Digging the Mole: Language, Memory, and the Dirt of Native Soil

Well, I am back in Wales after a week in the Czech capital. And, as is always the case following such travels, I seem to have left behind some part of me that keeps spinning, endlessly and unclaimed, like a piece of luggage on a carousel forcing it back into view with every turn. Retrieving some of its content piecemeal—and in full view of anyone around me—I am devoting the next few entries in the broadcastellan journal to the grabbing at that stubbornly revolving case and the spreading out of whatever I might snatch from it for all to see.

Traveling to Prague was not simply a matter of going on a trip to me—unless, you might say at the risk of sounding like some hideous pop tune, it was a matter of going on a trip “to me.” It was the closest I have been to walking on what my German passport claims to be home turf in about seventeen years (apart from a subsequent stopover in Amsterdam, during which we took the train into town for a meal and a walk along the grachten).

If that nearness to what I have been trying to get away from weren’t enough to cause anxiety, Prague is full of reminders of the cultural contributions of my forebears, from the writings of Franz Kafka to the attempt at exterminating Jewish culture, impressions to be shared in subsequent entries. I was relieved, amid “collective guilt”-ridden visits of the Jewish Quarter and the angst-fest that is the Kafka Museum, to come across Krtek, the mole. Perhaps it was a matter of closing my eyes and ears for a while (moles, unlike Krtek, being short-sighted and hard of hearing) and of not resurfacing for a while, getting so close to being home-soiled.

I grew up digging Krtek, a cartoon character created by Zdeněk Miler. Former Czechoslovakia was a chief purveyor of children’s television entertainment both in Eastern Europe and Germany during the 1970s. As it turns out, Krtek is celebrating his fiftieth birthday this year, which is why he was prominently on display in the shopwindows of Prague. I could not resist sharing my rediscovery by donning above t-shirt. Never mind that I look like Mr. Magoo avoiding the glare of an otherwise welcome sun.

To me, Krtek will always be “Der Kleine Maulwurf,” which is how I got to know him during my childhood. “Maulwurf”! What a wonderful word. Literally, it means “snout throw” (or “muzzle toss”). The German language is marked by a directness largely lacking in Latin-quartered English, an openness and simplicity I did not come to appreciate until I dug a hole out of the place I chose not to call Heimat and picked up the works of Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle, whose to English ears mannered idiolect (termed “Carlylese”) comes alive in metaphors and loan-translations.

A number of poets and novelists living in Prague in the early 20th century circulated their thoughts in the linguistic isolation cell of German, a marginality so keenly felt by Kafka. Being already in a heap of clay dug up by Krtek, I am currently reading Gustav Meyrink’s Der Golem (1915), the famous legend of the clay-made aider of the Jews, about which and whom I will have more to say in the near future.

Having lived outside Europe for so long, I am sometimes overwhelmed (and not always pleased) by the memories tossed back in my face at the mere sight of something like a little mime of a mole, memories that come to life chiefly in images but, when recalled in words, insist on sticking out my native tongue at me.

I know. It seems as if I were making a mountain out of one of his hills; but watching Krtek in this charming little movie, I am reminded how much he, too, dug the radio, and how this love for foreign sounds brought about his isolation . . .

6 Replies to “Digging the Mole: Language, Memory, and the Dirt of Native Soil”

  1. It seems as if I were making a mountain out of one of his hills …Not to me. Beautiful post, as was your on-location The Devil Wears Praha . . . Out (I noted and liked the recent title modification).I could say, \”The next best\” or \”The next worst thing to being there,\” and , either way, it would be a compliment.

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  2. Thank you for taking the virtual tour. \”The Devil\” is a reflection of my first impression. It went all uphill from there, even if it took some effort to make that climb. Prague turned out to be a beautiful city once the soccer fanatics had gone back home.Meanwhile, I nearly leveled that mole hill altogether. The \”charming little movie\” had disappeared from view here. I must have cut the code from the text as I kept editing it.

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  3. If you haven\’t already, you should read Michael Chabon\’s Pulizer Prize winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. I have recommended this before due to the 1930\’s – 50\’s NYC setting as well as the radio drama. I should now add that The Golem also plays an important part in the book…

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  4. Not the Tom and Jerry variety, is it? I hadn\’t seen Krtek in years and never thought to search for him online. Not that this joyous reencounter justifies my donning the goofy garb; but, as you said, I am \”unabashed.\”

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