I decided it’s time to write something up about what I’m seeing and thinking here. Really, I just sat down and started writing and it turned into something I think makes for a good entry. I’ve been working out something on the Orlando shooting, but of course it is difficult to write, and I don’t feel like it’s where I want it to be. Perhaps I’ll visit with it again later tonight or perhaps I’ll binge watch some Netflix while I eat cold chicken. Yes, I brought a cord to hook up my computer to the TV, and it’s a good thing I did because I tried watching some shows dubbed in Czech and it was an effort in futility. And no, I haven’t figure out how to warm things up in the little European oven I’ve got here. I’m sure one of the pictures on the dial should suggest “reheat” to me, but I’m not certain and I’m not motivated enough. Cold chicken it is.
I’ve been here two weeks now and I’ve got about two weeks left, so it’s pretty much the halfway point. I’m fairly tired as I spent the bulk of this first half of the trip traveling, walking, and literally running. It’s been wonderful. Berlin was lovely. It felt really comfortable, which might just be because German is a bit more accessible for me than Czech. I saw some of the German cousins and had a really nice time listening to them talk about their experiences and of German conventions and history. It was good to talk about family and to learn things I didn’t necessarily know. And to see their faces.
Then, we made it down to Prague briefly before heading over to Karlovy Vary. It’s gorgeous little town close to the German border and has some of the most wonderful forests. It’s like being in an entirely different world when you’re in there. I may have suffered from allergies for a couple of days afterwards, but it was worth it. We went to the Moser Glass Museum, which also has a working studio in the back that you get to go see. Super fun watching glass blowing. Very, very warm work space. Also, there was beer being consumed while they worked. We aren’t in Kansas anymore Toto… I assume it’s totally safe, and besides, these people work with molten glass. They are already walking on some edges I might not. And of course, we went to the Becherovka Museum (I’ve got drink recipes to try out) and then did some buzzed shopping. All I will say is: I have a lot of little, glass birds now.
And then we took the bus. The bus! Everyone kept saying to us, “you should take the bus to Karlovy Vary. It’s so easy and it’s faster.” They heard “first class, they feed you and give you drinks and magazines for free (FREE!!!)” But, of course, my American self heard “cramped, smelly, and seriously regretting some life choices.” The bus here in the Czech Republic was a refreshing experience. I still won’t opt to take one once I get back home, but I am willing to try it out more here and in other places in Europe. Did I mention they gave us a little can of hard cider at the end of our trip? Just because. Booze, just because. God bless you, regiojet bus!
After I dropped Steph off for her trip back stateside, I took the train out to Olomouc, which is in Moravia. Think: wine. Lots and lots of yummy wine. From what I gather, the town is in the shadow of some more widely known and popular tourist attractions like Cesky Krumlov and Ceske Budejovice, both of which I plan on seeing in a week or so. Olomouc is really lovely. I went there simply because I wanted to run the 10k race they were holding there. (because why not run on your vacation?) I’m glad I did because Olomouc has one of the most interesting castle museums I’ve been to and several incredibly beautiful churches and cathedrals worth noting. Also, I had some really good food (beef cheeks) and coffee (jumbo cappuccino) and the museum of modern art was free the day I went. (magic word: free!) The town has an amazing amount of parks and a local cheese that is super tasty. A++
So now, I’m back in Prague, thinking about everything I’ve done and working on a plan for what I want to get done before I leave. The last couple of days have been relatively lazy (read: yesterday I walked across the street to get sugar from the corner shop and that was the entirety of my daily exercise.) Tonight, I went over to see the Zdenek Rykr and the Chocolate Factory exhibit at the Trade Fair Museum because first off, it was free (FREE!), but I also wanted to check it out. If you haven’t seen any of his work, I totally recommend looking it up. He plays with a number of modern forms and has an incredible body of work considering the fact that he killed himself in 1940 when he was only in his forties, I think. As I got on the tram to head back, the sun finally reappeared and was making the world seem so fabulous and colorful, and it got me thinking about the way I see things when I’m traveling. This is what I came up with:
I tell myself, as I’m riding around on the tram and walking through the city, that I really need to see my home state and country with the same eyes I have here. When I’m here, I see trash on the street or a crumbling building and I think “how beautiful!” I take a picture of it because it’s clearly the evidence of history still lingering on those structures. It’s something to learn from and to examine. When I’m home, I see trash on the street and think “There’s trash on the street. How dirty!” When I see the crumbling buildings, I don’t see history in the same way, though I see the past still lingering. I see poverty and neglect. I see crime and danger. Somehow when I’m abroad those visual marker don’t denote the messages they do at home. They get elevated in unfair ways. I need to see home the way I see the places I visit. I need to examine it with a more forgiving eye and neutral perspective. I need to find excitement in what surrounds me and seek out all of the treasures that exist.
