Holy snow-angel, Batman, it’s getting colder! Ok, yes, there wasn’t much snow but the air was briskly frozeny (if that is really a word). I began January by wearing my thermals everyday. Back home in my flat I wasn’t sure where the heat came from but it was always toasty after a long afternoon and evening in the classroom. I’m sure the steam heat came from a central generation plant and it seemed to be on at just the right times and I was grateful for it. I even dried my clothes on the three radiators rather than have them freeze hanging on the porch. It all worked out and my Spiderman undies were always clean and dry (is that too much information?). My usual fare after school in the early winter darkness was either fried cheese and boiled potatoes (I became an expert) or soup and a sandwich. What I ate really depended on how I felt coming through the door with all my winter clothes on.
I should mention here in this short walk down memory lane that I had begun physiotherapy on my knee before Christmas and continued on daily way into the new year. At first it was electro therapy where two electric suction cups were put on either side of the knee and electricity would pass between the two poles. Then came actual movement therapy where the therapist would move my leg around. This later was a tad painful and some days I felt better but most of the time I felt the same or maybe even a little worse. The doctor had said it was a meniscus problem and before they would have to resort to surgery they wanted to try some physical therapy methods to see if they helped at all. In my head I was thinking that it was the cold weather that was causing the rise in pain, but it really wasn’t. I knew I needed surgery and I think the doctor back in October knew it also. What I really knew then was that I was tired of the chronic pain while limping everywhere, of not being able to walk up stairs without pain and of not being able to sleep through the night without waking with pain when I turned my legs a certain way. It would be several more weeks before it was decided to go all in for the operation. In the meantime, I soldiered on (cue the heroic American music score). All during the time that I walked through the snow and ice to get to school I kept thinking of my kids and how all of these present experiences came way too late for them and me. Had this happened before I had kids I could tell them “When I was your age…I had to walk to school through the snow and ice…uphill…both ways…” Yadda, yadda.
The Winter weeks with early and late darkness followed. I managed as best I could considering the circumstances. Journeys to Horní Lideč with Hana and Susan to see the hand carved Bethlehem scenes, then down to Zlín for Mardi Gras and a parade through the narrow streets of the old city fit the bill. With the beginning of Lent, can Spring be far behind? Sure Mardi Gras in Zlín wasn’t a New Orleans Carnival time but it was close..well not really close at all, just different. I guess the theme was the Southwest (as in American southwest) because many of the people were dressed in sombreros and cowboy outfits. Marcus was in an outfit that looked like he was riding a horse. Seemed a little strange and even a little racist but I went with it. Food stalls were good and the beer and honey wine were flowing. Knowing that Easter was at the end of the six weeks gave me hope. So really, anything that reminded me of Spring was a good thing.
With some time on our hands in March, Susan and I decided to visit Brno for a couple of days and landed at a former monastery turned into a small hotel. It was within walking distance of the city center. I think we may have been the only two people there. One of the highlights was the morning breakfast…in our rooms (cell if you are a monk). That was cool. Cooked to order and it set the tone for the days of exploration. And explore we did, from castle hill to old town to the underground with a stop over at the ossuary partially under the Church of St. James. Predictably creepy. Along with the ossuary we had to visit some other dead guys in the basement of the old Carmelite monastery off the town square. Here, monks were laid out on the ground still in their robes. I don’t know where this fascination with death comes from, but it seems that the way to deal with a fear of death is to dress it up and put it on display and charge a few crowns to look at (1) history and (2) where we all are going some day. Happy thoughts for the Lenten season.
Finally and officially Spring made it’s appearance in 2014 on Thursday, March 20th. I guess the weather didn’t get the memo, because it was still cold, wet and at times windy. But the big news was…I SURVIVED THE CZECH WINTER!!! such as it was. (That statement looks like it could be on a t-shirt). So when people ask me about the winter I can confidently tell them that I did indeed survive. So that was all good. Earlier in March I had become acquainted with new friends in Vsetín like my neighbors from across the street in one of two houses sandwiched in between the apartment blocks that are scattered all over town. Lydia, an older woman owned the house since forever lived downstairs and her daughter Eva and her husband (who is chief of Police) and grandsons Ondra (whom I later taught on Saturday afternoons) and Michal lived upstairs. I was over several times and enjoyed our visits. The language barrier was overcome with slow pronunciations and miming. But the universal language was food and boy, could they ever cook! My time there was just pleasant and relaxing with a lot of humor. Jana had introduced me to Lydia back in September and Hana was a friend of Eva’s so both of them at one time or another acted as translators for me on official state visits. When I was there on my own, language was really not a problem. We just enjoyed each other’s company like old friends. And, like most of the families I got to know, welcomed me with no pretense at all.
In early Spring I also visited the Zlín zoo with Jana, Lance and Lukáš. It was a sunny afternoon, no stress, just wandering around looking at the animals. Little Lukáš has such an expressive face and it was sometimes more fun to watch him react to the various caged-in (or not so caged-in) animals. It was also a time to visit the spiritual center of Moravia, Svatý Hostýn with Hana, Karel, Krystof and Susan. I love these off-the-beaten-path places I have gone to. They are so unique. The church and the grounds were beautiful and the flowers were just making an appearance after the long winter months splashing the gardens with colors.
My friend and student Iva invited Blanka, Marcus, Susan and I to the final ball of the season in Vestín. It was a chance to wear my tie which I had carefully packed just in case there was a dress code at the school (which there really wasn’t). I also got to wear my brown corduroy sport coat so I was ready to boogie. My dancing abilities, as well as my gimpy knee were tested that night. It really was a blast. It was held in the “House of Culture” in the town center and everyone was dressed very formally, black suits and black gowns and jewels and a guy in a brown corduroy jacket. I didn’t stick out at all, no not a chance. Although if one was in the balcony overlooking the dance floor one could see a sea of black except for the dude in brown. I actually danced a few dances before I had to call it quits. The evening of dancing was punctuated with skits, a fashion show and some traditional Czech dances.(By the way, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE seemed to have taken hours of dancing lessons somewhere because it was like watching dancing with the stars. They were so good. I, on the other hand, looked as if I was having a continuous stroke trying to keep up.)
Dancing aside, I finally was scheduled for knee operation in April about two weeks before Easter. It went well. The hospital story can be found here. All I can say about the adventure, well two things I can say: I should have had the surgery earlier in the year and secondly, socialized medicine does work. Jana and Honzik as well as Susan and Hana came to visit and in a room with two guys that did not speak English, their visits were uplifting. I will always be grateful for their kindness. I wasn’t scared as much as I felt alone and these four people made a difference. Random acts of kindness can go a long way.
So equipped with a brand new knee Susan and I spent the Easter Triduum in Bratislava in Slovakia, our neighbor just to the south. What a great trip. Castles and the Danube and a real live mall, oh my. Two heavy thunderstorms didn’t dampen our spirits a bit and we walked (painlessly) every where. We caught Devin castle overlooking the Danube and it was terrific. We saw Bratislava Castle which was ok not the greatest, but I was able to climb one of the towers and could see Austria and Hungary and the Danube all at once from the top. Mass on Holy Saturday at the Jesuit Church off the town square just added to a wonderful journey of discovery and adventure. Susan had her maps and I kept up without whining. I just allowed history to flow over me. Sometimes in the class room you read about places and what happened, when it happened and why it happened. But in the many journeys I took over the school year, I actually got to see where it happened. Sometimes I felt like I was on a field trip for 10 months. Tours are great but sometimes it is serendipity that is the teacher.
(coming next…the last part)