Come to Prague the City of Architecture

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“Of all the triumphs of life-haters today, of fun-haters today, of beauty haters today, of thought-and-love haters today, of the Forces of Satan, if you will, the one that most troubles my heart is the inducement of some Czechoslovak politicians and police to behave like cannibals toward the most humane and generous and gifted members of their society. […] These people are rooted like the saplings in a tiny nation whose people have created a major fraction of the Earth’s most important architecture, sculpture, painting, music, poetry, imaginative prose and most recently motion pictures. […] If a flying saucer person were to ask me what Earthlings considered to be their most habitable city, architecturally speaking, I would reply without hesitation: Come with me to Prague.”

Kurt Vonnegut- Taken from an archived article in the Czeský Rozhlas 

Prague truly is a beautiful city. Architecturally speaking, I agree with Kurt Vonnegut (RIP). I will admit that I haven’t been to all of the cities of the world, and that there may be others more beautiful than Prague, but it would be hard to beat this city of spires. Even on a bad day it kept me going; I had a difficult time losing myself into the depressive depths of me because Prague’s buildings kept grasping my senses, and I couldn’t get away from how lovely it was to walk through its streets. I’ve been to Prague four times. Twice to visit and twice to live. The first time was in 1997 with two of my friends. It was a bad trip to tell the truth. It was filled with a lot of fighting. The kind of fighting with friends that I think you only experience in your early twenties. Your twenties are much more difficult then anyone ever lets on. We are supposed to be adults, but adult-ing can sometimes take a lifetime to figure out. You think you know it all, but you still have little control over your emotional reactive responses, and you haven’t picked up the many communication skills that can ease an argument. It’s just a lot of yelling, and the word bitch get’s thrown around a lot (or some other pejorative). Still, the arguments are filled with learning points. What kind of friends and people do you want to surround yourself with, and what kind of person do you want to be? Where do you focus your self-reflections? Do you reflect? It’s all learned as we grow (hopefully) or perhaps it’s learned in Prague. Even amongst the fighting, Prague still left a huge impression on me. How could it not? Its spiraling towers touch the clouds, and its angels reach for the soul.

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I went again in 1998. A much better trip, and no fighting with my travel companion. It was a very short trip that also included a visit to Budapest. In 2000, I moved to Prague. It was while I was there that I was inspired to write about this city in a book. Again, I returned to Prague in 2015. This time may have been even more powerful than the last because I felt I had built a family in Prague. A family who is still there. It was the only time I cried when I left a place. In my heart Prague is another home.

What is it that is so spectacular about Prague? So resplendent? Much of it has to do with the architecture. Prague was fortunate to not be bombed and destroyed during WWII (except for the snafu bombing by the U.S. military in 1945- way to go U.S.A) and because of this it has been able to retain the history that has been embedded in its streets, buildings and houses. You can find gothic, romanesque, renaissance, baroque, rococo, and if you visit the Spanish Synagogue in the Jewish quarter you can also see Moorish revival which was influenced by the Alhambra in Spain (another must see).

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Nearly every part of Prague has some incredible sight to see, but it isn’t only a walk through the histories of the far past, if you visit the Dancing House or any of David Černý’s strange and fascinating pieces hanging throughout the streets, you will be awarded with architectural modernism, post-modernism and contemporary designs. This building, The Dancing House, which is a hotel and hosts art exhibits, is an amazement of deconstructivist architecture. It was built in 1996 and is the site of the accidental allied bombing of 1945. It is also call Fred and Ginger as it sways like the two famous dancers. It’s crown is a metal birds nest.

Most people when they visit will stick to old town, and head up to the castle district, but in every neighborhood from Vinorady, to Mala Strana, and from Vyšehrad to my favorite neighborhood Žižkov (my heart belongs in Žižkov) there is beauty to behold. So please, take my hand, and come with me to Prague, because I plan to return.

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Hlavní Nádraží’s station was stunning. The prodigious dome, with its illuminated stained-glass windows, and the colorful matted walls with winding plants that undulated in whips of movement had caused me to pause for a moment. There were statues leaning from the corners of the walls. Their faces with carved blank eyes, all more than a century old, stared down at me. I was crossing platforms that had been crossed by hundreds of thousands of strangers. People just like me, and people nothing like me, but we were all traveling. The colossal doors with sweeping archways were framed by statues of supine women draped in stone fabric that looked to flow and breath. The marble women, with their down-turned mouths and closed eyes, curved like open yawns over the arched windows of the doors. The station was a reminder of a time when travel was ostentatious and reserved for the wealthy.  And here I was. I had decided to move to Prague because someone had told me that the Prague of the nineties was like the Paris of the thirties, and I was a romantic.

