More paper sorting today. I found this print of a lady reading a letter, which I purchased in Prague, shortly after the Wall came down. Very quickly, shopping trips to several Eastern bloc cities became a booming tourist industry. I took one of those bus trips with my husband’s company commander’s wife and her sister, who had come to Germany to visit.
Thinking back on that trip several things struck me as worth mentioning. The first thing I noticed when we entered Czechoslovakia was the towns looked very run-down and nothing like the towns in West Germany. I was on a tourist bus with other U.S. Army wives and we were all excited, because of the lure of fine crystal and other high-quality wares available at bargain basement prices in Prague.
I purchased this print. despite it having a good bit of water-staining on it, because there was just something so romantic about this elegant little lady, reading her letter. It was dirt cheap, just like just about everything else in Prague back then.
Now, thinking back on this trip, several things would assuredly not pass PC muster today. The truth though is they were based on living in a fact-based world, rather than a Leftist’s hazy ideological cloud.
As the miles rolled by, the tour director, an American lady, stood at the front of the bus and went through a rather lengthy list of rules, customs and above all else strong warnings about how to safely shop in Prague. Can you imagine lengthy and detailed warnings about how to be on the look-out for and tips on how to deal with bands of Gypsies, who really were thieves. Yes, we were given a long list of things to keep your eyes peeled for, to avoid being mugged or even kidnapped by roaming bands of Gypsies, who preyed the streets of Prague.
Along with warnings about the Gypsies, she went through a long list of dos and don’ts to avoid any problems with the Czech police. By the time the briefing was over, I was wondering if perhaps, I should have just stayed in nice, clean, safe West Germany, but you know “bargain basement prices” sure worked to allay any fears.
I have the worst sense of direction, of anyone I have ever met. For decades my family laughed, because I frequently got lost getting off of and back on interstates, frequently being headed in the wrong direction.
Prague tested me.
So, there we were my friend, the wife of my husband’s company commander’s wife and her sister, who had come to Germany to visit, and me.
Very quickly into this shopping trip it became obvious that Prague was a very different shopping environment. There were not only numerous bands of Gypsies easily spotted as soon as we got off of the bus and headed from the train station into the center of the city. Everywhere your eyes turned, as you scanned the shopping area, there were some of the sketchiest characters imaginable. , . It should have registered as a really dangerous location. Every little side street or place you turned there were significant criminal dangers. There were aggressive taxi drivers, just waiting to lure unsuspecting Western European shoppers into less than stellar neighborhoods.
We were also warned about how to deal with any interactions with the Uzi wielding police.
Most of our day went off without any problems, until shortly before it was time to head back to the train station, to load up and head back to West Germany. I forget exactly how my two shopping partners and I got separated. It was one of those, “we’re going to run in this store, while you run in that last shop you didn’t want to miss” situations. And with dirt cheap prices – let me tell you, most women will overlook a pretty risky security shopping environment.
So, somehow when I came out the store, where I had been making my last great purchase, I didn’t see my friends in the store they had gone in. I went in that store walked around and they were no where to be found. I looked in every direction scanning crowds of shoppers and … bands of Gypsies, but also that whole array of sketchy-looking people lurking everywhere I looked.
Oh, no, I thought, I am lost in Prague…
Well, immediately I began walking, head held high, a little swagger in my step, acting like I had a purpose, because they warned you not to stand around…. “looking lost”. I kept glancing at my watch, worrying that each step might be taking me in the opposite direction of the train station.
We were also warned that the buses weren’t waiting around – so we needed to be there on time. I walked a couple of blocks and then I made my second totally unPC decision of the day. I spotted a small group of black ladies coming out of a shop. I made a beeline to them and asked them if they were Americans and they said they were and then I asked them if they were part of the tourist groups parked at the train station. Yes, I racially profiled… big time.
They told me they were just getting ready to head back to the train station, so I asked them if they minded if I stuck with them. When I arrived at our bus, my friends were already there and they told me how they had searched for me and had no idea how we got separated. I assumed they were hunting in the store I had been in, while I as searching their store.
The amazing part of all this is we were so excited about all the amazing stuff we bought, that dangerous bands of Gypsies and ruthless taxi drivers had made not even a dent in our enthusiasm;-)