The resilience of Slovakia and Eva Lipakova

Eva Lipakova is a spry octogenarian.  Her eyes twinkle as she spins her yarns of a life in Czechoslovakia.    She spent the prime of her life in a communist country – studying English and awaiting the day when free travel returned.  When the border opened, Eva packed her bags.  Over the past 20 years, she has made up for lost time.  When we met for dinner, Eva had just returned from Spain, earlier in the year she visited Istanbul, Turkey.  Life is a long cool drink after a parching dry spell.

Eva talks of Korzo and a Czechoslovakia which no longer exists.  Like octogenarians everywhere, she rues the lost traditions of her youth.  She remembers Ignac Lamar, memorialized as “Schone Naci” outside the Mayer Cafe near old town square.  He was an eccentric, a bit mad in his dotage, who dressed in top coat and tails passing out flowers to the women of Bratislava.  Lots of rumors exist about Ignac, but Eva knew him.  I love it when I get a front row seat to history.

By and large her memories are happy, upbeat.  “We all love our country”, she casually asserts.  In the next breath she tells me that 25 years ago, she would have been arrested for having dinner with an American.  Someone would have seen her and might have told the authorities.  It was too great a risk.  Trust was not part of the culture.  Her husband’s family moved to Germany before communism.  For nearly 50 years the two sides of the family could not communicate.  Each knew receiving letters from the west could be dangerous to the family members in Bratislava.  So to protect loved ones, letters were not exchanged for nearly half a century.

My great grandmother lived to be 103.  Her stories were wonderful – a world I couldn’t imagine.  Eva tales are reminiscent of my grandmother’s.    Eva told me of her husband who earned his PhD as an economist.  Also in his 80s, he remains an active academic.  However, until the fall of communism, his degree languished incomplete.  He was from the “wrong family” to be allotted the privilege of receiving his advanced degree.   Eva also tells of her grandmother who was sent to the United States in an arranged marriage.  After arriving in her new home, her grandmother didn’t much like the  selected husband.  Her family couldn’t – or wouldn’t – pay the return fare.  Her grandmother gutted it out, eventually having eight children.  Eva clearly hails from a hearty and resilient stock.

Our dinner was both a sobering and uplifting conversation; the sad reality of every day life juxtaposed with happy memories, eventual free travel.  Her love for a country which made much of her life difficult is amazing.  I asked Eva where she went when the borders opened.  She didn’t hesitate, “to Vienna for a coffee.”.    I laughed.  Such a simple trip – less than an hour drive.  I expected her to respond Paris or London or Rome.  But no, Vienna – that lovely, elusive western city which for fifty years sat so close yet just so tantalizingly out of reach.

Categories: Insiders Bratislava

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