In November I went on vacation to Prague. This was my first time in continental Europe in 27 years and my first ever in the Czech Republic (or that country's previous incarnation).
Have you noticed how many times I refer to my time in Europe in 1981-82? I think it's safe to say it was a seminal and memorable time in my life. Though I've traveled to some interesting and beautiful places since then, it's not too surprising that none of them have have triggered the level of discovery and growth that living on a foreign continent can afford a 20-year-old.
En route to meet D. in Prague, I had five hours in the Frankfurt airport, which was fun, though I was shy about using my German. On top of simply being very rusty, it turns out I still suffer from a form of the same affliction I did all those years ago: not speaking until I'm sure that just the right vocabulary will come out perfectly grammatical and syntactically correct. Which, in the end, is the same as not speaking very much except to buy postcards and ask where the nearest mailbox is.
In the Czech Republic (a country where I have roots on my mother's side), I eventually screwed up my courage to say dobrý den (hello) and děkuji (thank you) in shops and restaurants.
Before the trip, my 89-year-old linguist father, whose memory fades more every day, had helped me with some pronunciations. We sat in the courtyard of his assisted-living facility with a not-very-clear phrase book from the Communist era. Russian was the main language Dad used in his career, and he knows at least bits of countless languages, so his lips formed the Czech words with an ease that didn't come as naturally to me.
My mother, whose maternal grandparents were Czech and who studied and taught many languages herself (Latin primarily), virtually all of which she's forgotten, sat silently by, enjoying the breeze of a warm October day.
Here's a picture of me looking out over the breathtaking city of Prague. I might be thinking about my Czech ancestors I never knew, or about the fumbling American boy in Europe I once was, or about my parents and their disappearing words. Or I could just be taking it all in, for a day when I'll look back and wish I could do it all over again.
Labels: college, father, junior year abroad, memory, mother, travel