After my post about Václav Havel here yesterday I got the following message this morning from a friend who was formerly a member of the Riga chapter but is now working in Prague:
He was the single best person I’ve ever met. Walked behind the funeral cortege earlier. Extraordinary. A very peculiar mix of emotions. And some very funny anecdotes.
As you can see in the picture (hat-tip AFP, Robert Michael), here in a commentless piece for the BBC and here in the Daily Telegraph thousands of people joined Stephen to walk behind the coffin and pay their respects.
On Monday I contacted the Czech Representation to the Council of Europe here in Strasbourg to see if they were going to have a book of condolence in memory of the former President. They emailed me back the next day with details of the place and times it was available for signing. This morning I went to the Representation which is at the top of a building on a crossroad, pictured. As I made my way up to the top I passed a number of SAMU staff who I discovered were going into a flat below the Representation.
When I got to the representation the door was opened by a woman and I was shown by a man into a darkened room with the curtains drawn. Near the middle of the room, set at a 45 degrees angle, was a table with a book on it and a pen on an open page, the book of condolence. There was another table more in the corner, closer to the closed curtain windows, which had on it a photo of Václav Havel, some candles and a vase containing some white flowers. I sat down and composed my self then picked up my fountain pen. I read the previous entry from the Representation of Azerbaijan before turning to the next blank page and started to write something based upon Anthem by Leonard Cohen, particularly the lines;
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Whilst writing my piece the bell went. I finished, got up and walked over to the table with the candles on it for a moment of pause before turning and waiting at the door to let the next person in. I was then seen out by the two members of staff and went down the stairs again. At the bottom the SAMU were getting two people out of the lift, one on a wheeled stretcher and the other in a wheelchair heading towards two ambulances on the pavement with their lights flashing. I got on the bus and went home still thinking about the gloomy room and the man I had gone there to commemorate.