Prague, My Alma Mater
For some people, their defining years were in high school: that first passionate kiss in the back seat of a Mazda; the artful way they managed to change the birth date on their driver’s license – even if it only fooled one, old Asian man at a 7-Eleven across town; the weathered Jeep their dad bequeathed to them on their 16th birthday, essentially setting them free. Those things reshaped their lives and allowed them to see themselves anew. They were something to build on.
For others it’s college: falling head-first into a first real love affair, the keeping-a-toothbrush-and-spare- change-of-clothes-at-their-place kind, of trying on the hat of poet, rock-n-roller (after all those humiliating years in Band), intellectual, or joining a fraternity or sorority and finally getting to act out all of the scenarios they’d been coveting in the movies.
For me, however, it was the time I lived in Prague.
Don’t get me wrong, high school and college were great and I would undoubtedly look back on those years with more than just a passing glance if I’d never sold my car, quit my job and moved half-way around the world to the country of my family’s origin.
But the fact is, the roughly four years I spent in the Czech Republic shook my life to the core, and forced a metamorphosis in me on par with Franz Kafka’s, but without the tortured, want-to-kill-yourself-slowly aspects. He did, after all, morph into a cockroach.
I morphed into a daughter, a wife, a mother and a writer.
If you define Karma as Wikipedia does: As the principle of causality where intent and actions of an individual influence the future of that individual, then my time in Prague was filled with it – from my first job on the newly named Political Prisoner Street, a pretty powerful coincidence for a girl who came from a family of political refugees, to my translation of a Communist propaganda play that my theater performed to several full houses of howling Czechs, to the close ties I forged with a family I never thought I’d meet and the friendships that will sustain me until my death.
I met my husband in Prague, while performing an original, naughty comic-feminist poem I’d written for my friends’ amusement. We were at a four-hundred year-old candlelit pub at a long wooden table filled with ex-pats. Months later, I would hear that after my recitation, my husband had turned to a mutual friend and asked, “Who is that?”
Our friend told him.
“Well, that’s the girl I’m going to marry,” he’d said.
It was a time so raw and invigorating. And not just for me, but for everyone in that part of the world. The Berlin Wall had come down, the Velvet Revolution had transformed a nation without a shot being fired, a playwright had been elected President and a lot of young people just like me had come to see what it was all about. I toured concentration camps, I slept under the stars on my father’s farm, which had only recently been given back to my family through restitution (the process of returning property that had been stolen by the Soviet State), I worked for Czech companies, and drank way more than I should have. I went to weddings and pig roasts – actually learning to make homemade sausage, though I’ve never used that skill again, I was chased down a dark alley by a Serbian gangster, attended countless balls (sounds fancy, I know, but for Czechs it’s more akin to dance hall culture than hoity-toityness), saw a dozen or more operas for mere pennies, and finally learned to understand poetry. Not by reading it, but by living it.
And in a few days I’m going to take my nearly thirteen year-old son for week in my old stomping grounds.
Just him and me.
I can’t tell you how nervous and excited I am.
My father has just negotiated a sale of his farm and my son and I will be the last people in our family to see it while it still belongs to us. This is a house and a piece of land that has been under our care for well over three-hundred years, minus the four decades under Communism. And now it will become a brewery and hops farm. Just like that.
I’ll also be introducing him to a mother he’s never met: a woman who perfected the art of the smoke ring and French inhale, who can’t quite remember how she got home some nights, who has stood on stage in less than her underwear for heaven’s sake, playing a harried newlywed in a Czech play.
While I’m hoping some of my more colorful antics won’t be trotted out in front of the boy, I’m so proud to introduce him to my friends. These are people who are not only hosting us in their homes (no hotels for us!), but who went out of their way to set up and promote for me a reading of my novel, The Bone Church, at The Globe Bookstore and Cafe.
The Globe and I go back a long way, even if it’s no longer owned and run by my homies.
This is a place I helped scrub and scrape for its opening some twenty years ago. It’s also the place where I first seriously entertained the notion of becoming a professional writer – even if I never told anyone. Now, I wasn’t one of those people who wore berets, talked about Kierkegaard and nurtured a hostility towards the ruling classes. I had a day job supplemented with a night job in theater that actually cost me money. And I had none of the ennui necessary for a credible stab at the writer’s life.
But somehow, here I am, taking my kid to a reading of my novel at a bookstore at my Alma Mater, the city of Prague.
How’s that for Karma?
It’s on Monday, Oct. 6th @ 7:00 pm. Pštrossova 6, 110 00 Praha 1, Czech Republic
Phone:+420 224 934 203
Won’t you please come if you can?