In France, the only English television stations broadcasted are the BBC and CNN. Listening to CNN makes me feel like I am going crazy. But, when you are truly jonesin’ for someone…. anyone…. to speak English, you will find yourself practically starving for a newsperson offering up a story about the world in your native tongue. So, I turn on the tv, flip to the BBC… just to listen to in the background while I’m making coffee… then, I become fully entrenched in the Syrian conflict and Miley Syrus’ catastrophic downfall at the VMA’s. And, just as things couldn’t possibly get any worse in the world an advertisement comes on… It renews my vision of the world. A man revisits his homeland, tours through beautiful museums, hikes through magical forests… and the tag line is: “Come dream in the land of stories”.
Let this reverie begin…
He is talking about the Czech Republic. Somehow, anything with the name “Republic” in it leaves me with an uneasy feeling of former hardship. Maybe it stems from the time that my dad looked at his visa bill and interrogated me about the mass expenditure at a place called “Banana Republic”… (Which to this day is just a fancy grocery store…)
But, Prague is a beautiful place with a gritty history. Is it the Museum of Communist History that captures this man’s attention? Or, is it the theatre where each night Stalin wept as he watched the Irinas, Ninas, Mahsas, and Sashas perish, as though he was weeping for the loss of his own wives.
Philip Roth wrote:
Here where the literary culture is held hostage, the art of narration flourishes by mouth. In Prague, stories aren’t simply stories; its what they have instead of life. Here they have become their stories, in lieu of being permitted to be anything else. Story telling is the form their resistance has taken against the coercion of the powers-that-be.
So, in this political landscape stories become tabu. The storytellers tell their tales over the fence or in line at the grocery store. The stories that are told aren’t the ones we dream about. They are the stories of the suffering and endurance of those who lived through the communist rule. They are the stories about the fear and paranoia of spying on your neighbour. They are the stories of the sordid history of those who had abandoned moral servitude for the higher ground… (speaking out about communism and abandoning their homeland). And, then there is the commercial story, 50 years later.
I must admit, it is compelling! What am I to dream about in this fairy tale land of stories? The Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge are picturesque… Ginger caresses Fred so delightfully in Ghery’s “Dancing House”… and, each meal has been delicious… I can’t imagine Prague in a different light. Nor, in my three days do I try to dig below the surface. The simple beauty of it perhaps allows me, for the short while, to believe that it is a remarkable little city. Thank goodness I’ve got 50 years on it!