Zerky in the Torture Chamber

We had intended to spend more time in Prague because it is such a beautiful city, perhaps even more so than is Paris. Unfortunately it was much too hot. After spending three very uncomfortable nights there, we decided to head eastward into the Tatra Mountains of Slovakia where it is cooler.

The day before yesterday, as we were pulling out of the campground, a young Norwegian couple walked over with a present for Tarzan, an open can of some sort of a ghoulish made in Russia. It looked god-awful and they had been unable to eat it. Tarzan, gourmet that he is, found it delicious. The four of us watched in disgust as he wolfed down the entire can.

Twenty miles or so outside Prague, while riding on your mother’s lap, Tarzan got sick. She quickly rolled down her window and held his head outside, but by the time I finally found a place to pull over, the side of the bus and your mother’s lap were drenched in dog-digestive-juice-enriched Russian goulash, a stupendously sickening spectacle. It took us over an hour to clean it up without adding our own contribution to this disgusting mess. By then I was ready to give Tarzan away to a nearby farmer. Your mother said no.

This morning we reached Brno, Czechoslovakia’s second largest city. We had previously read about a castle there that sounded quite interesting. At the top of a hill commanding the city, we found Spielberg Castle, built in the middle Ages and world famous for its extensive network of dungeons, tunnels, and torture chambers. On display there are the usual torture complements: thumbscrews, iron maidens, racks, and so forth. But there are also some other torture devices that were new to your increasingly jaded parent’s imaginations. Your mother was most impressed by the runway where they tied people down and stampeded rats back and forth over them. I was more impressed, however, by the depressions built into brick walls in the shape of human bodies. The fronts of these depressions had been designed so they could be bricked up around their upright victims, who were then sealed into the wall forever, except for their heads. Mounted on the wall above, were some imaginative devices designed to drip water onto heads until their owners went insane. This particular torture had been specifically designed for the chastisement of unfaithful wives.

After a trip through the catacombs of Spielberg, it is difficult to emerge once again into the sunlight without believing that the world has made some progress since the days when places such as this were an acceptable method of treating antisocial behavior. And then again, it is questionable as to whether or not the napalm we are dumping on the people of Vietnam is a step down the path towards enlightenment.

—Excerpted from Letters to Zerky

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