16 / 365 – Adventure

VANEK

Young people want to go off and have adventures. It is so easy now. Fly halfway across the world. Get in a car and drive a thousand miles without thinking about it. People go, away, far away. They are always running away from you, seeing new things. I am not sure they always see things, but they have stories to tell about it, amazing stories. When Chris was playing basketball and they went to play in the championship in Bismarck, it was as if, from the town where I grew up in the north of Bohemia, you had gone all the way to Vienna. It would have taken days. I did get to see Prague one day, I studied for awhile in Prague, but when I was a boy, Vienna was so far away, it was just a magic city to imagine.

When I was a boy, everything I knew was just my little town. It was a pretty little town, Terezin it was called, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. Some people know it because of the prison there. It was more like a fortress, I think it was supposed to be a fortress when the Austrians came in and built it, a long, long time ago when my grandfather was a young boy. And then the Austrians turned it into a prison, it seems like every fortress gets turned into a prison eventually. It’s all forgotten now, at least it is here, but when I first came here, a year or two after the war ended, people knew of it by the name the Germans had given it, Theresienstadt. Now, nobody knows. So I could tell about the little town along the river, with the old stone houses. People kept them painted bright colors, I think that must be something from the Czech people. Even when the Austrians were in our country, or the Germans and they said we had no country, even in the worst cold of winter, you could go out on the main square, where the grass was frozen and brown, and the town would still be bright and cheerful. I can still walk through it in my memory. Even with my memory not so good, the way it is, that is still clear.

When I came to town here, the Germans, people from German families didn’t want to talk about anything from the old country, even though they still spoke German at home and pretended like they were still living in the old country. Because of what their country had done, I think. Maybe I would have felt the same. My little town was on that list of unimaginable places, the concentration camps. I could speak German to them, some of them only spoke German, but they didn’t want to talk to me about over there, just about their combine, how it was broken, or their old truck that wouldn’t start. I didn’t mind, that was good for me, good for my shop. But some of the guys who had fought over there, in our army, they had heard a little about it. My country, the Russians liberated it, none of these guys had been there, but we had stories, stories about the Germans, about the places they had seen. Most of their families here were from Europe, not so long ago, but they had never imagined any place like it. Beautiful old towns, wonderful people, so much in ruins. They had seen terrible things, both beautiful and terrible at the same time. It was so far away. We shared stories, some of us, but only when it was just us together. Nobody else here could understand.

You could say we had all had too much adventure. For ten years, one crazy thing after another. The world was going crazy and I was just trying to stay out of the way of it and keep my head. I guess I stayed out of the way. Sometimes I don’t know if I kept my head. Maybe that’s a difference, between the older ones here, the ones who stayed, and the younger ones who just want to get away from here. So many of us had big adventures, bigger than young people now can even imagine. What’s here is better. Maybe that’s not something someone else can tell you.

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2 thoughts on “16 / 365 – Adventure

    • Thank you Niya. Even though he is not the center of the story, he is the character where it started, a specific scene in my mind. I didn’t even know, then, where it had taken place. (I thought it was South Dakota, until I went looking and felt my way around and realized it was North Dakota.) In a way, I know his story best.

      He is named in honor of a creation of Vaclav Havel. I don’t know a lot of the details, but after the Prague Spring and the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, Havel was banned to work in a brewery in northern Bohemia. His works were banned. He kept writing and in some form his plays were circulated. A recurring character was named Ferdinand Vanek. (This guy’s name is Fred.) Other writers picked up this character and inserted him in work that the dictatorship allowed to be performed in Prague. Vaclav Havel may have been banned, but his main character was thumbing his nose at communist officials on Czech stages and in Czech literature.

      The Czechs I have gotten to know have a certain melancholy that I feel a kinship with, but they also have this very ingenious and subversive tendency to mischief. Their country has been overrun for hundreds of years by its bullying neighbors. But the bullies have never quite won.

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