When the university rektor invited me to a dinner for all university employees, it wasn’t like I could say no. My colleague and office mate, a lawyer and social worker told me,
“it’s semi-formal, a short black dress and heels will be fine,” I had my first heart palpitations. Then she told me we’d arrive and pick a number out of a bowl and I’d sit with strangers for a family-style meal. Wouldn’t that be fun? It was both terrifying and a blast. I sat next to a political science professor who is a vice-dean in the rektor’s office and has been to the U.S. many times (tried really hard to avoid poli-sci topics in the U.S. right now…). She sat on one side of me. A biologist who is an expert on dragonflies, especially those found in Texas on the other side (and here I’d always been told they are great because they eat mosquitoes…but guess what else they eat? Pollinators.). Across from me was someone who only spoke Czech but he was sure he’d seen me winning some big award (not). What was really cool was that this took place in a closed-down Home Depot -turned contemporary art exhibit. Except that the art director told me that “exhibits are dead.” There was a library with books that are ordered by color and size so that you’ll be forced to be surprised and encounter books you might not otherwise be interested in. And there was a rubble pile and a burned-out guitar.
It made me think of my brother-in-law Steve Dietz, who curates and coordinates city-wide art events. This director was equally as enthusiastic and coordinating city-wide art events. Ostrava really sees itself on the forefront of contemporary visions of art. As I ate, I recognized names on the walls like Black & Decker and the Home Depot font.
We were given the choice of paying for a glass of wine or accepting a gigantic glass of free beer brewed at the university. I’m learning to like (tolerate?) beer. At dinner, there were bottles of “university wine” that were not created by the university, but each year in a tasting, the university selected a wine to sponsor. I asked the poli-sci dean if I could buy a bottle and she said the wine winners are always sold out so no way. I showed her. I won the the door prize!
As usual, it was an exercise in humiliation because I didn’t hear them call my number and didn’t realize I was required to go on stage and accept the gift directly from the rektor (democratically-elected university president)…and I didn’t see that there was any way to get onto this stage with a short dress and heels that I haven’t worn in 20 years while the rektor was urging me to get up there…you can use your imagination here; I won’t say more about that other than that my colleagues found it hilarious.
I will say that I won a bottle of that wine I supposedly couldn’t get! As well as a free ride on their pink bike-sharing program and gift certificate to a local restaurant and ticket to a prom (not happening), and honey made by the same biology department as the prof sitting next to me (well, the bees really should get the credit there). And it ended with a bubble show (don’t ask; I can’t explain). It was wild, entertaining, like nothing I’ve ever experienced. And fun. Well, until I learned that the people who drove me there assumed I’d find my own way home and left ahead of me. Walking home with Google maps and heels in the dark was also an experience I hadn’t anticipated, but I did manage to get home. Thank god for cell phones.