01.05.09

Many Happy Returns

Posted in Events, Life in general at 8:50 am by Marion

The two Christmas seasons I spent in the Czech Republic are still powerfully with me, as we slowly return to normal life after the big holiday season.

At the language school where I worked, we ended classes about two weeks before Christmas Day. I had a late student on that final day and didn’t wrap up until 6:30 p.m.

Finishing up that lesson with Pan Kristof, I left the dark, empty building and walked out into the Prague evening.

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Leaving the building where I taught … down from the seventh floor … I passed the now empty offices of the Prague Post, on the second floor, where I did freelance writing and editing, and then to the ground floor, below which was the YMCA (pronounced “yim-ka”) pool, also closed.

The street was magically dark and devoid of the garish lights customary in the U.S. No, all was quiet, peaceful and calm … right out of a hymnal … a few vendors still manned their booths at the outdoor market, selling small porcelain creches and other icons. Along with large goldfish in icy plastic tubs (Czech Christmas tradition involves a goldfish which goes from the market to the family bathtub to the dinner table, where it is devoured, though many kind-hearted Czechs try to save them from their fate.)

The market was at Namesti Republiky, or Place of the Republic, a site commemorating the year 1918, when the Czechs had their republic, at last, though it was short lived. I worked in a building on Na Porici, which I heard meant “on the bank of a swamp” in Czech … it was in the old city, as was my apartment, down Sokolovska Street and beneath the viaduct, through the bus station short-cut.

Of course there was snow, silently falling in that mystical night as I made my way home to Pernerova Street, where I returned to find my cat, Norma Jean, watching it snow through the large bay windows.

The next days were isolated and meditative … I spent Christmas Day with my friend, Iva, who was a loyal friend and translator, without whom I would never have found a place to live … we had our Christmas dinner at the apartment she shared with Vincent, her Jamaican boyfried. Under my plate was a single fish scale — good luck!!

The city remained largely shut down until well into January … old Christmas, Jan. 6 (the Epiphany) was an important part of the observance and so I did not return to teaching for nearly a month. I used the time to write, to run in Letna and Stromovka (two large open parks) … which were snow covered … as was the entire city for months that year … and to read … a time when I discovered Dostoyevsky, and so many other writers.

I’ll never forget those freezing nights in the loft of that tiny flat reading, looking out of the windows (almost an entire wall) at the snow-covered hill beside my building, where if you craned your neck to the right and up, you could see Zizka, the enormous statue of this Czech warrior on his horse.

It’s a dreary, gray Monday today, and fitting for the soft landing back at our desks, after our national high holidays.

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