Musings From Ceske Budejovice

Taken from a journal entry: October 10th, 2014

It’s a Friday, and I am in Ceske Budejovice- a city whose name I can not yet pronounce. I am sitting in the city square, drinking a cappuccino, and waiting for Carol and her boyfriend Lukas to arrive.

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Carol was with me at the language house. She was one of the few students that had not planned to stay in Prague for work. Ceske Budejovice was home for her. It had only been a week since the course had ended, but it felt as if a month had passed since I had seen Carol. They had driven to Cesky Krumluv and picked me up and drove me into CB and left me at a place I had found on Couchsurfing. That morning we agreed to meet in the square.

I had ordered the cappuccino before finding a place to sit where I felt I could be seen. I had asked for the coffee in Czech, Dom si cappuccino prosim, but when she asked me a question I responded in Chinese.

“Shi…I mean…ano…ano”

I know a little of each language of each place I have lived or visited, but never enough to converse and in each new place I seem to regurgitate the wrong language. I can only ever order and thank.

The central clock tower chimes and it sounds like a children’s rhyme. It is eerie like the music from a horror film.

“Twinkle, twinkle, little star
how I wonder what you are
up above the world so high
like a diamond in-“

I wait for the rest, but it never comes it only repeats:

“Twinkle, twinkle…up
above the world so high
like a diamond in-“

And the music hangs onto nothingness.

I am having many memories, not nostalgia, but distant memories moving like a train of dreams. I try to capture one and place it onto the paper, but they are too fast, too fleeting and they escape my ink. They are not meant to be permanent at this moment.

I’ve been traveling for three days, yet it feels like I have been gone from Prague for years. This is only a weekend holiday, but I haven’t worked for two months so do I really have any holidays? I must express with absolute honesty I love the freedom of time that not working gives me. I am free and belong to none. There has been work, personal work: getting the TEFl, finding places to stay and to live, writing (the only work I really want) and finding me. This is valuable work that comes with no income, but it is important that I recognize that it is work. I must remember that living fully is part of the work because in the past I did not see this. I had listened to the words of the narrow minded world. You are lazy. You are wasting your life. You do nothing. What do you do for a living? For a living; what an odd question. Am I really wasting my life sitting here in a square waiting for a friend to arrive? It is true, I can be in a cubical waiting to earn money, to buy myself something that makes me feel valuable, but is that living? It doesn’t matter living is living is living is life.

But, I will need money soon. I don’t worry. I’ll find it, I know this.

A spider walks on my finger. He raises his abdomen, and I can see his web leave his body and attach between my finger tips. He has decided to make my hand his home. I spread my fingers apart and allow him to crawl his tightrope from my first finger to my middle finger. I gently shake my hand, it is an accident, but he falls. His web supports his decent as he belays to the ground. My fingers move to much for him to call them home.

He is living too.

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Midnight Wandering in Krumluv

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It was midnight when I decided to visit the Krumlov castle. It was dark and cool. I only felt small twinges of fear as I ascended a curving stone staircase that lead from the medieval village toward the castle. There wasn’t a need for this fear because the castle grounds were safe. It is not a common experience, for me, to feel able to wander alone in the darkness safely. I stopped to look through the black bars of an iron fence that was on both sides of the small bridge that preceded the main doors to the castle. On either side of this bridge 6 to 7 meters down (roughly 20 feet) were the bear pits. The famous bear pits. Not just famous to the castle but famous to me personally. To myself and friends from Garmisch, famous to the memory of a lost friend. Alex had fallen into the bear cage over 16 year’s ago.

I had been living in Germany at the time. Alex and a few others from Garmisch had taken a trip to Cesky Krumlov. I’m not certain exactly what had happened, but what I had heard was that he had been climbing on the wall and slipped and fell into the pit. He had broken his back, and it was amazing that he had survived. As I stared down and tried to gage the distance of his fall, I thought about the the bears’ reactions to this young German man falling into their dens. I felt a sudden wave of sadness. He had survived that fall, but five year’s later he would die in an avalanche. Too many young people from Garmisch had already died. Alex, Carley, Stephano, Sue…my dear friend Sue. There had been others.

I left the pit and wandered aimlessly the length of the castle. I thought of ghosts and history. I had the castle to myself for most of the evening aside from one couple that had followed behind me. They had their arms wrapped around each other for warmth and affection. They passed me as if I were invisible. I was an apparition silently standing in a haunted the palace. While I walked the streets of Krumlov after midnight, I felt like I could lose my fight or flight awareness that I had to carry with me when walking at night alone. It was exhausting always thinking of an escape route. Here I could just be with myself in the peaceful evening. The night itself is not bad, many beautiful things live in the darkness, it is man that makes the night terrifying.

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The streets were narrow and each pathway took me through a a sliver of history that I did not know. I reached a church and began to walk the steps. Fresh urine dripped down the top of the stairs, the scent pungent and the piss was still inching over a step. It could’ve been a dog, it could’ve been a man. I heard a noise. I had a eerie feeling. I was probably being paranoid, but I decided to save the church for the next day. Still, my nervousness did not ruin my midnight explorations. I stood on a bridge and took pictures of the castle under the lights. Two drunk musicians were laughing and singing. One held out a beer to me. “Ne” I said with a smile.

In Czech he said, “you speak Czech?”

“Ne?” I said.

“Come have a drink with us!” He sang joyfully in English.

