November, cold and bleary, hard to understand why things work as they do. The beginning of my understanding of some of the Czech systematic segregation and repression of their own people was a gradual process for me and the realization fell upon me like wet cement…
I may have never mentioned my Native American Indian heritage to the government class except for trying to make a good impression on the French-speaking Marcel with long eyelashes and a habit of falling asleep in my classes.
He had told me before he takes two English classes in a row, sometimes three now to improve his English for his position, as the Czech Republic will be the Presidency of the European Union in 2008-9.
The Mala Strana government district is very posh both inside and out. This morning was some kind of media circus with officials making statements to the press. Stepping around it all, I went through the security detection devices as usual before starting my 8:00 class there. The guard is older and only like me for my few words of French. We exchange greetings as he hands me back my bag from the x-ray machine.
I began the class with some questions about the media outside. I learned of the standing of the officials and a little background I would be taking to the pub with me later. We proceeded into some lessons in articles and preposition, ever popular with Czechs who speak a language of declinations, designating the functions of the verb on the sentence with endings rather than extra words. Marcel was resting his chin heavily on his palm, drooping his dark thick eyelashes.
“Mon Chere! Tu est fatigue ou je suis ennuye?” I chided in his direction. He sheepishly lifted his head from his hand,
“Désolé,mademoiselle…” he smiled and shook his head. “Je suis tres fatigue ce matin.”
The class snickered. I would bet most of them didn’t know French but the gist of the conversation was unmistakable.
“We might turn to more interesting topics, now that we have everyone’s attention,” I looked at Marcel with a smile so he would be sure I wasn’t the least bit upset.
“So, let’s talk about Thanksgiving…”
My topic of holidays and foods quickly led to an animated discussion of Native American Indians. Their fascination with Native American culture is due in large part to Karl May, the best-selling German author of all time. In 1892, May published the first of many books about a fictional Apache warrior named Winnetou and his German blood brother, Old Shatterhand. The two men roamed the North American plains, using their nearly superhuman powers to fight off the land-hungry government and thuggish, violent pioneers. (Fans of the stories included Albert Einstein and Adolf Hitler.) In the 1960s the duo were immortalized in five popular films, and hobbyist groups began forming across Europe. Now, grown men spend weekends dressed in loincloths, enjoying sweat lodges and living in tepees.
So, you can imagine how the news of my partial Abernaki line of ancestry went over. As I said, it was mostly to impress Marcel, and it worked. His eyelashes didn’t droop again for the rest of the day.