A creative journey to Prague in Hungary
They went out with barely a whisper of themselves. Sated and feted, it was all the time wasted that they regretted. 'Tis a sad tale this, but then oft times sorrow worketh a wondrous balm into an old soul.
Josef and Maria awoke early in time for a champagne party to celebrate a pre-cruise visit to Prague and Budapest, the capital of Hungary. On October 7, they entered the outskirts of Prague. The insipid waste of communist years lingered, leaving a palette of square buildings, moldering with shoddy construction. Palaces and government buildings, churches all veiled in smog, dulled any historical vigor once reflected in these monuments to ancient empire.
On the brighter side, Josef and Maria disembarked from their bus in pursuit of lunch. They looked for a mall. MacDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken kiosks beckoned with familiar enticements. Still in their infancy, these Hungarian malls did not use plastic credit cards, but some local currency. Josef and Maria only had a few coins and contented themselves with small portions of lasagna, missing the usual tomato sauce, but covered in a shrimp white sauce topped with spinach and smoked salmon. Stomachs content, Josef needed to assuage his thirst for spirits. His old eyes brightened at directions to a basement Supermarket. They used credit cards and provided Josef with two bottles of good Scotch.
Once up in years, older folks require frequent naps. Josef and Maria took a quick nap and prepared for their first evening out in Prague. Their tour guide assured them that they would enjoy this evening. The minibus wove through narrow cobblestone streets. They walked along a narrow walled alley dimly lit by real torches. A doorman opened the massive oaken doors bound in wrought iron. Before them were tables elegantly decorated on various levels. Josef and Maria were seated just below a table reserved for important guests. An enormous man weighing nearly three hundred pounds presided over a table of exotic gypsy women and one implacable, restless bodyguard seated just to the side where he could view all the people entering the room.
Josef, being a retired reporter for the Milwaukee Journal, out of habit, listened to the conversation, which he realized seemed directed him.
"But Sonya, I am the great boar of Hungary. I own all the armament factories of Bohemia."
"You are nothing but a wandering Jew. Your Ukrainian homeland will not have you, and Israel only tolerates you for the intelligence that you pass to them."
"You speak too familiarly with me; the old man below listens to us. See how he turns now to read his menu."
Sonya, petulantly replied, "So let's make their evening by having them join us. Then you can learn if the old man still has his wits about him. Most of these tourists just move from restaurant to restaurant fattening themselves, and then walking it off."
"Waiter," the large man snapped his fingers, "Invite the couple below to join us."
Josef and Maria, surprised at this chance encounter agreed. Josef was a bit stiff with his knees giving out, but they managed to seat themselves.
"I am Semyon Mogilevich and this is my beautiful Hungarian wife, Sonya. These others are our escorts."
Josef answered, "I'm Josef and this is my young bride, Maria." Maria was actually a year older than Josef's eighty years.
"We would be pleased to share our meal with you unless you prefer more normal cuisine," Semyon invited.
"Maria may avoid the meat dishes, but otherwise go ahead, we're willing."
"Tell me of yourselves," Mogilevich prompted.
"I'm just a retired reporter from Milwaukee that got lucky with my investments when we all had shares in the Journal. Maria is a poor Irish lass that felt sorry for me in my old age - and yourself?"
"As you may have overheard from Sonya, I am a wandering Jew. But let us get to something interesting before our main course arrives. They each had a plate of our d'herves before them. Are you following the news in your U.S.A.?"
"Of course, our tour arranges for us to get a copy of the New York Times each day."
"Then what do you make of Mr. Libby, vice-president Cheney's chief of staff, being indicted?"
Josef answered, "Happens all the time - except he's a little higher up than most."
Semyon looked at Sonya, as if he might dare to reveal something only known within a very select group. She nodded. These old folk would never believe him, and it might do good to tell someone. "I tell you something not in your American newspapers" - he hesitated, "because your American reporters are such cowards."
Josef had served his country and fought with the best of them. He restrained his anger and smiled. "Sure, tell me Semyon. I'm all ears."
"You know we frequently see our friend Marc Rich who lives in Switzerland. Mr. Libby worked for Mr. Rich before he came to work for Mr. Cheney. Now we have a little problem in this part of the world. Some people were buying my weapons who were not what they represented themselves to be. Mr. Libby informed us of this, and we took care of it."
Josef asked, "You talking about sale of nuclear materials to terrorists?"
"Who is a terrorist?" Semyon replied, "Many outside of America consider your country a terrorist state. I had one problem; it was well known that Mr. Libby and Mr. Rich knew each other and Mr. Rich is a close friend of mine. The answer was simple, because you Americans are so fixated on controlling oil in the Middle East. We knew that our 'problem' had also discredited doctored evidence to invade Iraq. You think that I do not have friends in Italian intelligence? Of course we know about your American policy."
The meal arrived. Gypsy music began with the meal's arrival. It was slow at first to allow easy digestion with a mournful minor key quality. After sampling the wine, Semyon nodded to the waiter to pour a glass for each of his guests. Mushroom soup, roast chicken, and cooked vegetables enticed the hungry guests. "Please save room for desert, it quite filling and will be served last." Mogilevich smiled.
"As I was saying, we regretted doing business with these people that were buying weapons. They were destroying good weapons' material and driving the price up for our other customers."
"You're right," Josef said, "I don't believe it."
Maria sensing tension, interjected, "We visited Synchrov today. I particularly enjoyed seeing a primordial oak that seems a delight to small children. Before your Austro-Hungarian empire, ancient Celts emigrated from here 2000 years ago. During the Dark Ages, Brighid became a beacon of light at Kildare in Ireland. Kildare means 'cell of the oak'. She fed many poor and even stole her father's own sword to aid a starving leper."
Mogilevich smiled at the old woman's wit turning the topic of weapons to peace. He did not know that she was quite the historian.
Semyon bowed, "Your learning is admirable. Tell me something more of Brighid?"
Maria recited, "We reject the spells of witches, we spurn the worship of Druids. The forts of pagan kings lie empty and overgrown.
It is Brighid's smile that shines across rivers and grassy plains. It is Brighid's frown that withers the pride of pagan kings.
Brighid, in the land, which I love, your fame is greatest of all. While the power of kings is fragile, your empire shall always endure.
Your rule is the rule of God, built on eternal rock. This fertile land is your church, it's highest peak your throne."
Mogilevich and his entourage applauded. "Now for desert. Waiter, sherbet for this lady, Maria - for the rest of us... .." He left the sentence unfinished as the used dishes were collected and desert service appeared. At each place an elegant silver chalice arrived from which dry ice vapors escaped. A gloved waiter stood beside each guest, waiting for a signal from Semyon. He nodded.
A brief look of disgust passed over Maria's features, otherwise, she remained nonplussed. Before each guest, but Maria, frozen monkey brains appeared laced with white chocolate. Maria offered a toast, "Today at the home of Duke Rohan, in his castle Synchrov, we saw elegant figurines, dressed in the clothes of aristocrats. Closer viewing revealed faces of monkeys on the figures." She paused, "To aristocrats," looking directly at Semyon Mogilevich.
Later in their hotel, Josef looked over at his bride, "Lass, you did better with that old slug than I would have. You're a wise lady. Goodnight." He turned out the light.
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