“Ne.” I said with a smile.

They shrugged and continued to weave and sing down the street toward a hidden pub.

I took one last night photo of a saint with the full moon in the background.

Life was beautiful. It was time to sleep.

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Tales from Krumlov: A Prison Sentence and a Fairytale Wedding

The idea of a native country, that is to say a certain bit of ground traced out on a map and separated from other bits by a red or blue line: no not for me, my native country is the country I love, meaning the one that makes me dream, that makes me feel well.
Gustave Flaubert
The Art of Travel, Alain De Botton

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I am living in the Czech Republic, and I have 90 days to be here legally. Not only in the CR, but in all of the Schengen countries which covers most of Europe. When I was here in the late 90’s, the last hay days of the American dollar, if your tourist visa was about to run out, you could go to a neighboring country hang out for a while and then return to your desired country with a fresh new entry stamp. Those days are over. You have to go farther away and spend more money for that to work. If you become illegal in all of Schengen you will have an enormous fine and not be allowed to return to Europe for up to ten years. It is a race for the visas if a person wants to stay. I want to stay, and I know other Americans who are gambling with time for their visas and for the opportunity to stay in a place that is other then their birth place. It’s all politics and government.

When the ability to live where you have greater resources, or to have a better life for your children or to marry whom you love or just to live a new life in a new place is impeded by politics it doesn’t take an individual long to figure out how little they matter to politics, governments, and big corporate business, and you can feel very small and vulnerable. That’s how control works. Of course, everywhere in the world should be a good place to live, but this world is not equal.

Marek’s story was similar to mine except he was a Czech living in America. He had gone to America on a visa very much like I am doing now in the Czech Republic. He was lured to stay for romance which in my opinion can cause a human to take more risks. Most of the risks people take to live in a country other than their own comes from love. The love to be with someone, the love to take care of a family, the desire to have a better life for that family. A better life. Love for yourself. I don’t know why Marek had gone to the U.S. originally, but while he was there he met someone, and decided to stay. He became engaged to be married. Getting married and getting citizenship in a country other than your own is not an easy thing. You are often treated more like a criminal than a potential new citizen. It is a slow and long process. As Marek and his fiancé waited for the legal procedures his visa expired. He admittedly said he knew it went over, but he was going to be married, and was waiting for his green card, and he didn’t realize the consequences were more than a fine or the threat of deportation.

When it was discovered that Marek’s visa had expired he was arrested, and sent to a prison for 70 days. A prison with bars, and a number, and an orange jump suit. Not, because he had stolen, vandalized, raped or murdered, but because he overstayed his visa as he waited for his green card. He was 22 had never committed any actual crime, and he was sent to a state penitentiary. It wasn’t just the arrest or even some jail time that surprised me, what surprised me was the amount of jail time and that it was prison time. To me prisons should be used for real criminals, like rapists, child killers, murderers in general, companies that steal millions of dollars from people subsequently causing economic crashes and destroying lives- real crimes. I don’t understand why people who are illegal, whether they snuck across a boarder or overstayed a tourist or student visa, are being sent to prisons? Why not just deported? Does it cost more money to keep an illegal immigrant in our prisons then to deport them?

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Were these words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty ever true? I think, as I travel through this life, I gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be free. That this freedom can not be taken for granted, and many of those who believe they are free are not. Are our world boarders really protecting us? Protecting us from what? From people stealing our homes, our children, our dreams? Those things are stolen from us everyday from our backyards, our schools, our homes. It isn’t people who arrive illegally who take a person’s home away, it’s a very late mortgage payment and a bank that takes away that American Dream. Not one illegal Mexican repossessed an American citizen’s house. What is this freedom? Freedom is not about purchasing power it is about being able to make honest daily choices about how you want to live your life, raise your family, and how you want to love, it should also include where you want to live. The world is filled with plenty of successful unhappy people who believe they are free.

Marek got married while in a prison in America. He told me that he and his wife placed their hands on the glass that separated them, and he promised her that they would have a beautiful wedding once he was free. Marek obviously was free, and he came out of his 70 day’s in prison a new person with a new perspective on life. Life is precious, short, and can easily be stolen from you. He made simple promises to himself to spend time in the mountains, to appreciate life, to make the most out of it. To live now.

As I gathered up my belongings and paid my bill Marek showed me a picture from his wedding. The bride in a beautiful strapless white gown, and Marek in a dark suit kissing on a bridge with the Krumlov castle in the background, and a gorgeous pale blue sky. A fairytale wedding, as he had promised. Not everyone behind the prison glass gets to keep that promise because they are still waiting behind the prison glass.

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At the point of writing this post, I still have time on my tourist visa, and if it was up to me I would have cut through the red tape, but it isn’t up to me, and the clock ticks as the days pass. It doesn’t matter that I’ve paid the required amounts to begin the work visa process all that matters is that the visa is approved before my time runs out. That is not up to me but, as far as I know, they are not arresting Americans for being illegal.

“There should be no boarders. We migratory creatures. We should be free to wander and free to stay. These “others” the corporate gods who live in the banks and government buildings high above our heads, they care nothing about us.They want to keep us in pig pens and call them boarders. They want to control our food, our water, who we love, how we love and live, and then they tell us to have pride while they make our pens smaller and tighter till we claw at one another. That’s not freedom that’s a factory farm.” – Annabelle, Zizkov