Longing to Belong.

We made it!

I wish I were an old man because I for sure would be wearing a watch. My phone hasn’t been switched over yet and I have been roaming about knowing that it is 2:00pm in LA but not knowing what time it is locally. Next time, I will wear a watch!

I bring up time because I’m discombobulated and it is hard to write when in this state.

Alas:

We left LA Thursday at 7:30p (19:30), arrived Copenhagen Friday, 3:00pm (15:00); left Copenhagen Saturday 8:00am, arrived Prague Saturday 9:00am.

With a twelve-hour layover in Copenhagen, we took full advantage of the opportunity and explored the city. I will speak of this fabulous, eye-opening leg of the trip later.

After a quick shuttle ride from the airport, we arrived at Airport Hilton Hotel to meet my mom, as she had arrived to Prague from Phoenix the night before. Nicole and I were pretty beat up as we got off the shuttle. The cold rain didn’t help our appearance or mood; prior to the flight, we’d spent six hours overnight languishing on the floor of the deserted Copenhagen airport.

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I’d felt like a true vagabond traveler sitting there with our bags on the cold tile, wishing we could have paid the however many Danish Kroner to get a hotel room at the Hilton connected to the airport.

Like wet rats, we rolled our suitcases into the warmth of the hotel where we hugged mom, who, very used to the Arizona heat, was so layered in clothing to keep warm she looked like a vagabond herself.  Nicole, beyond exhausted, promptly had the hotel front desk call her a cab so she could leave to go check into our flat, which she found on Airbnb. I dragged myself upstairs to mom’s room to pass out.

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Three short hours later and somewhat rested, Mom and I found ourselves at the Hilton front desk ready for our own cab to join Nicole at the flat.

On the flight from Denmark to Prague, I learned from my young, French, Norwegian Air seat mate, who was an educator of Laser technology at the Lund University in Sweden, that most people in Denmark, Sweden and Norway speak English. Being able to communicate is awesome. Copenhagen was a breeze thanks to their prevalent use of English. Prague is quite different. I felt like my tongue had been cut out once we realized the front desk staff spoke very little English and all we had to utter was “Thank You” or Dejuki, which my mom is still having a hard time figuring out how to pronounce even though she had listened to Czech language CDs from the library prior to the trip.  I love language; unfortunately, I speak French and spent little time learning Czech, which is a very hard one to learn.

I wish now I’d spent more time trying.

Our driver helped us into the cab and we settled into a chatter-less ride thanks to our mutual language barrier and the fatigue shared between mom and me. We let Rhianna be our thin bond of double-sided Scotch tape that connected us as her song, “Diamonds” drifted from the radio.

The taxi, which was not your typical yellow cab, but what seemed like a privately owned Prius, with a ticker that ticked mileage, maybe, zipped through narrow streets and rolling hills. We’d been warned of bootleg cabs and were completely thrown when we saw what we were getting into. Although it reeked to high Heavens of cigarettes, it was clean and appeared new. As I looked closely at the address I’d given him in the Praha 10 district, I realized there was no apartment number included. The creeping feeling of being unprepared was crawling on my skin like a tarantula. Nicole had done a lot of the planning, and now once separated, I realized I didn’t really know my shit. I’d already discovered that my phone was useless unless there was WiFi. I’d planned to get a new SIM card once I’d arrived in Europe, rather than pay for a Global Plan. I guess I thought Verizon would be on every corner? Nicole has T-Mobile and was adapting with ease and agility on her phone. (Google maps makes a heap of difference these days.) Meanwhile, mom has a burner flip phone and was looking to buy an international one. No language. No phone.  No way to reach Nicole = No bueno.

Between moments of panic, along with my fixation of the unexpected amount of graffiti scribbled haphazardly on every building, I was distracted during our twenty-minute excursion to what could have been hell. My observational skills were at -10 and everything was a blur. That was why I didn’t realize there was a phone number on the sheet, Luckily, our driver did and he called our flat owner and she gave him the apartment number and we were in.

After a quick, silent, sleepy tour of the two-room cute flat (I will describe later), Nicole went back to the sleep she’d tumbled into and although still tired, mom and I ventured out into the cobblestone neighborhood streets to see what we could see.

