Prague: The Lennon Wall

“I read the news today, oh boy . . .”  (A Day In the Life, Lennon and McCartney)

The news this week is heartbreaking, incomprehensible, and ugly.  Why is the human race so quick to choose fear and anger over love and tolerance?

Amid all of the rainbow pride flags being flown in solidarity and pasted across Facebook homepages, I wanted to offer up this traveler’s “peace flag”–a photo of the Lennon Wall (sometimes called the Peace Wall) in Prague.

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The wall began after John Lennon’s death in 1980.  His picture appeared on the wall, with anti-communist slogans  (remember, this was during the communist regime).  The wall was painted over, but the paintings of Lennon, along with graffiti about Lennon and Beatles lyrics,  kept reappearing.  It was an act of defiance against the corrupt and oppressive government.

During the 80’s, student protesters who called their movement “Lennonism”  (ironic and clever!) often clashed with police in the area.  Whenever the wall was repainted, the graffiti just came back.

The communist regime is long gone, but the wall still stands and continues to draw crowds and artists. It has been painted over many times, by whitewash and by years of artists leaving their messages, and it’s even been reconstructed as it crumbled.  Unlike the Berlin Wall,  which crumbled with the demise of communism, this wall stood for peace and watched communism fall in the (non-violent) 1989 “Velvet Revolution” in the former Czechoslovakia.

This week it stands and speaks to all of us with its rainbow of colors and its haunting refrains of “Give Peace a Chance.”

*The Lennon Wall is nearby the Charles Bridge and the French Embassy.

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Boxing Up My Life– Round Two

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In May of 2014, I posted “Boxing Up My Life,” as we packed and prepared to ship our household goods to Germany.  And then I blinked and it was June of 2016, and I find myself, once again, knee deep in the boxing up process.  I am amazed, and a little dumbfounded, by the inertia of my life.  A body in motion tends to stay in motion– but that doesn’t make the move process any easier.

Nobody likes goodbyes– it’s hard to wrench yourself away from people and places that you love.  And for some of us, even the simple motion of boxing up our domestic goods brings on certain pangs.  It’s a hassle, to be sure, but it’s also a poignant process– the handling, organizing, and thoughtful packing of the things you accumulate.  It’s a time to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to remember why you’ve collected certain items in the first place.  Some objects are curiosities, others are fond memories, and still others are nearly totemic in their connection to the arc of your life.

The handling and packing of these things is gratifying in lots of ways– it’s like watching a retrospective study on your life– but it’s also maddening to ship these things out, in hopes that they will come back to you intact in a few months.

Here is my perspective from two years ago:

My material things don’t equate my life–let me just say that up front.

And yet.

I’m a magpie.   I collect threads and scraps as I move along, and they pad my nest.  No, that’s not exactly it.  They become the fabric of my nest.   The baubles I collect as I keep wandering represent my life. And it’s hard to watch them all be packed up, some to load onto a slow boat to Germany and some to sit in storage for a couple of years.  So many of my things feel like old friends, like artifacts of adventurous times, not like run of the mill stuff at all.

And, yes, in the interest of full disclosure, I have too much “stuff” too.  I’m not proud that among the boxes being packed up in my house there are “As Seen on TV” products, old DVD’s and VHS tapes of bad sitcoms, some dog figurines…well, it just gets ugly.  But let’s focus on the beauty here:

There’s the portrait of Teak, the first dog my husband and I owned–so beautiful and so smart.  He was the beginning of a small menagerie of children, dogs, and goldfish who share our life.

There’s the old dollhouse from England, bought at auction.  It’s a Tudor, half-timber design, handmade, and sporting a “Toy Town Antiques” sign over the door  and a little antique shop in the front room, visible through the window.

There’s the 300 year old walnut chest that may or may not house a ghost.  (We call her Emily.)

The church pew from the Ripon Cathedral in our old hometown of Ripon,  England  (legitimately bought, not carried out of the cathedral–thanks for asking).  It is quite beautiful, but impossible to look at without imagining the people who were there before you.  Brides and widows.  Carolers and clerics.  Young, old, rich, poor, inspired, and downtrodden.  A microcosm of life on one short bench.

