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Travel Blog

The Walk

Jessica Litwak

You meet people on the road. You share things with them that you wouldn’t necessarily tell people in your everyday local life. You see them by chance, make plans to see them the next day and soon you are kind of kinesthetically bound in this time and space to each other. You begin to be a homing device for one another and the things you witness and experience are filtered through each other. This person becomes your rootedness and your map. Your north star and your compass. Sometimes the connection becomes physical, or hints at potential romance, often it is purely platonic and based on a kind of communal survival in a strange land, something you both want, something you both need. Sometimes these relationships grow into life long intimacies. Sometimes they last only the amount of time you occupy the same geography. Sometimes you travel together, sometimes the entire love affair occurs in four days.

 

I had one of these four day platonic love affairs with a female Serbian theatre colleague in Istanbul when together we survived some horrific living conditions, a terrifying taxi ride when we were nearly abducted on some dark back streets, a controversial international peace conference, and a stolen hotel room where we had to pretend to be someone else and giggled all night. She and I kept choosing each other to eat, walk, drive and adventure with among the hundreds of people at the conference. We became fast and loyal friends in those four days. And although our paths have not crossed in the years since, and I do not know when we will see each other again, our endless conversations about theatre, life, love and politics is talk I will never forget.

I recently had another one of these four-day friendships. I met someone here in Prague who seemed immeasurably kind and was hugely traveled and well versed in every aspect of theatre and art for social change. He and I met for coffee and spent the next 9 hours talking. We were clearly kindred spirits. We met over the next three days saw theatre together, spoke about family, children, refugees, borders and the life long question of home and belonging. We spoke about being Jewish and on the last day I saw him we went to the Jewish Quarter to explore a shared heritage and our mixed feelings about prayer, tradition, Israel, holidays and passing on this ethnicity to future generations. I didn’t know it but during this exploration when my guard was down and my emotions high, my pockets were picked and I was robbed of phone, credit cards, money, identification and security.

Before I realized this, and hurriedly left him, never to say goodbye as I was swept off to police stations and then to an already planned evening with other theatre folks who lured me into delicious forgetfulness with wine and discourse. He left Prague early the next morning and I am not sure if we will ever speak or see each other again.

But before our friendship was broken off suddenly we had a long intense walk that I think I will always remember. We walked along the river in Prague past the parked boats and the glorious bridges. It was very cold and I had lent him my wool cap. I began to talk about my mother. I am not sure why. He kept asking and I kept talking. I told him the details of her mental illness, and her drug and alcohol addiction. I told of her beauty and her fierce charismatic charm. I told him about her wild generosity and her sudden cruelty. My fear and her fury. I told his that I didn’t see her for 17 years because she wouldn’t see me or meet my children. I told him how she lived in terrible poverty saving her money for me, which I was surprised with after her death from cancer. I told him of the visit when I brought my two daughters to finally meet her and she spoke in disjointed sentences, the cancer already in her brain. I told him that all she had were tattered clothes, a few pictures of the bridge over the Mississippi River her grandmother jumped off to kill herself. And my father’s book (a man she had divorced 40 years before) and the Complete Works of Shakespeare. I told him how I read to her from King Lear and how she interrupted me after hours of apparent confusion and said clearly “He wasn’t a very nice fellow was he?” I told him how we left her and she died days later. I told him how she refused a memorial service. How my daughters and I made a plaque with her favorite Bob Dylan lyrics on it and arranged with the U.S. Park Service to place it on a rock in the ancient burial grounds on North Manitou Island in Lake Michigan the place she spent her childhood summers, the place she loved most.

“Oh to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free”

I told him all this tears streaming down my face which perhaps he didn’t see as it was growing darker on the river path. He listened with heartfelt concentration. Just as I finished this deeply personal aria, moved by the names of dead Jews on a Czech synagogue wall, we reached the street where his hotel was and he said,” I will meet you in ten minutes.” But in ten minutes I had discovered that my life was temporarily but hugely altered by theft and I never got the chance to thank him for asking and listening and being such a good friend for four whole days.