Maybe I will save the Byzantine processes of setting up a Czech phone and bank account for when I really need to vent about administrative details. Instead this post will have you all wading around in the moments before I” leapt “and “waited for the net to appear”. Getting around Brno was really the well from which most of my anxiety sprung. Back home, I was pretty fearless. I’m not afraid of the NYC subway, it’s afraid of ME! There are always those knuckle heads who are on their phones and run right into me or the people that almost push me over trying to get to the train, but that’s all par for the course. I can just ask people for directions if I get lost and almost half of the time, I get correct answers. My husband, Mike helps me tremendously with getting around and navigating other difficult situations. I recognize the tension between certain feminists and disability rights activists as I continue to write about how much my husband helps me. Interdependence is an important concept in disability communities but when I find myself writing about Mike, I almost feel like I am not upholding some kind of feminist code. It took me a long time to get comfortable with asking Mike for help and accepting it when he offered. Now, seven years later, I was heavily relying on him to help me get settled in Brno. I dreaded him leaving. What was I really afraid of?
Under the Brno Sun
Fast forwarding past the bank tellers who told me, “it is not possible” in response to my request to open a bank account and AT&T living up to every scumbag stereotype you can imagine, I’ll take you to the tastier parts of our time. I found a sweet coffee shop, Skog Urban Hub through another great blog. It was a little difficult to find but definitely worth the agita. It looked like it should have been bustling with pretentious folks but it wasn’t. The space opened up into a wide space with lots of wood, exposed brick, you know the type. A nice young man with upswept dreads came to take our order. “I love it” I chirped to Mike. Am I a hipster? I may have a little seed of one in me but it’s not fully formed. You can chime in with your thoughts at the end of this blog experiment and let me know. Soon we would be meeting with a rep from the Fulbright Commission just to go over some details. When I met her, I could tell she was my favorite kind of person – exuberant, no nonsense but easy with a laugh. She was my first in person interaction with someone form the Czech Fulbright commission, and her demeanor set em at ease. Mike and I subjected her to our limited Czech which consists mostly being able to call each other a bad person, I think she found this charming?
Spiel berg Castle is located near my apartment and so we took a leisurely walk up the 2-mile long incline up this side of a hill. For a little while it felt like we were in a forest, surrounded by lush greenery and immersed in the scent of petrichor. I wasn’t sure exactly what would be up there but I had read it was built in the 13th centry and that there was an impressive view from it. After just a couple stops along the way to take time to really absorb the nature and NOT to catch my breath, we made it. Castles always have several layers of complex history but these days, most end up being museums or performance spaces. Same with this one but I appreciated how it shifted my mindset. Maybe it was all the nature and the 13th century architecture, but I temporarily felt the tension leave my body. The sun was setting and we didn’t have anywhere to really be. High up, overlooking everything, I felt myself sinking into the moment an not concerned with the next day.
We went to a spot called Vega lite for dinner, how could we not when it promised Punk Rock/New Wave vibes and vegan bar food? We were intrigued. It looked like there was also a stage and I made a mental note to come back. As part of our wringing the city dry for fun, we made plans to check out the cocktail bar scene, for which Brno has an impressive reputation. In Prague we had gone to a café called, The Coffee Shop Without a Name”, here in Brno, there was “the Bar That Doesn’t Exist” and I am “The Fulbright Scholar That isn’t Really a Scholar”! I wasn’t sure what to expect from a bar which is described as a speakeasy but curiously is on a corner of a busy street? The bar was crowded but apparently, no standing is allowed, if you don’t have a seat, you can’t stay. Interesting. . can someone call all the bars on the Lower East Side. We slowly walked into the dimly lit space up to two seats at the bar. Behind the bar were 12-foot-tall shelves with more intoxicating liquid than I’ve ever seen. Mike was like, “that’s not a very efficient way to store your liquor!”. I chuckled. There was a menu for all the different specialty cocktails complete with professional photos of sexy women posing with the drink in different scenarios. You know how it is, sometimes run might just make you feel like wearing a vintage navy girl outfit, a la “Scoops Ahoy”. I noticed there were four American men to the left of me. I “noticed” this when one kept bumping into me and his buddies were loud. “Greeeaaat.” I thought to myself, “Don’t make us look bad, dudes!”. The last time the American guy next to me bumped into me, he put his hand on my bare shoulder to apologize more emphatically. He picked up we were Americans and we exchanged our respective U.S. locations. Then these middle-aged men were talking about where the college girls were, gross. The part that really gave me the “icks” was when they asked the bartender, to put on this one particular country song. When the lyric, “Take all yer clothes off” came up, they all sang it at the top of their lungs. Mike and I were enjoying ourselves regardless, groaning at these moments. These kinds of instances are exactly why I rather not be at a bar by myself. It’s extra unnerving when you can’t ‘see the tipsy “bro-a-caine” (trademark Mike DiFeo) coming atcha.
