Posts Tagged ‘Friends



Prague Castle across the river

Well, I can now check Prague off my list (get it???) and I am so happy to be able to say so. It is a fabulous city. I spent a fabulous weekend there in fabulous company and my heart broke when I had to leave after only a few short days. I stayed with Tiffany, an acquaintance from college and fellow Literature major who is now living in the city center’s Jewish Quarter and teaching English as a foreign language. We barely knew each other when I arrived at her gorgeous, old, high-ceilinged flat on Friday, but by the end of the weekend it felt as though I were visiting an old friend.

The city is full of Euro-posh restaurants, cafes and clubs, all blended seamlessly with its layers of colorful history. We started with lunch on Friday at a vegetarian-chic place called Lheka Hlava (Clear Head), where we sat in our own private room feeling healthy and oh so trendy. Then it was off to see Charles Bridge – completed in the early 15th century by Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia, Charles IV – and the Prague castle, which dates back to the 13th century. They’re the kind of monumental, stunning sights that you dream of seeing in Europe and the sort of history, magic and romance that can only be found here.

That evening we got dressed up and saw the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra at the Rudolfinum, a lovely Neo-Renaissance building that provides the perfect stage for striking and beautifully overwhelming music. After the concert we ate a late dinner at a stylish and serene French-Asian fusion restaurant called Nostress, sitting and talking for hours over rose, salmon and steak.

Saturday was spent strolling through the gorgeous Prague streets, admiring one fabulous building after another. I’ve now hardly written anything and find myself running out of adequate adjectives, so please bear with me. Tiffany introduced me to famous Czech Art Nouveau artist, Alphonse Mucha, whom I can’t get enough of. The women in his paintings are reminiscent of Greek and Roman figures and framed by the kind of rich, elaborate detail and color that was popular in the early 20th century. Each one is gorgeous, sumptuous and endlessly evocative.

Next, we spent a little time in the Museum of Communism to learn about the city’s tumultuous past; it provided a somber insight on the darkness and dictatorship from which Prague has only recently emerged and begun to rebuild into the jewel it is today. The revolution was in 1989; violence in the fight against communism erupted in the streets of Prague as (Tiffany pointed out) we were probably sitting at home watching Disney movies, worlds away from the oppression the Czech people survived.

The image we left with was of the huge Wenceslas Square, every inch packed with people in protest of the Communist occupation. We left the museum – housed in an old castle that is also now home to a casino and a McDonald’s – and headed for Wenceslas, turning the corner into the square and walking down the crowded boulevard that now thrives with shops, hotels and restaurants. At the head of the square, outside the National Museum, lies a subtle and graceful memorial to Jan Palach, the student (not even twenty-one) who set fire to himself in 1969 in protest of the Soviet invasion of Prague. The area is now alive with peaceful commerce and expression, and he is remembered by a mound under the brick on the ground, a black cross and a few roses that lay over it.

Old Town Square was also buzzing that evening with the opening of the Christmas Market and the lighting of the big tree – the tree is smaller than it used to be because allegedly the larger one that was once used fell on an unassuming British tourist and paralyzed him. The square was packed to an almost impossible degree with locals and tourists enjoying the holiday music, treats and lights. After coffee at the Globe, we braved the crowd for as long as we could before taking shelter in a traditional Czech restaurant where we warmed up with some local fare: cheese soaked in beer, fried cheese, potatoes galore, and some sort of pot roast, all washed down with some dark Czech beer. I mean, I couldn’t eat trendy food all weekend.

The meal gave us energy for a fantastic night on the town that lasted until morning and made me appreciate the city on a whole new level. (A side note for those of my generation: we went to a club called Radost FX that was the location for Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” video.) With only 2 hours of sleep, I floated through the following day in a lazy and I’m-so-tired-I’m-delirious kind of happiness. We ate at more fabulous places, visited the Kampa Museum to see some inspiring modern art set against the river and Prague’s skyline, and overall just enjoyed the beauty of travel with wonderful people.

My weekend ended that evening atop the steps of Letna Park – at the base of what used to be a 30-meter statue of Stalin. The sun set and we gazed peacefully over the whole of Prague and I tried to ignore the sad fact that I was soon to leave it. The city was more beautiful than I had imagined and my company was more fun. And in this lies one enormous reason that I travel: the chance of a little weekend exceeding my expectations, and the guarantee of at least having my expectations – whatever they may be – always answered by something I could never have imagined myself.


New Meadows

I have a friend from home whose whole family comes from a little town in Idaho. She needed a change of pace for the summer, so she spent 3 months with her relatives there. I flew out to visit her for a few days and accompany her on the 14-hour drive back to the Bay Area. Her pace had slowed so much by the time I got there that we barely built up enough momentum to make it home.

Most people probably don’t think of excitement or variety when they think of Idaho—especially if they’re familiar with Napoleon Dynamite—but it was certainly unlike any place I’ve ever been. I like to pretend I’m from a hick town; I tell people that our high school mascot is the Cowboy, enjoy mentioning the pig races I saw at the county fair this year (called “poetry in motion” by the announcer), and brag about our award-winning rodeo team. But while that’s all true, in reality my hometown is a modern suburb, a comfortable city with a new restaurant every couple of months and easy access to a major metropolitan area. We may have a rodeo parade every year, but it’s no Idaho.

