Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Simple little twists of fate...

I am constantly amazed at the little coincidences in life. The little out of the ordinary things that happen despite great odds against them happening. Each of the last two days I have left the office at lunchtime to look at a few hotels for an upcoming visit by family. We haven't had to utilize a hotel in Prague so I wanted to visit a few in the price range to be able to make a recommendation.

Anyway, on Tuesday I had visited one and was on my way to another near Old Town square when I passed an older gentleman who was obviously asking a waitress in one of the numerous sidewalk cafes for directions. I thought nothing of it since it is a scene that is repeated thousands of times every day in Prague. In any event, I was having some difficulties of my own trying to find the next candidate hotel, so stopped at the corner and drew out my map to get a fix. As I stood there the older gentleman passed me on the corner, looked at me and turned back to approach me. "Do you know where the Grand Hotel Bohemia is", he asked. I was just about to say that I didn't when he added "It's near the Powder Tower". I was pretty sure I knew where the Powder Tower. He was very frustrated at being lost, and seemed genuinely confused in such a way that I would be very concerned to see the same look in a close relative. I suppose I could have pointed in the general direction of the Powder Tower and said "That way about three blocks", but I sensed that he might need more help than that, so I abandoned my task to find his hotel.

During our walk I found out that his name (or at least his nickname) was "Hack" and that he was in Prague for a few days with his wife and a tour group. They had been in Prague seven years earlier so they decided to skip the group's tour of the castle and instead go their own way for a few hours. He works for the department of Homeland Security and what I asked what he did his only reply was "administration" but I didn't press - there are some organizations where you don't press such things (others are the NSA and CIA).

As we approached the Powder Tower he knew that his hotel was nearby but it took another ten minutes of circling in until we found the entrance. Hack's relief at being back in familiar territory was palpable and he called his wife,who was up in their room, form the front desk and asked her to come down to the lobby bar. Hack offered me a beer as a token of his appreciation. And while a few years ago I would have politely turned him down - no need, not a big deal, you would done the same for me - I accepted with relish.


Here is the Powder Tower

His wife joined us presently and we proceeded to enjoy a fine Czech beer (aren't they all?) and have a very nice chat. His wife, whose name I didn't catch since Hack never really introduced us, was born in Latvia before emigrating to the US as a young girl. She told the story of her and Hack being in Budapest a few days before and she went on a Danube river cruise where headphones were provided with commentary in multiple languages, including, it said, Latvian. Excitedly she turned on the Latvian channel to be shocked to find that it was actually not Latvian at all, but Russian. You could just hear the disgust in her voice. Latvians don't like the Russians (Czechs don't like the Russians, Poles don't like the Russians, just about no one likes the Russians)***.


Here is the bar at the Grand Hotel Bohemia where we had a beer.

I finished my beer and bid a fond farewell. I thought later that I should have invited them to Radio Free Europe to show them around or to attend our daily editorial meeting. Hack and I exchanged business cards but I don't know if we will ever correspond or talk again. Even if we don't, it was one of those little things that happen to break up the routine. I wish them well.

*** What's not to like. A poll that just came out, reported today on the Drudge Report, shows that young Russians admire Josef Stalin and feel that all the bad things that history says he did (like murder 20 million of his own people) either didn't occur at all or are exaggerations.

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