While I am highly sensitive to pleasant surroundings (or unpleasant, for that matter), over the years I have found that the most important factor in my feeling at home in an area seems to be the sort of companionship found there.
Curiously, good companionship seems to be found in conjunction with relatively attractive settings, but the reasons for that are really beyond the scope of this post (primarily because I don’t by any means know the answer).
As I lived in the Bay Area for nineteen years, I do have quite a few friends there. Perhaps my only complaint was that they were scattered all over the greater metropolitan area and it usually took some planning to see any of them.
About two weeks prior to my first moving away for grad school, I was invited to a party where I met Cesar, who happened to be a fellow UCSC alum. (Over the years, we have even identified some mutual friends from undergraduate life.) By some odd twist of fate, we managed to become close friends largely via email. Through Cesar, I got to know John, who had also gone east for grad school.
As it happens, the two of them are part of a close and interesting group of friends, most of whom live (or once lived) in the same general neighborhood. Cesar and John’s friends immediately accepted me into their circle, which has been a very fine thing. This also explains why, when Cesar and I decided at the very last minute to throw a party prior to my departure at the end of the summer, the only guests who weren’t Cesar and John’s friends were Megan (who had just moved to the Bay Area after a language class in Venezuela, I suppose to get the sound of Czech out of her head) and Mark, whom I had known since our undergraduate days, although our level of communication has always been intermittent at best.
It was a fine party. Megan and I brought a large quantity of excellent cheese, and there were various other things to eat and drink. Megan was soon in deep conversation with several people about Venezuelan politics, a subject about which I know nothing, but which I was interested to see was of burning interest to a surprising number of well-informed discussants. The situation in Mexico, about which I knew at least somewhat more, was also discussed at length. The atmosphere was very relaxed and friendly, and I got to talk to several people I hadn’t seen in a year or more.
Later in the evening John and Mark became embroiled in talk over the merits or faults of the avant-garde composer John Cage. I am not sure whether Mark was aware that John’s dissertation is about Cage, but it is enough to say that while the two have many musical interests in common, they do not agree about Cage.
There is nothing very unusual about that, but eventually Cesar’s downstairs neighbor decided she had heard enough about it and the remainder of the party relocated to John’s, where it continued to discuss issues of modernism until about five o’clock in the morning. At that point Megan and I retired to Cesar’s floor, where a futon was awaiting us. Subsequently, John kindly made everyone breakfast.
Since I do not ordinarily stay up so late in San Francisco, I can only conclude that it was Megan’s influence, as she and I certainly stayed up that late in Prague a few times last year.
While I do not tend to stay up that late, or care to dispute about modernism all night, the party and some other times spent with Bay Area friends made me feel right at home. The fact that Megan got along so well with people there also gave me the feeling that different aspects of my life can meld nicely together.
When I then left the Bay Area to come back to Prague, I felt vaguely unwilling to go. Why would I want to leave a place I liked and where I had friends? Why would I want to leave the enchanting Calypso Spots and her charming new beau? Why would I want to leave the environs of the UC Berkeley library and the NRLF, which are so useful to my dissertation?
I had to remind myself that while I am usually happy in the Bay Area, I would enjoy visiting Pittsburgh and Washington, and have been quite happy living in Prague.
My first few days back in Prague were not all that wonderful, what with minor jet lag and having to prepare my Durham conference paper.
Fortunately, though, once I returned from Durham, Prague was ready to greet me properly. Hubert and I were scheduled to help with orientation for new Fulbright students, for which we were getting tickets to Jenufa (or perhaps we were just getting tickets because the Fulbright staff like us, I couldn’t say), and Jesse was arriving on Wednesday afternoon to attend a Hradist’an concert.
The American Embassy was hosting a reception in honor of new Fulbrighters Wednesday 6-8:00, and I had been invited, so I dropped in there prior to meeting Jesse and Štěpanka at the Obecní dům for the concert. I really had no particular expectations of the reception other than that the building would be decorative and that the hors d’oeuvres would be satisfactory. Consequently, I was pleasantly surprised that Embassy personnel recognized me and wanted to chat with me (while it is part of their job to be nice to American scholars with government grants, I still appreciated being the object of their attentions). I also ended up having a long conversation with Shawn, a new grantee from Northwestern. Although his research is more on the Communist era, our interests overlap considerably. At 7:00, however, I had to bid everyone adieu and run off to meet Jesse and Štěpanka.
I was feeling very good after a couple of glasses of Embassy wine and these pleasant conversations. And when I got to the Obecní dům and espied Jesse and Štěpanka waiting for me with my concert ticket, I experienced a great sense of happiness. The Obecní dům is a glorious building, I have been listening to Hradist’an for the past twenty years (more or less), I have a nice place to live and interesting research to do, and even though Megan and Nathan have returned to California, I have some very good friends here.