After an experience like we had at Auschwitz, I was happy to be able to reflect, as we took the convenient and cheap Prague Airport Express bus the next morning, on our overall experiences behind the former Iron Curtain. Leaving the throngs of foreign tourists clogging the Charles Bridge behind for the more familiar throngs of homicidal maniacs in NYC brought a renewed sense of order to my world, following the previous day's reminder just how close we can bring ourselves as a people to the Gates of Hell.
There was the couple in the window of a massage and pedicure parlor in Wenceslas Square. They were seated on chairs and their bare feet and lower legs dangled relaxingly in a large aquarium filled with black, minnow-sized fish swimming about their human appendages as if their hairy legs were coral reefs. I had never seen anything like it in my life, but Carol apparently had. "The fish are exfoliating their skin," she explained in a dermatological monotone that seemed to ignore the vision for me of an ad for piranha that the parlor had for sale.
Against my usual disposition of a total lack of inquisitiveness, in this instance I wanted to know more, not about the flesh eating fish I was observing in the window, but how Carol knew about them in such an unaffected way. But then I remembered her description of another "beauty aid" she was aware of called "threading" that involved (as near as I could fathom it) flossing one's face to remove unwanted hair, and I changed my mind.
Another time we'd stopped at a souvenir arcade near the Charles Bridge. Carol wanted a genuine artifact to mark our visit to Prague for our growing travel tchotchke collection back at home. She settled on a set of nesting dolls, authentically made in China that were anyway of Russian origin. No matter.
Here my thoughts wandered aimlessly to the first carver of these dolls. I imagined a Village Idiot somewhere far out on the Russian Steppe, who after decades of whittling wood into piles of shavings, wound up with something vaguely akin to a human form. His wife, also a registered Idiot of the village painted a face and a dress on it. Amused for days on end (the Idiots, no doubt believing they had created a child together, began carving more and more of these figures.)
There was still some time left before arriving at the Prague airport, so I continued my inquiries in these Idiots' lives. I thought of their hovel now quite overrun with these dolls, as if they were tribbles. Then one day, a relative (another Idiot from a nearby village) suggested hollowing them out and making each progressively smaller. In no time, the overpopulation of dolls disappeared into each other. One day they were visited by a traveling salesman (known simply to the villagers as the Real Idiot), and the rest as they say, is history.
Later, along the river Vltava, we discovered a concession of large, clear, balloonlike bubbles into which children entered and then set out upon the water like hamsters inside their wheels. The concession was called Walk on Water, though there was precious little walking being accomplished. Even Carol had seen nothing like it, at least as far as a water-based amusement was concerned.
In thinking back on all of this as we awaited our flight home, I realized I'd learned something important about travel: it is the odd, the mundane, the simple, along with the inexplicable that truly sustains us as a species. That given sufficient free time, we will choose the silly and mindless over the truly unspeakable aspects of our nature. As I observe the set of nesting dolls here at home against the backdrop of genocide. it occurs to me that in the long run, it's far better for us to behave like idiots than it is as ideologues. Against such a backdrop, even the silliest of human enterprise becomes fraught with meaning and purpose. It helps keep us sane when compelled to contemplate the unspeakable.