or less gone. But everybody knows the Russians are not. And even the
Germans are back in the form of chain supermarkets and drugstores.
“Except for hockey,” she tells me, “we don’t care about nationality. We
live in a certain area made by the mountains and the borders. It doesn’t
matter who’s in charge. We always managed. We can endure.”
On the most recent anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, Czech sociol-
ogist Jan Hartl admitted to an interviewer that the legacy of Commu-
nism had proven stronger than anyone had expected, that decades of
totalitarianism had powerfully affected the minds of people “both in
personality and attitudes.”
Must I conclude that this legacy remains with my young students,
excessively darkening their worldview? Or are they simply realists, de-
scended from those who have stubbornly survived in what has always
been and continues to be a remarkably perilous geographical location?
Sandwiched between great and greedy powers, is theirs a geographical
destiny that Americans, guarded by two great oceans, may be simply
unable to grasp?
Back home in New Jersey, I hear from Adriana. I have told her I’m
starting a phone bank to get out the vote in the congressional election.
She wishes me luck. As for herself, however, she doesn’t vote. She’s too
“nihilistic.” Also: “I don’t believe that there actually is any possibility
that humans in politics could be honest and care about people’s needs.”
She adds, “I’m sorry to write this to you, I know that you care about
politics, and I respect your interest in it.”
I also get an e-mail and a photograph from Ludvik, snapped as
he drove through the Czech countryside near his home of Trutnov.
“Maybe,” he writes, “it is something that you can use for your mosaic of
the Czech Republic.”
The photo is of a faded, ten-foot-tall, elephant-shaped billboard. It
originally advertised a local zoo but “has been repainted countless times
over the years to promote local or national teams, cultural events, or to
remind us of certain people.”
Zooming in, I see that on the elephant’s pink side someone has painted
“Charta 77,” surrounded by two red hearts. And on the elephant’s cheek,
in another red heart: “Havel.”
“By the way,” Ludvig writes, “people from here honk at the elephant.
It’s supposed to bring you good luck.”