Monday, June 14, 2004

"Mojitos In Praha"
Prague, Czech Republic
Monday, June 14th, 2004

In the past when we've asked about impressions of Prague, people's eyes light up as if in love, "Ahh, Prague, it is a magical place." They sigh longingly and look lost in blissful memories too private to be vocalized. A wise Croatian Man told us many weeks ago, " is so ALIVE! There is everything there...whatever you like it is there!" He leaned over to my mother and winked, "but you must be careful with you daughter. There are many men there, many very hungry men."

And so we find ourselves at the end of our journey in a city of extremes. One of the most magnificently preserved cities in all of Europe....a labyrinth of cobblestone streets, sidewalk cafes sending the fragrances of Middle Eastern, Italian, French, Mexican, and Czech cuisine into the dusky atmosphere, tiny alleyways which lead into courtyards where you might lose yourself for days, giant clocks, bridges which span ancient rivers and all around men, women, and drunken monsters from every corner of the Western World, gothic cathedrals thrusting spires up into the sapphire sky as if waiting for the arrival of Dracula himself, giant plazas the size of Olympic Stadiums that stretch on for an eternity....and music you've never even known existed.

For this is a city of extremes. Years ago, Prague was on the verge of discovery. Virgin territory just liberated from an oppressive Soviet Occupation, a place where poets and painters came to lose themselves and to be forgotten by the rest of the world. Today, Prague is no virgin city. She's a promiscuous Goddess of European excess and she's not only embracing tourism, she's fornicating with it publicly. On any given night in the central plaza, we see punk rockers taking drags from each other's cigarettes as they drive horse-drawn carriages through the streets, a Hare Krisna parade with men and women chanting and banging on drums, hoardes of tourists taking photos of the giant clocktower, go-go dancers shakin' their asses to "Shaggy" in a barfront window, an old man in a forgotten alleyway singing Elvis Presley songs in Czech, and countless drunken 'stag' parties (bachelor party) bellowing their way through the plaza with bottles of beer in hand and dragging mates of theirs clinging to consciousness.

Prague is a city that never sleeps. A city that one wants to suck dry. Like the last dregs of a tasty mojito, when the ice melts and mixes with the mint and sugar after you think the drink is really gone but the best part has yet to begin. Prague is like this. One never tires of watching it transform into darkness and a new midnight light...through the red hot heat and past the mercurial thunderstorms which begin faster than one can open an umbrella. It's light here at 5 in the morning and remains a cobalt blue well past 10 p.m. We're as far North as Canada. This city is like a cross between Las Vegas and Edinborough, Scotland on a Saturday night and all set in this magnificent landscape of the wildest European imagination. It defies explanation and expectation. It is an urban zoo of human behavior and a fulcrum of artistic inspiration.

One never knows what one will see next. A beautiful symphony or a debaucherous act.

Yesterday afternoon, we were startled by the sound of metal exploding against rock. We turned to see a group of drunken Scotsmen ripping a 40 pound street sign from it's base and parading through the plaza cheering, "We saw the sign! We saw the sign! And now we have the sign!" From the center came the star of the party. A tall, lanky dark-haired lad with a chain connecting his wrist to his ankle like an animal and the back of his pants where his cheeks are were missing, leaving a perfect view of his skinny ass hanging out in tight black speedos. The pant-less man hopped sideways among frightened groups of tourist hooting like a monkey while his mates waved the street sign back and forth. "We have the sign! We saw a sign!"

Mom and I just stood and stared with our mouths open for a few minutes before we even spoke:

"They really have bad hangovers, huh?" Mom said under her breath.

"Mom, they're drunk."

"They are? How do you know?" she looked shocked. She was born in Indiana to a family and a religion that forbids alcohol. She's been spared both the pleasure and pitfalls of alcohol for her entire life.

"Mom, any straight guy who's wearing a chain connecting his wrist to his ankle and missing the ass of his pants walking through a public square with his mates....well, he's gotta be drunk."

"Ohhh, I thought it was a hangover," she said, processing these new behaviors of debauchery.

"No, that's not how people with hangovers behave."

We decide to do something sophisticated so we buy tickets for Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," a favorite of both of ours. By some stroke of luck and a bit of charm, we're led to the front row by a super cute Czech girl (even though we bought the cheapest tickets possible) who takes a liking to us. Mom and I are rather sweaty from the day's sightseeing and dressed in sandals and hiking shoes lugging backpacks and water bottles. Elegant French Women wearing pearls, fancy Italian shoes, silky lipstick and smelling of jasmine sit around us. Sophisticated types that make us slink a little lower in our seats.

