Category Archives: Dobrý Zivot

Things about my soon to be life in the Czech Republic.

Buongiorno Milano!

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Shopping Center

Milan’s cobblestone streets are flooded with Italian women wrapped tightly in fur coats and men in designer jeans and studded belts. Nodding heads on subway cars look more like Ralph Lauren billboards than tired passengers heading home from a day of work. This city has a pulse and it beats rapidly, deeply through the night and early into the morning. Where I can pass as a local in some places, Italy knows better. My pale skin, pale hair and blue eyes cause long stares and incoherent words under soft breath. Men whistle as they pass by, staring too long with eager lust in their eyes. But even the greatest offense sounds beautiful when it is muttered in Italian.

This language shakes and breathes and dives in and out and up and down. Every word sounds like a call to action, a battle cry, a plea to join a cause. And the people lift their arms high, and put their hands close to your face and speak with a passion I’ve not experienced in my most heated moments. Hymns sung to Beethoven’s Fifth in an intense and frightening way to an ear that knows no better. The metro hums with chatter and booming laughter and a sense of famiglia encapsulates the city and all of the people inside it.

Duomo di Milano

Duomo di Milano

We visit the Duomo, a beautiful, skyscraping cathedral, if there ever was such a thing. Never have I seen so much art in one place. Every inch is ornate and ironic in the most beautiful way: the walls, covered in sculptures up to the ceilings, which you can barely see with human eyes; stained glass windows stretch beyond my grip of sight; the floor, a maze of complicated patterns and colors; paintings hang, two-up all the way down the church on either side. We try to make sense of everything our body is trying to absorb, but we fail and become overwhelmed, groggy from the dim lights and evaporating holy water. We leave the church, letting ourselves get lost, wandering narrow streets; every turn a new discovery, a new way to get lost again and again. We are asked for change, harassed by people on the streets collecting money for ‘Africa’ or to feed their hungry babies. We push past, pretending not to understand, and stop at a tobacco shop to enjoy a freshly rolled cigarette on a cold patio, surrounded by like-minded  locals.

And on a Thursday night, we walk into a small bar, where we are greeted by a group of men, laughing and eating cichete and drinking the local birra. Ciao! Ciao! Ciao!! echoes around us in a room with walls covered in old newspapers, slot machines lining the back perimeter. We swiftly and quietly order “due birre” from the bar and take our place at a small table in the corner. We quickly learn that’s not how Italians make friends. We are stoned to death with questions, and brought endless plates of formaggio and freshly sliced prosciutto,  deviled eggs, cheeses, salami, bread and  chips and dips. Every time we finish one plate, another one comes to replace it. Arthur works on a computer in the corner, ridden with unnecessary programs and a long history of user error. He tries to navigate Windows in Italian, and the men joke, calling him Bill Gates, gesturing to his over-sized head. They string together sentences in Italian and broken English, furrowing their brows when we don’t understand, then burning paper and building charades with toothpicks to help us along. They laugh because we don’t understand much; Armando, who knows the most English translates what he cans, and makes inappropriate gestures to either party in between his translations. The men tease each other with gay jokes and pepper their sentences with ‘fuck’ as often as possible. They apologize because I’m a girl, and immediately joke that they will take me home with them; their wives will forgive them tomorrow, they say.

IMG_0786Then a free round of beers come before the bar closes, but we stay inside, laughing and eating, filling the room with the sweet, choking smell of competing tobaccos. The owner pulls out his camera, points to his wall of photos, and we spend the next 15 minutes posing for pictures we’ll never see. We part ways, but not before receiving an invitation for the next night, which we know we will accept. And we will come back the next night, but it won’t be quite the same. These fleeting moments are never able to be repeated, and so we cherish them even more.

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As unromantic as I know how to be.

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I’ve been avoiding writing about Prague… I know it’s going to turn into an 19th century Bronte excerpt, and I’m going to look like an asshole, but there is no other way that I can adequately describe it. Because every day, walking along the cobblestone roads, I’m narrating everything I see- every movement around me. . I’m telling stories to myself because none of it seems real enough to be my reality. It only seems able to exist in narrative. Everything is something new, every step a little closer to something, somewhere. Every corner a new challenge, another mystery. Even though I can’t understand much of what anyone says, and I get scolded by a Czech person daily for doing something wrong, I feel strangely connected to this place.

