Last year for my birthday you sat laughing in a hot tub
in a rented house in the desert, more at ease with the
friends gathered than with me. I knew for sure.
This year, just this afternoon, you took me whale watching, in the
freezing Alaskan Spring. It was raining hard ice on the water
from a gray sky, and you were violently sea sick.
The boat circled the bay for an entire day for the sliver of a single
whale so black with the sea that it was barely visible.
I teared up with delight, holding a hot chocolate like a child.
I know that you struggle and that you don’t trust women.
I love that you threw up for hours without a single word of complaint
so I could see an illusive creature for half of a minute.
I’m reminded of the lone bear in a tree that we spotted on our
drive to this small coastal village that runs the off-season tours.
You are moving out on a limb, intentionally. I know for sure.
I came to the desert for a home.
Upon arrival I make my way to a small
real estate office to meet with a man
in his mid-fifties, a self-described “land pirate.”
We drive in his open Jeep far into the mesa to a
low tan-colored ranch house, the front
door busted in, crossed with caution tape
and a stern letter from the FBI.
Beyond a row of sage brush I notice
a large container half buried in the sand.
Walking out to it I find the dugout entrance
and peer inside to see rows of empty plant beds.
I think about my grandmother’s house,
a 3-story “colonial” outside of Boston,
with a rose garden dotted with her hand-built
ceramic memorials to the saints.
I am fighting the urge to want that kind of beauty.
Choosing instead to join this dusty tribe of
calloused sailors of the dirt and heat. I am
contemplating how to grow roses, underground.
In an effort to keep a pin in articles written about my grandfather, I am archiving them as part of the blog portion of Keen & Daring. The following was originally published on the Radio Praha site in 2003 with an audio interview which I have yet to be able to open.
In 1949, just after the communists came to power in Czechoslovakia, Oldrich Cerny went into exile. His family’s problems had begun during the Nazi occupation, as his father was a well known Czech patriot, and the communists looked on the family with similar suspicion. From exile Oldrich Cerny remained loyal to his home country and was one of the founders of the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences, a network of university teachers and scientists in exile. To this day he is still working to build bridges between Czechs abroad and back home. Living in Switzerland, he always dreamed of seeing his native Prague again and here he describes the strange mixture of familiarity and foreignness that he encountered on his first visit after the Velvet Revolution, in January 1990.
“In one sense the city didn’t change, because under the communists not much was done. The city was shabby but you could recognize it, you could go everywhere and you knew where you were. For me, obviously, it was a great satisfaction, coming back after such a long time. It wasn’t that we would spend the whole 41 years thinking of Prague every day. No, it was something you accepted. Of course we were very much convinced that communism would be defeated, but nobody knew when. So in that sense it was even more a great satisfaction.
You know, my Czech is pretty good, so nobody really realized that I lived more than 40 years outside the country. But then there were new expressions I didn’t know at all. Like for example “obloha”. I went to a restaurant and the waiter asked me what kind of “obloha” [side dish] I want to have with my meat. The only meaning I knew for “obloha” was “sky”, but of course he was talking about what you get with your meat, which to me was “prikrm” or something like that. So that was different. And there were new names of the streets which I didn’t know about at all. But otherwise, as I said, not much changed in Prague.”
(Last month Oldrich Cerny was granted the Order of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, the highest honour awarded by the Czech state to people who have served the country from abroad.)