It was just after six o’clock in Prague when one of my roommates, Barton, a tall, laconic Texan who had been a basketball star in his youth, entered our flat in Vinohrady and said with characteristic stoicism, “Someone blew up the Twin Towers.” He might as well have been talking about the Laundromat changing its weekend hours, judging by his tone.
It was a Tuesday (as you know), and Barton was returning from his afternoon duties teaching business English to a crew of budding capitalists somewhere downtown. I had been home for a few hours after wrapping up my own classes in Malá Strana, at a private language school next to the American Embassy and just a stone’s throw from Prague Castle. My other roommate, Clay, a Texan and a childhood friend of Barton’s, had spent the day at the flat, smoking European cigarettes, debating man’s place in the universe, and devising plans to publish an expatriate newspaper called The Village Idiot (which, sadly, never came to pass).
Barton, having just learned of the attacks via text, was scant on information. There was no television in the flat and no Internet service. Anxious, we fired off a volley of frantic texts and arranged to meet our friend Tom at a pub in Žižkov, where he said a TV could be found.
The pub (I forget its name) was one of those nondescript watering holes in Žižkov that bore all the hallmarks of midwinter Soviet charm: decades-old red tablecloth, bad lighting, old bartender with a grizzled beard. Žižkov, where I lived months later, has always been a working-class stronghold and even carried the sobriquet “Red Žižkov” prior to the Velvet Revolution. It was easy to see why.
Tom was sitting alone at a long table not far from the television when we arrived. We all hugged, took a seat, and for the next few hours, over pint after pint of Gambrinus, watched the scenes of carnage unfold on the screen as a Prague newscaster delivered the rundown in Czech, a language that fell on deaf ears and only added to our sense of disorientation.
The next morning, as I made my way to class, I saw a crowd gathered in front of the American Embassy. Flowers and various condolences were strewn over the ancient cobblestones. Many of my Czech friends extended sympathies that week, but it wasn’t long before you caught a whiff of “America had it coming” by the odd expatriate at the bar, a sentiment that was hard to hear at the time.