Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Rooster of Prague*

It used to mean something to be a rooster in this town.

Don’t look so surprised, mister ugly American in your flowered shirt with the sweaty armpits. You didn’t know what two hundred and eighty-nine steps felt like until a moment ago. And only now have you caught your breath, looked around for the first time, and decided that I am out of place.

Go ahead and laugh then. You want to know what I’m doing up here? Well, time was, you wouldn’t think about praying without me. I mean, come on now! Who wants to talk face to face with the ferocious, four-headed, Svantovít, the mighty pagan god who’ll, like as not, swell the banks of the Vlatava, flooding your house, destroying your crop, drowning your livestock? Wouldn’t you rather have a fine black rooster intercede on your behalf? A god’s gotta have a sacrifice, and better me than your virgin daughter, if you know what I mean.

Those were the days.

Back then, we roosters really had something to crow about. A yard full of hens, chief timekeepers of the village, and that whole intermediary to the great god gig. Life was sweet. You’d get fattened up, treated like a prince. OK, so maybe there was a moment of panic, running about, as they say, like a chicken with a head, but that ended soon enough and there you were, rubbing shoulders with the big guy, who just wouldn’t be appeased with anything less than a nice black rooster.

But then came the Christians, who didn’t need us as intermediaries anymore. They had all these other crazy ideas about talking to their god, not a guy with four heads, but one guy with three faces. Something like that. I'm a bird, not a theologian. All I know is, these Christians thought you could just appeal to your own religious leader, or a dead religious leader you never met, or—this is the craziest of all—some of them thought you could just belly up to the trough and talk to god yourself. Can you believe such a thing? No room for a big black rooster in the pecking order there. And what did they think of the great and terrible Svantovít? They built a massive cathedral on top of his altar. Saint Vitus. That's right. This cathedral.

That Vitus really ruffles my feathers. First of all, he wasn’t even Czech. Never even set foot in the golden city of Prague. Besides that, the guy wouldn’t sacrifice a rooster if his life depended on it. And you know what? It did. Those Christians had these newfangled ideas, which got Vitus accused of sorcery. He was supposed to make an animal sacrifice to prove his innocence, and could have just slaughtered a bird and gotten on with his life, but he wouldn’t, and they killed him. Boiled in oil, and of course, they tossed a black rooster in the pot, sent him along for the ride, probably to tell Svantovít just how rude the kid had been. And here’s the lowest bit: Vitus’s followers start depicting us at his side, like instead of being the ones to squawk directly in god’s ear for man, now we needed this guy to connect us!

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised then, how I got here. Me! A rooster! You know where I came from, who I used to be. And now who am I? A copper weathervane, stuck up on top of this cathedral. Doesn’t that just beat all? Sure, I’ve got a fabulous view of Prague, the river, the bridge, the rest of the castle. But that’s hardly compensation, do you think? It really sticks in my craw. What good’s a weathervane in divine communication? You don’t need a weathervane to know which way the wind blows. You can quote me on that.

All I can do is hope that angry, four-headed god opens his eyes and looks around. You’d think he’d notice the lack of black roosters. He did swell the Vlatava last year, but no one thought of a blood sacrifice, did they? No, they just cleaned up and started again. And here I sit, a helpless copper rooster, blowing this way and that. Honestly, I don’t know what this world’s coming to.

*Written in 2003