Sometimes I daydream about what it would be like if I lived in the 1960s. I am wearing a long, flowing skirt, one that grazes my ankles and occasionally tickles my toes as I walk barefoot through the grass. It is an olive green color as I have always been drawn to the dark, tranquil hue. A loose fitting cotton white shirt, embroidered with a faint floral design, hangs loosely against my upper body. Naturally, there is a crown of dandelions that regularly falls off of my long, brown, braided hair. It is early May and I am surrounded by friends, one who is most likely strumming away at the guitar. I am part of the peace movement, regularly advocating for the end of the war and free flowing love.
Upon relocating to Europe, I knew that I would have to learn a new history and search to understand an unfamiliar mentality. After close to two months of being here, it has started to sink in. No longer can my fantasies of the generation that I have always adored be strictly based on my dad’s stories of fighting against the war in Vietnam and movies narrated through the poetic lyrics of The Beatles.
So, now I sit here in Prague and think, oh to be born in the 1960s – a time of restriction and mandatory obedience. I would crave to be unique, as individuality was desired far more often than it was acquired. I would covet the Coca Cola that in my American life I never drink, because in this new memory, it is a luxury, a symbol of a freedom only offered in the west.
All of a sudden, I miss my visions of flower power in the 70s, grunge rock and roll in the 80s, and snap bracelets in the 90s. Here in the Czech Republic, the former Czechoslovakia, those recollections don’t exist.
This past Monday, November 17, 2014, marked the 25th anniversary of the start of the Velvet Revolution, the series of demonstrations against the one-party government of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. The final result of this uprising was the end of 41 years of Communist rule and a transition to a parliamentary republic.
As an American, as a photojournalist, and as a traveler, what I experienced during the commemorations of this historical event was a joyous, cultural experience. One that provided insight into the lives of the personalities that I have been meeting over the past few weeks. I walked up and down the streets of the festival for hours. I watched the crowd, taking special notice to the wide range of ages that took part in this national holiday, imagining all of stories that could be shared.
There were young people, old people, families, partying teens, friends, colleagues, and on occasion, some fellow foreigners. Throughout the day, candles were lit in honor of those who died during the times of communism and an organized vigil was held later in the evening. The loud rhythms of rock bands resonated against the old architecture and aspiring DJs energized dance parties inside of trams located along the closed off street. A parade took place in the afternoon and many who participated disguised themselves in caricature masks that highlighted criticisms of present day political issues. Street vendors sold coffee, beer, hot wine, and traditional Czech cuisine. And to top it off, two energetic young men dressed in communist police attire ran around ironically trying to control the fun.
At one point in the late afternoon, I passed by a man who must have been close to 75, perhaps the patriarch of his family. He took a hearty sip of Becherovka, a popular Czech liquor, before capping it and handing it back to his wife to store in her purse. I couldn't help but smile and draw some joy from this moment. It reminded me of the social scene of my adolescence, hiding booze in the large pockets of some friend's puffy winter coat. I thought to myself, if anyone deserves to drink this way, it is this guy, who was born no later than in the midst of the Second World War and survived over 40 years of fear.
I am still early in my education about this part of the world. I am hungry for information and eager to be immersed in what I grew up so far from. My curiosities are fueled by a series of questions. I constantly wonder about the disconnect between generations and am fascinated by the way in which personal history here is internalized. I yearn to understand the perspectives and memories of those who sit next to me on the metro and walk past me on the sidewalks. How do they view the world? What is their version of history? What do they daydream about?
*All photographs taken in Prague on November 17, 2014 during the street festival commemorating 25 years since the start of the Velvet Revolution.*