– 7 – Prague

Monika always thought she had straight hair, since every night her mother would spend hours brushing out her long pony tail*. During the day she did not concern herself with it and, as it didn’t bother her, never gave the subject much thought.

Not long before Monika turned 17 she was already established in Prague with her mother, Ata,– who spent little time at home, busying herself with the organization of the political agenda of the recently formed Civic Forum**. Monika had decided that her commitment to happiness — unlike her mother’s — did not involve engaging in the political destiny of the country any more than she had during the previous year. 

While Ata travelled between Prague and other cities every week, Monika wanted to get to know her new city, and fell in love with the life that life had given her. Part of that love was expressed by entering the Univerzita Karlova*** in Prague, to study Sociology at the Faculty of Social Sciences. 

Five years after entering the Campus at Krize Street in the Jinonice quarter, the ponytail had been replaced by splendorous curly hair that fell down her back. 

As it turned out, her hair was not straight. And the 17-year-old girl was now a 22-year-old woman. With a maturity that made her look like the mother of her male classmates.

* Ponytail – a hairdo in which all or most of the hair is pulled away from the face, gathered and tied at the back part of the head with a hairpin, hair tie or similar, where it hangs down. Its name comes from the similarity to the tail of a pony or a horse. 
** Civic Forum – a group that defended a reform of bureaucracy and civil liberties. Its leader was the dissident and playwright Václav Havel. Intentionally avoiding the label of “party”, a word with a negative connotation during the previous regime, the Civic Forum rapidly won the support of millions of Czechs, as well as its Slovak counterpart, Public Against Violence.
*** Charles University in Prague - the oldest and largest university in the Czech Republic. Founded in 1348, it was the first university in Central Europe and is also considered the earliest German university. It is one of the oldest universities in Europe in continuous operation.

Her Master’s in Sociology enabled her to explain why she had started her studies in one country and earned her degree in another*.

Still, no one was interested in the reasons or motivations of recent history. Advantage had to be taken of the opportunities created by the changes in power and by political crisis.

At that moment, the youth were all fixed on the same direction.

Everyone sought to answer to the same fundamental question – how to earn more money, faster. And if possible, with less effort than the generation just left behind. 

What was old smelled from a distance of sweat-soaked humbleness. Of a life of hard physical work, in which lives with their rough, coarse hands, could never disguise what they had been through, no matter how much cream they used. 

Monika seemed to be out of step with this gold fever** that had spread throughout the former Eastern Block countries.

She felt profoundly that happiness could not be found in something outside of us.

More money or a better job would not make the difference at the end of the day. 

Six months after finishing her studies, she sent her CV to all the companies and bodies that she believed might have some interest in acquiring her services. The few replies she obtained were only a polite way of telling her they didn’t need her.

They were tough times, even for a beautiful woman like Monika. Intelligent, but above all, rational, she knew that in truth, she was just another Sociologist adding to the queues of the unemployed.

She needed a deep-reaching decision to solve a deep-reaching matter. When she opened her purse, she realised she only had some Czech Korunas, not even enough for a meal. 

She had to adapt her needs to the present. So finding herself between a not-so-good situation and a soon-to-come better one, Monika accepted an offer to wait tables in a small restaurant in the district of Mala Strana. 

Days became weeks and weeks became months. 

Outside working hours, during the middle of the morning and the afternoon, she would make an effort not to go home to rest her exhausted legs. Instead, she put on her smile no. 5, her best smile, and went back to walk the streets, institutes, and companies always wielding hope as her irresistible weapon. 

As for the months, they soon became years.

* One becomes two On 1 January 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully dissolved into its constituent states, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic.
** Gold fever or gold rush designates a period of sudden and mass migration of workers to areas in which there was some spectacular discovery of commercial quantities of gold. The best known took place in California in 1849.Curiously, few miners got rich, while their suppliers and other traders made fortunes thanks to these dealings. Curiously, few miners got rich, while their suppliers and other traders made fortunes thanks to these dealings.

At the end of each day, after the restaurant closed, she liked to walk to the Lennon Wall*. 

It was there that so many like her, who imagined a force of love capable of everything, met to sing and listen to others singing, recite poems or just stand there reading the messages hand-written on the famous wall. It was the best part of her day, which had already gone to sleep many hours ago. 

One night, among so many others, Monika listened to a small group near her playing and singing, and repeating to exhaustion the Lennon’s planet-wide success – Imagine – … 

Imagine there’s no heaven

It’s easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people

Living for today…

 

Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace…

Just then she looked at the sky, and saw one star shining brighter than all others.

One shining only for her.

 

And she started to imagine.

 

*The Lennon Wall - is a wall in Prague, Czech Republic. Once a normal wall, since the 1980s it has been filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles songs.

In 1988, the wall was a source of irritation for the communist regime of Gustáv Husák. Young Czechs would write grievances on the wall and in a report of the time this led to a clash between hundreds of students and security police on the nearby Charles Bridge. The movement these students followed was described ironically as "Lennonism" and Czech authorities described these people variously as alcoholics, mentally deranged, sociopaths,and agents of Western capitalism.

The wall continuously undergoes change and the original portrait of Lennon is long lost under layers of new paint. Even when the wall was repainted by some authorities, on the second day it was again full of poems and flowers. Today, the wall represents a symbol of youth ideals such as love and peace. The wall is owned by the Knights of the Maltese Cross, who allowed the graffiti to continue on the wall, and is located at Velkopřevorské náměstí (Grand Priory Square), Malá Strana.

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