Fenestra Terror

Disney - The Wicked Queen´s EvilnessI’m standing at the tram stop and the weather, in mid-May, is cool and breezy, as though I am in a fabric softener commercial. For a man who sweats like Hunter S. Thompson drank, this is a gift from the gods of overheated English teachers.

My smile and comfort are in direct incongruity to the shivering misery all around me. The Czechs are clad in jackets, coats and scarves. I fit in like my grandmother at a Black Eyed Peas concert.

As the tram approaches, I know that my breezy fabric softener commercial is about to end and I am about to reverse roles with the Czechs. We all step onto a tram full of thick and soupy air, the general atmosphere close to that of a Hopi sweat lodge. Every window on the tram is closed tight.

The Czechs let out a sigh of relief and I slip into a misery-induced meditation as I try to defy both Newton’s laws of gravity and Galeone’s rule of stuffy locales. As the first bead of sweat carves a path down my scalp and plops onto my shirt collar, I concede the battle and admit defeat.

My misery grows as the tram becomes more crowded and we hit traffic. In a moment of aggravated desperation, I decide to do the unthinkable. And in what will be by far the most unpopular action I undertake all day, I reach for the window.

Windows and the Czech Republic have a caustic relationship. No Czech ever willingly opens one. To open a window on a tram, on a train, in a classroom, your office or in a pub is to incur the wrath of everyone sharing one of those spaces with you. People will sometimes just close the window, starting a showdown that doesn’t end until there are anti-national epithets sworn across the room. Others will ask you to close the window, making, with residual incredulity, the complaint that every window-opening fascist hears in his dreams: “It’s cold on my neck.”

Fear of the window is simply a matter of history. Prague has had two official defenestrations in its history. That is, on two totally separate occasions, in 1419 and 1618, the Czechs showed their dissatisfaction with public officials by throwing them out of a window. The first one in 1419 was led by Jan Žižka, killed seven city council members and escalated the Hussite wars from negotiations to physical combat. King Václav IV was reportedly so upset by the event that he died two days later from shock.

Vilem Slavata of Chlum, the defenestrated in 1618, did not die as he landed on a heap of horse manure. It also precipitated the Thirty Years’ War. These are the only two official defenstrations, but there have been several more cases throughout Czech history.

How can you argue with a national phobia surrounding manure, death, war and windows?

Despite the history, I open the window, reveling in the cool air that spills in as the glare of 85 eyes (eye patch) on 43 recently-made enemies shoot upon me. Everyone loses their comfortable positions and secure scarves to protect their necks from the 79 ° (26.1° ) air. A woman next to me mentions that I should close the window, “It’s cold on my neck,” she explains.

“I’m sorry,” I respond, “but it’s really hot in here.”

She frowns and clearly puts a curse on my home. As we chug down the river on this beautiful morning, I keep an eye peeled to the angry horde gathering around me, and scan the road outside for heaps of manure.

  1. #1 by PJ on May 17, 2012 - 2:32 pm

    I was on the tram on a beautiful 75° day, stood in the back of the tram and opened the roof-window (I don’t feel right calling it a sunroof). I was immediately told by the couple in front of me that I had to close it because their infant was sleeping. So the baby can sleep through a rush hour crowd of noise but sudden bursts of fresh air are upsetting? They do start young. I could’ve sworn I heard a gurgling coming from the pram that sounded a lot like “it’s cold on my neck.

  2. #2 by Icky on May 17, 2012 - 3:06 pm

    I am frustratingly torn between 1) laughter at this post and 2) anger at my many memories of open-window-induced altercations with Czechs.

    You’d think that after all these years in C.R., we’d have learned that open windows (and the dreaded DRAFTS resulting from them!) are clearly the cause of colds, pneumonia, TB, and of course severe back & neck pain. But somehow we still manage to hold on to our sense. For now.

    You really hit the nail on the head with this one, vole.

    • #3 by Damien Galeone on May 17, 2012 - 3:09 pm

      Oh Icky and PJ, vole a krava, let’s meet later and drink in a pub with no windows.

      • #4 by Icky on May 17, 2012 - 3:46 pm

        Or in a pub that is ALL windows, i.e. a beer garden. 😉 Silly.

  3. #5 by Matt on May 17, 2012 - 6:35 pm

    I have some Korean students in one of my class, and one day the conversation wandered away from Trigonometry and the Cosine Rule, towards the perils of electric fans in rooms. Turns out they believe that leaving an electric fan on overnight in a closed room will cause the death of everyone inside. I kid you not. There’s even a wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fan_death
    in which my favourite line is, “Despite widespread reporting from the media and other agencies in South Korea about fan death, it has never been explained by these organizations why this phenomenon has never been reported or even heard of in any country other than South Korea.” I would love to put a Czech and a South Korean in a room with an electric fan and a window, and let them fight it out.

  4. #6 by Damien Galeone on May 17, 2012 - 6:42 pm

    Thank you Matt for another 16 minutes of my life that I have given to the Wiki god. And yes, yes we should play this death game of yours…

  5. #7 by Matt on May 17, 2012 - 7:59 pm

    If you want to waste ten times that, then go to the link at the bottom of the fan death page called List of Common Misconceptions…

  6. #8 by Andy on May 17, 2012 - 8:00 pm

    “It’s cold on my neck.”

    I snorted tea out of my nose when I came across this statement. Thanks for the laugh, buddy. I’ll be sure to enjoy the sunroof a little extra on the way home today.

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