After a packet of cigarettes, pile of used tissues on my side and pain in the brain after reading "Think" through I find myself writing a letter to "You". Freezing my bum on an ice cold floor in the middle of Prague - what a way to spend the last night in this city! It's been an Autumn to remember. Prague took my breath away, left me a slimy cough and a whole new view on the world.
Met people, saw houses and bridges, got into less trouble than expected and invested the money on smoke, drinks and living. What can I say? That I'm the fortuned one who can experience the Czech mentality at it's bloom with the safety equipment in the pocket - a planeticket back to the North?
That I can leave this crazy city behind me, the people who seem to have no time for sleep between self-torturous working hours and night time parties, and return back to the well fed arms of my cottonwool generation?
That no matter how safe and secure we want to build our society, there is still too much unbearable sh*t going on around us? Perhaps I'm the fortuned one. A child of secure background, a production of "well-working-state" which provides me this opportunity of easy living in the heart of Europe.
What I want to say still is: Safetiness is not all. Security doesn't feed your mind. I found myself lacking the ability of true self-irony, the capability of ridiculing my country's history, politics, points of view. And these qualities are so important if the change for better is in the list of next millennium.
Czech Republic is moving, changing, yawning in the early morning hours with the black bags underneath it's eyes. But there's the spirit of development in the air; Willing for living. . Hopefully this country doesn't lose it's spirit. I want to Thank You for teaching and showing me something true.
SEE YOU IN THE FUTURE, PRAGUE, NO limits.
- Sanna Neuvonen
On Suddenly Encountering 200 Americans on a Prague Metro
It happened just the other day. I was on my way home from visiting a friend and had managed to myself on the Metro opposite a woman who was smiling back. In fact, the extent to which she was smiling back was beginning alarm me - either she actually did fancy me or I had managed normal trick of accidentally drawing all over my face in green biro without noticing again.
There were only a few people in the carriage - me, her, and her four friends: two blokes and two women. They were Scandinavians of some description, and were alternately looking at me, then her, then me again, then laughing.
She was young and pretty, but she was not my girlfriend, and I made a mental note to try not to smile at her again, which lasted about 30 seconds. Attempting to focus on my crossword, I frowned furiously at it, craning my neck over and down, so as to ensure that I could no longer smile or be smiled at by anyone. The less it worked the more I tried, and I certainly wasn't getting anywhere with the crossword either.
The carriages on the Green line of the Prague Metro seat 48 people and have standing room for as many as care to fit. If you are sitting in a largely empty carriage and 200 Americans get on, all at once, it is not going to be something you miss.
They were all together, some kind of tour party on a night out, yelling, screaming, flirting, moaning, engaging in various other forms of more or less meaningful interaction and generally filling the carriage to above capacity. I 'had' to look up. As far as the eye could see in all directions there were Americans.
They were all about my age or a little older, and seemed exclusively to be the kind of person you half recognise. Each one of them resembled someone I know or knew, without any of them actually being one. I stifled the urge to stand up and yell, 'Hey, was anyone here on the One-Year Graduate Program in Jerusalem between 1994 and 1995?,' as you might do.
Then I caught the pretty girl's eye again. We both smiled broadly at each other. It was nothing to do with sex this time, but rather a kind of shared European identity hovered between us.
"And people wonder why Americans abroad are considered obnoxious," said one of the American women in a loud voice. By the time the Scandinavians and I had finished laughing, the Americans had gone. At the next stop, the Scandinavians left also, leaving me alone for the long journey up to the other end of the line where I live, feeling somehow as empty as the carriage then was.
I had another bizarre encounter later that night when a man yelled 'Ahoj! ' to me from a distance of half a kilometre. We were in a park at the time and there was no-one else he could have been yelling at, but the guy disappeared into the night as suddenly as he had appeared, and I trudged on home.
How very unCzech, I thought, and how very lonely. The truth is, I wished I'd been with the Americans. Of course, I couldn't possibly admit that to anyone. Not even you. -Evan Meyer, here too long.
What a pleasant surprise your magazine brings to me. I am just more than happy to read such a cool story, New Years Eve at the Cottage. It is nice to have a such a talent, and I am sure that everyone will enjoy what you produce. Without your permission, I put your nice story on the school bulletin board, as I believe people will surely have an interest in finding your magazine after reading it.
