the police and not to any blasted vestry.' 'Because of that miracle,' added Švejk, you may face a lot of trouble... A divine dispensation can cost you dear. You ought not to have paid any attention to the angels.' When the vicar asserted that the field altar did not belong to the sofa, the chaplain declared that in that case it belonged all the less to the vestry of a church which was attended only by civilians. Švejk made various remarks to the effect that it was an easy job to fix up a 'poor' church at the expense of the army authorities. He pronounced the word 'poor' in inverted commas.

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