Gringo and a warp-speed life in parentheses

11-06-2006

Time shifted into hyper-drive the day I saw the metronome swing at Letna Plain. Tick. Tock. Tick tock. Ticktock. Was it moving faster? Those first few weeks in Prague had crept by. I'd arrived, got to work and...waited. For friends. For things to do. For the day I could figure out how to shower sitting down (there's no wall mount for the shower head in most apartments - it must be a Czech thing).

I'd arrived by myself and spent most hours just walking and looking around. Back then I often went to Letna for its peaceful gardens and views overlooking the city. Perhaps my first visits were too early; perhaps the gears were still frozen, because each time I visited the huge metronome stood still.

Not that day. My friend and I could see the metronome, which overlooks the whole city, was in full swing. We got lost watching it, and before we knew what happened we were almost late to meet everyone else for the night out.

Once you get settled in Prague, time doesn't slip away from you - it sprints. Just ask any ex-pat who came here to teach English for a summer and now, fourteen years later, is choosing an elementary skola for their children.

None of them can tell you how it got this far. Franz Kafka simply said that this city has claws. But no answer is a very honest answer - most people haven't found any good reason to leave.

And why should they? After all, You've heard those stereotyped rumors. Beer that flows like wine. Supermodels, or supermodels-in-waiting, everywhere. Add to that all of the old-world architecture and even the most mundane run to Tesco can be an eye-popping adventure. Why should they leave? I rarely did. Every weekend I planned to get away, to explore all those parts of Europe I've never seen. Every weekend I found better reasons to stay.

Living abroad is like putting time in parentheses. You put a stop to your normal stream of consciousness and insert between the brackets a mini-life: You're born into a foreign land knowing no one and nothing. Gradually you make friends, form bonds, maybe you even fall in love. Suddenly you're hurtling forward faster than you can imagine, terrified of smacking face-first into that end bracket before you're ready. But you know it's coming. You know that you eventually have to close the parentheses. You know you've got to get back home.

So pretend you're me. You've figured out that most of the stereotypes are true. The girls are gorgeous - and they're friendly. The architecture is almost as fascinating as the women. The beer really is cheaper than water. And you love your job.

Why the hell are you leaving?

Friends and family miss you, and you them. There's that degree to finish, student loans to start paying off, and you should probably get that career of yours moving. You've had your fun; smile because it happened. It's time to move on.

Tick tock. Tick tock.

Time is never on your side. It's never against you either. Just like the metronome on Letna Plain, just like the hands of Old Town's astrological clock and its skeleton that chimes his bell with the passing of another hour, time is indifferent. It just moves forward, probably faster than you'd prefer. And like the tourists who flock out of the square after that bell has rung, so you too must move on.

If you don't, who knows when you'll get home?

11-06-2006