Saturday, April 22, 2006

Eastern Surprises

I remember my first visit to Europe: a video assignment in Prague, the Czech Republic, and in Kiev, Ukraine. I wasn’t expecting too much, honestly, traveling in the eastern parts of Europe...

Growing up during the waning years of the Cold War between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, my impressionable worldview was shaped such that everything good and beautiful and noble was Western and Capitalist... And everything evil and ugly and sinister was Eastern and Communist. Of course, I don’t remember this as being a deliberate program of propaganda -- propagated by my parents or my school teachers. But popular films and television programs and the evening news were definitely slanted. And discussing possibilities of nuclear holocaust in school (I even remember running drills where we’d climb under our desks as if to shelter us from the white hot blast of radiation from a nuclear detonation) -- everything fueled by the vernacular fear of the “Commies” -- I was convinced that nothing good could come from anywhere East of Berlin.

Yet on that trip in 2000, my first visit to Europe, I was shocked by the breathtaking beauty of Prague and the gracious people of Kiev. I couldn’t stop taking pictures, and the memories of that trip still bring a smile to my face. I had expected gray skies, soulless cubic structures forged out of concrete and cinder-block, heavy-jowled people looking sad and angry... so I was completely surprised to see charming cobblestone streets, magnificent baroque spires on spectacular cathedrals, and happy violin players that I encountered in these Eastern European cities. I was charmed. To this date, Prague remains a “top three” city, out of all the parts of the world that I’ve been able to visit...

Budapest is another magnificent city that has enchanted me each time that I’ve seen it. Getting to walk the streets of the city again this week with my son, Elliot, I was again surprised by its beauty and grandeur... Another “Eastern European city” from the former “Communist Bloc” that looks more like a fairy tale than a horror story.

Evil, ugly, and sinister, huh? I guess I was wrong...


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