Thursday, August 10, 2017

“…wandering through the dream …” Praha, looking for the city and ourselves – July 26, 2017

  Hanging around Prague. 

We woke late and made our way out into the city, looking at what Prague has been and is becoming.
Kafka used to take the same walk. 
“The dark corners, the secretive passages, the dirty, impenetrable windows, dingy courtyards, noisy pubs, and closed taverns still live within us.  We walk through the wide streets of the newly built city.  Yet our steps and glances are unsure.  Inwardly we still tremble as we did in the old narrow streets of misery.  Our hearts still do not sense anything of the renewal which was carried out.   The unhealthy Jewish ghetto is more palpable in us then the hygienic new city around us.  Awake, we are wandering through the dream, we ourselves just specters od times past,” Frank Kafka. 
We walked through modern Prague thinking about the layers of Prague that are there, turned past post the opera house where Mozart premiered Don Giovanni, walked past a casino, made our way past the gothic Powder Tower and the Arts Nouveau Municipal House, wandered through the market, could not find what we were looking for, and stumbled into the Museum of Communism.  There we explored the stories of this extraordinary country and occupations, revolutions, etc.  Much of the terrain of the Nazi and Soviet occupations felt familiar.  But the stories of migration, of people who made lives for themselves here during the Soviet years, the friends they created, the marriages to get out, the struggle to resist, these felt compelling.  For some, the Velvet Revolution was the triumph of a lifetime; for others, friendships could not endure the loss of a common enemy. The movement was completed; the Wall was transformed into a space for friendship and democracy. But history would lurch on.
Still, taking a minute to look back was useful.  The video of the students out in the streets in 1989, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the November 17, 1939 Nazi attack on Czech universities, drawing a parallel between the Nazis and the Soviets was striking.  Undercover police tried to push the rally to move to Vysehrad, but the crowd called for the procession to go to Weneceslas Square. There police stood in their way.  With their hands up, students walked, pointing out their hands were open, sitting down as the police in riot gear moved in to beat them. Some pushed back.  But mostly they sat.  Over the weeks of that heady year, a lot of people fought back, mostly peacefully.  But sometimes they did swing back at the police with their batons. 
And gradually, the Velvet Revolution took hold.  The police power receded.  Gorbachev did not call the Soviet tanks to roll in as they had in 1968.
The struggle moved forward.
The playwright became president.
“Truth and love overcome lies and hate,” declared Havel.
And Prague opened up to the West, for better or worse.  A generation saw the revolution on tv.  And poured into the space. 
Reviewing this history as our president deflects and tweets and congress maneuvers to take away healthcare, an eerie feeling takes hold.  We hope the US will be a place where truth and love can supersede lies and hate.  But its not easy. I’m not as confident as I used to be.
“Human rights are universal and indivisible,” Havel told a joint session of the US congress after the revolution. “If it is denied to anyone in the world, it is therefore denied, indirectly to all people.  This is why we cannot remain silent in the face of evil or violence.  Silence merely encourages them.”
The city of Prague has rarely been silent.  
After lunch and a siesta, we made our way to the Old Jewish Cemetery, with its layers of graves, and synagogues memorial for the 80,000 Jews killed here during the Nazi years. Name after name are listed there, Schulman, Fishman, names of friends in the US, whose distant relatives may have passed through here.
We walked through Kafka’s steps and kept on looking for something in the city. 
"Keep the company of those who seek the truth. Run from those who have found it." - Vaclav Havel

a day in the life in praha...

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