A gun at the top of the stairs

by the Night Writer

Wednesday we moved into the apartment where we expect to stay for the next month. It’s a loft in a 19th century Art Deco building, on a cobblestone street with a tram stop at the corner of the building and close to the Old Town. It has much of what we need – and one thing we didn’t: a guy with a gun inhabiting our lodgings.

No worries, though. He was the previous renter (it’s an Airbnb unit) who overstayed his visit. He was a small fellow with a large semi-automatic in his backpack. The Reverend Mother asked him if it was difficult to have a gun here and he said that Security was much more concerned about his knife. Knife? “Yes, it’s a big one.” I was thinking maybe Crocodile Dundee, but though his English was in a South African accent (“My family fled to South Africa in 1969”), he was Czech. He didn’t show the knife, which was good because about that time our landlord was on the phone to us, upset that the guy was still there. “He’s crazy,” she told my wife. He had an interesting and convoluted tale of woe, but quietly packed up and left without incident. Other than the surprise of finding him here, we didn’t get any weird vibe from him, so despite his armament I didn’t consider him a threat to life.

No, the biggest threat to life (well, my life) was the stairs. We had been told that there wasn’t a lift and that the loft apartment was on the fourth floor, but that the steps were “gentle” (presumably lined with kittens or some such). Of course, in Prague, as in London, they start counting floors from zero, so this meant the apartment was actually on the fifth floor. We’re talking 10 stone steps, a landing, and another 10 steps per floor, plus 20 some steps once you’re in the building before you even start climbing the stairs to the apartment (and not a kitten in sight). So, 120-some steps altogether if my math is right – but that wasn’t the calculation that concerned me. THIS is what I was calculating:

  • 120 steps
  • Two large, loaded suitcases, and two carry-on cases
  • One bad knee
  • One cane

To quote Emperor Cuzco, “Bring it on.”

The execution, then, was to drag one big bag up 10 steps; go down and get the second big bag; drag it up to the first; do it again with the smaller bags: lather, rinse, repeat – and I was definitely lathered. I’m not even going to think about how many steps that all added up to with the repeated ups and downs. The Rev Mum did some of the dragging but a good chunk of the time she was at the top of the stairs, dealing with the unexpected lodger. The cruelest part, though, was seeing a shiny elevator at the top of the first landing. The sight made my heart pound even harder, but then I saw a resident walk past me and use a key to open the elevator door and ride up. Ok, so it’s restricted – but certainly a “service fee” can be arranged and a key provided, right?

As it turns out, this elevator is a continuing skirmish in the Cold War. Our landlord used to work for Radio Free Europe and now lives in the U.S. while renting out her former apartment. To gain an elevator key she has to be approved by the Board of the building’s tenants. One of her neighbors is an old-line Communist who hates her for moving to America and renting the apartment for gain. As such the neighbor does whatever she can to make our host’s life more difficult, and apparently this includes having enough pull with the Board to deny an elevator key to the unit. It is all now in the hands of lawyers, but if I hadn’t been so out of breath I would have stood on the landing and shouted, “Madame Elevator Czar – tear down this wall!”

Anyway, by the time I made it to the top of the stairs and into the apartment it didn’t matter if the tardy tenant had a rocket launcher; I was making my (wobbly) stand right there. No way was I going to take those bags back down those steps. Perhaps, as our host said, the other tenant was crazy – but he probably took one look at my sweaty, bright red visage and decided he better get out of blast range as quickly as possible.

This allowed us to then scope out our new home. We had seen photos of the place on the Airbnb website, of course, but those can be deceptive. The place looked much like the photos, but was also rather worn. It reminded me of some of the college flop-houses my friends rented. All the necessities are there, but kind of rough around the edges, the wood floor scuffed, the furniture mismatched, and herds of dust rhinos roaming the plain. For that extra collegiate touch, the previous tenant left two empty pizza boxes, a loaf of moldy bread and several overflowing ashtrays.

I guess you could say it’s all rather Bohemian – but we are, after all, in Bohemia.

3 thoughts on “A gun at the top of the stairs

  1. Nope – and if it were like the Cities, what would be the point of traveling? If you want to know what something is like, you have to be comfortable with some things not being as you like.

  2. The next people to move in next year will be blogging about the strange redhead with the katana, nunchuks, throwing stars and samurai sword that they met.

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