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The clink of the silver tray on the table top announces the arrival of our libations. A young waitress places in front of me a beautifully curved carafe accompanied by a slender mixing spoon. On the side of the plate is coconut treat wrapped in cellophane. The carafe holds a misty mixture of water, slices of lemon, and several pieces of freshly cut ginger.

Horký zázvor s medem a citrone. Hot ginger water with honey and lemon.  If Coca-Cola is the “nectar of the Gods,” this drink is clearly meant for Goddesses.

I never do listen to the literature lectures that are held every Monday in the back room of Krásný Ztráty. And I never really read the assigned literature the lectures are based upon. I try, believe me – I got through a good amount of the stuff, and enjoyed all the stories except Kafka’s Amerika. I may have finished To Loud a Solitude but Havel’s The Garden Party was left pages unturned, Bringing Up Girls in Bohemia lost its fire and City Sister Silver remains one of my favorite books, even though I never got to finish it. It’s unfortunate, because the book is nearly impossible to find state-side.

The honorable Tomáš Vrba, acclaimed NYU and Charles University professor, hocks and grunts his way through lectures to the point that I can’t concentrate on the brilliance of his words for fear the man will drop dead at any moment. I bullshit through my reactions to the stories I failed to finish or and create auspicious, post-modern theories about. Mostly I show up because Sarah buys us cafe drinks. I should stick with the cappuccinos – they would save me a lot of drowsy head-bobbing – but the hot ginger with lemon and honey is too good to pass up.

I sip on the stuff and recline in my chair as I tune out the literary discourse and focus on the drug abusers directly outside the cafe’s window. Vrba informs us that a rehabilitation center is located in the alley but it seems to have the opposite effect on visiting addicts – I watch them blatantly shooting up heroin, pissing in public, and every so often, if I was lucky, I catch two of them walking behind a bush and emerging soon after, wiping their mouths.

Smiles, and sex it seems, are the most universal of languages.

It is like watching a human aquarium. As bad as that sounds, it really is an experience. Only the glass separates my world and theirs. Often I wonder if they have half-read the same stories as I at any point in their lives.

The hot ginger with lemon and honey is such a comfort on chilly Czech mornings. If sense-memory holds any water, a glass of that today would take me directly back to that time when the nine of us sat in a horse-shoe and attempted to sound intelligent. Only Tom and Claire really did. But that’s okay.

It was the first time in my life where I wasn’t the smartest person I knew.

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