This week I have resorted to the Collins Dictionary, a blindfold and a pin.
My first chance word was “DECOMPOSITION.” I was about to cheat and pick another word when something stirred in my memory… seven or eight years ago, Elizabeth and I went on a “Four European Capital Cities” tour by coach.
Our first visit was to Prague and St. Wenceslaus Square (which it isn’t. It is a rectangle). Our guide reminded us of the 1968 Rising, duly crushed by the Red Army. To remind the Czechs of who were the bosses , the Russians parked a huge T36 tank right in front of Czech national hero St. Wenceslaus’s statue at the top of the Square. What they did not do, however, was to post a guard over it.
One night a small group of Czechs broke the curfew and painted the bloody thing pink! The tank was duly withdrawn and never replaced!
We moved onto Bratislava- the most laid back capital city I have ever visited and home of quite the best Irish pub to have ever supplied me with Guiness and Bushmills! I jest not!
Budapest by night was a revelation, especially Heroes Square and the next day’s cruise along the Danube with seemingly unlimited supplies of food and red wine.
Reluctantly we groped our way to the last of our venues-Vienna… Elizabeth, feeling tired, had opted to sit out the walking tour with a couple of friends she had made on the coach. I was therefore let loose in Vienna on my own -The Cathedral, The Spanish Riding School and THE ferris wheel that figured so prominently in one of my all time favourite films…”The Third Man.”
It was in the Opera House, however, that my real story was to begin. I felt like a coffee but the café was so very busy that I had to share a table with a Viennese…Ernst. We started talking about music in general and then Beethoven in particular only to discover we were both big admirers and he was in fact, chairman of the Vienna Beethoven Society.
Ernst then told me something I did not know…Beethoven was actually buried, not as I believed in Germany, but there in Vienna. Would I like to see the tomb as it was not far?
Why not? So it was that I soon found myself in the Zentralfriedhof, the central cemetery in the city. Ernst proved himself a good guide, threading his way unerringly through countless graves until there it was…the great man’s tomb bearing the single word “Beethoven.”
I paid my respects and turned to leave but Ernst brandished a key to what he said was the door to the tomb and would I not like a look inside?
In for a pfenning etc, I nodded my approval but before unlocking he warned me of what at that time seemed utterly preposterous…far from being dead, Beethoven was in fact alive and living in his tomb.
Clearly Ernst was off his head but I felt it best to humour him by following his lead. The key proved difficult to turn in the lock but Ernst eventually managed to push the door open accompanied by the creaking of long un-oiled hinges.
With my companion leading, we started down a steep flight of stone steps. The deeper we went, the darker, mustier and more cobwebby it became. At last though, there was a glimmer of light that grew until we finally reached the bottom of the stairs and found ourselves in a large bright candle-lit, sub-subterranean chamber.
In the middle there was a large table and sitting there surrounded by musical scores and manuscripts was, unbelievably, Ludwig von Beethoven himself….nearly 200 years after his death! I stood amazed not just by the great man, but by what he was doing with his quill pen.
He was taking sheet after sheet of music and deliberately and systematically crossing out every single note one at a time!
Although Ernst had motioned me to be quiet, I could not contain my curiosity…
“What is he doing here in his tomb?” I whispered.
In equally hushed tones, Ernst replied,
“He is slowly decomposing!”