Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rip Van Winkle

It was not sheer luck that Adam turned out to be extraordinarily nice, bright, thoughtful, and funny.  All of the exchange student candidates wrote personal essays.  Some started by saying that this whole business was their father's idea and, by implication, their only option was to offer passive resistance in the form of this personal essay written in a language that the overbearing parent couldn't speak or read.  They took one-hour-long hot showers every day, they explained.  (Water is expensive everywhere else in the world, so this is the equivalent of falling limp on the ground and refusing to get up.)

The fact that Adam turned out to be so handsome was sheer luck.  We weren't allowed to see a decent photo of him until we had selected him on the basis of his essay and his being Czech.  The original poor-quality black-and-white photo of him served only to show that he did in fact have a face of some kind.   When Adam later learned that he had won his seat at our table in a blind trial, he could hardly conceal his amazement.  (He is that good looking.)

That photo policy must have changed lately, however.  After we had already committed to Adam, we received more letters that featured good photos of winsome  students with charming descriptions that read less like confessions and more like ad copy.  Would we consider a second exchange student?

They made it hard to say no. But I knew that my tendency to adopt every poodle, horse, and international student placed in my path had to be reined in.  (Phil said no.)

For reasons I've explained elsewhere, we chose a Czech student in part because I have fond personal memories of the Czech Republic.  Because even a big C.R. fan like myself needs a little extra push to bypass London and Paris and get on one more plane after crossing half a continent and the Atlantic ocean, breathing fake air and packed into economy like sardines.

I was last in the C.R. twenty years ago, in the toddler stage of my adulthood, at twenty-seven.  My career was unformed.  My competency in anything in particular was unformed.  The train tracks of my then-marriage still had miles to go before ending, perfunctorily, in the middle of nowhere.  I had no home, no children, no dog, and certainly no exchange student.

It's not like we don't have mirrors in Wisconsin; nor was the lighting significantly different in the C.R.

Perhaps it was a subconscious memory of myself from 20 years ago that misinformed my expectations, but every time I saw myself in the C.R., I got a shock, as though I had literally aged twenty years overnight.

Maybe I'm dehydrated, I thought.  So I would drink more water.

No difference: Still shockingly old.

I haven't assessed my reflection yet since returning to Wisconsin.  I saw myself at 3:30 A.M. this morning, but short hair formed into lop-sided B-52 beehive distracted from awareness of fine lines.

If I ever get enough sleep, I think I'll discover that I look normal again--a scant one day older, not 20 years.

I've said little about the trip itself, and I want to say a lot.  I'll try again tomorrow, probably at 4:30 A.M.

One highlight was a dinner with Adam and his family at their cottage.   During that day, I had come to the realization that Adam was still a member of our family in a way that I found comforting and eternal; and that there was a bond between our two families that transcended language and geography.  This recognition, coupled with exhaustion, had made me tender as a Czech dumpling and teary as a Vltava dam.  Acts of kindness, fairy-tale beauty, singing fountains, and stories of cultural revolutions all made me cry.

We ate on the patio surrounded by gardens, blossoming trees, geraniums.  Delicious merlot/cabernet from Moravia, called MonteBoo.  Adam at our end of the table, translating happy banter from the other end. Salad and sausage, steaks and fried eggplant, olives and bread.  Perfect weather, a June evening in mid-August.  And a kitten.

A kitten!

Only because I am writing this blog would anyone (including me) understand the significance of the kitten.

It was an evening when life was so sweet, you can't even believe it.  You get all the love, all the food, all the wine, all the everything and a perfect joy--plus a kitten, curled up on a pillow on the chair beside you.

You pat it blissfully on its sweet kitten head and fight back tears for the third or fourth time that day.

Dobri den!






















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