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Stories and Tales, Lies and Curls, Czech Guys, meet American Girls...

There are witches in the hills, Calling my name, Saying come join us sister, Come kiss the rain, Come dance in the moon beams and Ride the night winds, Make love to the darkness and, Laugh at men's sins. So I turned to my lover and asked, What should I do? Should I answer their call or Stay here with you? But under a spell of deep sleep he Moaned and turned away Taking his protection, And my desire to stay. So I went to the hills, Now I ride the night winds, Make love to the darkness and, Laugh at men's sins. - Cowboy Junkies, from their song, Witches

Speaking about those lonely bus rides home:

At least when some interaction happens, you know it's genuine.

You don't hear, "Jak se mas?"

"Dobře."

I must say I started out researching this article with the idea of finding the root of problems in my own relationship with a Czech guy. It had to be some cultural difference at my expense, I thought. In fact, my presumption proved false, I think. What I did find was a bunch of puzzle pieces - just here some fit, and then there are still some missing. Who did this puzzle last?! Well look, I've done a few parts to get us started.

With the mother… the conversations weren't very deep. Of course, the language barrier but… when I… she felt humiliated that someone asked her to speak her mind.

Prague bars stretching under the streets. Sometimes I know that there is some big joke here, and just when I think I've caught it, it slips away. That trickster. And then I think this place, Prague, is a giant slow-moving carp. At other times I feel like a rat dropped in a maze.

But relationships.

Though there is no doubt the Soviet dominated regime impacted people's relationships, particularly their ability to communicate honestly with each other, it dawns on me that the individuals are what are important, as anywhere, and that good relationships exist where good people sow the soil.

As far as my own experiences to date are concerned, I had an imperfect relationship with this guy, but we DO communicate. And several times when I've expected to find shit, well, more often than not I've found that, but also there are times when I've found quite beautiful flowers growing out of it, too.

Is it true? What do you think? American women are more independent.

Czech women are more traditional, housewives with the vision of children and family life, more home-centered.

"It's really changing with the new independence," Karen commented on this, "Now I have (female Czech) friends who are the heads of their businesses, who have high positions in companies."

But before we continue further, let me relate to you this STORY.

It was December. I went to the hills. It was over. I was taking this weekend to myself. I had had it. That first night of resolution, I had a dream under the snow caved-in roof of my friend's cottage. I was standing at a railroad station in a small town, and it was sometime before now, much before present, I put the time at around the turn of the century. There was a train going by, and as it passed I looked down and saw a boy of about five, lost, looking like he'd just let go of his mother's hand.

A Canadian friend of mine counselled me thus: "A guy will leave a bad thing that week. A woman will leave it in ten years." He's probably the best help I could ask for.

I took his hand and walked around with him for awhile looking for help, but nobody could help us. Nobody knew him. At last, I heard a jingling sound and felt a sweep of powerful energy and there in front of me were two gypsy women in flowing pink and purple gowns and silver and gold bangles and ornaments. A third woman was beating a drum, and out of the corner of my eye I could see her swaying over it.

One of the women, whom I distinctly remember as having a small nose ring said straight to me or maybe through me, "You can't help him. Let him go."

I looked into her twin fires, felt the other's stare too, heard the rhythm of the third sister's drum and realized she was right, and sadly, I released the child's hand and let him wander alone.

People here generally have affairs and don't leave their spouses, although that trend seems to be changing now… A few generations down, maybe things will balance out.

This break was the first time in my nine month relationship with… we'll call him Petr, that I could even consider leaving him. The fact was that he left me cold when he said in a fit, when I couldn't get through to him… "You go to school, then you come and your parents tell you not to say what you hear at home, so you lie. And so you keep your little nest of lies."

Some times I just can't get through to him, as if I'm talking to Andromeda and my little voice isn't heard for the miles of space and time and background noise. This was so much this kind of time. But I tried…

He said to me, seeing through me, "I have this terrible feeling to find another partner." Then he lit up a cigarette.

Disposability? Temporality? If an American guy said to me he wanted another partner, it would mean we were split. Here it often means one of the partners wants to try something different, not necessarily that he or she wants to break it off with that person.

Then, I couldn't imagine staying with him any longer. It burned like a thousand icicles on my heart. So I was leaving.

For the whole of our relationship, there had been a battle between him with his relaxed attitude towards sex and me with my 'til recent firm belief in monogamy. In fact, he had slept with other women and didn't tell me until the second time I had asked. Then when I asked "How many?" he shrugged his shoulders and said he didn't know. Actually, I don't think he did remember, but later he figured there were two.

