Conversations About Love

Prague. 1995. The cold war was over and it was spring. Light and airy. I had met Jay a few months earlier in a cafe in Malá Strana. He was working for the American embassy and I was on my first OE. We hit it off, as two foreigners with an interest in Czech literature and moved into a run-down house close to the old town almost immediately. Plaster was crumbling outside and in. The hot water worked only sometimes, as did the central heating.

But winter faded and sunlight would slash through the big windows, and the rooms took on a sense of magic for us. On cold nights we would warm ourselves in blankets and pass from hand to hand the apartment’s single drinking glass filled with cheap local whisky.

In a few years all this will be gone. The run down houses of the Old Town will be rejuvenated. With gentrification comes a loss to the young and the poor. Which is what we are. When I look back to this time, I know I had something real.

We’re walking by the Vltava River, morning mist rising like shy ghosts from under the Charles Bridge. There’s a make-shift market. In it, Jay buys me this Bohemian kimono of pale blue sprinkled with hippie flowers. I wear it everywhere around the apartment. We cook, we love, we dream. One day he asks me what I think love really is. Sitting at the window in my Kimono I shake my head, uncertain.

He: I think true love is when you are ready to sacrifice all the happiness in your life for the happiness of the one you love. If you do not need to think twice about it, then your love is pure.

Me: But isn’t that sad?

He: (smiling) That, my dear, is Love.

Conversations about Love II

She wrote her name in lipstick on the mirror as she left.

It began as a joke between us when we met. This was mid-90s Eastern Europe. The Berlin Wall had fallen and cold war tensions were easing. She told me she was a spy, and that she intended to find out all my secrets. She could only give her “code-name” Claudia.

I played along with “Claudia”. It soon became obvious she wanted to talk about literature—and Anaïs Nin’s Spy in the House of Love was a good place to start. Being that it was Prague we soon moved onto the more obvious Milan Kundera. I was surprised to find she too was a fan of The Good Soldier Švejk—the Czech novel by Jaroslav Hašek.

Claudia liked mystery. So much so that she kept her name secret, even after we moved into the crumbling apartment in Masná 1059.

She had a somewhat gypsy style, and today whenever I see a young blond woman in flowing dresses of flowered paisley patterns, she comes to mind.

Then one ordinary morning. A day like any other. I got up a little late. She had already left for work (she had a job as a tour guide). On the broken mirror in the bathroom written in red lipstick was: