In 2005, Havel spent several months in the United States, partly in New York, and partly in Washington, DC, where he began writing what he called his “strange little book,” his presidential memoirs. The resulting book, called To the Castle and Back in English, was a literary collage of three different elements: an interview, diary entries, and excerpts from his presidential memos. He completed the book back home in the summer of 2005. It was published in English two years later.
From To the Castle and Back
Washington, April 25, 2005
Before the weekend began I was at another “political dinner,” this time at Madeleine’s. The arrangement was wonderful. The important people who were present––for example Jim Lehrer from PBS and General Ralston, the former commander-in-chief of NATO––were engaging. Madeleine moderated the discussion skillfully and wittily, but nevertheless I had to respond, once again, in American English, to many political questions, and it left me completely exhausted. The more of these discussions I have (and they keep seriously multiplying, even though I turn down most invitations), the more I realize one important difference between America, or rather Washington, and the Czech Republic, or rather Prague. Here people enjoy politics; in our country, they don’t. Here they really enjoy talking about politics; in my country, they merely complain about it. Here politicians, scientists and academics, journalists, and other important people appear to stay fresh the whole day, and perhaps they say the cleverest things in the evening. In our country, by the evening, such people are either tired or desperately trying to catch up on work, or they’re drunk and just glad to be home watching television with no need to talk to anyone.
Perhaps this isn’t entirely accurate, but so far I have the impression that political Washington is mainly populated by gentlemen who wear a tie all day, who work politically in the morning, then have a political lunch, then work again politically in the afternoon, only to go from work to some kind of political dinner. And throughout all this they remain good-natured, calm, handsome, and charming. This is also true of their wives and the political women. Why is it that we Czechs are always so harried? Always so irritated? Why are we always complaining about something instead of doing a decent day’s work?
Memo dated November 2, 2000
Dear V, all of my documents, old and new, are printing out in some strange English Cyrillic. Your instructions for fixing it didn’t work. After half an hour of this I was ready to write by hand, but then, essentially by accident, the normal letters came back. Please, never exchange my old computer for a new one or put new programs on it. This always involves more work, and there are always more and more things to remember. I’m not the kind of person who can endlessly play with a machine and take pleasure in how complex it is. Fortunately, the complexity of my computer––unlike the complexity of the Temelin nuclear reactor––is not a danger to anyone. By the way, the more advanced my computer is, the easier it is for me to wipe something out. I’m not saying it’s a great loss, but the old computers were incomparably more practical.
Memo, Undated, 2000
I am surprised and disappointed to learn that the _______ company belongs to you. Why am I surprised and disappointed? Because I have known you for many years as a professional in your field, and therefore I find it hard to understand how you could possibly have committed the abomination of which I was not only a witness and a participant, but for which I am ultimately responsible before the whole world. I am speaking of the dinner for the participants of the anniversary session of the IMF and the World Bank in the Spanish Hall, of which, although it was paid for by the Minister of Finance, I was the formal host.
1)There were no salt or pepper shakers on the tables. But that was the least of it.
2) The food that was served was different from the food that was approved at the tasting; the dumplings were cold, dry, and made from ready-mix; there was not enough gravy, and it was merely dribbled on the meat as though it were some kind of rare aromatic condiment, the meat being just as dry as the dumplings. Everyone was waiting for someone to come around later with the gravy, which didn’t happen, so that most of the guests didn’t eat their dumplings, if they were served them at all.
3) The worst thing of all: there were unbelievably few waiters and they were all unbelievably slow. Several times in the afternoon and during the dinner, I asked them to make sure that it was done briskly. It was not done briskly. Everything took forever, and I finished my dinner before the last guests had been served their food.
Those people were in session all day; they were exhausted and tired after complicated discussions about how to help this miserable world. They are ashamed to eat lest it be said they are stuffing themselves instead of talking about poverty. And then, finally, they are invited to dine with the president in a splendid castle in a magnificent hall––and what do they get when they arrive? Nothing! I simply ended it all after two and a half hours without even being able to call it a dinner. . . . So far, it’s the biggest disgrace I’ve ever experienced in the Castle, and it was a disgrace that took place before the entire world––and I mean that literally and to the letter. The day before, a dinner was held in the same place, catered by the same firm, for the commercial banks, billionaires and millionaires. It apparently came off without a hitch. If your firm is capable of giving decent service only to billionaires but not to mere ministers of finance or governors of national banks, then it truly has no business in the Castle. One receives better service in a fifth-class pub. . . .
Hradecek, December 5, 2005
I’m running away. I’m running away more and more. I find various excuses to run from my study, downstairs into the kitchen where I tidy up, listen to the radio, wash the dishes, cook a meal, think something over, or simply sit in my old place by the window and stare out. What I’m running away from is writing. But it’s more than that. I’m running away from the public, from politics, from people. Perhaps I’m even running away from the woman who saved my life. Above all, I’m probably running away from myself.
What am I actually afraid of? Hard to say. What’s interesting is that although I am here alone––and will continue to be here alone because no one that I know of has plans to visit––I keep the house tidy. I have everything in its place, everything has to be aligned with everything else, nothing can be left hanging over the edge of a table, or be crooked. At the same time the refrigerator must always be filled with a variety of food that I can scarcely eat myself, and there must be fresh flowers in the vases. In other words, it’s as though I were constantly expecting someone to visit. But who? The unknown and unannounced guest? A strange and beautiful woman who admires me? My savior, who likes to show up unannounced? Some old friends? Why is it that I don’t want to see anyone, and at the same time, I’m always expecting someone, someone who will really appreciate that everything is in its proper place and properly aligned?
I have only one explanation: I am constantly preparing for the last judgment, for the highest court from which nothing can be hidden, which will appreciate everything that should be appreciated, and which will, of course, notice anything that is not in its place. I’m obviously assuming that the supreme judge is a stickler like me. But why does that final evaluation mean so much to me? After all, at that point I shouldn’t care. But I do care, because I’m convinced that my existence––like everything else that has ever happened––has ruffled the surface of Being, and that after my little ripple, however marginal, insignificant, and ephemeral it may have been, Being is and always will be different from what it was before. All my life I have simply believed that what is once done can never be undone and that, in fact, everything remains forever. In short, Being has a memory. And thus even my insignificance––as a bourgeois child, a laboratory assistant, a prisoner, a president, a pensioner, a public phenomenon, and a hermit, an alleged hero but secretly a bundle of nerves––will remain here forever, or rather not here, but somewhere. But not, however, elsewhere. Somewhere here.