from Raising Girls in Bohemia: Meditations of an American Father (a memoir in essays)
Czech, Italian, Mexican Cuisine
My daughters have grown up in the midst of writers, some famous, most not. Every summer of their lives they have witnessed their mother and me transform into the in-country coordinator and director, respectively, of a program that constitutes a community of a hundred to a hundred and fifty, mostly American, aspiring and established literati. During each year leading up to start time, the Saturday preceding the first Monday of July, they’ve heard essentially the same conversations between their mother and me, the same amicable, professional conflicts and conflict resolutions.
My ex-wife’s and my professional relationship is eerily unchanged from when we were married. The fact that we are so efficient at compartmentalization is perhaps, ironically, one reason our marriage failed, but that’s another matter. Suffice it to say that our failed marriage notwithstanding, our partnership, parental and professional, at least so far, thrives.
And the professional aspect of our partnership centers on annually mounting and executing (of course with the assistance of talented colleagues) an academic program that is entering its eighteenth year, and that resonates significantly in the far-flung, academic/cottage industry of creative writing.
On Sinkulova in Prague 4, near Vysehrad, the park on a hill overlooking the Vltava where the most ancient vestiges of Prague culture are commemorated, stands the five-story apartment building my ex-wife owns with her lawyer brother. Since the divorce, when the girls and I are in Prague I reside in an apartment on the PRIZAMI, the ground floor, and the three girls shuttle between my space and their mother’s on the fourth floor. The two older girls are not happy about the divorce (our five-year-old Ellie, alas, is oblivious), but are adjusting well in no small part because their mother and I have managed our rancor quite deftly.
And, indeed, the Prague Summer Program, our mutual investment that lies vaulted so much deeper than monetary necessity, an investment not unlike parenting, mitigates our rancor. Dominika’s ego investment in the Program has virtually nothing to do with art and pedagogy. Brilliant and insightful but void of artistic ambition and lacking much aesthetic sense, she relishes managing the infrastructure of the program, making the proverbial trains run on time, which she does exceedingly well. My own ego investment is more complex, precisely because of my ambition.
On Sinkulova, just two doors down from my ex-wife’s building, is the Worst Restaurant in the Free World, as that world has expanded to include Central Europe since 1989. If there is a worse restaurant, in Warsaw or Cleveland, Bratislava or Iowa City, it would be worthwhile to dine there simply for the uniquely negative experience, rather in the spirit of attending an elementary-school musical performance: One’s tenderness towards existence may be deepened by an affection for the performers, their flawed humanity, that is very much in spite of the quality of their performance. Continue reading