Oh, haaaai. Remember when we used to blog like at least once a week? Stupid Facebook which gives me a tiny grazy snack of connection and takes away my appetite for digging a bit deeper into things that actually interest me. It's easy to say "I did this or that" "I thought about this or that" but ... motivations, reasonings, responses, feelings, it takes too long. And my own attention is more and more like a hummingbird, so why shouldn't yours be? What right do I have to hold it? Nevertheless, here's what I've done in the last six weeks that I thought about (and failed to write about). Clearing the cache, so to speak.
The Brno Expat Centre held a fair so that foreigners in the city could find out about services that are available to them and Czechs in the city could learn about what foreigners do. So there were English-friendly businesses run by Czechs and Czech-friendly businesses run by non-Czechs, and it was mostly pretty fun. It was interesting to me that some people who hadn't been here very long complained about the absence of services they simply didn't know existed and other people who had been here for rather longer resented the existence of services that they hadn't been lucky enough to have. Like one side of the room complaining that there are no vaccines when there are, and the other side of the room saying there shouldn't be vaccines since we didn't have them back in our day. Back in our day we all died of the plague and I don't see why it should be different for these tenderfooted fools. Still no vaccine for ignorance and arrogance, I guess. Most of the exhibitors had a bowl of candy out and I enjoyed going around and seeing who had the best sweets.
It was my birthday and my friends took me out to dinner but I was so tired I almost fell asleep in my sushi. Still, aren't friends the best? I've been doing the "review and measure of my life by decades" and I think in my 20s I worked on developing myself professionally, and in my 30s I focused on being a mother, in my 40s I focused on how to be a good friend, and in my 50s it seems to be (so far) how to build a sense of community. Not like I've completely sorted myself professionally, but while I love my work, thinking about its meaning is no longer my primary focus and I feel like I've got a pretty good grasp of my skill set. Similarly I think I did okay at being a mother, and my friends are clearly the bomber type of people who love you even when your head lolls to the side before you've finished your nigiri. So here's hoping I figure out what community means in the next 8 years.
One of my oldest and dearest friends got married in New York and Squire and I went to the wedding as if we were proper jetsetters who will hop across the pond for a weekend. But it was so magical! My sister came from California and having the three of us together seemed like a perfectly reasonable explanation for enduring a four-hour delay in the Philadelphia airport. Also the wedding included gorgeous weather, Adironack chairs, fireworks, and the most intensive test of "waterproof mascara" I've been put to in recent years. I don't know how I feel about weddings or marriage -- it depends on the wedding or marriage itself -- but two people deeply in love and surrounded by people who love them is a pure good. I was glad to be there.
Next week I'm going to do standup in an actual venue, rather than in a corner of a bar, in Vienna and I'm extremely pleased and honored and terrified.
The play we've rehearsed for two months with the theater group is happening now and makes me think about honesty, art, creativity, stress, process vs. product, and how much sleep I'm not getting. That's about all I can say about that.
I went to a musical/opera thing last night. It was the Czech version of Leonard Bernstein's "Mass", performed in the DRFG arena. Here are my thoughts:
My friend is visiting and we are having adventures all over Europe. Bus from Berlin to Prague, its relentless beauty and complications. The exquisite detail in the stained glass window in St. Vitus representing the biblical disasters for which insurance can be purchased, turn of the century corporate sponsorship.
Train to the ghost town of Brno, stumbling over stepping stones and stopping at stumblestones. I love my town more than I've loved any place and it's a weird possessive feeling when I'm showing people around, but we spin in the square with our arms out and drink cocktails named Liza Doolittle, Mary Poppins, Alex Owens, and I think my love does not make mistakes.
In Budapest, I walk across Liberty Bridge and am unstuck in time. I am 26 after a night of hitchhiking and I am in my 30s, 40s, different visitors and reasons for coming to this diacritical city, but this is the first time I visit the thermal baths so it is new again, different, like every time you step in a river. Or walk over one.
And today, the view from an airplane window of clouds, fluffy and white, the blue horizon snapping in the distance. I experience the same irritations as anyone I guess, the man in line behind me kicking at my bag when the line moves forward, the rush and halt of travel. But here I am on a plane, going from one country to another, the beauty of waking up in Budapest, a cigarette on the balcony at sunrise overlooking the city, and knowing I will sleep in Berlin.
