”The epoch of unexpected happiness and drunkenness lasted only two short years; the madness was so excessive and so general that it would be impossible for me to give any idea of it, except by this historical and penetrating reflection: the people had been bored for a hundred years.” Stendhal
The Velvet Revolution
The Velvet Revolution happened in Prague between November 17th through December 26th 1989. Crowds of protesters swelling to as many as 500,000 descended on Prague and riot police were sent to disperse them. Protesters held flowers out in the face of the police guns. On November 24th the entire top tier of communist leadership resigned. After 41 years of communist rule the Czechoslovakians were able to finally begin governing themselves. The velvet refers to the fact that the protesters achieved their means without violence. It was such a gentle revolution that even Gandhi would have been impressed. Jacob arrives in Prague soon after the end of the revolution to teach English. He wants to be a part of something happening and at the same time he wants to put off the looming responsibilities of adulthood waiting for him at home.
”In fact Jacob dreaded the burden of earning a living. To be here was something more than a holiday; it was a kind of rift in the net, so new that it was not yet clear how it would be rewoven into the systems of money and responsibility.--I want to write, Jacob added.”
Writing as it turns out is just something to tell people so they will think he has some greater purpose than just trolling gay nightclubs looking for hookups and finding ways to work just enough to pay for his entertainments and his necessities. He must have had true aspirations to write at one time or at least he did when he knew his friend Meredith. Her suicide, happening back in the real world of America, is a blow bigger than just her death.
”A blank sheet sat fixed in his machine so long that the platen set a curl in it. It seemed wrong to write about Meredith and wrong not to write about her. He knew he was angry with her. She had been the poet of their generation--all her friends had thought themselves lucky to have met her in her youth--and she had thrown away her talent with her life. She had also thrown away an understanding they had shared, a little prize they had conspired to give themselves, that no one their age would have deserved: the sense not merely that they were going to give their lives to writing but that somehow they already had.”
Jacob is part of a circle of friends, mostly fellow English teachers, that when he isn’t busy with his “relationships” he spends his evenings drinking and talking with them. There are special moments like this when intriguing people with similar interests find themselves caught in a web of intimacy. It is doomed of course because one thing that makes intriguing people interesting is that they don’t stay still for very long.
”The connection was going to outlast the time that they were going to share, and somehow they felt the afterlife of it now, while they were still together, almost as a physical thing, casting a retrospective aura, which they felt prospectively. And it was terribly sad, as it turned out, and something else, too--exhilarating, somehow, maybe because they hadn’t lost one another quite yet--and he wouldn’t even be trying to talk about it if he weren’t drunk. They had become the world to one another, both those who had fallen in love and those who hadn’t.”
That it will never come again
Is what makes life so sweet.
Believing what we don't believe
Does not exhilarate.
That if it be, it be at best
An ablative estate --
This instigates an appetite
That it Will Never Come Again
The arrival of Carl (a straight man that Jacob had a crush on in the States)to the group is really the beginning of the end. If he had been a part of the group from the beginning things might have continued to spin for a while longer. He is taken with Melinda.
”She was wearing a black velvet gown, which showed her off--an English beauty with black hair, slender features, bad posture, and a classic complexion, three drops of red wine in a glass of whole milk.”
Melinda is one of those rare people that are intelligent, beautiful, witty, and one feels if she can be possessed that she can make you capable of achieving anything. Everyone male, female, straight, and gay are a little in love with her. She has been with Rafe since before the group was formed and by the unspoken rules of such a group there are no serious attempts to pry her away from him.
”Rafe had the excitement of a boy looking forward to a math test that has scared all the other boys, not because he’s better at math but because he’s better at thinking while scared.”
Rafe is a serious lad. Carl is more of a rogue. *Sigh*, but we know how women like their rogues.
Rafe is busier than the rest of the group. He is almost a spy of some sort, but really just an analyst who could be mistaken for a spy. He might be taking his English Rose for granted and she is at an age where it is easy to be impulsive. The pain is less acute, because she may not yet have fallen in love with the person she is when she is with that person...which to me...is when love transcends infatuation.
”The question of how to know whether one is choosing or whether one is giving in to something one hasn’t understood. I wonder if the answer is that a choice always feels a little supplementary, a little unnatural--because it’s unforced it also feels unnecessary--as if one had figured out a way to get away with something for a while.”
A picture I snapped while in Prague. It will give you some idea of just how beautiful the city is.
Annie will be very disappointed that I haven’t mentioned her. She is the wallflower of the group; and yet, of course the most sensible maybe too sensible for this time in her life. She is the first of the group that Jacob confides in about his sexual orientation. She is good with confidences, but not very good at having things to confide. Jacob is at times a surrogate boyfriend for her. They do things together that would have been more fun with someone they were in love with. She is a complicated piece of the puzzle, like the spring that must be sprung at the proper moment for the watch to work.
This group of friends are still lingering with me. I know their names and their quirks as if they were my actual friends, as if, for a few months I were part of that group. I had a similar situation with coworkers in the bookstore business. It lasted for about three months before people began to get on with their lives, but those three months were a time when every day I could feel my mind expanding exponentially. This book shimmers with a vision of Prague in transition. It is a chance to spend time with some people that you will wish you had known when you were at that magical age before life seduced you with a good paying job, a mortgage, and respectability. I suggest you let this book and these characters become a part of your memories.