This year marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the "Iron Curtain." As much as I've tried to explain what it was like to Cameron and Caroline, I'm finding it difficult to describe the political climate of my childhood - where it was the "commies" instead of the terrorists trying to take away our freedom; where the Cold War dominated the TV news and yellow and black fallout shelter signs still decorated the halls of most public buildings.
As much as I love eastern Europe (more on that love in later posts) the physical remains of communism still dominate parts of the landscape and certain sections of most cities. The stark and ugly concrete apartment buildings, like monolithic, proletariat ghosts appear in every population center as well as in unexpected places. We were driving through a small, rural town in Poland and suddenly they appeared. Cameron shot this image while we were driving. Many windows were gone and they looked deserted. Being well away from any large city, I wondered if they had been built for farm workers.
We made our way into Bratislava, partly by accident and partly by "oh well, might as well." No doubt due to the lack of planning we drove around in a section of the city that was less than attractive. "Urban blight" came to mind and being a child of the 60's, I must admit the memory of "KGB" did as well. For a second or two I was sucked back in time to one of those Communist places Walter Cronkite had warned us of - where people went, never to be seen again.
When we finally found our hotel, unpacked, showered and sat down to have dinner, Cameron glanced out the window and said, "Hey, isn't that our seal?" I thought she was referring to a zoo animal and gave her a "are you nuts?" kind of look. When we later walked out onto the square I broke into a huge smile and thought of T.J. Greaney's June 5th article in the Columbia Tribune
that I had read online from Italy only the week before. The stars and stripes were indeed flying over the square. It was the American Embassy and thus began the evenings civic lesson. I explained that if there were some horrible disaster, either natural or man-made, the Embassy would be the first place we would go. Caroline smiled and seemed very proud to know that as an American citizen, the Marines at the embassy would protect her - even whisk her away in a helicopter if necessary. I'm sure it sounded very adventuresome and romantic to an eleven year old. To tell the truth, there was something very comforting to an old Mom about having them there even with the KGB 20 years gone. ;)