Dense fog says CNN weather. Down in Mala Strana, a medieval part of Prague close to the river, the fog rolls off the tops of buildings like steam unfurling, and you see the sun only in the leaves, still gold, that have fallen on the street. There is a bittersweet smell in the air from the decaying leaves, and Czechs are talking of “smutek“ or sadness.
That song, it is so smutný, says a friend, listening to a wedding band wring “House of the Rising Sun“ from a cheap keyboard and off-key singer (I agree for ear quality reasons). The big water in the U.S. South, it was so smutná, says my next-door neighbor, an older lady who has kindly offered me condolences for my home town’s problems during the recent hurricane season. I try to explain that South Carolina and the Gulf Coast are far apart, but she imagines the U.S. South as about the size of Moravia (or half of S.C.), close together and necessarily related, so I say thank you anyway.
When a Czech lady says smutné(ý/á), she might shake her head, and look down. She’ll acknowledge the seriousness of what she has just said, but you often see a solemn smile on her face. She isn’t being ungenuine, just knowing, glad that we two are safe (and warm and dry), privileged to be able to appreciate the sadness of a song, or worry about others far away and unknown.
The Dead House
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