Looking at the history, people here think security's more important. If you look at the historical situation it didn't change their social situations. They were getting fucked from above, so it didn't matter who they fucked.

And by then, I had moved in with him already.

Why didn't I leave right then? A couple reasons, one practical; a really cheap flat. And a second quite emotional; a strange monster people sometimes call love. Though sometimes I think this is a flowery name for a kind of toothed inertia.

My boyfriend gave me a mini-skirt for Christmas. He said I could wear it other places than "out", like for going shopping. That made me sick. I was so repulsed! I could just imagine going to the potraviny, bringing my groceries home, cooking supper for my husband and kids.

It made me want to leave him immediately (a 30 year-old American who left her business career in sales three years ago to travel the world.)

My friend, I'll call her Karen, dated a Czech guy for two years. They are both artists. She built his career with him, as he was much younger, putting alot of energy into his life - I needn't point out that this was at the expense of her own creative growth. Little wonder she felt quite betrayed when she realized he was having an affair, and then that for a long time he had lied to her about it, until she found the girl and cornered HER in a pub and confronted her with it.

"Who do you blame more?" Another friend, call her Jane, asked.

"Him." Karen said.

"Cause alot of women put the blame on the other woman."

"Sure, it's easier, because then you can still be with him, etc."

"You were together for two years?"

"Yeah, we were always together. We worked together. He'll kiss my neck or say, 'Čau' and I'll be thinking, is it possible for me to be with this guy? Now I burn inside. I want to knock him down onto the floor. I want to kick his ass. In fact, I did kick his ass… yesterday.

When I confronted him with it and told him we were splitting, he said 'Well, I didn't want you to leave blah, blah, blah.' And I said, 'Well, how selfish of you.'"

The other girl frowned and looked uncertain. I caught her eye and dropped my chin to his shoulder, then I smiled at her. And she smiled back and adjusted her purse before she walked on. I swung him around, then saw that as she moved away she was laughing. We had connected.

A friend of Petr's, whom I hadn't seen, had also been walking at some pace behind us and was now nearing us.

"So, she finally did it," he said to Petr in Czech as he approached, "She finally kicked your ass."

It was a really special moment.

You're asking why I stayed around, why I'm still talking about him in the present. Well, you see, after I came back from the weekend in the mountains I found him very sick. And then I nursed him back to health for a month, with no thanks, and reconsidered (and am still playing with) my decision. Because I took him back, because at first I had to, and then because being so close to him for so long I guess rebonded us. I'm fighting with whether or not it's only my maternal instincts stringing this thing together, not to mention the fear of being alone.

What?

"But you know, I wonder when he said he didn't feel like he betrayed me sleeping with those girls and wanted me to realize it some day," I said, "What is it he means by honesty? Am I wrong in my basic understanding of the word… Or is it just a translation problem?"

So, I prefer now to see it this way: We're still friends, and maybe something more than that by the fact that we've put up with each other over a year now, and four of those months living together. I'm still amazed that my friend could be such an asshole.

"It's different in a different country, too."

"Yeah, and because that foreign person is going to depend alot upon that local person…

And I have seen it in another relationship because that person was really dependent on him for buying tickets, ordering food. Of course that is an extreme case."

Because the thing about me and relationships, as with most of my girlfriends, European and American, is that I STILL find it really difficult to see how a person anywhere can be seriously committed to a partner, like a spouse, and sleep around. But I'm willing to try it for the first time now, and that's where I'm at. Culture slut. Slut to culture. Because we are more than friends and I don't know what.

Any thoughts?

And then there's the case of young people travelling. In a different country young people want to try out different things. It's neat. A lot of people will do things in a new place they wouldn't do in their home cities and villages.

Right now, I'm trying to see how it would feel to be with somebody else. I feel like a girl who's been playing with a carrot, who for the first time is going out for the real thing. Why does that Penthouse I paid 79 Kč for today only have naked Janas and Gabrielas? Dammit. The ones my girlfriend and I found under her parents' bed when we were ten had really interestingly positioned guys in them, too. I wish I could get my money back.

The sparks fall silent on the expanse of rye, I look up towards the night sky and see that someone is staring at me.


- Roxanne Bartholomew, the Third Eye Wonder, who sometimes feels like a hurricane throwing off chaos from the corner of her eye.