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To Continue, Please Insert One Euro


I finally visited the Janáček Archive this morning. It consists of one research room, which is filled with a bunch of manuscript-covered tables and card-file cabinets, a few rooms for the director and his assistants, and a storage room. It's housed in the organ school that Janáček taught at, and out back is the domeček ("little house"), Janáček's Brno residence. The little house was recently renovated and inside is a well-executed and well-documented exhibit about the composer's life. The archive, it seems, has been relatively neglected except for a new coat of paint a few years ago.

When I walked up to the door I noted that the bell, a standing feature of any Czech institutional building, was covered in old plastic and spattered by vaguely yellow paint spots. In faded lettering, I could make out "Department of . . ." I decided that must be the bell to ring since there weren't any others.

As with most archives, researchers are required to leave their bags and coats outside the research room. The JA has about eight lockers for this purpose &mdash they appear to be IKEA vintage of some sort and are clearly the newest furniture in the building.

I assumed that these lockers were for researchers, but I didn't want to commit a faux pas right off the bat, so I waited to be told what to do. The person who had let me in the door disappeared somewhere, and the only other person present was a woman standing at a vintage copier. She gave no sign of recognition. Actually, I didn't expect recognition &mdash the last time I visited the archive was 2003 &mdash however, I did expect an acknowledgment of my presence. By now I'm used to not being noticed by Czechs, so I continued to wait. She eventually glanced in my direction and asked, "Are you here for the research room?" I nodded. She looked at me like I was, at best, a bad Moravian wine that has just been poured into your glass against your will by a smelly old man who happens to have you cornered in a conversation at a folklore gathering. "Well, go on in!" Deciding that, at worst, I would at least be a cheap Californian wine, I went in, remembering to stash my things in the supplied locker.

The research room was empty. Apparently, I was the only person in the world who was able to drag themself out of bed to do research at the Janáček archive on this Tuesday morning. (I swear it felt like a Monday.) Keep in mind that this is the principal archive devoted to the papers of a major European composer, one who is considered among the three most significant Czech composers in the history of this country's music. I thought there would be at least a few other researchers. Nope. Last January, a sign appeared on the archives door to the effect that, "due to economic reasons," the Director of the Department of Music History of the Moravian Museum in Brno has decided that the JA will only be open six (6) hours per week. This doesn't include vacation, which is in July and August. I can't say I understand this turn of events since it was my understanding that the archive, apart from a full-time director, is staffed by graduate students from the Department of Musicology at Masaryk University, and their stipends can't be too high. Moreover, not a single light was turned on the whole time I was there (it was only two hours), so they're saving on electricity. My eyes are still tired &mdash the meagre light on this cloudy day filtered through windows that have not been recently cleaned.

It was clear that I was a fly in the ointment. Czech customer service, at least for the most part, does not include the customer part and you're lucky if it includes a bit of service. They warmed up in the end, but there was at least an hour of settling in. (That's almost 17% of the weekly time that they're open for research.)

As soon as I mentioned the cimbál, which is considered a "folk" instrument, the lady asked if I had any definite citations. I said yes, they are letters, and told her which book I had found the citations in. I gave her the names of the letter writers. She disappeared through a back door of the research room. From the half-open door I caught snippets of the conversation: "They're at the other place" ... "What should I tell him?" ... "All those things were sent away"

I was presently joined by the director. He informed me that all of the folklore-related materials had been moved to the archive at the Ethnology Institute. (My official affiliation is with that institute, and I was quite sure they weren't there.) "Well, they were mentioned in this book." I didn't have the book, but he knew which one I meant. He gave me a doubtful glance and withdrew. The lady returned with a researcher form for me to fill out and a card catalog drawer for the letters.

When the things I ordered were finally brought, I asked if I could take digital photographs of them. "Oh," she replied, "photos are strictly prohibited. You cannot use your camera here." Oh great. As I started going through the letters she disappeared through the back door again, this time closing it firmly. I was completely alone in the research room and for all I knew I could have taken pictures to my heart's content. A few minutes later the lady returned and said that I could take pictures, as long as I wasn't going to publish anything. (?) Obviously, I wasn't publishing anything at the moment. They may contribute to my dissertation which, though it won't be published in the traditional sense, will theoretically be available to the public someday. "Well, if it's for your dissertation then that's no problem. You just can't publish anything that contains the photographs. You will also have to sign a release form." Inside, I rolled my eyes but told her that wouldn't be a problem.

"Of course," she said, "we also make photocopies. They are one Euro per page." What!!! I consider copy shops that charge more than about 1 crown per page to be expensive, and a Euro is about thirty crowns. Sheesh! Obviously the photographs were the right choice. She continued, "You will also have to pay for the photographs. They are one Euro each."

Incredulous, I answered that I did not have the money with me. "I will be back when the archive is open again. Next week." She nodded. In the low light, I could see that she was smiling. I wondered whose pocket the Euro would go into since it obviously didn't go toward the electric bill.

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Comments:

Blogger Karla said . . .

That's right up there with Kristen's research stories. Man, I am glad I deal (thus far) with civilized archives!    

11:39 AM, June 07, 2006


Blogger plasticattack said . . .

Once you find a book you'd like to look at, just hope that it isn't a holy relic that's sealed in a dark case into which you have to insert a Euro to turn the light on.    

6:23 AM, June 08, 2006


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