Tuesday, 8 April 2014

We finally arrived....

After many wrong turns we finally arrived in the small town of Litvinov in the north-west of Czechoslovakia.  My memory tugs and jostles me to a modern 1975 style building of apartments run by the state,  facing the tram terminus and opposite a supermarket shop.  Every hour of the day and night the thrumming sound of the trams setting off or coming to a stop accompanied our days, they would ring their bell each time, presumably to warn folk to get out of the way.  The tinkling sound became to be part of our lives along with the loudspeaker broadcasts blaring around the town several times a day.  As we didn't speak Czech we had no way of knowing what the speaker's were saying although each time the anthem was played so consequently we guessed that the words were meant to be encouraging the Czech workers.  Everywhere there flew long red flags.  Massive, 8-10 feet tall but narrow, not like the usual rectangular flag shape and solid bright bright red, catching the wind flapping and snatching and no doubt once more intended to remind the lovely Czech people of the Soviet presence.
On the ground floor of the apartments in the foyer was an old desk behind which sat a large portly woman dressed in an apron of washed-out material that crossed over her ample bosom and fastened at the back.  To say she was unwelcoming would be a gross understatement, her manner was strict, curt and harsh, demanding our papers by signing and one or two words of English, we came to recognise her as simply,'the Pani'.  She was presumably a loyal party member, possibly even secret-police.  Her power within this building was severe and absolute.  We eventually found our allotted flat on the third floor, along a wide empty corridor with tall windows either end the key echoed in the lock resounding off the bare walls and concrete floor, there was no-one else around.  The door swung open into a tiny hall.  To the right a cramped toilet, a separate bathroom with a door either end one from the hall the other leading into a cupboard-like kitchen with no windows in any of the spaces. One wall of the hall was a cupboard and opposite a door led into a small bedroom containing a flat bench with three cushions as a mattress, nothing else. The last opening showed into the living-room, containing two more flat cushioned benches a kind of cheap dresser and a really old television.  All the partitions were grey-mottled plastic coated metal, but the saving grace was a balcony that looked out over a square grassed and flowered area towards the supermarket and a building that later turned out to be a pub.
We were still standing out on the balcony when a key went into the door and the Pani pushed inside without knocking.  She carried a pile of linen which she threw down onto one of the benches speaking Czech she lifted one of cushions to reveal a duvet stowed beneath and gesturing she indicated she had brought covers for our bedding.  With that she slewed her slippered feet out of the door leaving it standing wide.
The kitchen had two gas rings and a minute oven, the tiny fridge was empty.  All in all it seemed exceedingly stark and drab.
(Still more to follow should you find this of interest)