Eastern Promises


Before I arrived at Vienna International Airport yesterday morning, Eva Urbanikova, founder of Evitapress, was just a name on a book contract to me. But in Slovakia, Eva is a local TV celebrity, author and entrepreneur. It seems the only thing she’s lousy at is reading a map, so after my arrival at Vienna airport, we tried for two hours to find the University of Vienna. I wanted to make the pilgrimage because it was there that my beloved grandmother went to university and she was the one who instilled in me my love of books in the first place. The goose chase through Vienna’s narrow, winding streets was a bonding opportunity and by the time Eva took this picture, she had told me the amazing story of how she had started her successful publishing house with the money from her self-published bestselling memoir. Now she’s committed to empowering women to tell their stories.


We drove from Vienna to Bratislava and met my translator for lunch on the bank of the Danube. The time between lunch yesterday and now has been a coffee binge of epic proportions, a lesson in Slovak history and a barrage of Czech and Slovak press that, while exhausting, has been fascinating and is certainly a rare privilege for an American author.


I began the morning with an appearance on a morning radio show called Fun Radio, the host of which is the biggest celebrity in Slovakia and nearly just won Dancing With the Stars. It felt a bit like I was in the Eastern European version of the movie Lost in Translation, but it was a hoot.


We did the rest of the press back at the hotel, which overlooks the main square of Bratislava.


I have a thousand stories about pig ears and castles amd Communism and a place called Chicken Hell, among other things, but I’m so tired that I was sure I was seeing ghosts a minute ago. Plus I have to be up at 5:30 to catch a plane to Hamburg tomorrow, so I’m going to sign off.

But before I do, I want to share a tragic story. Eva’s sister Yanna (pictured below on my hotel balcony) is crazy about beat poets, so she went to America as an exchange student when she was in high school. She landed at a farm in Arkansas and her English teacher had never even heard of Ferlinghetti (you haven’t lived until you’ve heard the name “Ferlinghetti” pronounced with a Slovak accent). Instead, her school had a class called “meat lab,” in which they slaughtered, processed and prepared animals for lunch. She never even got to visit San Francisco. I swore to her that if she could find a way to get to L.A., I’d drive her to San Francisco and take her to City Lights myself.


Seriously, I’m beyond overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the journalists and the generosity of my publisher here. I won’t soon forget this journey.

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