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My mom in her plastic, not very useful rain poncho.

Things were the same as “any” neighborhood, but different: a nail shop with an Asian woman working; a New-York type bodega with overpriced odds-n-ends you never want; a quaint wine bar with local inhabitants sipping wine…you know, the usual. Very ready for a beer, we roamed for a few more kilometers before we were soaked and the cold diminished our desire to explore further. We settled on Restaurace Kanka.

czech haunted smoke bar

Restaurace Kanka

We walked into the pub and were immediately strangled by the ancient smoke that seemed to violently haunt the joint. We sat at a table near a window. A red table cloth welcomed us like the dishrag of a short-order cook at a busy roadside diner. It had served many people before us leaving a bit of their history behind. I wanted to wipe away at it, but didn’t know where to start.

“Thank you for staying,” mom whispered, taking her second-hand Coach bag from her shoulder. “Your Aunt Roschelle would absolutely not.”

I nodded in agreement as I thought of a few of my friends who wouldn’t have dared either. I crossed my hands in my lap and I smiled pleasantly at the two thirty-ish guys across from us. Dressed in jeans and t-shirts, they kinda looked like they came from the wrong side of the tracks, but a little nicer. They were focused on the hockey game on the flat screen above us, and my smile was un-returned and unnoticed. Our thirty-ish bartender-server descended upon us with warm blue eyes, a hesitant smile and spoke. Something. His words drifted into my head, but the switch that unscrambled the sounds, never flipped on. I heard my mom’s voice and realized I couldn’t understand her either because she was asking him in German if he spoke Deutsch or Francaise. He hunched his shoulders and then we did the same. We all three spoke that same language. We pointed at the two beers on the guy’s table across the way and all was right with the world.

I crossed my legs, wiping at the dampness on jeans, and thought about time. Time seemed to capture these people in this place and I had casually stepped into their world. I wondered, if in time, would I belong? Or would that time never come? Not just in this bar, but in this very old city itself, to which I had yet to experience.

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A black and white dog that looked like a terrier mix approached to investigate me. I was happy for the attention. As I leaned over to pet it, a tall, older man wearing a trench coat walked in with a Yorkie. The man reminded me of a taller “Columbo”. He settled into the table behind us while the dog hopped on a chair as though it were his own and propped his paws on the table in anticipation of his next meal. I looked past the dog and caught the eye of an older woman who resembled a combo of Edith Piaf and Mrs. Kravitz from “Bewitched”. Her face was etched with lines ladled with the weight of her past; her deep-set brown eyes looked at me, but not of me. Her gaze shifted back to where she’d been internally, prior to my intrusion, and drew quietly from her cigarette before returning to her tall beer. The gray-haired man next to her turned the page of his newspaper slowly. Our beers came. I sipped and imagined that in some ways, this place was like “Cheers”; men sat, hunched shoulder-to-shoulder at the tall bar, Edith and her husband sat reading the paper, the Yorkie and his owner seemed to be regulars and the three other people in the bar communed but without all the chatter we are used to. I wasn’t sure if the mirth we easily display in America was embedded within these people like ore to be mined, or if I hadn’t earned it or if it was only meant to come out like good dishes used for Thanksgiving. Over the next two weeks until the Prague Fringe Festival, our reason for visiting Praha, I hoped I’d have the opportunity and the time to find out why. I turned my head back to the TV to enjoy the game between Czech and Denmark. As I reveled in the lovely irony that I now had a connection to both teams, mom tapped me on the shoulder and asked with a twinkle in her dimple, “Hey, did you see the Iguana over there?”

I hadn’t. It was in a cage, illuminated by a warming fluorescent light. But like everything else in this place, it belonged.

 

King Iguana glowing under the lamp.

King Iguana glowing under the lamp.

 

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5 thoughts on “Longing to Belong.

  1. Shawn

    I love being able to hear about your travel experiences. Prague is a place I have always wanted to go and now I get to live vicariously through your words. Please give me a call when you are back in the states, I would love to hear more details, especially the ones that didn’t make it into your blog!
    ~Shawn

    Reply

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