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The Travel Limbo

Funny thing about this post is that it was posted before I finished writing it. No title, no tags, not even a complete thought, and all kinds of editing mistakes, and it’s had more traffic than most of my posts. Go figure. This is the completed post with an ending and a new title- well an actual title.

A couple of days ago I had to contact both of the schools I had applied to (one in South Korea and the other in China) that I was not able to attend the upcoming school year. It wasn’t because I had changed my mind and things are falling into place here in Portland. Things are exactly as they have always been for me here in Portland; nice, but I’m not doing anything that gives me call to stay put. No, it’s all because of the parts of life that I can’t control. Visas. Well, not even my visa, because I haven’t been able to apply for my visas because I don’t have the documents. I’m waiting for my Criminal Background Check from the FBI and some health insurance so I can take the necessary health test that China requires. In a funny way they’re both kind of silly things to have to wait around for. Oh, I get it, I’m going to work with children and obviously people want their children to be safe, but it is only required that I have an FBI check from the United States, a country in which I have not lived for the past two years. So, of course my record is clean, but all those crimes I committed in Europe are not even on the radar. I didn’t commit any crimes in Europe, I’m not that exciting. Czech Republic had a funny visa rule too. If I had come directly from the United States, I had no need to do a criminal background check from the U.S., but since I came from China, I had to get a criminal background check from China. So, again, I could be a criminal from the U.S., but not in China or any other country I had been living in for six months or longer. In a weird way, China of all places is easier in that sense then the Czech Republic because I just have to wait for the FBI, but to get a background check from China- is absolutely impossible. I mean, the Chinese people at the police station tell you, “Not Possible.” A fairly typical response in all areas of requesting necessary information for any kind of government paperwork.

The FBI’s been backed up. Seems that many people are trying to leave the country, and get jobs that require Federal Background checks. What in the past took 10 to 12 weeks has now been pushed back to 12 to 15 weeks. Three months has now turned to 4 months. This is difficult for an impulsive person like myself. It’s kind of like China, “not possible” to plan a trip in less than three months. Now I’m wondering what to do with my time and how much time I have here actually.

Now what? Well, it’s waiting time. Once the background check comes in then I can reapply for jobs and I’ll see from there. In the meantime, I’ll need to look for some work. A part-time noncommittal job in a city where it is difficult to find work in unless, of course, I was in the tech industry. It certainly gives me more time to research travel blogs. In a brief update, I’ve gone through 23 of 42 blogs, and really only managed to cut out two blogs. I have put them into categories, but I’ve slowed down in my research, which is totally my style.

Update: I finally got on the Oregon Health Care plan which means I can get the health check I need for the Chinese visa application.

Bye-Bye, Baby Good-Bye

It may be too soon to write.

I had been back in Zhengzhou for four days before I got the news. I’ve been living here for about 5 months teaching English literature to high school age children. I’m not a teacher. I think I have the knack. I certainly have the ability to be in front of people and talk, ten years of theatre training makes that a possibility. It isn’t my passion. I’ve avoided my passions because my passions are not “practical”. I came to China because my life in the states was stagnant. If I wasn’t going to throw my life into writing and theatre than I could at least travel while doing a practical job. It seems ridiculous now. Everything does.

I love my mother. I love her very much. It was just her and I. My parents divorced when I was one or two. My dad wasn’t one of those men that bailed and never returned, but he wasn’t always around. As I grew older he would come once or twice a year to pick me up and take me to my grandparents. I loved these trips because I loved my dad, but as I grew older I realized it was my mom who struggled to raise me day in and day out, and dad, well in my youth he was entertainment. Mom raised me. I would say that our relationship was not always healthy. There was often a role reversal where I would play the part of the mother and she was the child. This often caused anger and resentment on my part. I’d constantly rail against her behavior. Wondering when my mother was going to grow up. It wasn’t an easy life. My mom’s life was filled with a painful childhood, the loss of the only person she really loved (aside from me) her sister, and many bad choices in men, and some bad choices in lifestyle. My mom was an addict. She could be addicted to anything. Food, drugs, shopping (but she never had any money), men, anything. She said, about going to the casino, “Oh honey, I have to limit myself.” I had asked her why. “Because, Adrienna, I’m an addict, you know if it makes me feel good you know I’m going to do it till it kills me.” Then she’d laugh. She knew how to laugh at all of her pain. In her fifties she became homeless for three years. She had been homeless, addicted to meth, addicted to heroine, had a stoke, high blood pressure, issues with weight, diabetic, and because of the use of needles she had hep C. Still she was resilient. She’d gotten into a housing program, off the meth and the heroine- unfortunately she had to use methadone, she had to take tons of pills, but she was good with her eating (mostly). After her stoke she taught herself to read and write again, and she was trying to retrain herself to draw. My mother had the natural ability to draw. It was her neglected talent. There were two things she could not kick. Her cigarettes and bad men. She was down to one or two cigarettes a day then maybe one or two a week, but a diabetic person with high blood pressure and a stroke victim should not have one a week. Then there were the men. Those men. I called my mom the bum magnet. If you’re a man looking for a woman on welfare and raising a child on her own my mom’s the one for you. I hated them. Since I can remember there was some man coming into our life sitting on the couch trying to play the overbearing father while my mom worked under the table to support me and the man that was living off of her welfare checks. There wasn’t a being I hated more except perhaps child molesters, and I met some of those too. Even into her later years they’d come sniffing around. “Letafae, darling, won’t you take care of me?” There wasn’t anything she wanted more than the traditional family. The mother, the father, the child, the house, the picket fence; hopeless happiness. Since the moment I left at the age of eighteen and for the following twenty-two years, I agonized over my mother. How do I take care of my mother and also have a life for me?

