I remember a typical instance: at a certain moment, he reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a well-thumbed newspaper clipping, apologized several times for even bothering to bring it up, and then read from it a report that I had expressed my regrets at the death of Frank Zappa. Then, very politely, he suggested that it was inappropriate for a head of state to express regret at the death of a foreign rock musician, when so many of our domestic giants had passed away without a word of commiseration from me appearing in the papers.
What was I to do in such an absurd situation? The proper response would have been to stand up and say, “Václav, this meeting is over.” But I can almost never carry anything like that off, maybe once in two hundred years. Instead, I said something about how Zappa had taken an interest, right after the revolution, in what was happening in our country, how he had helped us, and how ungratefully we had behaved toward him, and I explained that Agence France-Presse had come to me for a comment and it would have been absurd to refuse them, and that it wasn’t my fault that of all my many comments on the deaths of various people, the newspapers chose to run this one. I could have been right a thousand times over, but what good was being right when, simply by stooping to an explanation, I had made a fool of myself? Everyone knows that in a country that is still working hard for its place in the sun, I’m not going to risk a war between the president and the prime minister over an expression of regret.
more from the NYRB here.