Next, we walked about ten minutes through pub crawlers over to the mysteriously tucked away Super Panda Circus. The building it’s housed in looks like an East Village townhouse and green velvet curtains hang on either side of the entrance. SPC turned out to be the most fun bar going experience ever. No “bro-a-caines” here! The warm welcoming hostess gave us some green tea to help us cleanse our palettes and prepare us for what we would receive on the other side. Going through another heavy thick curtain, we walked into what looked like Moulin Rouge encapsulated into a cozy bar. Glowing amber lighting, big top stripes, swirling murals and several panda head sconces which would glow and then fade every so often. The “menu” was a vase full of a dozen differently textured and designed flower sculptures. The unique flower you hose correlated to your cocktail and it was a surprise. As long as it didn’t have grapefruit in it, I was okay, I told the friendly server enthusiastically. Then, get this – I get a drink which is served in a ceramic cupcake! Mike received an Indian spiced Bloody Mary which also contained buttermilk. Mine had home made coffee ice cream and some other stuff which I don’t remember because…home made coffee ice cream!
Settled with our unbelievable cocktails, Mike began describing the space. Part of the way we were set up was as spectators of the bartenders. Some fancy business was going down at eh bar for one customer and then we realized, that maybe, this was the “circus”? when our lovely server came back, we chatted a bit with her, just gushing over how much we enjoyed the atmosphere. She told us she’d be right back and bring us something special. It was hot slivovitz with a little bit of melted butter. This was more of a traditional holiday drink but she gave it to us since she found us to be so friendly. Slivovitz is made only from Danson Plums and is enjoyed regionally here, throughout Eastern Europe and it turns out in my ancestral homeland of Croatia. Aha! Okay, so that’s what my Uncle Niko was having in the afternoon, but they call it Rakia in Croatian! I’ll tell ya, it’ strong stuff, kind of like moonshine, if it can be compared to anything.
Maybe I Need an oren? Throw a Luck Dragon in There Too
The week we had spent together in the Czech Republic had come to an end and we had made the most of it. It was happening, in a couple of hours, I would be totally alone. When he left, I would have to figure out routes, how to tip and *gulp* how to use the Czech version of Uber on my own. My brain was like, “Yes, you can do this! Of course, you can do this, it’s simple!” and then I’d start to imagine all those nuanced parts where needing your vision comes in. The awkwardness of reaching for the wrong door, not being able to communicate clearly that I can’t see to an Uber driver, people staring as I walk in to a café not being able to orient myself. This is all stuff that happens in the U.S. but now I was a double outsider. While I struggle with these issues I acknowledge the privilege I have as a white woman moving through Europe and not facing a myriad of other types of alienation and potential aggression. I can go wherever, whenever and not worry about anyone looking at me suspiciously or refusing me entrance and I want to acknowledge that not everyone can travel in this way.
Mike and I realized how much I had come to automatically expect him to do certain things and he realized how much he had gotten used to doing them. During this week, we had to have some “training” sessions and oh, how I wish I had a cool 80’s montage complete with a Karate Kid-esque soundtrack. We’d learn a route and then I’d have to guide us home. I started to learn to use currency with him and we practiced using “Lift-a-Go”. When he left, it wasn’t just going to be my best friend and love leaving, but also my connection to this new city.
Things went as I assumed, they would. I was high strung before Mike left, feeling like I was about to take the hardest test ever and was going away for freshman year of college simultaneously. Mike decided to leave a little earlier to be on the safe side and I panicked at losing an hour with him. I tried to rationalize with myself, “there’s no reason to be upset over losing one hour with him.” But then waves of anxiety washed over me. I couldn’t think my way out of this. I probably just needed to be held, but instead I picked a fight. Some of you may recognize this as a typical thing many people do to cope with feeling abandoned. You start a fight so you can feel better about the person leaving. Ugh, I saw this coming a mile away but it still happened. I recognized that I was also feeling angry. I’ll probably always have abandonment issues but I hadn’t had to confront them quite like this in a long while. Mike at first was frustrated but then understood why I was starting to get upset and just hugged me. I held it together until I walked him downstairs and Mike told me the car was there early. I looked up into his kind face, put my arms around him and started cry talking. I don’t know what I said, but it was a bunch of “I love you”, “I’ll miss you” and “You’re so great.”. The driver’s is just watching me lose it a little.
Still weeping, I open the door and hoped that I don’t run into a new neighbor. I get in apartment and continue the water works. I begin to tidy up and organize things while crying. Might as well be productive while unloading all these tears, I thought. Or maybe I just had to keep myself busy. After about ten minutes, something really bizarre happened. I became relieved. I wasn’t relieved that Mike was gone, but instead, I felt a huge weight lifted off of me. This was the part I had dreaded since I got the acceptance into the program. It had happened, it hurt but now I could move forward and start to figure things out for real. The part I had anticipated as the hardest was over.
The next day after he left, it took me about two hours to get ready to leave the apartment. I was nervous unlocking the door and walking to the elevator. That first step outside filled me with fear and a tad bit of excitement. I unfolded my white cane and began to walk. The crack of the cane unfolding and the sound of that initial tap on the sidewalk was liberating. I was really out there, doing IT! Watch out, Brno!