From the moment I can remember wanting to be something I wanted to be a performer. First it was dance, then singing then finally acting. I wanted to be on stage. Starting at age thirteen until I was twenty-four all I wanted was to be an actress. But, self-esteem, and insecurities and the “impracticality fear” won out in the end and I abandoned my dream. I later moved to writing because it felt safer and hidden. No one tells a writer to straighten their teeth or loose weight or rejects the body as it stands in front of them. It’s just words on paper, but impracticality fear won that one too. I wanted to be an artist, but through strange mental manipulations from who knows where poverty maybe society maybe self-esteem maybe, I believed it wasn’t for me. We believed our dreams were not for us. “I was born poor and I’m going to die poor.” My mom would say in her moments of despair. She’d look at me with love and say, “but not you baby, you’re special. You’re not like me.” But, I was like her. I am a part of her, and I couldn’t shake the thoughts that a life of art was not meant for me. The words impractical, impractical, impractical- you’ll never make money- what will you do when you’re old- and how will you take care of mom, plagued me. So I floated from job to job to job trying to find something that fit something that could make me money something I could stick with till I made enough to go home and take care of mom. Take care of mom.

I told both my parents that going to China would be good for me because I could travel which I loved, and get the chance to see if teaching is right for me. “I already have a degree I could go back to the states and get my teaching certificate”. I could be a teacher a steady breadwinner. I think I was trying to convince myself more than them. I stayed with mom for two weeks before I left. She drove me crazy. At times I felt I wanted to push her away because her love was almost smothering at times. Once she had said to me on a visit. “I wish it could just be you and me forever.” She had been lovingly staring at me. I don’t even know if she was aware that the words came out of her mouth. I looked at her incredulously, “Thanks mom, that’s what every little girl wants to hear from their mother.” Her face changed from her distant revery to surprise, “Oh Adrienna, you know I didn’t mean it like that!” “Oh yes you did.” I said. She started laughing. “You’re one of those crazy ladies like Betty Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.” I said. She laughed, “Oh, Adrienna, I am not.” My goal on that visit aside from just visiting her was to get her set up on Skype so that we could talk on a regular basis. I had given her a computer, but by the time I got down to her home one of her male friends had convinced her to take it apart and rig some stuff up so she didn’t have to pay for internet (she was well below poverty level). I suppose it was a helpful thought, but he was a strange guy who had his own time frame and plans and control issues and he used that computer among other things to control my mom. I was angry, and frustrated, and I left without getting her on Skype. She managed to e-mail me in the first few weeks, but then two months went by without a message or response to my messages. Because of the homeless stint ten years prior when I couldn’t find her anywhere, and because of my huge fear of her dying and me not knowing or just her being in the hospital and me not knowing (because that happened once), and because I promised her I would be there for her in her old age and that she would not die alone, I’d be there; going two weeks without hearing from my mom sends me into a state of panic and anxiety. When I lived in Portland, I called her every week. For twelve years every week I’d call and we’d talk. I contacted friend’s and mother’s of friends to ask them to check in on her. She’d always be fine and she’d laugh about my concern. My friend’s mom said, when she checked in on my mom this last time I had asked for help, that she was giving some food to a homeless guy, and she was in super high spirits.

