Prague: Image and Impression
An email to an ex-boyfriend:
Hey N_! I wanted to say hello because I was thinking of you recently. I just went to Prague again for the first time since you and I were there together 11 years ago! It’s funny how a city can become a totally new place when time has passed and YOU have changed, regardless of how much the city itself has changed.
Although Prague has also changed. It’s a typical tourist destination now …soooooo many tourists, even in March. It wasn’t really that way when you and I were there as I remember – although it was summer, the Czechs were still hungry for visitors. Do you remember getting off the tram and being surrounded by Czech locals trying to convince us to stay in their apartments for the week? Do you remember that old lady we rented the apartment from – that apartment on the north side of the river that smelled perpetually of curry and spices we couldn’t place, and was decorated with a gigantic framed poster of Michael Jackson next to a picture of Mother Theresa?
That sort of thing doesn’t happen anymore…people stay in proper hotels now. No locals wait for the arrival of the tram. There are more than enough tourists to go around.
Remember the puppet show of Orpheus and Euridice. The Magic Flute in that outdoor amphitheater. Beer the size of our heads that cost 25 cents. The beautiful curve of the river around the city center.
It’s weird how immune you and I were to the history in some ways…it was all so beautiful but I think we knew we were out of place, yet we didn’t bother to think about why. We felt so isolated, it was confusing. We had so little experience with what was not “west.” We knew about the history but didn’t stop to FEEL it, feel what it would mean for the people around us. We didn’t think about how just a decade earlier it had emerged from over 40 years of communist rule, which had come right on the heels of Nazi occupation. We noticed people never smiled but we didn’t really think about why. We just felt it was cold and different and that we were young. We were. So very young.
Almost everyone in Prague speaks English now and there are more hotels and inns and B&Bs than anything else. I get the sense that the city has shaped itself around the tourists that now flock there. It’s a bit sad. It kind of reminds me of someone who has had a really traumatic damaging relationship and then rushes into another relationship – one that is superficial and fun, but not much else – and never takes the time to heal and reflect and truly move on, figure out who they really are now. I still feel like there is a wound deep inside the city – a wound that the young people perhaps sense and want to ignore because they don’t quite understand. They just know they will never see eye to eye with their parents, and their grandparents are even more of a mystery…
My first visit to Prague with you was imbued absolutely with the ups and downs of our crazy relationship – so it was kind of nice to see the city on its own terms. It is more beautiful than ever…but I think just as melancholy.
I hope you are well N_. Let’s try to hang out again sometime in the next year or two ok? It would be awesome to see you again.
Two weeks ago I visited Prague for the second time in my life. My first trip was 11 years ago when I was just 19; I was a different person and Prague in many ways was a different city.
My memories of my first time in Prague are hazy, imprinted in my brain more as a series of dialogues in different settings with my boyfriend of the time (my first serious relationship, and certainly the most difficult) than as distinct experiences.
After this recent trip, my sense of Prague is richer than before, but still vague in many ways. I am left with all these fantastically vivid yet half-formed impressions.
Prague is magical. It is unbelievably, stunningly gorgeous. It is like the setting of a fairy tale.
But after my first trip I felt I could not quite grasp this beautiful city. After my second trip I was left feeling like I still do not really know what Prague is like.
Both my trips to Prague have been brief – simple tourism. So here I offer a parade of images – and the humble impressions of a tourist. The way you might speak about a person having met them only once or twice.
Visually Prague is truly spectacular. It is one of Europe’s most well-preserved cities, retaining architecture from every era of the city’s long history.
Part of what makes the city so visually stimulating apart from the diversity in architecture is the wide array of colors utilized in the facades of the buildings…
as well as the tremendous attention to detail.
While parts of the city are impressively imposing and austere…
…there are all sorts of cozy, jovial nooks and crannies.
…welcoming you with ridiculously large hunks of meat and and so very much beer.
Gorgeous splashes of color appear in unexpected places.
And something I loved most about Prague is how full it is of amazing shapes and angles. It is a city of exquisite geometries.
Prague is truly a feast for the eyes.
Yet for me there was also something unsatisfying about a short trip to Prague. I felt sometimes like I was searching for something, that somewhere behind some wall, around some corner, lay the real city, and that the one I was wandering around was only a model, a set to give tourists a taste, but not the secret.
But Prague is not like Venice, where on average the main city contains 100 tourists for every Italian. Venice is more of a museum now, the beautiful corpse of what was once a great lady. She is still beautiful, and you can imagine her in her youth, but the soul is gone.
Unlike Venice, Prague is very much alive. But Prague still felt to me a bit like a city that is performing itself rather than being itself. It is still in a state of emergence. It was reborn so recently and is still in the awkward yet beautiful process of BECOMING. It is still in the middle of recognizing the difference between who it wants to be and who it thinks others want it to be. I think we can all relate to that…
Tune in next post when I dig into this impression a bit more, remembering the Czechoslovakian Revolution of 1989…
(Author’s note: If you are receiving this post in an email subscription, consider viewing my posts on the blog’s webpage too – at least when I’ve included photographs, because they look much prettier when they are correctly formatted 😉 )