AbstractIn my childhood, now so distant from me that the precious sights I saw then take on the hazy contours of a dream, I went often with my family to a resort in the High Tatra mountains of Slovakia, Tatranska Lomnica, and stayed for months on end, throughout high summer, in the rundown fastness of the Praha Hotel. The Praha, in those last years of the Czechoslovak People’s Republic, was an institution struggling against its own identity. It was an elaborate creation: gabled facades, grand balconies, high-ceilinged ballrooms lit by chandeliers. It had been built at the close of the Nineteenth Century, when the region was still under Habsburg rule, and the spa towns of north Slovakia were the chosen destination of a select coterie: bankers, opera singers, tycoons and provincial landowners from all across that corner of the fading empire. But with the change in regime had come a change of guests. Now those long,
dark-carpeted corridors were trudged down by regional communist party secretaries, factory representatives from the valleys of East Slovakia and favoured members of the national ice hockey team. The portrait of Emperor Franz Josef above the fireplace in the smoking lounge had been replaced by a blurry, impressionistic rendition of Karl Marx at his work desk, pensive, pen in hand, sporting a red bow tie, the forces of the
dialectic wheeling inside his head. Outside the buildings, there had been little progress in the construction of socialism. High above the hotel, beyond pine-covered spurs and valleys, rose the mountains, their dark stone blades reaching up into a deep blue sky; and their lower slopes were covered by a fretwork of regimented, well-kept walking trails.
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