Just a week ago, on Monday October 6th I got up early in Prague to catch the first train to Kutná Hora . My friends and I wanted to see for ourselves The Bone Church in Victoria Dougherty’s phenomenal novel.
My one hour train ride that morning was with two Europeans with very different youths and perspectives of train rides in Europe. The gentle motion of the train and the even sounds as it moved made our Danish companion state that she had forgotten how relaxing these old trains and their sounds were. The images that flashed through my mind’s eye were full of many memories of my own train rides in the 70s, 80s and as late as 1993.
I was born in Mexico City, Mexico and until ten years ago I travelled under a Mexican passport. As such I chose my train trips with great care and only visiting countries that to me seemed ‘safe’; I did have my share of incidents in the ‘safe countries’ including being held at knife point on one train in France, but that we can save for another story.
The ‘un-safe’ countries I regrettably chose not to visit then, were countries like Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia; all of which I had ample opportunity to visit, in the years I lived in France and Sweden; especially Poland.
My fears and feelings of peril in the then Eastern Bloc Countries stemmed from being a bearer of a Mexican passport; as such I felt that the country it represented would not be able to protect me if I came to any harm in foreign lands. The other reason I chose not to visit Eastern Bloc Countries was the ingrained dread of communist evil. This was a fear well fed by my education in the U.S.A. as well as by my father.
In 1957, my dad in a daze of admiration for the beauty of Russian Architecture managed to separate from the group he was travelling with. He was detained for a few hours by the KGB while it could be confirmed that he was just a young Mexican architect attending the UIA (Union Internationale des Architectes) meeting being hosted by Russia that year. He never really described what happened but for decades he woke up from nightmares in which he was ‘running away from the Russians’.
As the rhythmic sound of the train carried us to Kutná Hora my European companions described their experiences as young European travelers; these were all happy with the feeling of safety the passports of their native lands granted them.
I felt safe that day on that train carrying the passport of the country I have chosen as my own; a country that for all its flaws does grant me the feeling of security the country of my birth did not.
As the famous quote below expresses the scenery in the window and even The Bone Church as seen by our very different experiences in life was interpreted in such different ways.
"What we do see depends mainly on what we look for. … In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them.” John Lubbock
I so wish I could tell you that the fears of my youth were absolutely absurd, but as much as I tried not to watch the news during my trip which on October 3rd were
I avoided the news but they danced around my mind as I visited the bones so carefully displayed as an odd collage sculpture. I looked at the bones and remembered the fabulous book that gave one set of bones a story; albeit a fictional one, and I wondered how many of those souls died in peace and naturally and how many like the Mexican students and Alan Henning died in brutal unnecessary violence.
That evening as Victoria Dougherty presented her novel at the English bookstore THE GLOBE ; she gave us a detailed perspective on her family history explaining how war and Russian occupation had affected her family and the psychological scars that remain.
Her eloquent manner and the choice of reading material kept me very in tune with the moment, it wasn’t until later looking at the photographs we took that night with the Mexican Día de Muertos skull I brought her as a gift on the table in front of us, that I really identified how much each one of us is so shaped by so much; our parents fears and experiences, where we come from and what surrounds us.
On October 9th as I waited to board my plane back to Miami at Heathrow a man next to me was reading a Newspaper in Spanish; the large headline stated that two men had confessed to the murder of the students, I asked him in Spanish if he really thought it was simply two men. In a neutral beautiful Spanish he answered that two had confessed and stated his views; (which I won’t repeat as I have not had the heart to read enough on the sad subject, but which made me very sad). A few minutes later the man’s phone rang and he had a conversation in Perfect French, when it ended I said to him “ Vous Parlez très bien L’espagnol pour un Français.” He smiled and answered “Non, pas pour un Français, pour un Italien.”
In the past few days since I came back state side, I have not heard one person mention the student massacre in Mexico; except for my Mexican contacts in Cyberspace. These tragic deaths should not go un-noticed.
© M.C.V. Egan