round and round...

Friday, May 02, 2008


How do you handle seeing people who live in conflict while you're supposed to be having the time of your life? Here we are in Prague. It's our honeymoon. We're being all romantic and mushy and adorable. We love being married, we have big plans for our lives, we look forward to the future. We are lucky and we know it. We live in New York, our generation hasn't had to deal with governmental upheaval (the Bush regime notwithstanding), we have lived charmed lives for the most part. We know it. We largely take it for granted, though.

I know there are people in our very own neighborhood who need help, who can't pay their power bill and feed their kids in the same week, who go to bed hungry, who need a hand up. I'm not ignorant of that at all. But there is something inherently possible about the States. It's hard to articulate the difference between seeing someone at home who is in need and seeing someone on the other side of the world who is in need, but it feels different.

Today, as we walked back up Václavské náměstí toward our hotel I saw an old woman standing behind a huge sign advertising a new sandwich at McDonald's installed on the sidewalk in front of a glittering, new storefront. Tourists from all over the world whizzed past her, chatting away in many tongues, loudly, happily. She was frail, her skin was pale and translucent, her very blue eyes had seen things I can only imagine. You could read it in her face. That face told her whole story.

She'd seen communism, she'd seen revolt, she'd seen the government turn their backs on her people. And, more recently, she'd seen a new way of life taking over Prague. She'd seen American imports like McDonald's and Coca-Cola begin to replace the local stores she knew before. She'd seen tourists like us start to flood her city every year in increasing numbers. Sure, those crowds bring a much needed influx of money, but at what cost?

Her white hair was covered by a brown scarf. She wore a fraying sweater over a floral blouse. The elastic band of one of her knee-highs had slipped down and was visible just under the hem of her wool skirt. She held 2 roses in her hand. She had been selling them on the street to the passing tourists. She looked tired. She looked like she could be my relative, my grandmother. She had been on her feet all day selling delicate flowers to loud tourists who don't speak her language and most likely look right through her.

This city's not too distant past is evident everywhere. It's beautiful here and the people are friendly, but the generation who witnessed the communist party overtake their homeland and dictate their way of life are an ever present reminder that their way of life is being changed once again... this time not by government, but by economy. Tourists are the powerful group here now.

That woman is what I'll remember most about Prague. She wasn't invisible to me. Děkuji.

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