China’s been hard for me. I won’t get into it, but it’s been a tough adjustment. I have six more months on my contract and I’ve decided not to return to Zhengzhou after my contract is up, but I didn’t want to give up on China. I wasn’t sure what to do next. Vacation time came in January and I tried to decide, do I go home to see mom, or do I do some traveling? I weighed the points. My contract ends in August so if I go on a trip now then I definitely will go home in August to see mom then maybe come back to China and work somewhere else for a year. Maybe I should apply for grad school be a certified teacher. I didn’t know. In truth nothing excited me except the idea of traveling so I decided to go to Viet Nam and Australia. I had hoped maybe somewhere in those two countries I’d receive a sign something telling me what to do next. Mom’s internet and computer were working so I told her I was going to Australia. She was excited. She wanted me to tell her all about it. My mom’s birthday was on the 26th of January, but I was in Viet nam without access to a computer so I had to wait a few days to write her. I wrote her from Australia wishing her a happy 64th. She wrote back with glee in a short badly spelled e-mail. Her typing wasn’t very good because her hands would not always work. I wanted to send her a postcard so I asked her if she could get into her mailbox. She had broken the key and then lost the key, and only my mom could not get into a regular mailbox. I know there are still letters and postcards I had sent her from China sitting in that damn mailbox. She wrote to me, “Oh baby doll, that damn mailbox causes me such hassle. I’ll tell you more later I gotta go to Winco and my rides here. I gotta catch that ride.” Then she left me with a Janet Joplin song, “Bye Bye Baby Good-bye.” I wrote her that I would send another e-mail on the 16th when I got back from Australia.

I forgot to write the e-mail. I went right back to work and four days into being back in China, I thought, oh shit, I need to write mom. After class, I walked home and turned on the computer, and that’s when I found out mom was dead. My mom’s dead. She was found on the floor of her bedroom. She had been dead for a day. It was the 20th of February, and I flew to California on the 21st. I’m an only child and there were things to do.

There were friends. Lots of friends. My mom’s friends who I call the ladies, and my friends who came down from Portland and Seattle to support me and help me with all of the details of death. We cleaned her apartment, and got rid of her stuff, gave things away, I took the paperwork and photographs. Talked to police, and funeral parlors, and banks. Mother was cremated, and I got the ashes and my friend drove me and mom’s ashes four hours to Eureka so that I could scatter them in the place that my mom said she had her only happy childhood memories. Then more paperwork. My birthday came and went and my friends had to go back to their lives and mom’s girlfriends’ grieved, and I had to get back on a plane and fly from Chico to San Francisco, to Hong Kong, to Zhengzhou, to a bus to my apartment to my bed, and now I grieve.

My entire adult life I have thought almost daily about how to help my mom. How to help my mom while trying to preserve myself. My goal in the end was to be there for her. “You will not die alone.” I told her. I will be there. I wasn’t. I wasn’t there. I was here. In China. Thousands of miles away. When I climbed into my friend’s car that hot day in early August of 2013 as she was about to drive me to San Francisco for my flight I had no idea it would be the last time I would see my mom or hear her voice. She had health complications and I was prepared to fly home in an instant if she got sick, but it was still a surprise. She had just been to the doctor two days before she died. She knew I worried about her. “Oh, Adrienna, don’t worry, I’ll be around to torture you for years. I’m not going anywhere.”

It has been five months since I’ve seen or spoken with my mom. Five months that have suddenly turned into the rest of my life. Gone, just gone. There was no viewing, no body, only ashes. I had always thought I’d get a message a psychic message of sorts. I thought we had to be connected in the way that I would know. I’d always get these feelings of concern thoughts about how I needed to contact mom, and find her to make sure she was okay. When I was a child I used to be terrified on my visits with my father. I’d lie on the bed in my grandma’s house and listen to the sounds of the city and have bad dreams about coming home and finding my mother dead. I’ve feared this moment for as long as I can remember. I’d get the feeling and contact her and she’d be fine, but this time there was nothing. No psychic message. There never were any messages it was just me like playing Russian roulette with my anxieties. When my mom’s sister died, I was five years old. I still remember the flashing lights, my mom crying, but I don’t remember my aunt. There were years of crying and I remember holding my mom, but not knowing what the crying was about. My mother told me that after my aunt died that she spoke to their mother and my grandmother had said to her, “It should have been you.” There was so much pain in that family. My grandmother said once to my mom, “No one will love you and you will die alone.” I was very protective of my mom. You won’t die alone I promised. I’ll protect you I promised. I was little when I made those promises, but they never left my mind.

I read there are five stages of bereavement. Denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and then hopefully finally acceptance. Supposedly, a person feels these in no particular order except number five comes last and not everyone gets to number five. I feel like I’m hitting all five at once. I can’t believe she’s dead, I think if only I had been there, if I wrote that damn e-mail on the 16th, I’m a bad daughter, a failure, I’m angry, all of the stages simultaneously. There are even glimmers of acceptance. It’s still too soon. I’ve been back in Zhengzhou for less than 24 hours, I was in Australia not even a month ago, I cradled my mother’s ashes in my arms as I cried myself to sleep days go. It’s all just happened.

I sit in my empty apartment looking out at grey smoggy skies the color of my mothers ashes, thousands of miles from all that is familiar and comfortable, my sleep is racked with sudden panic attacks, and I think, oh my god what now? My mother’s gone. What now?

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