So you live in Czechoslovakia?
Explaining to people back home that this is Czech Republic can be hard: most of them went to school in a time when big USSR maps were hanging on the walls; Eastern Europe was a little bit like the world after the Pillar of Hercules (as Gibraltar’s strait was known in ancient times) and Tom Cruise was keeping us safe from the enemy’s MiG flying his F-14 fighter.
What people fail to realize is that, despite some notable exceptions like postal services (where things disappear, get lost or maybe get plain trashed) and the sometimes Kafkaesque bureaucracy, things here work as well, if not better, than in the Western world.
I always tell the story of how I got here; I had job offers for another European capital and Prague. A friend of mine had a 6 month Erasmus experience in Poland: to my eyes he was the maximum Eastern European expert, nothing short of a trained CIA analyst. He suggested I go to the other location: “you’ll get tired of all the soups”, he said. Well, true, the food scene in Prague is not amazing and Czechoslovakia has a long way to go, but things move fast here and food, while important, is not the whole picture.
Anyway, I decided to go for the other city but, a couple of months into that job I decided it wasn’t my cup of tea and two weeks later I was walking the cobblestone streets of the Czech capital.
This is a city that really does hold you tight, not -as Kafka said- with claws, but rather with the seductive hands of a mistress: it’s the misty atmosphere of the riverside, it’s the supernatural light that reflects from the red roofs, it’s the castle that leaves you wondering if you’re dreaming, it’s the gargoyles on the building, the door knobs and all the other tiny things that make it futile resisting to Prague’s spell.