I don’t spend enough time enjoying the spaces within which I live. When I’m abroad, I hunt down the museums and the monuments—all I can take in. I can’t get enough because I think I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t miss any of this. What if I go home and someone asks me about the tower in that church in that town and tells me how significant it is and I chose not to climb it? I missed out on something big. I can’t tell you how many towers I’ve climbed, cathedrals I’ve walked, and paintings at which I’ve gazed. I wouldn’t take those moments back for anything, but why is it I take pottery classes next to a museum I never go to? Why is it I only saw one major exhibit in an entire year? How have I managed to not visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art once in nearly four or five years? I live just this side of one of the biggest, liveliest cities on earth and I rarely take advantage of what’s there. Yet, when I’m abroad, I’m Ms. Culture. Ms. See It All Do It All.
To be fair, there is something gained here in Europe that I wouldn’t get at home, and it’s not just the underwhelming use of deodorant or the drunk men singing in the streets every night. Every. Night. (And in every town I’ve visited so far. )There’s a history that is vastly different from our own and I can see it all around me. There’s a reason I chose to stay in what was the eastern part of Berlin and then in Prague. Especially in Berlin, there are still seams where the two halves were divided. In Prague, it’s more of a collage of old v. new, but it’s there and it’s extraordinarily interesting to me—the multifaceted boundaries, the ways cultures have mixed and are mixing. The tensions and the contradictions. It’s all very thought-provoking. Some of it is just a love of old things. I love old things. My friend Jan and I joke that I call it retro and he calls it Russian. I think there’s a lot to unpack in that exchange, which I won’t necessarily do here, but I think it represents what I see and what I’m drawn to in this particular area of the world.
And of course, there are the cultural differences that one notices when outside their home culture. I wish the U.S. took a more relaxed approach to drinking in public. I’d love to stroll down the street with a hard cider or sip some wine on the tram. (I’d also love to have trams, just saying…) I love how much of the commercial world shuts down at 6 p.m. Granted, at times I wish the museums and the grocery stores were open a little later, but when I stop to think about it, it’s actually nice. There’s a whole portion of the day when those things just don’t happen because they can’t. My best friend, who came with me for part of the trip, talked about a study that was done with volunteers and chocolates. The general concept was to gauge the correlation of choice to happiness. The groups that had tons of choices weren’t actually the happiest ones. I am reminded of that when I remember I missed getting over to the grocery store. There’s no rush to get to the next one because they are all closed and so I’ll just have a glass of wine and go tomorrow.
I realize I’m on vacation, so it’s easy to say and think that, but I enjoy the way it allows me to let the task go—not forever, but I don’t need to obsess because tomorrow is my only choice. The end. It’s been instrumental in helping me just breathe. This trip is a celebration of finishing my degree, but it is also a much needed moment to re-calibrate the pace of my life and to work away some of the serious mental knots I’ve developed in the past few years. I don’t enjoy living as anxious and stressed out as I’ve been and it’s hard to break that pattern whilst living within the pattern of your everyday life.
I’m not cured, yet, but I can say the only big moment of panic I’ve had is today when I thought I’d lost the keys to the apartment. I’ve harbored a little tension because I haven’t been drafting as much as I feel I should be. I’ve been writing in small spurts here and there, but there hasn’t been a lot of time for just sitting and writing. I’ve been back from Olomouc for a couple of days now, but I’ve been too worn out to sit and work out any ideas. And I could keep going with this, but I won’t. I won’t feed the crazy and the intensity. I’ve written nearly ten pages of drafted work in the last 48 hours and pages of notes in the last couple of weeks. Here I am working to decelerate life in order to set a new pace and I’m already trying to floor it in another direction.
I’m afraid I’ll come home from this trip not having accomplished what I set out to do, which is a deeply rooted wound for me at this point. I know that I won’t, but I have a tendency to overwhelm myself with what need to be done and it effectively prevents me from doing anything. I’m also stifled, at times, with the fear that I will produce shitty work and all of my plans for the future will be ruined. Again. And I know that isn’t true either, but I suppose it’s part of the work.
So when I’d decided I’d had enough of my own thoughts, I took the tram to the museum and took several nice, big breaths. I took in someone else’s work and ideas and my brain began functioning once more. Today was successful. It was filled with food (I made muffins.) and sunlight and beautiful artwork. I worked past a roadblock in my mind and wrote some really good stuff. I found a fun little coffee shop. Tomorrow, I’m going to check out the park that’s a couple of blocks behind me and go for a little run and then go see a library and have some more coffee. And breathe.