What is the point at which you know that you will spend the rest of your life as an expat in Brno? In other words, when do you know that you will not return to live in your native land?
This is not a flippant question. The answer defines us as expats. It establishes the foundation for the many introductions that we make, the biographies that we provide and the eventual obituary that will memorialize the life that we lived.
So, what is the answer: when do you know that Brno is your last stop?
– Is it when you fall in love and get married in the cathedral?
– Is it when you have a kid? Or is it the second one?
– Is it when those kids enter school and start to put down their own roots?
– Might it be when you reach the point where restarting your professional career back home would be too impractical?
– Is it when you stop translating the cost of a beer into dollars?
– Is it when you care more about what happens to FC Zbrojovka than how the Chicago White Sox are playing?
– Is it when you look forward to Velka Pardubicka more than the Kentucky Derby?
– Could it be when you have gone to more funerals here than in your native country?
There are endless factors that go into these kinds of life decisions. Clearly, everyone comes to their own answer, and adjusts according to changing realities. For some, it is an easy calculation. For others, it can be a daily battle, and a source of great regret at not having left earlier.
For me, I have seemingly reached the final verdict: I now have the opportunity to build the home library of my dreams — it is time to get all of my books shipped to Brno.
* * *
The 92-year-old semi-attached house into which I married has been a constant struggle to maintain. Then two years ago, it literally sprang a leak.
In the farthest, darkest corner of the dusty attic, a shingle had apparently moved such that water was pooling inside. Eventually, the water worked its way through the floor and dripped right next to the bed of my infant daughter.
Now, after more than six months and a lot of money, the roof has been replaced and the attic has been transformed into a large open space that is obstructed only by three wooden pillars and the central chimney. I have a home office that looks out over the backyard garden and South Brno. The northern corner serves as a large play area for the kids. There is a day bed for naps. And my weight bench is against the east wall.
The west wall is where I want my home library. It has 20 meters of shelves. Now I need my books.
* * *
A few dozen books that I have bought during the 13 years of my life in Brno are already here. The majority of the books that I have bought in my life are not. They are in plastic crates in the basement of my mother’s house in southeastern Washington state. I always knew that as soon as I was set up wherever I ended up that I would get these books shipped to me.
I want the books that I bought when I was a teenager who dreamed of punching above his intellectual weight. I want all of the philosophy books that I skimmed during university so that I can reread them and soak in their ideas more efficiently. I want all of my textbooks. My college biology text was amazing; I fondly recall the graphic explanations and wish that I have them when I teach STEM classes online for the Center for Talented Youth.
I want my journals. I want my poetry books and I want all of the short story anthologies. I want the books of quotes and the almanacs.
I want to dedicate three shelves simply to actual multi-volume encyclopedias.
I want to see the notes that I wrote into the margins and consider how ignorant I was back then and how worldly I am now. It would be like a time capsule that would mean nothing to anyone but me.
None of these books would be worth more than a dollar at a used book shop; yet, they are invaluable to me. Which means, of course, that I will have to pay dearly to get them here. Tens of thousands of Czech crowns sounds like the number, even if they are tucked away in a shipping container on a slow boat across the Atlantic. Apparently Czech customs would also need to take their cut because I have lived here for more than a year.
In any case, that is the new goal: I want to consolidate the symbols of my lifelong learning in my new home library.
The next step will be finding the perfect chair in which to read and reread all of these books.
That would be the point of no return — or, at least, the point of never leaving Brno.