So, I just found the “main” computer lab (počitačový sál) of Karlova, and it is glorious. It is big (something like 80 computers, the advertisements say), clean, air conditioned, non-smelly, spacious, and is in the 3rd floor of this old building off of Staroměstské Náměstí that has really cool exposed wooden ceiling beams and looks/feels like the attic of a rustic old cabin. I am coming here from now on. It was, however, a bit of a struggle to find. I walked up and down Hybernská¡ a few times before finding the KU building, then I went up to the 3rd floor looking for the computers but couldn’t find them. So I went back down and asked the ladies at the information desk, in Ceský, where it was, and they told me, in Ceský, that I had to follow some secret stairway from the 2nd floor to get there. But it feels incredibly good to be writing, and in peace, and at a normal body temperature, and not right on top of some other smelly student.
So, a blog update. I really don’t feel like rehashing all that has happened in the past 2 weeks, especially Paris.
Long story short, Paris was an adventure. It started out horribly, due mainly to events like mice getting into my bag and my food at the hostel, people in the bed next to me at the hostel having sex, my computer breaking, the fact that traveling alone wasn’t as romantic as I thought it would be, and uncontrollable crying for roughly a 36-hour period. But I really enjoyed the museums, and it was fun to be a full-on tourist, which I have tried not to be in Praha — walking down the Champs de Elysees from the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre, taking pictures, seeing the Eiffel Tower sparkle, eating Nutella crepes, etc. I’m glad I went. It was an experience in endurance and self-discovery. And a mental breakdown is good for you every now and then.
A day after my 15-hour bus ride home, I got on another bus to go to Krakow, which I absolutely loved. (I think I’m more of an Eastern Europe girl. Western Europe just seems like America, but in another language, which isn’t cool, but annoying.) Krakow is a lot like Praha, but is less touristy and smaller, making it seem more authentically Eastern European and less like Eastern European Disneyland. We went out to cool Polish cellar pubs where I drank Polish beer, and to dance clubs, where I danced on a Polish conga line to American disco hits from the 70s. I also ate amazing sauerkraut pierogies, and everything was cheaper even than in Praha. I went into the amazing St. Mary’s Church (Kosciol Mariacki) in Krakow’s Old Town Square, a gothic/baroque structure that, instead of having an interior made of stone, had an interior somehow made of shiny blue marble-looking stuff. It was the most beautiful church I have ever seen, and, struck with the feeling of being in my homeland, I paid a zloty and lit a candle on the altar for Johnny and Marian.
On the way back to Praha, we went to Auschwitz and Birkenau, which was quite an intense experience. Main thoughts on it were: (1) amazement at the sheer size of these institutions, particularly Birkenau. It stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction, endless rows of crumbling chimneys left from buildings that once housed families, horse barns that served as torture barracks, poles holding electrified barbed-wire fencing. I couldn’t imagine the logistics of running a place like that at its full capacity; although the Nazis’ powers were obviously used for evil, the organizational skill behind the whole thing is really quite remarkable. (2) the realization that the Holocaust isn’t really a historical event, but rather something quite contemporary, an event of the present. Both of my grandfathers fought in the war that put a stop to the operation of places like Auschwitz and Birkenau. My grandfathers, only one generation removed from me. This did not happen very long ago.
Things have been good since I have been back in Praha. 2 November was All Soul’s Day here, and the Czechs celebrate it by lighting candles on all the graces in the cemetaries. So we girls went out to Vinohrady to a cemetary, only to find it closed and locked. We looked through the gate though, and it was great to go to a different neighborhood and get away from the town center. It was a kind of run-down, sketchy part of town (at least at night) and it was foggy and creepy, but it made me feel for the first time since I’ve been here that I think I could stay here. Not necessarily that I would want to stay here, at all; but rather just that I could, that I could bear it, that it wouldn’t be the end of the world to spend my life in Eastern Europe. This is a big step, and a healthy one. I had the same feeling last night at Club Cross, where we went to a cool punk show. The people there were extremely friendly and welcoming, young, happy, having fun, smiling — which can be, unfortunately, rare behavior around these parts. I am learning to see and appreciate this city, this experience, for what it is, and sifting through the best aspects of it that I am going to take with me when I leave.
I feel refreshed after the time away during break, both from the city and from my fellow AIFS comrades; I’m out of the rut I was in before the break. I feel a renewed energy to push through these final 6 weeks and am making a conscious effort to go out more, engage in more cultural activities, read more books, and really try to make the most of my time here. I think because the end is in sight, I am gaining some perspective and am beginning to realize that there are aspects of life here that I will miss when I go home. For the past few weeks, I have been blind to this because of my desire to have this be over, to go back to cushy, comfortable America, to be with my family and friends and Jut, and to get on with my life. But I think Prague will endear itself to me in these final few weeks, because I know my days here are numbered. I used about 75 cliches in this paragraph, I think because all of these “abroad reflections” are, indeed, very cliche, and predictable, and ordinary ones. I am not the only American to have ever lived abroad and to go through the process of sorting through these feelings.
I went to a fantastic cafe this afternoon in Nové Město that is a combination cafe/bookstore. It was a storefront cafe with a dark wooden interior, and it reminded a little of my beloved Maxfield’s. It felt good to sit there and think and write. It has felt good to sit here and write, too. Writing is something essential to my being, I have recently discovered. Now, the question is, what do I do about it?
I suppose I should leave this cabin-den of an amazing computer lab and head back to the Kolej. I might go see Manderlay, the new Lars von Trier film, this evening at Světozor. I am going on a day trip tomorrow to Kutná Hora to see an old church decorated with the bones of 40,000 people. Hot. Ahoj.