It rained last night, the kind of deafening, soul-clearing rain that I love the best. We watched the storm coming in from our bench outside the wine bar, the faraway blue sky gradually replaced by low gray clouds that grumbled at us and took flash photos. The waitress came out and set up an umbrella so we could continue drinking outside when the storm hit. Then the rain the rain the rain. When it stopped, it was past closing time and I wanted one more so we hopped across the street to the bar with more expensive wine and a later closing hour. The wine tasted like pear juice and after I spilled the first glass all over I felt like I could get pretty used to sweet wine after all.
I left the bread I bought for breakfast this morning in the first bar, apparently. Rice for breakfast, oh asagohan, how've you been.
Sometimes it takes a while to figure out how unpleasant someone is. It would be neat if I could spray people who come aggressively close to me, the way skunks can. Then other people would only need to be downwind of them and say, "Oh hey, this person gets aggressively into other people's spaces." Saves time. Once, I warned a woman when I saw her on a date with a skin-covered bag of excruciating boredom, and I have thought about getting cards printed that say RUN to hand to people on obviously toxic dates, but now what I really want is the ability to mark somehow, as a courtesy to the next passenger, the people who should be avoided.
Although of course then I want to code it, what kind of bad they are. Like my spray paint for cars -- one color for people who get too close to bikes, one color for bad parking, one color for the ones who drive through crosswalks, my upcoming and certain demise.
It's summertime officially now. One friend gone, another friend gone, and one more to go next week. Ghost town. I'm going to get my closet so organized. I might even learn to play The Specials on the ukulele.
I'm remembering the feeling of Sunday mornings at the end of a long weekend at the cottage, anybody's cottage, the comfortable stupor of a three-day weekend of eating and drinking and eating and drinking, playing cards or watching old Czech movies until late at night. How as the slivovice bottle got emptier the jokes got funnier; the warmth of shared laughter. Or in other places, waiting for the children to go to bed, the hushed conversations in the dim light, secrets. How in the morning we would start making gestures towards packing up, going back to city life, and the inevitable scrap of paper with the train and bus schedules would emerge, or one of the teenagers or more overly energetic kids would be sent down to the station to write down the upcoming connections, always different on Sundays, sometimes extra different on the long weekends. Stealing a few cold potato wedges from the pot, still on the stove from last night's dinner. The sway of the bus on the ride home, the feeling of having been away for years.
There are many plates spinning in the air which is sort of my usual except a little more than that. The cat died, we sold the cottage, I got dual citizenship. None of these things are bad but all of these things take extra time and attention.
My parents are coming for the party to celebrate my new Czech citizenship, and one of my oldest and dearest friends is here from California, too, which is great. Also people coming from Vienna, Prague, Berlin. And of course a lot of the people I love here in Brno. I've never thrown myself a party (I've thrown plenty of parties but never in honor of my own personal awesomeness) and it feels weird. A few days ago, I tried out the idea that this is not a party to celebrate my 22 years of living here, raising a child in a language I was just learning to speak, memorizing important facts like the birthplace of Mr. Cimrman, and generally just rocking the Czech life. I mean it IS but also this makes me feel wayyyy too self conscious. So actually this is a party to thank all the people, old and new, who have made my life here the amazing thing that it is, and that makes sense and felt better. People have been incredible to me and I am so ridiculously lucky it makes my head spin, so this is a good place to mark my gratitude. And buy the first round or so.
Sometimes I get really bogged in feeling sad because there is ugliness in the world, casual ugliness like selfishness all the way to downright brutality. Last week I was crying about it, about how hard it is to live in a world where we open ourselves every damn day to indifference, to egotism, to cruelty. Sitting in your little kitchen at night smoking down another cigarette, tears streaming down my face, because how can we go on in a world with so much horror, how can we tolerate it and push past it and keep our faces and hearts open to beauty and love, and if I, so honestly blessed and lucky, can barely do it, how can anyone who truly suffers manage? How can we keep going?
The answer I remembered then is the same as it's ever been: Friendship. Good food. And poetry. Over and over again.
Eleven years ago I bought a cottage here, it's kind of part of the Czech lifestyle and I was married to a Czech so it seemed appropriate. I liked the idea of being outside without running water or electricity on the weekends, just to re-set and to forcibly relax. In about 2010 it stopped being fun to go there, and the marriage fell apart shortly afterwards for the same reasons, and so I hadn't been there in over five years. Friar recently realized that he wasn't having fun there either, and last week he handed me back the keys. I went out and while WOW a lot can break and tumble down in five years, it's still a pretty magical place. I was really excited about starting fresh -- new walks in the forest, barbeque, sitting in the sun reading a book or cozying up in the winter at the stove, reading by candlelight. Very sweet picture.
