Reality Czech? : Musings from Prague

With summer winding down and the fall approaching, I can’t help but feel a little wistful. Seems like the perfect time to share a throwback post on wishful thinking.

March, 2009 — Prague, Czech Republic

I’ve been making a lot of wishes lately. I think it’s something that happens when you travel—traveling brings out the magic that all of us had previously forgotten. Standing at the gates of a new city, you can’t help but want to make a wish: maybe to not forget, maybe for someone you wish was there, maybe for yourself and your own adventure. And nothing is a cheaper thrill than throwing a penny into a fountain.

I have thrown pennies into fountains in Riga. In Galway. In London. Today I am in Prague, sitting in a café, resting my feet after a two hour long walking tour over the fiercely cobbled streets. I am in a wishful mood.

Prague is an amazing city. An old city. Older than Riga, and I certainly was impressed by Riga’s age. More amazing that it’s age alone is the fact that it is still so much intact. This is due to the fact that Hitler decided that he liked this place, and therefore avoided exploiting and/or exploding it through his years of power. Never thought I’d be saying “Thanks Adolf,” but there it is. Prague is full of bars and pizzerias, flags draped in so many paned windows, yellow walls that spurt turrets in the most unlikely places, like strange stone fountains. We walked all through the Old City today, winding our way through the packs of tourists to watch the Astrological Clock chime 4 o clock, the golden rooster’s caw almost amusing. We crossed to the bank of the river and watched the sun explode into the clouds over Prague Castle. We wound our way through the Jewish Quarter, where a cemetery the size of a suburban backyard holds the remains of over twelve thousand Jews, buried more than ten caskets deep in some parts. And finally, we walked across the bridge that separates the Old City from the area that previously was reserved solely for nobles and royals.

This bridge is not terribly wide, and was built in the year 1000—a fact that boggles my mind. (Eddie Izzard, the renown British comedian, once quoted: “I’m from Europe…where the history comes from.” You go to cities like Prague and realize just how new America is in the grand scheme of things.) The bridge is bedecked with huge statues of stone saints every ten feet or so. Some are benevolent, and smile. Others gaze down in stern warning, their granite faces grim. The one that is best known, however, is the statue that leaps out halfway over the bridge.

The statue is highly patina-d, and haloed with three gold stars that hover just above his pained face. He is St. John Nepomuk, the patron saint of Bohemia. The myths about the 14th-century martyr say that this priest of Czech king Wenceslas IV refused to divulge a secret told to him by the king’s wife, and was thrown off Charles bridge to his death as punishment. Small plaques at the base of his statue have been worn from bronze to gold with the rubbing of many fingers, with the idea of good luck behind the fingering. We peel off our gloves and run our hands over the raised embellishments on the plaque, wearing the old metal down even further. The metal is warm to the touch, a fact that surprises me. I linger for a second, the tips of my fingers resting on the surface.

I’ve been in need of good luck recently. I’ve spent a lot of pennies on the hope that things will soon settle down, in all aspects of my life. Spent a lot of time staring up at the skies too, willing one of them catch the wishes I throw at them. I look into the face of St. John and wonder if he actually works. If he’ll be the one to grant me the calm I’ve been searching for. I ask for a bit of luck, and remove my fingers.

We’re at the halfway point of our trip. Part of me is really ready to return home. Part of me wishes I could stay for a long, long time. Part of me wants to be alone, part of me wants to be surrounded by people—by the new friends I’ve made here (and so quickly! So easily!). Strange to think that the next time we travel in a group of this size, we’ll be headed for Schipol airport, and the trees, which are barren right now, will be heavy with the buds of spring.

Last weekend I was in London. I played the part of tourist for the first time—maybe because it’s hard not to when you are only spending two days in a city that well-known. I usually try to blend in (most of the time hard to do, for purely surface reasons), and keep a low profile. We’re supposed to be learning how to be travelers, not tourists. I credit KaUaTuahine for teaching me that long ago, and I still wince when I see my fellow Emersonians blundering about Europe with their inappropriate comments and complaints. London was great fun—skipping through the streets, trying out Brit-lingo, watching The Lion King in the West End…we even did that unforgivably touristy thing—riding the London Eye. It takes about half an hour to make a full circle, and in that time you get fantastic panoramic views of the city. A long time to sit and think. At the apex of the ride I took a moment and considered: Could I stay here? People have been considering their future European homes since we arrived—claiming houses on the Prisengracht in Amsterdam, returning from trips to Barcelona with their beach houses staked out. So far I haven’t seen a place I wanted to settle in. But London… Maybe London is what I was looking for in Boston and never found.

Now, in the Czech Republic, I have returned to my state of sojourner, of traveler. I sit quietly and try to remember the Czech words for “please” and “thank you,” like I know my mother would want me to. In the café, I wait for my good fortune to find me, and contemplate when the next time I will be able to wish will be. And what I will wish for this time.


See more photos from Prague here.