I went to Peter Sis’s talk at Dominican University last night, hosted by Book Passage. Although I was never familiar with his work as a children’s author and illustrator, ever since my year in Prague a billion years ago I’ve always loved the spirit and the humor of the Czechs, and so I felt compelled to see if maybe he would stir up my own memories. I knew, however, that his talk would focus primarily on the events surrounding the end of the Prague Spring of 1968, when the Soviet tanks rolled into town to squash any freedom and creativity stirring in the streets.
I was in Prague in 1993-94, four years after the fall of communism, when McDonald’s was new and soon the Vltava would be flowing with Coca Cola. Everyone said life was so different now. Nothing like before. It was still an adjustment for me. Many times when I was out taking photos of things that interested me, I was accused of being a spy. Even Michal, who, with his wife Marketa, hosted me in his apartment on Závěrka Street, didn’t want me to take a picture of the old Trabant covered in teddy bear stickers outside their window. He didn’t want these dismal images going back to the U.S.
But they weren’t dismal to me. It was proof to me that that no matter how hard a regime tries to shut a people down, bulbs of their individuality will sprout up through the cracks and crevices, even on an old Trabant.
Peter Sis is one of those bulbs. At the end of his presentation he showed us this five minute promotional piece for his autobiographical, and fully illustrated, piece called The Wall. He said that it makes many of those those who lived through that Prague Spring in ’68 cry because it wakes up long dormant memories. I cried, and struggled to stifle it, because at last I had seen the images of an innocent generation that would later welcome me as one of their own, and touch me for life.