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June 17, 2008

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Spent the day on my fave forms of wheeled transport--bikes and trains. Mission: travel 128 km to Stara Rise to pick up a copy of my father's birth certificate. I'd called ahead so the city hall of the tiny town where my father was born in 1920 had it ready. It would take 3 links on progressively smaller trains to get there. The first one was 15 minutes late and I worried I'd miss my connection and the whole day would be a waste but to my pleasant surprise they'd held the 2nd train and I hoisted my bike aboard. Three trains in 3 hours and I was in Telc. From there only 10 km to Stara Rise along auto route 23, but it was a slow go with much elevation gain, a big chunk of it up a 12% grade. I found the city hall where a woman cleaning a sheet of Plexiglas informed me that both mayor and clerk were gone to Telc on business. They'd be back in an hour or so; I was welcome to wait. I sat on a concrete planter and ate a snack. The woman walked away with the sheet and a battery-powered drill. I asked if she needed help. Really? Well, yes... She handed me the drill and I followed her down the hill to the village square where the Plexi was to go back in place covering the town's tourist info board. The drill died immediately but I was able to use it as a cumbersome screwdriver, turning it with two hands. I felt I'd contributed something to the civic life of my father's hometown. I waited on a bench as my new acquaintance dug up some plants. The square was to be re-landscaped and she didn't want the flowers to go to waste. A friend of hers stoppped by and she started handing him flowers, asking when was the last time he'd given some to his wife? (For all I know, he could have been her husband.) Not for a long time, he admitted. He turned to me and told what his father used to say: We give flowers to goats. Women aren't goats, so it would be an insult to give them flowers. He was 55 now but maybe it wasn't be too late to change. After an hour and a half, the mayor and clerk returned. I got the paper I'd come for and asked if I could see my father's father's birth record, which was scripted in archival ink in an oversized tome that held generations of village history. I learned the names of my paternal great-grandparents: Jan and Rosalia. I then asked where my father had lived before he went to university in Prague some time around 1938. Number 39 (above right), just past the church out on the edge of town. It didn't look as if much had changed. The house didn't say anything. Riding out of there it struck me that Moravia looks a bit like the Pacific Northwest, forested mountains blue in the distance, laden lumber trucks rumbling through smalltown intersections. Leaving was easy, the hills carried me down and away from a gap that had been filled but remained a mystery.    having a ball in Chotusice