Almost cried today when I read Havel had passed away. In 2005 I was in Prague briefly and crashed as usual with my friend Karel Cudlin in Zizkov. As always Karel had a lot going on, this particular day was the exhibit opening of his commissioned work shooting backstage at the Czech National Theater for a full season. Afterward we headed over to a restaurant for the after-party. We’re sitting there and suddenly he says, ‘ah, Havel is here!’. Sure enough, over in the adjacent dining room was Vaclav Havel and a little entourage around a table.
Knowing Karel used to be one of Havel’s personal photographers, I shamelessly begged for an intro. 'Yeah, sure!’ Karel said, eyes twinkling as he angled us through the crowd. A moment’s wait, a few words in Czech from Karel, and there I was shaking the man’s hand (Karel managed to step back and get a pic, pardon the motion blur, it was really dark in there and it happened fast). I forget now what I said, but I’m pretty sure it was forgettable. Anyway, I gave him a few small photo prints I happened to have and said goodbye.
That was about it (and plenty). A bit later I stepped outside the restaurant and there was Havel, by himself, talking on the phone on the little Prague side street. I can’t remember if I didn’t have my camera, or would have felt like an ass for using it, but it’s fine as just a memory.
Such a modest, unassuming guy but a real giant, in the league of Mandela (whose time may be drawing near as well I’m afraid). Why are there so few truth tellers of that stature, people who can not only really see through the weeds that others get lost in, but have the talent to express that vision? When you lose one, the world seems suddenly darker. Like we’ve lost a protector, whose mere presence affirms our best - and rebukes our worst - impulses.