All of a sudden, I felt back in Central Europe during the Cold War.
But this was Washington, D.C., on October 30, 2010.
In Prague, working with the Jazz Section, I used the small garden of my "official" residence near the Vltava river (with its then ever-present swans) as a venue for Jazz concerts. Most of the Czechs attending these events were "dissidents" -- a hard word to define, but meaning persons (mostly young) who looked beyond the narrow, parochial views of a dinosaur communist regime. Humor and irony were an essential part of their politics. Living in an Orwellian society in many ways absurd, they used as sanity tools gentle you-know-what-I-mean winks, and, above all, music. Least on their minds was violence.
Our last jazz "concert" took place in a tram. The Section somehow got hold of a city tram and off we were -- about thirty of us -- in the tram, riding around downtown Prague, in the heart of communist-controlled Central Europe, for some two hours, with jazz music blasting from a tape recorder, drinking Soviet (if I remember its provenance correctly) champagne. A great American jazz group, the Louisiana Repertory Jazz Ensemble, happened to be in zlata Praha at the time, and took part in the on-rail festivities. Talk about a magical mystery tour!
In Krakow, home of one of Europe's oldest universities, the Piwnica pod Baranami, a cabaret full of wit and energy, was kind (and courageous) enough to establish contact with American diplomats. Its stellar cellar performances on late-night occasions were highlighted by the singing of Anna Szałapak, with whom it was impossible not to fall in love. After the cabaret returned from the United States on a tour, a reception was held in its honor at the American Consulate in Krakow. The leader of the group, the unforgettable Piotr Skrzynecki, brought his pet goat to the party.
I can see Piotr at the rally yesterday. He doubtless would have brought his goat with him.
Skrzynecki image from