THE DECEPTIVELY SIMPLE RULES OF THE GAME SINCERITY, AS played late one Friday afternoon in May 1990 on the terrace of the Cafe Gerbeaud in Budapest, Hungary:
SINCERITY--A STAPLE AMONG CERTAIN CIRCLES OF YOUNG FOREIGNERS living in Budapest immediately following 198990's hissing, flapping deflation of Communism--is coincidentally the much-admired invention of one of the five players in this very match, this very afternoon in May. Charles Gábor, when with people his own age, seems always to be the host, and at this small café table on this sunny patio he reigns confidently and serenely. He resembles an Art Deco picture of a 1920s dandy: long fingers, measured movements, smooth and gleaming panels of black hair, an audaciously collegiate tie, crisp pleated slacks of a favorite cotton twill, a humorously pointed nose, a sly half-smile, one eyebrow engineered for expressivity. Under the green and interlacing trees surrounding the terrace and nodding over the heads of tourists, resident foreigners, and the occasional Hungarian, Charles Gábor sits with four other Westerners, an unlikely group pieced together these past few weeks from parties and family references, friend-of-friend-of-friend happenstance, and (in one case, just now being introduced) sheer, scarcely tolerable intrusiveness--five people who, in normal life back home, would have been satisfied never to have known one another.
Five young expatriates hunch around an undersized café table: a moment of total insignificance, and not without a powerful whiff of cliché.
Unless you were one of them. Then this meaningless, overdrawn moment may (then or later) seem to be somehow the summation of both an era and your own youth, your undeniably defining afternoon (though you can hardly say that aloud without making a joke of it). Somehow this one game of Sincerity becomes the distilled recollection of a much longer series of events. It persistently rises to the surface of your memory--that afternoon when you fell in love with a person or a place or a mood, when you savored the power of fooling everyone, when you discovered some great truth about the world, when (like a baby duck glimpsing your quacking mother's waddling rear for the first time) an indelible brand was seared into your heart, which is, of course, a finite space with limited room for searing.
Excerpted from Prague by Arthur Phillips Copyright 2002 by Arthur Phillips. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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