söndag, januari 15, 2006

I Cannot Remember What Brought This to Mind . . .

My husband and I wanted to escape. We flew in a plane, rented a car that we could not insure against theft because of our ultimate destination, got lost trying to find a shortcut somewhere between Berlin and Dresden, drove at night under a full moon in an hilly, thickly forested area that made me wonder where, exactly, was Transylvania anyway, got stopped and interrogated under a glaring check point light at the German-Czech border, saw several small flatbed trucks loaded with used cars heading in the same direction as we, passed by prostitutes standing in storefronts spaced far apart and set back from an otherwise dark, deserted and sparse street (I thought they were mannequins, which, has ever since become our code for hookers), ended up in an amazingly beautiful city, and managed to find a quaint hotel room. For two days, we drank $.25 (twenty-five cent) Budweiser drafts, the old world Budweiser, not the light weight version in St. Louis, ate hearty stews, and walked by Kafka's cemetary a bit tilted from the beer. We were tilted, not the cemetary.

For the third night, however, we had to find another hotel room. Things were tough. There was a rock star in town, along with scheduled professional conferences. This was back when Prague was really starting to surface. We got a lead on an apartment that we could rent for the night. We picked up the key from a rental agency and found ourselves in a place that looked as if a single man or young couple had simply gone out for dinner. It was in a Soviet-style blocky apartment, but at least it was a place to sleep the night before schedules forced us to resurface.

When we left the next morning, we followed the instructions and dropped the key in the bleak common area on the ground floor and walked to the front door. The only problem was that to get out, one needed the key. We both immediately looked at the mail box in which we had just put a set of irretrievable keys, focused on the empty 7 am Sunday morning common area, and mentally computed the train and plane schedules we were now never going to meet. Because I was the only American of the couple, I also thought about the absurd design of needing a key to get out of a building and how many people have died in soviet-style apartment building fires, which in turn got my brain out of its shock and into percolating an escape route. Then I did what for my husband was probably impossible, the Eastern European version of asking for directions: I went to the closest apartment door and knocked. A like-aged, tossle-haired Czech came to the door in his t-shirt and pajama bottoms. I talk in an incoherent, disjointed manner under the best of circumstances, so this must have been one beaut of a request, considering the fact that it was in English, massively apologetic, and panicked. Without hesitation or a word, he grabbed his keys, shuffled out, and opened the door.

He went back in to his apartment and probably crawled into his bed next to a woman who asked who was at the door so early. I have no idea what he must of said or thought.

Now I remember what made this memory surface. I had found Prague Kolektiv . It features Czech sixties-era hanging lamps that have gotten into the hands of exporters. The thought of how those goods might have been obtained reminded me of the trucks carrying stolen cars across the boarder after midnight.