The Czechs know problems. Regime takeover after regime takeover, they have suffered. It’s a country in the middle of countries, caught in the power plays of history, often collateral damage in the combustion. A country traded to the Nazis by world powers for just a little more time. A country freed from a totalitarian regime only to be taken captive by another. Freedom, fracture, freedom. There are bullet holes in building walls and places where bombs landed that were never built upon again. Rows and rows of Soviet building blocks painted light pink, baby blue, seafood green in rebellion against their utilitarian silhouettes. Bronze faces are memorialized on street corners, matyrs of a nation that has always been itself a martyr. Golden plaques are hidden between the cobblestones marking the homes of the murdered Jews of Prague.
Ledice was an entire town destroyed, wiped off the map by men with big guns and hate. A death mask on my school memorializes a student who set himself on fire in protest of the regime. A plaque marks the square where young girl was shot in the grass by Soviet police because she was carrying a poster that they thought it was a gun. 27 crosses mark the cobbles in Old Town Square where 27 Czech noblemen lost their heads. Fifty feet away stands a 20 foot statue of a brave man, burned at stake for speaking his mind. Hidden in a crypt under a church lies a memorial where 7 Czech heroes took their own lives rather than be taken by Nazis.
Sad story, sad story, sad story.
In the blueprint, this place is covered in death.
But they eat cake. Mid-morning, afternoon, late evening. Somewhere someone eats cake. In colors, flavors, shapes like you’ve never seen. 50 crowns. Cafe Louvre Cheesecake with an apricot inside. 45 crowns. Sacher cake covered in chocolate. 120 crowns. A bright yellow cubist cake shaped like a square. 60 crowns. Tiramisu. 40 crowns.
That’s what all of this death, this suffering, this fighting teaches you. Eat your cake. While you can, as often as you can, all that you can. The blueprint of Prague says death, the people say life. I have never seen so much of it. So many people living on purpose. A slap in the face to all this dying. They will not be the victims. Eating cake at 10:30 am in spite of it all.
That’s what I’m taking with me back home. An optimism that defies gravity. The courage to live fully, impeccably, relentlessly. To enjoy more, so much more, it’s a precious thing; this life; all this time to eat cake.