I’m writing this on a train in Eastern Europe between Budapest and Prague. Don't know when I'll be able to post it. Probably most of you aren’t old enough to really remember the Cold War. You weren’t raised with an expectation of imminent nuclear apocalypse or inundated with stories of a shadowy underworld of spies and assassins who were just barely keeping the world from the brink.
Budapest and Prague (and Berlin, but that’s not on the itinerary this time) were staples of these stories. Messages passed in cafes and beer halls; secret signals; beautiful, seductive counter-intelligence agents; desperate knife fights in alleys; a satchel bomb always ticking down to zero…
Both are tourist towns now. Big, beautiful (but I am coming to find that ‘big city’ and ‘dirty’ seem to always come together). Cleaner and less depressing (I am told) than they were under Soviet control. The business of the day is business and people are working, studying and making connections.
It’s still cool to be here. One of those childhood fantasies (“I want to be a spy when I grow up”) almost fulfilled. Almost. No world to save. Extremely limited numbers of damsels in distress. Agents and operatives? Check, but significantly more talking, eating and drinking than fighting happens… and that’s cool.
So, in the International Man of Mystery qualifications category—
Beautiful Eastern-bloc refugee wife.
Keys to apartments in Boston and Athens.
Metro tickets in the wallet for two coastal cities.
Passport stamps that sometimes get me detained.
Cover story? “I’m a writer, just in the country to do a little research…”
And, most important of all, some very, very cool friends in some very interesting positions.