Today, one friend I send a copy to wrote back to me that your story reminds him of his stay in Czech. Here is his response:
"I trust by now you've seen the Czech Republic in the fall. If you haven't, you definitely should get out more. Deliciously beautiful! That's all I can say. I loved the sensational interactions of the foreigners, the stunning beauty of Czech girls, breath-taking robustness, and the sheer variety and wonderful layering of cultures. This story you sent would no doubt exhaust the imagination of even the finest master writers!
Two months ago, on a concert-going trip to Budapest, I visited a friend in Bratislava. We drove to the classic cottage in the Tatras and partied with Americans and Brits.
I was deeply moved by the intellectual milieu as well as the natural scenes, the drunkenness, old buildings and stone paved passages nested in shades of pine trees, ivy, and, what else, those autumn leaves, bravely holding on to the branches, gracefully dancing in the wind, and passionately embracing the lawn, the mother earth. Simply pleasurable to the eyes and refreshing for the mind. Made me crave a nice bottle of Frankovoka.
Alas, transient is the beauty that is fragile. That's perhaps why we hold such a soft spot in our heart for this what is promised to be the golden season. Soon, all that will be gone. And now the chilly breeze reminds me that winter is here. Then again, I love to hear Peng Li Yuan sing "I love you, the snow in the northern border. "
The above letter was written by a person who lived in Brno and is now teaching in a business school in America. He also came from my hometown in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China. How nice to communicate with each other in this way! He will be happy to see his letter in your magazine. I admire you for your taste in writing and love for life. Best regards,
The next time I write a letter to you, we will be in the third millennium. Has it all been said ad nauseum? Every prediction of Y2K chaos, every reflection back? Or has none of it touched the core of the emotions that actually carry us forward? The year 2000 is, of course, a non-existent event.
We just happen to measure time in a particular way that marks the passage of hours, days, weeks, months, and years, so that now we are at the end of a century, at the end of a millennium. Other cultures measure time differently.
I recall a wonderful line from the old Powell & Pressburger movie A Matter of Life or Death, spoken by a French noblemen: "What is time anyway? A mere tyranny!" Time does rule us, our everyday existence, our past, our future.
Looking back at 1,000 years is particularly daunting. Looking back at the last century is too, but certainly some obvious observations can be made. There were great eras, thinkers, artists, writers, composers, musicians, scientific discoveries, cultural movements, fashion changes, and more, that were just extraordinary. But, of course, we close a century bathed in blood.
Two horrible, devastating World Wars, the Holocaust, for America, two conflicts in Asia: Korea and Vietnam; exterminations in Russia, Cambodia, Latin America, Central America, Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, to name a few. And it continues, sadly.
What is needed is an exchange of conversation - dialog, passions, hobbies, life's twists and turns - with others who are so far away, maybe email really does turn the world into a "Global Village" - more so than TV, I think. Because the net is not just a shared event like a television program, it is an ongoing exchange - a watercolor stream of thoughts, hopes and dreams.
Perhaps this Global Village, this event of the multitude, will break down the walls of ignorance and misunderstanding in greater ways than have any past political, cultural, and social attempts. Who knows?
One final observation. In all the mainstream magazines, television programs, and pop culture we absorb, we have noticed that there is only a "looking back," either at the millennium or the century. Where are the discussions of the wonders, the plans, the hopes for the future?
Do you remember reading that there used to be World's Fairs, where there were celebrations of the future, of scientific innovation, of lifestyle and leisure made more accessible? We don't have that anymore.
What does this overabundance of looking back, and this lack of looking forward, say about our state of mind; what does it say about the temper of our times? Have we no hope for the future? No dreams? No "bigger than life" goals? It saddens and worries me. I fear for our imaginations, our inner happiness, if we can't look forward with optimism. Do we no longer feel that we write our own destiny? Do we feel that the world, the system, is so rigidly structured that our lives are preordained?
I believe that we write our own future inside us, in our souls. We just need to listen and pay attention to what we choose to write inside us, believe in ourselves, and act upon it. I wish you all the very best over the holiday season; whatever celebrations you make, enjoy them.
Be safe as well. And I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for appreciating so what we have done.
"In my beginning is my end. And so each venture Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate With shabby equipment always deteriorating In the general mess of imprecision of feeling, Undisciplined squads of emotion. In my end is my beginning." - Excerpts from T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets
- Love and best wishes, Gina Wellington