The untrained eye, or perhaps the rational eye, might see things differently. But my Bronte mind allows baroque apartments covered in graffiti to be beautiful. I pretend to understand it. Because it’s more than spray paint on a door. It’s an act of defiance, a declaration of expression. Twenty years removed from communism, and yes, I think it’s beautiful. Perhaps only the bud of expression, but progression at all seems to be great growth. Every once in a while I’m surprised by how a simple word or picture can stop me dead on a busy street. Every inch of the city another chance to connect to something just beyond my grip of understanding.

And every moment of the day is like that. My senses are confounded, at maximum capacity before I’ve even made it to the tram stop. Last week, I was overwhelmed by the thick smell of freshly snuffed cigarettes and sweat and perfume during my morning commute. This week, it just smells like morning. The contrasting smells claw at my senses, pulling me in zigzags across the pavement. The aroma of freshly baked bread grabs me by the wrist and forces out me wallet. Little armed baguettes, thieves with good intent. And then I go into an espresso-carbohydrate trance, and wake up a few blocks away with an empty cup and crumbs on my face. And the air is burning cold, but my blood is burning hot while I listen to Regina Spektor, instinctively marching in time across a 600 year-old bridge.

Flaming martinis and other things of non-importance.

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Newark: I had a three hour layover with a seven and a half hour flight ahead of me, so after going to the bathroom twice out of boredom, I decided to get some food and drink that would make my eyes water a bit. So, I bought an overpriced panini and an extra dirty martini; the type of martini I ordered back home on a Friday night with the girls to wash away the agony of a week passed, and the dread of another to come. Only, the bar olives were stuffed with red chilies,  and the waiter cautioned me several times that my drink “wouldn’t taste right”. But I like the idea of a mingling of things that don’t seem quite right together, so my dirty martini became a sweaty, dirty martini. The red chili, a burning flame in the murky shallows of vodka. The taste a symphony of salty, smoky and spicy. Not overly complicated – just an added bite to an off-the-menu sort of drink. And I thought to myself -the way I always do when some form of symbolism strikes me- “There’s a bigger picture here.”

Things started out a bit rough at the airport several hours before. I couldn’t even find my airline – it was an affiliate of United with no mention of United anywhere – and it took over an hour and a half to check in because of countless issues. By the time I finally did, I was charged nearly $500 for two overweight bags. I reluctantly paid, fretting as a I always do, making calculations, thinking about paying what I did for 20 pounds of hairspray and nail polish. Then I literally ran to make my plane; I was the last one to board.  And then I decided to let it all go. Because it was done and was now a thing in the past. The simple past, for anyone who knows much about grammar.

Sitting in the airport in Newark, I was looking around at the people walking by: kids in marshmallow jackets being tugged by their parents, young couples holding hands strolling along kiosks of neck pillows and packs of gum, friends laughing and teasing as they sat lined along their terminals, eating Pizza Hut and sharing headphones with one another. That’s the candid beauty of an airport – the unexpected calm. Everyone is moving and sitting, rushing and waiting. Unknown sounds swarm through a sea of nationalities, humming as they float up through a ceiling of sun-stained glass. I pretend to know what country the words are from and laugh at myself for not having the slightest idea. They are just sounds to me and I can’t distinguish where one ends and another begins. I wonder if English sounds the same way to someone who doesn’t know it. I convince myself that isn’t the case.

I slept a little one my last flight – the only way I know to sleep on a plane: with my head tilted all the way back, mouth wide-open, mouth-breathing, my $20 neck pillow sitting on my lap. Then I heard the wheels, then felt the bump-bump-bump of an amateur landing. Careful as items in the overhead bins may have shifted during flight. Follow the signs to baggage claim.

