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June 24, 2002

A Reminder About Life Befor...

A Reminder About Life Before and After Communism: Lawrence Weschler, a fine writer, contributed a little travel essay about Krakow in the recent Atlantic. Krakow, for those of you who haven't been there, is one of the most enchanting towns in all of Central Europe. One day, I'll force my friend Charlie Hornberger to sit down and write about the mind-altering street performance art we witnessed one magical night on the massive main square....

There are a variety of reactions I get, when I tell people I lived over there for a long time. One response, typical of middle-aged left-of-center Americans, goes something like this: "Oh, Prague (or Budapest)? [worried look] Is it still beautiful, or has it been ruined?" By capitalism and tourists, presumably. I was asked this in Cuba by most every socialist American I met there (the Cubans, meanwhile, wanted to hear about all the cool new stuff the Czechs and Hungarians were up to). I was asked a variation on this question just last week. Here is as good a response as any, in the form of Weschler's description:

Fifteen years ago, when the country was under martial law, I used to visit the town as a foreign correspondent, and in those days the Market Square was a dispiriting, dispirited place, often choked by a thick industrial haze, the passersby terminally glum, the state-owned shops closing up tight by early nightfall. The collapse of communism shut down some of the most egregiously polluting industrial behemoths, including parts of Nowa Huta — and the air is much clearer. In addition, the transition unleashed entrepreneurial energies, with cafés and bars and shops and beer gardens opening up in seemingly every nook and corner. In summer the square teems, a happily roiling carnival every night till well past two.

Posted by at June 24, 2002 01:06 PM

Why -- it's just ruined! Simply ruined!
[/end sarcasm]

Posted by: Andrea Harris at June 24, 2002 10:06 PM
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