Dragon Tongue in Cesky Krumluv

I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of
the beginning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
Walt Whitman

The name of the restaurant escapes me. Names escape me but memories flood. It can be the smallest rainstorms. Perhaps a long frozen winter, a warm spring day, small rain, and then a flood that washes out the reality of your current moments and takes you back, drifting into your past. Anything can do it: a sound, a touch, a taste.

***

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Zezo had recommended the place, and I remember it began with the letter L. It was down a narrow pathway like every place in Krumluv. All the roads are cobbled and all the roads are winding. A beautiful maze.

I sat outside under the bright light of the moon, and ordered something called Dragon Tongue made from tempeh. I had bulgur on the side and a small green salad. It had seemed a year had passed since I had eaten anything so healthy. It bordered on bland; low on the salt, and very clean and healthy. It sounds by my description that I didn’t like it, but I did. It reminded me of the eighties when the first of the vegetarian places were popping up here and there. You could get carob, and vegetables, but not much variety in flavor. Again, it sounds like I didn’t enjoy my dish, but I did. It was simple and relied on the natural flavors of cranberries, and tempeh, and bulgar with very little salt or spices. The way vegetarian food used to taste when it was just food and not a cuisine. It was quite nostalgic. My first experience with vegetarian food was when I was in seventh grade. I don’t think I had ever heard of anyone not eating meat. I was more in awe of the idea then anything else. I had a fairly typical response in my head: if you don’t eat meat then what do you eat? My mom and I would go many days without meat, but only because we didn’t have any money. Then it would be pickle and condiment sandwiches which I never equated as vegetarian. Oddly enough, my first vegetarian food experience was mixed with getting saved by Jesus. I’ll end the suspense right here and now, and let you know, I’ve been saved more than once, but it doesn’t seem to stick. When I was twelve The Heinkes (yes of the California fruit juice family Heinkes Fruit Inc.) made one of many attempts. This time they had sent me off to a Seventh Day Adventist church camp. Cowboy camp. I had slept in covered wagons; rode horses; learned that I was way behind in shaving my legs (and subsequently something was wrong with me because of that); had prayer meetings every night where secretly a newspaper article of Simon Le Bond’s sunken yacht was passed around and cried over. As we were meant to pray to Jesus for forgiveness the girls’ begged god to save the lead singer of Duran- Duran. Their prayers were answered, but I’m not sure how many of the girls were saved. I learned that some people do not eat meat, and I also learned who was Simon Le Bond (I pretended I already knew just like I pretended I could ride a horse). Seventh Day Adventists’ do not eat meat, and so it was my first experience with fake chicken nuggets, and fake ham served at the fake luau where I learned I would have rather had been in the fake surf camp then cowboy camp, because there was a real blonde boy in the surf camp who was real cute, and I didn’t like riding horses. In all honesty, camp was a kind of hell, except for the food. All that bullshit rounded out into pure curiosity towards vegetarianism.  All these random thoughts triggered by eating Dragon Tongue under the light of a full moon. This is exactly the kind of thinking that can happen when you are traveling. You are in new places, and yet there you are with you. You in your past and you in your future. Look up from your meal, and hello, it’s you. It is also very hard to lie about knowing of Simon Le Bond and knowing how to ride a horse- you will be found out.

It amazes me the power of the sense memories.

As I sat silently eating my meal, the Vltva continued it’s ceaseless flow around the base of the castle’s bluff, and my mind continued to flow into strange and far away places. The tempeh began to taste how I imagined a dragon’s tongue to taste. The more I chewed the more I imagined I was eating the actual tongue of dragon. I suddenly felt ill, and slightly crazy, since it was impossible to eat a real dragon tongue. I blamed it on the castle, and The Game of Thrones, and my freakish imagination, and of course the moon.

I had ordered mead which was served very hot, and I drank it erasing my image of chewed tongues. The waiter had warned me that the mead could be very strong and to let him know if I needed to add more hot water. It was strong. A hot honey alcohol that made me feel a little tired. I really just wanted the mead to go with the dragon tongue because it made sense to me. Very Beowulf, I had thought to myself. I sat and listened to the river roll and drop into rivulets and swirling pools. I stared up at the castle lights that threw a blonde shine over the small medieval village. It was already ten thirty and I contemplated walking to the castle since Zezo had said it was open 24 hours. I wasn’t sure if it was safe for me to walk alone in the night to an empty castle. The village seemed safe, but I was trained by the very nature of being born a woman to be cautious.

The restaurant cleared out and I ordered a cappuccino. The waiter was extremely friendly and his English was very good. I suspected he had lived somewhere native English was spoken because he had even said one or two colloquial sayings, like ‘gotcha’, and ‘you know’. Could he have lived in America or Canada? I wondered. His name was Marek, and as the evening slowed he stopped and chatted with me. The usual small talk that you make with customers, but the more we spoke the more the conversation drifted from polite fiction into real life.

And how easily we can get to know something about people, when we are open to truly meeting them. And how much we can learn about ourselves. And what did I learn from Marek? The beginning of an ongoing gratitude, because while people may have traveled similar paths with similar intentions you quickly learn that governments can control the path you are on, and not every government is so kind- and my birth country has many boarders.

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