There’s the  old pocket Bible from WWII that bears King George’s stamp and message to soldiers in the front cover, and is partially  hollowed out in the middle so the owner could hold cigarettes or pass notes.  It came from the estate of a former British soldier; he was a POW in the Pacific theater.

The Turkish carpet we bought from a man affectionately (?) known as “the one-armed bandit” in Kizkalesi, Turkiye.  He lived in a coastal town not too far from where we lived and knew our car the minute we drove into town for the weekend.  He’d flag us down, bring us into his home, close the curtains, and then pull out his stash of carpets, jewelry, and antiquities for sale.   All a little shady, but in a seductively  high intrigue way.  We felt like James Bond in Istanbul, wheeling and dealing.    And, yes, he  had just one arm. (No doubt, there’s an interesting back story there.)

The list goes on.  And on.  And on.

Each item is its own story–some love stories, some comedies, some tragedies, some mysteries.  Inanimate objects?  No way.

Some of it is just stuff.  But so much of it runs deeper than that.  The artifacts of a life lived and loved.  Who could possibly fit that into a box? 

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Jedi Language Master . . . Or Not

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I wrote, but never published, the following post a few weeks ago.  My final German class has now wrapped, and my time in Germany is slipping through my fingers at an alarming rate.  I’m still a thousand miles off the shores of fluency, but I am still bouyed by a sort of wonder at the language.  Das ist mein Schicksal; this is my lot.

Call me Yoda.

I am not wise; I am not green; I am not cute and pointy-eared; I am not short.

But language I do speak,  in foreign and fitful patterns I do.  German is like that– its subjects and verbs bounce around depending on meaning, subordination, etc.  It sounds cute when Yoda does it.  And I actually find it enchanting when German does it–  infuriating, but enchanting.  But this doesn’t help my plight in language class.

We are rapidly moving into our final weeks here in Germany, and I’m still attending German class . . . but not flourishing.  I will make my excuses up front.  Let’s start with my teacher. (She is very nice, but just ill matched to my learning style)

I’m back with my original teacher who is all about book work and learning all declensions, conjugations, variations, grammaticalizations  . . . which is not a real thing, but you get the picture.  I’m stuck back in class with the engineers and their precision-cut cogs of language (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, you are more sane than me look back at my past blog post–here).  This class doesn’t really suit the way I learn, but I’m hanging in there, most days.  (I have been known to play hooky a little.)

Still, the truth is that I am languishing horribly.

I like the word “languish,” it’s kind of visual for me.  I see a boat stuck on a windless part of the sea, which of course is just a few days away from disaster and decay . . .but let’s say the wind eventually picks up, and disaster is averted (happier story).  So, anyway, “languish” means “to lose or lack vitality, to grow weak or feeble.”  And this is me in German class right now, but it occurs to me that the word “languish” sounds like the word “language” if spoken by a drunk person. This somehow makes me feel better.  Like the word was specifically invented for my situation–as if it’s a natural thing to languish in a language when one is somehow lacking in mental power, for whatever reason.  A reason like stress brought on by an impending move.

Or like sitting in a book-learning class with my head down in a page, when I can only absorb words by speaking and hearing and bandying them about like a game. It’s a messy, garbled way to learn, but I’m a messy, garbled person.

I like language– I bloomin’ love language, honestly– but not because of its precision bits.  I love it for the most idiotic, but sonorous, reasons– like the fact that “languish” sounds like a drunkard saying “language.” That makes me happy.

And language makes me happy.

But today I sat in German class, having missed a few classes (for various reasons: some good, some bad, some worse).  I was lost.  And the verbs and nouns were jumping all over the place in sentences–like fleas on a dog’s back–for reasons I couldn’t quite understand.  But I liked it.  It made me laugh.

So there I was, some of my classmates scratching their heads and trying earnestly to grapple with the language, others following dutifully and expertly along, and me–the village idiot–just thinking how cool these slippery constructions were, although I understood them not one bit.

And then, at the end of class, came the best moment, the icing on the cake.  My teacher brandished her eraser and said, “I vill vipe die blackboard.”

My ears were in heaven!  While everyone else noted the homework and closed their books, I struggled to stifle my giggles.   The word-fleas jumped, the teacher “viped avay” at the board, and I just laughed.

danke Master, I am not.  Amused, I am.