An Email from Charlie Cockey on a Distant Aspect of the Terror Attacks
[December 2001. Originally appeared in La Folia 3:5.]
I’ve been in Pilsen/Plzen for an International Theatre Festival, saw something again this morning, and just thought you’d enjoy it as well:
At the end of WWII, Pilsen/Plzen was liberated by American troops. Battle, victory, entry, liberation. The Pilsner reaction was immense, overwhelming gratitude. They have built a not large but wonderful and noticeable monument in thanks of this liberation: two rectangular towers, perhaps 8-10 feet tall, about 6-8 feet apart, on a raised section of the sidewalk. Not imposing, definitely not forbidding. There is about it something appropriately welcoming. You can walk around it, or, but only by intention, onto it.
On the left tower is inscribed, in English, with the seal of the US, the thanks of the City of Pilsen for their liberation by the American troops, along with the date they came. On the left, the same, by the citizens of Plzen, in Czech.
Now, since the events of the 11th, there is a small bouquet at the base of each tower (and until I typed that I didn’t realize the sad serendipity of the monument being itself twin towers. Oh my god), and, at the front of the monument, closest to the larger of the two streets whose intersection creates the square, several more, plus a wreath with a black banner. Lying in the middle of this is a white, US style fireman’s helmet with the badge (and hence badge number indicating an individual) removed. And printed on the helmet in bold sans serif capital letters the following: “WE THING OF YOU.”
To me the error lends it a sweetness beyond any formality. Each time I see it I am warmed and saddened.
Today I return to Brno, but I have to say that each time I visit Plzen I love it more.
Postscript: One thing not mentioned in the piece worth considering: The helmet is not attached or protected in any way. It sits there, open, exposed, available, in the middle of a busy square — and it is THERE. Nobody has disturbed or taken it.
One wonders sadly, would it be thus elsewhere….