I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this before, but this journey of ours actually began with a frozen pork butt.
Four years ago yesterday: December 5, 2006. The time had come; time had also nearly run out. I was to meet Dan in thirty minutes at the Prague main station to catch a train to Dresden, Germany.
I scanned our empty apartment, our home for five years. I was closing the door on another life chapter. Glimmers and fragments — like the empty pots from a summer herb garden, now frozen brittle on the balcony –- hinted at the well-lived and settled nature of our lives there.
The week before we had shed almost everything: selling, giving, tossing. Farewell parties, too. The previous evening, we had bid adieu to one of our most prized possessions: a spice collection in the hundreds of bottles and bags from all corners of the Earth. We had invited our foodie friends over and divided up the precious booty.
After saying goodbye to the last sachet, we drowned our culinary sorrows in one last surviving bottle of wine, a Brunello di Montalcino that had been given to us as a gift. This was a special occasion.
That morning, I picked up the empty bottle for one last trip to the recycling bin. Then I checked the fridge.
“Shit!” A five-pound hulk of frozen pork butt stared at me from the freezer. We got it from the butcher with the intent of recreating the slow-roasted puerco pibil in the movie Once Upon a Time in Mexico.
Unfortunately, we never did get around to making it. And we never got around to finding the pork a good home.
I threw on my too-heavy backpack (I’ve since learned to pack lighter), tucked the pork under my left arm, grabbed the empty bottle with my right hand, closed the door, ran down the steps, and knocked on our neighbors’ door downstairs.
Our neighbors: sweet Czech widow pensioners. They were so patient when our flower pots fell off our balcony and crashed onto theirs earlier in the year. “Maybe they’ll take the pork butt,” I thought.
Only twenty minutes to go until the train departed.
This would be a difficult sell. In my neighbors’ doorway, I felt like a used meat salesman. I mustered as much charm as I could. With a smile and the last of my best Czech, I pitched the women my pork, explaining that it was perfectly good. We were just leaving the country — forever — and we couldn’t use it anymore. Would they please, please take it so that it would not go to waste?
Puzzled, our sweet little neighbors shook their heads. They both looked at me as if I had lost it.
Maybe I had.
Or maybe my Czech really hadn’t improved that much over five years.
Or maybe, just maybe, there’s no proper way to express “Would you like my frozen pork butt before I travel the world?” in any language.
After being rejected by my neighbors (pork butt rejection, I’ve learned, is some of the easiest to endure), I threw our apartment keys in our landlord’s mailbox and ran out into the street with the still-frozen, rock solid hunk of pork under my arm.
With all worldly possessions on my back and a frozen hunk of meat in my hands, I must have looked rather deranged. I hoped that one of the people who rooted through our trash regularly would emerge to save the pork from the fate of spoil.
But alas, no. So, I left my frozen meat on top of the trash can. It was wintertime in Prague, so I figured it would remain frozen at least until the following May.
I dropped our celebratory wine bottle into the recycling bin and ran full tilt to the tram stop, as fast as my legs would carry me, as fast as my too-heavy backpack would allow. There was no time for nostalgia for Vršovice, the neighborhood we’d come to love over the years.
With two minutes to spare, I arrived gasping at the train platform.
Dan was pacing, wondering if I had changed my mind. “What happened to you?!?” he asked.
“It’s a long story.”
It always is, it seems. And I like it that way.