I haven’t written much in this journal lately. I’ve been hibernating. Somewhere around the end of January my body responded to the cold and the dark by shutting down, one system at a time.
Silly me! If I’d been Czech by birth I would have known that the best place to hibernate is a basement bar with a velké pivo in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other to ward off the cold. But instead I chose to wall myself up in my house in a expatriate ghetto on the outskirts of the city.
My dad, an engineer by trade, couldn’t get over the way houses were built here when he came to visit. “Now that’s a hundred-year roof,” he proclaimed at least a dozen times during his stay. Well, of course. Caves are pretty sturdy too–just ask any bear.
I reached my limit yesterday. We’d had about a week of warm(ish) weather. The sun shone with a warm, golden touch that had been absent for months. Winter sunshine is a pale, blue, useless thing here, not even strong enough to melt the snow. Crocuses popped up from lawns as if by magic. The hundreds of bulbs that I planted with my son last fall, anticipating how badly I would need them by the next spring, poked tentative spikes out of the ground.
For weeks I had been wondering why no birds came to the birdfeeder that we made out of a recycled water bottle and hung outside the kitchen window. Where did they all go? Did toxic waste from the Communist era kill them off? In Virginia I refilled the birdfeeder literally every day, though my front porch was a green island in a concrete sea.
Finally, a lone black-capped chickadee came to investigate. My son, as sick of winter as myself, jumped for joy.
Shoulders, tight and uncomfortable from fighting the cold for months, loosened up, luxuriating in the barest hint of warmth carried in the breeze. I flung open the windows and cleaned house,engaging in the spring cleaning ritual shared by all warm-blooded creatures. I bought seeds and topsoil, eager to try and coax even more life from the barren, hard-packed clay of our recently-built development.
And then the wind picked up. An icy blast out of Scandinavia swept down, bringing dark clouds that scudded across the sky, fleeing from the cold front behind them. It rained, then snowed, then sleeted, then rained some more. Then it sleeted again just for good measure.
How can you do this to me? I ranted at the sky. Yahoo’s weather showed 63 degrees and sunny at home in Nashville. The daffodils are already blooming, reported my mother. Great, just great.
Flower shop on the first day of springWhat effect does this climate have on a people? I can only speculate, but my guess is that the fickle, often just plain rotten, weather has got to make people a bit cynical. I remarked to my neighbor what a nice day it was (in that annoyingly optimistic way that foreigners often mistake for simple-mindedness in Americans) and she replied: “Yes, it feels like spring, but it is not.”
The gloom would also account for the painstaking attention paid to the interior of houses, shops and offices, and the neglect often accorded the exterior. Coal soot from the Communist era still coats the majority of the priceless architectural treasures downtown. Panelaký, or Communist-era apartment blocks, have got to be one of the ugliest forms of architecture on earth. The exteriors are gray and coated with graffiti. But a night time ride reveals brightly colored walls and stacks of lush plants behind the lace curtains. It does make some sense to spend time making your castle pleasant when you are going to be stuck inside it for months at a time.
Yes, I’m a wimp. I have never lived in Moscow, Reykyavik, or any of the other places whose inhabitants would no doubt sneer at the Czech winter as a mere cold snap. But it’s been hard. My neighbors tell me that spring is beautiful, but it officially starts this week and the crocuses still look mighty lonely, is all I have to say. And there is snow falling outside my window as I write!
Ask me again in a few weeks!