A tragicomedy in three acts


A tale of 'dramatic irony' from the recording studio to the streets of Zizkov.

The Greek etymology of the word "irony," eironeia, means pretence, from eiron, the one who makes a question pretending to be naive, and eirein, to speak. The ancients applied particularly to understatement in the nature of dissimulation.

I know this because I looked it up.

In modern usage, irony is a form of speech in which the real meaning is concealed or contradicted by the words used. The most commonly used form of irony is probably sarcasm.

The expression "irony of fate" stems from the notion that the gods are amusing themselves by toying with the minds of mortals, with deliberate ironic intent. An example: composer Ludwig van Beethoven's premature loss of hearing.

In theatre, of course, there's "dramatic irony," which is built in the audience's deeper perceptions of a coming fate, which contrast with the character's perceptions.

This brings me, finally, to the dramatic event that inspired this Letter from Prague.

Being on "news duty" at Radio Prague, entails trolling through the news wires and online media, mostly, then compiling five news briefs or so, which we then read out on the air, along with the weather report.

I know this because I've been doing it for about five months now.

Last Friday night, I wrote a news brief about the crime rate in Prague, and how the number of reported incidents is 8,250 per 100,000 inhabitants, which, the daily Mlada fronta Dnes reported, was "four times higher than in Chicago" on a per capita basis.

By now, the attentive listener will sense something akin to "dramatic irony" is afoot.

After a night out with friends after a very long week, coming home at about 1:30 in the morning to my Zizkov apartment, I became number 8,251, so to speak.

Here's what happened, in the span of about five minutes.

Two young guys, who didn't look very threatening, blocked my path. One asked to use my mobile phone to send an SMS. Not eager to turn over my phone to strangers on a dark street, I pretended not to have any credit. They pretended to be satisfied with the answer and started to walk away.

Moments later, my back turned, one of them jumped me. I don't know how many punches and kicks I suffered before I managed to overpower him, and how many came afterwards, when the other one joined in. The point is somewhat moot.

Two weeks later, the black eye is gone, but I'm still on muscle relaxants for a stiff neck, my ribs still ache, and I've added a new scar to my permanent collection.

I also have a new phone — and a new phone number, as before I had one of those pay-as-you-go SIM cards. It turns out, however, that these two guys didn't manage to steal the old phone. It had merely slipped through a hole in my inside jacket pocket.

I didn't know this because I didn't wear that jacket again until after I bought a new phone.

But I can consider myself lucky. Last week, a gang of youths were charged with robbing an 81-year-old woman of the equivalent of about $60 and then stabbing her to death with a pair of scissors.

I know this because I had to file a report on it.


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