It has been a good twelve(?) years since I last visited the Czech republic. All I can recall of the language right now, off the top of my head are some pleasantries, how to order 1,2,3,4 or 5 beers and "DANGER! Hedgehog!" This morning I had a "lucid" dream that was entirely in Czech for some reason. I know that the fluent "pub" Czech I knew back when I "lived" there is still tucked away in my brain, dehydrated and needs imersion to blow up like a novelty sponge business-card. I know this because of the dream. I know this because twelve years ago I only remembered how to say "Danger! Hedgehog!" but after a day or two of drinking beer with heads so thick you can float dimes, I was back up to speed and yammering about Betchkas and Uz Me Doma and all the crap I can't remember about on the barstool. Just like I had never left.
But that's not what this is about. Czech, like most languages except English, have some words that are so stunningly beautiful and serendipitous that it is nearly impossible to translate the actual sentiment. Take for example: one evening my friend Hugo and I were sitting on the stoop finishing off a couple bottles of Radegast and a pint of Slivovice. Smoking Petras and not saying much out loud, the way that two old friends who are enjoying a near perfect evening and are sharing moonshine in an old careworn way are wont to do.
It was late, the neighborhood was silent of all humanity but the most distant sound of a Vlak making its way along the rails. Out of the darkness one of the Gypsies who lived a couple doors down, fifteen packed into a two bedroom, infamous for grand public stabbings of one another on the lawn with stilettos in the grand Romany tradition; One of those Gypsies silently pedaled out of the dark on one of the two bicycles the fifteen were always bickering over.
When he came upon us he stopped and gestured for a Petra, Hugo gave him the smoke. I handed him the bottle. While still straddling the bike he took the cigarette, took a swig, put match to tobacco and took a long drag. You could tell by the pull he took the pull (both on the bottle and the smoke) that he was coming home from a very long, difficult day. None of us had said a word.
As he exhaled, slowly and deliberately, he looked all around our little moment in the dark like he was about to tell us a secret. Or maybe he was looking around to take it all in, despite the familiarity. He looked around like a Romany buzzardl, smoke like spanish moss from his oversized beak. He looked around and said one word to Hugo. One word, and he remounted the bicycle and pedaled the seventy or so feet to the stabbing lawn, as Hugo softly replied: Yo...yo. In agreement. It was so still that you just knew the Gypsy could hear the soft agreement all the way over by the bloodfed grass.
Once he was in the Gypsy Den, I asked Hugo what the he had said. I didn't think I had ever heard the word before. I tell Hugo this and Hugo paused and rubbed his stubble for a few beats longer than I expected. I started to get the idea that Hugo didn't want to translate for some reason. But then he broke his silent beats by starting out: "Med" all my friends over there called me Med. They called me "Honey". Hugo said: "Med, it's hard to tell you what he said. There is no English for that word. The closest thing I can say is that the word means 'it is such a nice night to just sit and think about nothing, no?"
And it was, and I was fortunate enough to understand exactly what that word meant.
(and that's not even the word I was going to write about...)