The orchestra is two feet in front of us and when they begin playing it is magnificent and thunderous and passionate and ecstatic and the most sexual classic music I have ever heard. I looked down and my arms were covered in goosebumps. Even the usually reticent violinists and cellists were overcome by Vivaldi's vision closing their eyes at times and smiling like fat cats in the sun. It's music that overtakes you, grabs your heart and hurls it out into the ethosphere and then draws you in again like a kite catching the wind.

And then in walked the cello soloist.

He was a tall man, a rather large man, with dark greasy hair pulled behind in a pony-tail typical of poets and wearing a coal-black jacket with coattails. He took a grand bow and waved his bow before ceremoniously taking his seat. When he played his whole body became possessed. It was overtly sexual and much too intimate.

I had to look away.

His face beaded with perspiration, strands of his hair fell forward from where they were chastely tucked behind his ear, his eyes closed half way as if in the throes of ecstasy...he vibrated with the cello and his face turned crimson as if he were holding his breath. Strange noises came from within him through his half-open mouth, a mouth which seemed to have just finished kissing a woman and had forgotten she was no longer kissing back.

This was much too intimate a thing to see. I tried to focus on the string section but my eyes kept going back to him.

As he continued to play we noticed that the other musicians were exchanging looks with one another, looks of amusement, confusion, and then of annoyance. He seemed to be playing a cello that was out of key. A cello with not enough depth to fill the concert hall. We became more amused by the cellist's strange erotic behavior and the drama among the musicians embarrassed by him than we did with Vivaldi's masterpiece.

It was a symphony of cacophony.

The cellist refused to finish. Whenever he would take a bow after our applause he would pretend to leave and then come running back and start a new song. In all, he played 4 complete Encores. Encores not chosen by the audience. He would take magnificent bows and posture his broad frame like a peacock ruffling its feathers. He beamed, he radiated, he inhabited his own universe of self-love. He and his sad under-performing cello.

After the 5th! performance, the orchestra shuffled out with more speed than is fitting of a string section before the cellist could return for another performance. We clapped with absolute relief.

On our way home we decided to stop for hot chocolate a hot rum drink. Mom thought she might try giving alcohol a chance. (After all, if it could get you to wear a chain connecting your wrist to your ankle, imagine what a small nightcap might do to a Hoosier who hasn't had alcohol her whole life.)

She winced and nearly spit out the rum.

In some blur of miscommunication and confused accents, we were absorbed by the next table of past-drunk Welsh Woman waiting for their husbands to return from watching a Rugby Match. When the men came upstairs they surrounded us and in their thick accents introduced themselves. Mom encouraged me to sing a Salt n'Pepa rap for them that was less than successful. They looked as blank as a herd of sheep before a chalkboard of math equations. I might have well been singing in Swahili.

"Wanna hear me Tom Jones Version?!" the largest husband asked excitedly.

"Oh yes, Yes! You must do that," the wives clapped and cheered him on.

By half past midnight, the eight of them were singing a medley of the Beatles, Tom Jones, and some vaguely familiar Welsh Anthem in both Welsh and in English for our benefit.

"Won't you have a beer with us?" they'd chide my mother every 30 seconds.

"No, I don't drink alcohol," she'd defer.

"Then a rum! She'll have a rum! Waiter bring us a rum"

"No, really, I'm okay."

"Well how about a beer then?"

"No, really, thankyou."

"Well, anything with alcohol for bloody hell! How could you go through life like this?!" one of the wives lamented. As if my mother's salvation rested in a good lager.

My mother offered "Glennys" some of her chocolate cake.

"God no!" She wrinkled her nose as if she were looking at a bowl of eyeball soup instead of a succulent slice of dark chocolate cake, "Isn't there any alcohol in it?"

Mom shook her head apologetically.

Glennys went back to her drink feeling a failure for not having converted my mother to the "Welsh Religion" of alcohol.

This morning we see grafitti in a women's restroom stall. A desperate girl writes, "PRAGUE IS AN EVIL CITY. DON'T LOSE YOURSELF IN IT."

The Welsh are pretty good at it.

And so we bid adieu to a city of extremes and of midnight skies that linger. We say goodbye to the sweltering islands of Southern Dalmatia and the shimmering lakes of Slovenjia. It has been a magnificent trip and my mother, 'Mojamama' in Slavic, has been the ideal travel partner. We hope that you're each having adventures of your own and that you milk this summer dry! (Like a big fat can of YooHoo.)

much love, Rachel and her beloved "Mojamama" Karen


Nana said...

What a wonderful place, I love this city. From the very first day I realized that is so amazinf with all surroundings that shows you a magic of historical buildings. And service is pretty good, especially I liked Prague hotels for its beauty and atmosphere.