This Idaho town is called Council and has a population of 816, less than half the size of our high school. It’s where my friend’s grandparents live, where both her parents grew up, and where her older sisters were born. When we first drove through the main drag—consisting mostly of one bar called the Ace (grandma’s favorite hang out), a coffee place, and one or two general stores—a man wearing overalls and shaggy hair crossed the street slowly in front of our car. “Hey, Overalls!” I said, already enjoying the local Idaho charm. “That’s my uncle,” my friend said. And it was. We stopped and had a chat.

I met most of the other family members as the weekend went on. We stayed in a spot outside Council called New Meadows with Aunt Janice and Uncle Dave in their beautiful home overlooking an expansive valley that looked like you might see it on a postcard with “Welcome to Idaho!” stamped over it—fuzzy cows and their calves grazing and lolling around under patches of sun and shadow, butterflies and hummingbirds dancing across the pinks, oranges and yellows that flower the soft hilltop. All quiet except the dull, fast thumping of tiny wings, the occasional moo, and the melody of crickets.

Some critters aren’t always so welcome, however. It’s not a Disney movie, after all. One morning as we enjoyed the view over waffles, bacon and eggs, Aunt Janice tromped outside in her bathrobe and slippers armed with a pellet gun and, after pumping it ferociously, took aim at a big blue jay who apparently had been causing quite the uproar for weeks, scaring off the other birds and acting like he owned the place. Lucky for him, he’s gotten pretty good at dodging fire. Also elusive is the notorious and legendary Payette Lake monster, a relative of the Loch Ness monster whom everybody knows as Sharlie. This sounds more like a drag queen than an aquatic beast to me, but I kept an eye out for her from my jet ski nonetheless.

The next day we had a picnic by a creek and picked wild huckleberries along the bank as a fisherman dangled his line in the little waterfall. It was truly lovely, but when I say fisherman I don’t mean a sweet old man with a vest covered in feathery fishing lures. No, I mean a fat, red, shirtless man in his 30s, with about a foot of crack stretching above his faded white jeans—though he did have a very friendly smile, despite all the holes in it.

Finally, stuffed with huckleberry dumplings and pie—heavenly down-home treats made with those tiny berries, perfectly purple and juicy—we stuffed the car with a summer’s worth of Idaho fun and headed for California. As we drove down the dirt lane away from Aunt Janice’s house, one young buck bounded effortlessly in the field along side the car, as though offering a gallant farewell and urging us not to forget the beauty, vigor and grace of his home state.

The sun soaked the brown hills in light as it rose above us, coloring the backs of the horses and cows (and even 3 head a’ bison!) that spotted the pastures in white, black and brown, feeding themselves in order to feed and provide for their owners as they always have. The highway crept on, and as our car winded smoothly over it, toward our first stop at the Just Say When Casino a few hours south, Fiona Apple sang her Beatles cover through the speakers: “Nothin’s gonna change my world, nothin’s gonna change my world…”

Apparently, though, in addition to satellite TV, a new attraction does roll through town from time to time. We passed a church on the way out of the state that advertised “GOD: Alive and in Person HERE!” We were in a hurry, so we drove on past, but I’ll always wonder if maybe that little church in the middle of nowhere had the secret, the answer that everyone’s been looking for in all the wrong places.


Hold for a few breaths, and release

Last night I attended a stretch yoga class and the instructor talked to us about the problem with having attachments. Apparently, yoga maintains that having attachments is the greatest source of suffering. The practice emphasizes the process of letting go of our attachments – to things, ideas, people, even time – so as to avoid clouding the ‘true self.’ To be in constant awareness of our attachments means to more easily allow them to weaken, to dissolve. In fact, it’s more than merely letting go; yoga teaches us not to take hold in the first place.

I couldn’t help but relate this to everything in my life that I am in the process of detaching myself from (with more than a little suffering). I’m not doing this to de-cloud my ‘true self’; I’m only doing it because I’m soon moving far away, and I have no choice. As a result, I am suffering. Our most intense and profound attachments are those we have to other people. So when those attachments break for whatever reason, we experience the most intense and profound suffering.

This is a suffering I would rather not go through if I can help it, and if letting go of attachments is the way to do it, I’m willing to try. I haven’t had much luck so far. I try to imagine myself having fun and doing exciting things in the coming year – which I am able to do with relative ease – but when I try to imagine doing them with other people, I freeze and the whole image crumbles. I realized that it’s impossible to imagine the people with whom you will be friends with and the kind of relationship you might have before you even know those people exist.

I can tell myself a million times that I’ll make friends – which I’m sure is true – but it won’t mean anything to me until I meet them. So until that time I will have to do my best to weaken the attachment I currently have to those around me, make my peace with leaving them behind for a while. And when I make my new friends, I can hold onto them just tight enough, but try to remember that at a certain point it will be time, once again, to release.

"Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!" -Henry James, The Art of Fiction
June 2018
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