Sometime in the early nineties I found myself in New York on a business trip with a friend of mine. My friend is a playwright but at that point he was being president. He is quite keen on films and music so I thought it might be an idea for us to go and see Woody Allen.
Woody is a film maker but he’s also fond of music and has written a few plays too. We rang the bell of Woody’s Fifth Avenue apartment but he was not in. It occurred to me that he might be at Mia Farrow’s place on the other side of Central Park. Woody was dating Mia at the time, casting her as a lead in his films and they had a little son, Seamus. However, they could not agree whose turn it was to mop the stairway once a week, so they kept separate apartments.
The walk through Central Park was very pleasant. My friend, who is a inquisitive sort of guy, was interested to know who the two nice young men were who had followed us all the way through the park, but it all became clear when they courteously demanded our wallets. I tried to explain that my friend was a president and did not have much money but judging by the baseball bat one of them was wielding they were not open to logical argument. The transaction was carried out without serious incident and the two young men departed happily. I suggested we contact the police but my friend was concerned it would result in an international incident which might jeopardize our country’s entry into NATO. Besides, due to his congenital decency he was worried the police might ask for a description of the two attackers which might expose him to an accusation of racism.
We arrived in Park West and I had no trouble recognizing Mia’s house as I remembered it from Rosemary’s Baby. However, when I told the doorman that my friend and I wanted to see Mia he fobbed us off by saying this was Dakota House where John Lennon had been killed, that Mia lived in the house next door and that she had only borrowed this building to shoot Rosemary’s Baby. My friend, being a inquisitive sort of guy, suggested we pay a visit to Yoko but the doorman talked him out of it with the help of an automatic 38 gun.
We rang Mia’s bell and Woody Allen answered the door. He said Mia was out and we should come later. I put my foot in the door before he managed to slam it shut, and explained that we were actually looking for him, that we had come from Czechoslovakia and that my friend, a playwright and president, would like to meet him because he is a inquisitive sort of guy. Woody was flattered that we came all the way from Czechoslovakia and asked us to come in, though I did notice that he left the alarm on.
Woody apologized that he had to babysit Seamus and said he hoped we did not mind, then he ushered us into tiny chairs next to the cot where the baby was screaming its head off. He said he was really glad to meet my friend and asked if he knew how to change babies’ nappies. My friend said he did not but, being a inquisitive sort of guy, he would love to learn how it was done. Woody cooled off slightly and asked if he could offer us a drink. We both nodded and Woody went off, coming back with a tray with three elegant glasses, a cut-glass water jug and baby formula in a box. We each put two spoonfuls into our glasses, mixed them with water and leaned back comfortably in our chairs. After scrambling back from the floor I sat down again, this time more carefully, and got my notebook out to record the historic conversation between the two giants.
Is this your first time in New York?, asked Woody.
My third time, replied my friend.
A beautiful city, isn’t it? My film ‘Manhattan’ is about New York. Did you like it?
I haven’t seen the film but the city is beautiful. My play ‘The Garden Party’ was staged here. Prague is very beautiful too.
I haven’t seen your play but Prague is really beautiful. My film ‘Shadows and Fog’ is about it.
Of course. I haven’t seen it either.
Realizing I was on the verge of making a radical new discovery about Woody’s c.v. , I plucked up my courage. Excuse me, Woody, I said, grateful that the baby’s constant screaming drowned out my heavy heartbeat, Have you ever been to Prague?
Of course, he said. In seventy-four or seventy-five, when I was shooting ‘Love and Death’ in Budapest we had a free weekend and I decided to fly to Prague. I had heard so much about the city and it was all true.
My friend and I smiled, flattered. How much did you get to see?
Well, Woody said, a bit embarrassed, I’ve been to Ruzyně*…
Really? Me too, my friend said quickly.
… airport. And that’s where they told me that to see Prague I needed a visa. I asked where I could get one and they informed me I could get it in Budapest. Then they accompanied me back to the airplane. I will definitely go back one day soon!
I understand you like music, said my friend, changing the subject.
Woody’s face lit up. You bet, he said. Do you like Cole Porter?
Not very much, said my friend. Do you like Frank Zappa?
Not very much, said Woody, growing visibly pale. Should I open the window?
Don’t worry, I said to reassure him. It’s not that bad.
Being president, said Woody to change the subject, that must be really tiring.
Sometimes, my friend replied modestly. And what are your next plans?
The baby’s screaming got a few decibels louder and Woody glanced towards the cot.
I’m really glad we could have this nice chat, said my friend, getting up. It was really interesting.
Yes, it was great, Woody agreed.
You must let me know next time you come to Prague, I said, leaving. I would hate to miss your visit.
Definitely, Woody nodded. And leave the door open to let some fresh air in.
* Ruzyně is a Prague suburb where the main airport and prison are located.
This article appeared in Czech in the Reflex on 10 December 2008, and in the .týždeň 23. February 2009.