Ludvik, The Man From Ashes


Voluntary homeless Ludvik Dolezal suffers from a mental disorder. He burns everything he can, and he’s rolling around in hot ashes to keep warm. The sixty year old is surviving in a ruin near Novy Bydzov city as he can. Black smoke is still rising from his windows – so thick only few would endure it. And so he burned mattresses, skates, a variety of clothing and shoes that people brought him, and he lost his radio or even two watches, which also ended up in fire. He admits that from time to time he himself catches fire, when he lies too close to it. „I lay down into hot ashes. I sleep all dressed up. I just roll around a bit to keep myself warm. I burn tires, metal, wood, it all makes embers. My sweaters are burned from it.”

He has been living in abandoned buildings near the city for eight years, and different life does not attract him. „One day I just decided to stop working. I felt fed up and stopped going to work,“ he describes how he voluntarily became homeless many years ago.


Every day of Ludvik’s life looks pretty much the same. He gets up at seven o’clock and goes shopping to the nearby village Skrivany. Time is very important to him, even if he doesn´t know what time it is exactly. In the morning he is governed by a train whistle in the distance, for him it is the signal that the shop will be already open. His furious pace allows him to make the two kilometre long journey in about fifteen minutes. People in the village know him well. Some of them gossip with him, others look at him mockingly and call him a „monster“.


Ludvik claims that he receives the welfare support of about 3,000 Czech crowns a month, which, however, does not get right into his hands. Social workers give the money to the food store and Ludvik can select food every day in limit of hundred crowns. Saleswoman is already waiting for Ludvik and she has prepared everything Ludvik buys every day. Cigarettes, matches, bread, sausage, and sometimes he can afford himself a chocolate, coffee or beer. He also takes raspberry soda from the desk, which he uses by his own unusual way.


When he gets everything he needs, he goes back to his farm. On the way back home Ludvik always stops at the container and checks the contents if people had thrown away something „useful“. He usually finds cartons and other objects suitable for kindling. Today he found a bag in the container, stuffed it with all another useful things he recovered, put his purchased food on the top and hit the road.


Ludvik is a passionate chain-smoker, and so, in his words, he has nothing to smoke at 2:30 PM already! Although he coughs and it is obvious that he struggles with each cigarette and after each inhale, he cannot simply help himself. They are his everyday pleasure.


The journey to the village and back has its pitfalls. In winter, no one cleans the dirt road so he has to wade through snow. His journey thus extends to half an hour. And in the fall, when the wind is strong, banshees blow into his ear and steal his thoughts, as he says. That makes him feel really sad.


Ludvik has been living in the ruined remote buildings for eight years and during that time he has moved through several abandoned buildings that stay near each other. He needs to move constantly because the houses in which he stays burn down eventually. That is because in Ludvik’s home, fire blazes all the time.


He burns everything he gets his hands on, as demonstrated by the black smoke and grimy walls. In a large room of about 4×4 meters, it is not possible to distinguish where the floor ends and where there are already walls. Everything is black. And on the floor is thick layer of soot. Likewise, the black smoke is coming through the holes in the wall and is visible from a large distance.


People come here to visit Ludvik quite often, they are mostly locals from the village who bring him clothes, food, drink or just come for a small talk. Ludvik enjoys it, but he admits that sometimes these numerous visits disturb him from work. On the other hand, people sometimes bring him work, so he can earn some extra money. „I burn metal. People for example bring here tires from the Skoda auto, I burn it and a wire and a disk remain. A car arrives, loads it and carries away.”


Ludvik’s most common activity is firewood preparation. There are a lot of prunes, beams and large logs everywhere. Since he has no tools (he used to have an axe, but he burned it) he must be able to cope by himself. He prepares wood for the rest of the day, so he can make a fire in the evening and avoid freezing to death.


Even during the heavy manual work he cannot let go of his cigarette. Every time he inhales it, he needs to stop his work, because he has an uncomfortable fit of cough. „I keep having breathing problems. But I smoke cigarettes all the time. I smoke a pack a day. But it helps me breathe, cigarettes really help me,” says Ludvik.


After Ludvik has something to make a fire with, he starts it in the corner of his room. First he takes the bag, which he found in a container and puts some other stuff in, so he can start a huge fire. “And when I have got foam, I put it there too. Or tyre, it makes eighty to ninety degrees and a terrible smoke. I have to go out always after that.“ Because he does not check the contents of the container bags, it occasionally cracks as noisily as if someone threw a grenade into the room.


Fire blazes and Ludvik can finally enjoy his moment of peace with a cup of coffee. He pours some raspberry soda in the saucepan and puts it onto the fire. He uses soda because of its sweetness. „I used to buy bottled water and extra packet of sugar, but someone always came here and stole it from me. And it´s not worth it!“


While the water is boiling, Ludvik kills time with another cigarette. Black choking smoke is almost gone. The only way smoke can go away from room is through a narrow window opening, so it takes a while to get everything back to “normal”.   Ludvik blocks windows with bricks and bags because he wants to stop chilly winter wind from getting into the room. When the heat is sufficient, he keeps the fire alive by adding only some wood.


Ludvik is used to smoke and heat. When the raspberry soda starts to boil after ten minutes, he takes the hot saucepan from the fire with bare hands. He makes himself a coffee and enjoys his daily ritual.


Moment with coffee, that’s what Ludvik enjoys the most each day. That can be seen on his face. At this time, he does not think of future. The rest of the day, he will be gathering wood and keep the fire strong to survive the night. „I have already had frostbite so bad I could barely stand on my feet. It is the worst during the night, I freeze. At eight o’clock I already leave the fire to die.“ And the next day begins the cycle anew.

Not every day is the same though. For example, sometimes a mouse runs over his head, the animal he is so scared of.  But this is not his only concern. „I occasionally fear that something might happen to me. That’s why I have cleaned it all around here. There were nettles, long grass, so I mowed as much as I could. Come and see how low it is. I cut it to have an overview. And yet I fear when there is a storm. Once a ball lightning flew here and jumped across the whole room. I was startled. There are also walls falling down, but I’m surviving.“

Česká verze: Ludvík – Muž z popela