And then the neighbors pulled up. And they are toxic like ... it's a very specific kind of poison, to which I am particularly vulnerable: the bully. I am immune to iocane powder and most forms of stupid but my life will never be long enough to spend time with a condescending know-it-all bully. And this particular bully feels that since he would like to have the property, he should have it. Like: it just should be his. Why? Because you're stupid.
So there are lots of details, including that there had been a certain amount of vandalism on the property that was probably him, but the bottom line is this: I'm not keeping the cottage. Selling it to the neighbors and getting the hell out of there before he takes it into his head to burn it down or whatever. I'm really sad, because I hate it when my fantasies die before I can even fully breathe life into them. But I know I'm right. And I know that there are so many things in life, horrible things, that you can't walk away from, but when you can, you really really should.
There's this old woman who lives in my neighborhood, across the street. She has to be in her eighties, maybe older. I see her almost every day, usually doing the shopping. She is tiny and frail and a sharp dresser, often with heels. Sometimes she doesn't wear make up, and some days she wears more than I do in a year; I get the feeling that she's doing her best but going blind, so to her the giant clown circles of rouge and the smear of bright red in the general area of her mouth probably look just about right. Her hair is a crazy mop of gray, usually styled up quite deliberately in the front and then basically like a windstorm hit it in the back. What you can't see can't hurt you.
We often see her with a man, I assume her husband, even more frail than she is. They hobble around the block together. Lately he's been using a walker. When they get to the door, he opens it for her, but he's so weak it takes a really long time, because he has trouble holding the weight of the door and moving forward at the same time. Sometimes Squire wants to run across the street and help; sometimes we just stare out the window and admire them. The determination, the eventual success. It's hard to not think about aging.
I do not want to be old and frail, though as long as I can still toddle down the hill to the store and back, I won't feel frail. Or even if I am frail, I expect as long as my mind keeps working I won't be too bothered. I don't imagine I'll make it as far as these two, anyway. Into my eighties? It seems unlikely. The thought of thirtyplus more years seems kind of exhausting. I mean, I like my life very much now, but what would I do with thirty more years of it? Would I, in thirty years, finally master the art of applying lipstick? Or would I finally have given up? Would I still suck at the ukulele? Would it make a difference if there were somebody to hold the door open for me? Would the teenage boy across the street come running, if I baked him cookies? Should I learn how to bake, sometime in the next thirty years?
I went to the ballet last night. One of my dearest friends here had been gone for a month, and I wanted to celebrate his return, and another of my dearest friends has put up with a disproportionate amount of my chaos lately, and I wanted to celebrate her sweetness, and also I will not miss an excuse for what looks like a good ballet, which it did. So we went.
The first piece was Serenade, by George Balanchine. Bunch of pretty girls fluttering their arms about, with some guys trying to look like the goblin king in the pants department wandering around. One can like it, but it was: meh. I hate to say that. I mean, here I'm looking at a stage full of athletes and all I can think is: let's do math with Balanchine, because it really looked like illustrations of math problems or something. Not word problems, either. So mostly I sat there thinking about WHY I didn't like it, which is not really the feeling you want in the theater.
The second piece was Sofa, by Olivier Wevers, and that was totally different. There was a purple velvet sofa, and everybody danced on and under and around it, and it was awesome. It made me think of high school and how I couldn't have boys in my room but we could be in the living room, and how the sofa was like a way station to where we wanted to go, and the center of slumber parties, and where we watched TV, and it is still all those things, the sofa is so central, and these dancers were fighting and kicking and kissing and teasing all on a sofa, just like us, except of course way more elegantly and their feet probably hurt a lot more. And in this I felt fully engaged and delighted.
The third piece was Lunar Sea, by Moses Pendleton, danced by MOMIX, a sort of black light madness and chaos. Like the first one, it didn't have a story, but it was so busy and stimulating visually that it didn't need one. And so we watched people split open, creatures with four legs dancing across the stage, absolutely a hundred things to look at.
We ran across the street in the rain, ducked into a clean well-lighted place for tapas and wine, and talked and talked, the beauty of this, three generations of ballet in one evening, and how the first one made sense because we could see now how that non-narrative mathematical beauty made the other two possible, and how the third one called back to it, and how amazing it is to be able to see this when it is presented like that. It was delightful. I was delighted.