The Veronica Zemanova that is sitting with me and sipping pineapple juice is much different from the tall, startlingly beautiful young woman from southern Bohemia that arrived in Prague several years ago.She has slept only one hour and waltzes into this Prague 1 cafe like one of the fast moving clouds passing overheard on this stormy, beautiful Sunday in March.
The girl from Southern Bohemia is now a bonafide success with a following of devoted fans. A Google web search for her name yields over three thousand results with galleries of photos reading "I love Veronica Zemanova" and "Veronica Zemanova is one of the most beautiful women on earth".
Indeed, today Veronica is one of the world's most sought after soft-porn models. And anyone who has spent time in Prague, a city noted for its beautiful women knows this was no easy task.
When she came to Prague at 18 her ambitions were behind the camera, not in front, and she made a modest living as a photographer until one night in 1997 all her equipment was stolen out of her car.
The robbery left her not only broke but in debt, as not all the equipment was hers. When the calls for the equipment became threatening she took an offer from a make-up artist she worked with to take part in an "erotic" assignment.
Though the photographer assured her that it was a simple photo shoot she wound up at an S&M Castle in Cerna, Moravia. She spent three days there with the mainly German men who paid huge sums of money to be abused by Czech women (see their website at www.owk.cz).
Dressed in leather, tall and statuesque, Veronica whipped them constantly as the men acted out bizarre fantasies. "I would ash from my cigarette in their mouths. They would lick my shoes. They played like they were animals; like they were dogs or horses."
While it all went on she was photographed. Bewildered but with six thousand crowns, she was nevertheless still deeply in debt and she took another assignment where she was again misled.
Flown down to Rome she was taken right to the agency owner's apartment. "He was like maniac for sex, for women. I did not know English. I could just say 'yes' and 'no'". He gave her a camera and told her to shoot him. She began to shoot him as he undressed and began masturbating in front of the camera. "I just thought I have to do what he wants to get my money. And he paid me for that."
After these two awful experiences she wanted nothing to do with the business. But her name and image were out there. Other models and agents began contacting her, offering her big money and assuring her that it was professional. She went on a few assignments, continued
to make more money than she ever thought she'd make and gradually it got easier. Still, this was not the life that she envisioned for herself. "Seeing myself with open legs in magazines. I felt very bad for that. But I felt good for to make money. It got to be more normal."
But the Veronica that came from Southern Bohemia was quickly morphing into the sleep deprived adult entertainment star that I was sipping juice with, hearing horror stories of money, beauty and necessity. Flown to Los Angeles, London, Los Cabos and Amsterdam, Veronica's brooding beauty began to strike a chord with men around the world.
Like many beautiful women from Eastern Europe she doesn't fully understand her beauty the way beautiful women from the west - weaned on a steady diet of Brittany Spears-producing pop culture - often do. She projects a naivety that suggests something carnal, almost atavistic; an all-natural departure from the pre-packaged Vivid Video Amazon queens of the porn world. She has a sense of what she does to men but, to this day, she doesn't fully understand the way she affects them. And this quality comes out through her photographs.
But no matter what I say about the metaphysical pull of her presence, it is her tangible physical beauty that makes her a hot commodity. A fantasy from the newly liberated East, with startlingly high cheek bones, huge pouty lips, long sculpted legs, a tiny waist, soft, full sloping breasts and entrancing caramel-brown eyes, Veronica has a quality in photos that represent an ideal for men that society both objectifies and shames them for wanting.
The legacy of Veronica's beauty is something that has colored her life in interesting ways. It has defined and cornered her existence. This is a woman who during her entire adult life has had every man she's met want to sleep with her and every woman eye her with suspicion at best. She talks of arriving in Prague with long, sultry black hair half-way down her back. Thin, with huge breasts and an aggressively sexual face, she couldn't walk down the streets of Prague without men stopping her.
A quiet, shy, almost melancholy girl, so troubled was she by these constant intrusions that she shaved her head. "I did not want to be so sexual object. I thought I will have my head like boy I will be not so sexy. I wish to be more normal".
But rather than feeling normal she was miserable and not able to look in the mirror at her own visage. Perhaps for the first time, now that she was in the big city, the legacy of her genes, of who she is as a person, like it or not, really dawned on her as she grappled with her own image.
Her image is now a valuable commodity. Pictured in the pages of hard-core mags like Hustler (She was the centerfold in the first Czech issue) she suggests shots in Perfect 10 and Penthouse as better records of her beauty Playboy expressed serious interest in her and she'll be posed for the lingerie edition with a shot at becoming a Playmate, which, in her business, is something of a pinnacle.
No longer does she take six thousand crowns to ash in the mouths of demented Germans. Veronica will not work for less then five hundred U.S. Dollars a day and is often paid much more.
The Veronica Zemanova in front of me is a woman in her mid-twenties who has accepted her beauty and is now trying to cash in on it while maintaining a sense of what is right and wrong. We talk about girls in her business who've taken the money for granted, who have made the wrong decisions and wound up prostitutes or addicted to drugs.
This model is questioning me on how much I'm making on this piece, if I want contacts to other models and if maybe she would get a cut from something I'll write. This model means business.
And when I ask her what she'll do when the beauty begins to fade she says that she wants to get more into the business-side of things, perhaps rediscover her photography. But here is that melancholy again. She hides it well but I wonder what she will be when the beauty goes and I'm thinking about those dark hours again where, despite the devotion to diet and exercise, she realizes she is defined by something so fleeting.
I'm thinking about all the news about women from Eastern Europe being seduced by offers of working as waitresses and dancers in the West and winding up human slaves. I talk to Veronica about this and she says she is always on guard and lives with a certain degree of fear constantly.
She is leaving next week for a shoot in Canada and she's nervous. These people contacted her through her website and though they had a reference from another model she knows she has no idea what to expect from them other than the promise of a thousand dollars a day. What if she's offered a glass of wine and it's drugged?
She wakes up in a situation that she can't get out of in a foreign place. It's better now that she speaks some English and knows the business but for a moment I'm stricken by how vulnerable this woman is. She's just trying to have a career and not make a huge mistake. "They use Czech girls causethey are in bad financial situations" she says, "many girls only learn how to say 'Yes' and not enough 'No'."
"They told me I was too serious."
And maybe she is. Brooding, full of a sexuality that she doesn't necessarily want, she lets the photographer put her in a pose. Sometimes it's a coy finger in her mouth suggesting a rapacious sexual appetite awakened. Sometimes it's a sleepy stare that conjures a mirage in the desert, a scene in slow motion. The more artless shots that don't take advantage of Veronica's powerful ability to project her sexuality have her posed with her legs spread as if the voyeur is now gynecologist.
For her admirers maybe it's a desperate search to locate the core of this mercurial and captivating woman. The core, I want to tell them, is elsewhere. I see it in some of her photos. In one she is bent over an antique chair, offering herself to the camera. Many people might miss the look on Veronica's face, which is smiling almost resolutely while staring in a way that shows sadness, a longing to be something else.