Drinking Budvar in Bratislava, 1992

I seem to be going through a period of reflection. What with all those little memories that came drifting in the other day… and I just went to the bar and got a bottle of Budvar. Now, I’m no beer connoisseur (gosh, that’s the second time I’ve used that word in 7 postings – I know because I remember it well, one of the few words that I have absolutely no idea how to spell – must resort to the spell-checker every time)… where was I? Oh yeah, I’m no beer connoisseur (3rd time!) and I find it hard enough telling one fizzy lager from another, but there was something about that first mouthful that I took. Suddenly, I was back there, standing on the patio of the Bratislava Economic University (or should that be Ekonomická univerzita v Bratislave)…

The year was 1992, it was summer, and I had travelled with Bridget to what was still (only just) Czechoslovakia, as a delegate to the Council of Europe’s European Youth Forum conference. I met some of the most interesting and memorable people of my life (just a shame that none of them responded to my letters later). Dirk from Germany was my main buddy for the week. (you know what, I just did a search and… think this may be him!), his Spanish girlfriend (Eva?) less so – not that I had a problem with her, she just seemed rather miserable. She was fairly well down the road with muscular dystrophy though, and I guess that misery is the perogative of the seriously disabled. Gabriel, an actor from Romania, was part of the theatre group (Studio 21?) who left a huge emotional mark on me, one night with their perfomance of Ionescu’s The Chairs and a couple of days later with a physical performance echoing the fear, violence, turmoil and above all the helicopters of the last days of the Caucescu regime. Gabriel seemed a lovely guy, we talked in minimal English plus sign language, and he told me of his many experiences playing Jesus (he was the spitting image of your gift-shop Jesus, and had played the role in plays, TV ads etc), which he found ironic, as his surname was Apostol. Isobel was a former prostitute from Portugal, only 25 but wise beyond her years. She had managed with great hardship to abandon her former career, and was now running an advice centre in Lisbon helping others to do the same. I forget the name of others – the Northern Irish guy with the best sense of humor and desire to party in the face of partisan struggles, bombs and all, his female companion, only 16 but with the most perfect body imaginable and a simple black dress that did it enormous justice, the Slovenian guy who had hitch-hiked the whole of Europe, and gave us invaluable advice for our return hitch to England (our train tickets had been stolen, along with my camera, on the outward journey by Gypsies from Brno), the gorgeous arabic-looking French girl from the slums of Marseilles, who did not speak a word of English and would slump on the steps of the lecture theatre puffing at a cigarette between sessions, the party from Iceland, for whom life was a nihilistic party and they were supplying the vodka, whose smashed bottle I danced barefoot over regardless and painless, and of course the many, many other beautiful women from Czechoslovakia, Slovenia and Romania.

And every night, after long sessions of debate translated into 4 languages through an elaborate maze of headphones, we gathered on the patio and swigged Budvar as we talked, danced, and formed new international pacts.