I can’t completely convey the sinking feeling that takes place in the pit of ones stomach when luggage never makes it to the conveyor belt. Once you realize luggage is no longer coming up, you look around the belt with the conviction that you simply did not see your bag. Then panic slowly sets in, and you scour the area, walking around the entire belt. Then you start giving people dodgy looks, wondering who would take your bags. You make lunges at a few strangers before realizing that isn’t necessarily your black duffle bag they are wheeling behind them. Then there’s a calm sense of purpose as you walk up to the baggage help desk. Then anger as you realize the form you are filling out has been filled out a million times before and your things are no more important that any of those other times. Then the realization that those are your things. Then a returned sense of hope as, surely by now, your bag has been returned. Then more anger. Eventually, apathy takes over as you realize you can live without it all but secretly hope you don’t have to. There is a sense of victory once that bag arrives though.

So it has all been perfectly dramatic. The type of drama we all secretly crave so we have exciting stories to tell, the tools we use to keep our listeners on the edge of their seats. The way we leave 5 minutes after we should, tempting fate and congratulating ourselves when our bets pay off. And there have been more of these dramatic encounters, even in the last day, of tight deadlines, missing money, and getting lost in a city I know nothing about. But, tonight, after sitting on a tram 11 stops too long, getting dropped off somewhere on a bridge in the middle of nowhere, and eventually taking three trams to get back to my apartment, all I could think about was a little red chili that fit so unexpectedly well inside an otherwise ordinary martini.

1,000 Reasons Not To

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It’s funny to make a plan that frightens people so much. Moving to Europe is the equivalent of moving to the Moon in my parent’s minds. Still, the most common response I hear is, “I wish I would have when I was your age.” Then a story about mounting responsibility as you grow older ensues.

It humors me to hear all of the “I was going to but I didn’t” stories. Dark humor, I mean. It is a little sad that so many people dream of doing things that they never accomplish. Maybe they are not passionate enough about that particular thing to make it happen, or maybe the fear of failure overcomes.

A good friend explained it best when I gave the ‘bad timing’ excuse. She said you will always be able to justify reasons not to do something. The excuses won’t go away in a year or ten years or ever. She opened my eyes to my own fear of the unknown. Not enough money, too much good family, the good job, the boyfriend, the bills, health, language barriers, ignorance, the list is infinite and expanding faster than the universe.

So, of course I have thought of 1,000 reasons not to go to Prague. I have as much baggage (good and bad) as anyone else. I’m leaving behind a good family, a job I shouldn’t have at my age and a world of opportunity. But there is one overwhelming reason telling me that it’s okay to go: I’ll regret it if I don’t.

Not everyone has the same Everest. If a desk job and Excel worksheets are your dream, you should, by all means, follow that dream. Get the extra lumbar support in your chair if it makes you happy. It’s not about how unconventional or adventurous you can be. It’s about following your heart and your dreams and looking back when you’re 80 and saying, “Damn, I did life right.”

Czech. Czech. Testing: One. Two.

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Back-end view of the Square

Photo just outside of Old Town Square in Prague.

This is my coming out.

As some of you already know, I decided it was time for a little life change … Well, a big life change.

Come the fall, I’m getting on a plane with a one-way ticket in hand and heading to Prague. I’ll be getting my teaching certification to teach English, which will little over 4 weeks. After that … I’m not sure. I may stay in Prague for a while and teach, I may go to Turkey or South Korea and teach, or maybe I’ll find a way to make the little bit of experience I have in business and writing work for me. The point is, I’m checking out.

I’m a chronic planner, so needless to say, moving to the other side of the world with two suitcases, a lot of hope, and no itinerary scares the shit out of me. I won’t know if I even have a job until after I’m there. I don’t completely understand the process and I’ve never been to Europe. I certainly don’t speak Czech. The fact that it’s a “meat and potatoes” country makes me a bit ill to even think about because I’m a leaves and fish girl. (That’s not a thing, but I’m making it a thing.)  The fact it’s the beer capital of the world… well I’m very happy about that.

So there are some things I’ll have to adjust to, but the hardest is the letting go part. It’s unnatural for me not to plan – not to worry incessantly. It’s my biological makeup to over-think everything. So I’m reading a lot about Czech culture, I’m relearning English, and I’m learning as much as I can about being a teacher. I’ve made about 14 budgets during the last month, and spent endless hours on Google Streetview exploring the city. Thank God for technology. Or better yet, thank Google.

Despite being scared and uncomfortable that I don’t have everything figured out, I’m more excited than I’ve been since … well, since any time I can remember.

Life is calling, and I’m finally answering.