Monday, February 8, 2010

The Travel Logs: Prague

People keep asking me, "Are you writing about your travels?" The answer is no. I haven't been writing it all down, sealing it into the vault of memory and leaving a record for posterity. The truth is, I suck at disciplined writing. When asked what my inspiration is for poetry, what style I am imitating, or what diction I am seeking to reproduce, I have no answer. The answer is only, "I write whatever comes out." This is not a good answer for anyone who has writerly aspirations, for the professional author knows that good writing takes discipline and practice.

I suppose that is mostly what this blog is about for me: a discipline, a pattern of creative recording that will hopefully yield some fruit. So I am enacting "The Travel Logs," a category of essays on trips I take to other places besides Germany. This past week I had the privilege, nay, LUXURY, of traveling to Prague, Czech Republic with three other women. No children involved (for which I gratefully raise a glass to my brother-in-law, Thomas, long-suffering and selfless: PROST!). One of the girls was my middle sister, which gave us the chance to catch up and just be girls together once more, a talent largely forgotten in the chaos of marriage and child-rearing. One of the girls was a Czech national, which made travel a breeze, as she shepherded us around and fielded all the Czech questions from the locals. We really did not have to think at all, it was fantastic being led around and translated for; I probably said "Betka, where do we go now?" too many times (sorry Beti!).

As to Prague: It's fabulous, People. I just can't find words to describe it; Pristine, Intact, Old-world, Ornate, are a few that come to mind. It is truly one of the most, if not THE MOST beautiful cities in Europe, filled with spires, amazing architecture and opulent relics of the past. It's so untouched because it was not bombed during the World Wars. The city is also quite hilly, creating layer upon layer of buildings, which lit at night create something I can only describe as "magic" for the tourist. The Charles Bridge is the perfect vantage point on top of the river at night. Make sure to visit Prague Castle and St. Vitus' Cathedral which are also fabulous. See the Jewish quarter and marvel at the pathetic heap of tombstones, a reminder of the injustice of anti-Semitism. Eat lunch at the Slavia Cafe and enjoy the best view of the old town in the city (sitting under photos of the famous who've enjoyed it too...we were under a picture of Hillary Clinton during her visit). Enjoy Bohemian Dumplings, they are scrumptious, as are the uber cheap micro-brews available in the city. Seriously, I paid about 1.25 euro for a half liter of beer...that's cheap as dirt over here, you can't even buy still water for that price.

I think the thing that impressed me most, and I mean by "impressed" that it affected me most, was the post-Soviet harshness that still rears its head. There is the sense that people have had it tougher; there is no Western European luxury to be seen. Though Prague is far more beautiful than many cities in the West, even more than Paris, there is this patina of crumminess that keeps it from being modern or flashy. I have to say, I like it all the better for this. It is real. You feel it. There is nothing sanitized or suburban about this place; you feel closer to the way humanity has lived for centuries. This quality of genuineness is beautiful.

When we were on a bus, traveling from Vienna to Prague (we took the train back, and I have to say I really preferred the train), a blind couple boarded and sat in front of my sister and I. We cringed; they smelled badly and were unkempt. They were not the first obviously physically deformed people I would see that day, there were more examples of this type of suffering (more than I am accustomed to seeing). They talked loudly and had their seeing-eye dog stuffed under their seats. When we exited the bus at our destination, I watched them make their way down the stairs, arm in arm. They reached the ground and got their bearings, mostly by putting hands on each other and making sure of each other. The man's unfocused eyeballs glared oddly at the sky and he grinned the widest grin. His girl was caressing his face. I promise you, there isn't a man on this planet more happy or more loved than this man without a clean hair on is head or an intact tooth in his mouth. In this world of darkness, these two had reached out a hand and found each other. It was enough.

O, the exquisite crumminess!

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