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Post details: Crossing the Border

Crossing the Border

When Czechs graduate from High School, they have to pass the so called "maturity exam", which is a harrowing oral examination in four subjects inflicted by a posse of formidable pedagogues. For many people this is where the border between childhood and adulthood lies. This is the first time in their life that a major obstacle needs to be surmounted; their first collision with the wall of responsibility; the first stamp in their passport. Everyone's memory is long emblazoned with this experience and you could infer the level of its intensity from the fact that the chair
on which one prepares for the exam is called the "sweat chair".

As my nephew recently passed his maturity exam, the family headquarters
decided to launch a celebratory trip to a small restaurant ensconced in rocky hills not far from my hometown. I was looking forward to this trip since places that abound in rocks and boulders are featured prominently on my destinations all-star list and any restaurant that lies more than 3 miles away from the nearest paved road gets the special yellow marker treatment. My excitement was further doubled when I learned that instead of a watch dog, the restaurant is guarded by a wild boar named LadyBug. What a naming prowess! Had they had a pet elephant, I bet they would have called it "Puffy". But that's really besides the point, for during our visit, LadyBug was fast asleep and highly negligent of her guarding duties.

When we arrived at the trailhead the clouds that were hanging low stooped
even lower and became a fog that embraced our path with pervasive curiosity. It's not like we could not see anything, the visibility was fine, but the misty veil made all colors come out as an amalgamation of green and grey. All the other colors simply stepped aside and blended into the background. The forest itself was filled with a raw light whose texture was so palpable that our hike resembled fumbling in a maze of invisible cobwebs. Thanks to the subpar weather, there were few souls on the trail, and I would not be the least bit surprised if we ran into assorted trolls, elves, gnomes and fairies. The countryside had suddenly turned into a scene from the Lord of the Rings.

On our way back, as we pushed through the thicket and underbrush on a barely visible spoor, my sister remarked that this is how it must have felt in the 1950s when people were sneaking through the Sumava Mountains and crossing the border into nearby Germany. Thousands were fleeing the prospects of communism at that time, and their escape hatch often lead through the deep woods on our western border and alongside routes known only to local smugglers. Our descent to the car did feel like crossing the border indeed: we were passing from a dreamy movie set into the prosaic reality. And that's pretty much what teenagers do when they pass their maturity exam in high school.



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