Everything in Czechoslovakia was kind of drab, gray and brown – we went to Austria and it was like a different world. The gas stations with the colorful flags and colors everywhere and new cars. I think that left a huge impression on me. [I thought] ‘I want to live here,’ you know? And Coca-Cola and fries! Eating fries was like ‘Wow.’ It was amazing.
We experienced Chernobyl in 1985 and we didn’t know about it for I don’t know how many days after it happened; after the press was forced to admit that something happened. They were denying [it]. Of course, it was all over the world, everybody was talking about it. If you listened to Radio Free Europe or any other station from abroad, it was discussed or talked about it, and the official line was nothing happened.
Money in many cases didn’t even exchange hands. However, and this is the bad part of Czechs, somebody turned him into the secret police. So during one of his night shifts in the wood factory, they came. They took him inside the hall, they turned on the circular saw, and they cut his fingers.
I remember this unique experience that people would actually go to the stores and buy socks. They were woolen socks and you would actually take the socks apart and you would recycle the yarn, and so they would knit or crochet a sweater, and then, when I would grow, they would take the sweater apart and add more yarn, but they were still using these socks.
I spent six months in Italy living in Rome with a Catholic priest attached to a Slovak bishop who was there, was part of the Vatican. Essentially their mission was to help refugees – at that time there was a lot of refugees in the refugee camp south of Rome – so I was helping them out visiting the refugees.