31 MARCH. It's just past 1500. I'm sitting at a shiny-new green marble bar, sipping a Pilsner Urquell from the tap (sadly, no Gambrinus in Ruzyne airport), watching Liverpool put the smack down on Arsenal 4-1 on four huge flatscreen TVs, listening to Celtic chillout easing out of the speakers above my head. I remember them doing renovations on the airport when I lived here, but this is far nicer than I expected – there's a branch of Anagram bookshop and a sushi bar - !! – no dumplings or goulash to be found. I got to buy today's Guardian, for €4 but worth it as I've not read a newspaper for eons. Promising myself not to drive A. nuts with the "ohmygod it's not how it was" chat that might permeate everything about this place. My stomach is a bit in knots, wondering what ghosts, if any, will rear their heads, what memories will remind me of the sweet, intense ten months that really were the crux of my decision to stay over here for awhile.
I suppose Prague will always be 'home', as will Lisbon and Ljubljana and Lugano and Glasgow and even London, places I've spent time with people whom I've liked, loved, loathed. With the move ahead of me and finally, possibly, settling into something for awhile, I've been pondering the idea of 'home', as I do with every move. Home will always be Wichita, which will remain constant if larger than remembered, thanks to of my roots; however, in a way, this Midwestern town hasn't felt like home in 15 years. Home, for me, is a feeling; it's the warmth of the candlelight and laughter at a friends' dinner party, the comfort of a good chat with a girlfriend over a steaming mug of tea, the coziness of melting into a long-awaited hug. I am so fortunate to have homes in so many places, to feel that familiarity of a multitude of memories floating about. Home is a comfort zone, knowing I belong somewhere.
My current novel writing attempt looks deeply into the idea of place, as the protagonist revisits a place that was once magical to her. She struggles with the reality of the place ten years after she first left it, and wonders why sometimes she is in love with this place as much as she ever was, and then begins to hate it for what it did to her and what it reminds her of. I do think place shapes a person's character when he or she is there for a reasonable amount of time; while our personalities don't change, the insignificant details that make up a life certainly add new dimensions, new layers, to the essence of ourselves.
I often wonder if those in the international school teaching loop really ever live the expat life that I've been so fortunate to experience. Some of my colleagues here have taught in multiple countries, but always within the womb of the school that finds accommodation, takes care of visas, sets up the electricity and internet, and tosses you immediately into an English-speaking clan of others just like you. There is something dignified about queuing for hours for a visa or transport pass, explaining your case to immigration officers, desperately trying to talk to the "Englsh Spoking" person about setting up water service for your apartment. That feeling of accomplishment, of taking it to da man and winning. With the general busy-ness of everyone here, it's no wonder few locals are in the social circle. That said, I think that's what's missing for me here in Lugano – a sense of belonging to a greater community. I miss the expat life, having friends with jobs that aren't teaching, going to social events, or down to the pub to watch football. I miss having friends who are locals, willing to show me the secrets of the area. I sincerely miss having a life outside of work.
90 Kc for a pivo. Back in my day, it was 30! I remember finding a pub out in the middle of panelaky hell where pivos were 8 Kc! How much can one town change in a mere five years?