By Sharon Krome (Muhlenberg College)
Entry 1: An American Landed
There are three things I’ve learned immediately about Prague. One: It costs one Koruna (or Czech Crown) to buy a plastic grocery bag with your groceries (the woman at the counter looked at me like I was on fire as I attempted to piece this fact together). Two: if you stand on the very edge of the sidewalk a tram WILL run you over; and Three: Beer (pivo) really is that cheap!
But let’s backtrack to my journey here…an almost 10 hour flight from Dulles to Vienna where I sat next to a very friendly Bulgarian gent. Imagine if you will, burly Bulgarian, Joe, asking through his thick accent “Why you no have boyfriend” for the first half hour of the trip. And here I was afraid I’d be stuck next to someone smelly. The flight went smoothly enough, we took off shortly after an American sunset and landed to a cotton candy, Vienna sunrise, a light dusting of snow still on the ground from days before. Just a skip away and I was in Prague! I’ve taken a mini walking tour of the city and bought my first groceries (in Koruna!) while operating on minimal amounts of sleep. So glad to be moved into my flat! More details to come, dear friends!
Entry 2: Books and Things
Life is about taking the impossible and breaking it down into conceivable, achievable steps. I was struck by this thought today while buying a book at a wonderful czech bookstore. Sure, the book was in english, but I managed quite well regardless of the language barrier. The event goes as follows:
Me: dobrý den!
(giggle giggle as I proceed to pay her in exact change using Koruna! She hands me my wrapped book.)
Me (again): Díky! Na Shledanou!
end scene (bahaha)
Okay, so perhaps you had to have been there to share in my brief shining moment of victory…
I also have a bit of a confession to make, dear readers. Sometimes (already) I stand on the tram or bus next to my english speaking flatmates and remain mute, a blank look on my face, as I attempt to look as Czech as possible. I like to think my fellow tram riders thought me a native…a girl can dream. Any who, I eagerly await reading my copy of “Kafka at the Shore” (it’s not technically czech but it has Kafka in the title, give me a break!). More to come, pals!
Entry 3: Groceries: A Foreign Concept?
An American’s survival grocery list:
Butter (which no one really uses over here apparently)
and more bread
I was pleasantly surprised that fresh produce here in Prague is relatively cheap. As I weave through the food aisles doing primitive conversions in my head (1 usd=20 korunas) I pass the meat (maso) section. Hmmm, self, I do believe I could buy triple my current stock of potatoes in exchange for a single chicken breast. Thus begins my stint of scrappy vegetarianism. Okay, occasional vegetarianism purely motivated by economic reasons…but it still counts! I’m also struck by the amount of processed food that was originally in American diets. I haven’t had a oreo or chips since arriving (how terribly un-American!). I admit the carb intake counteracts such a lack of goodies but hell, I’m Irish aren’t I? Can’t do away with my roots (don’t worry grandma!) But you don’t wanna hear about my eating habits…we visit the opera tomorrow. I will surely rave about The Magic Flute then. Ciao!
Entry 4: The Opera, A Night of Revelation
Dearest readers, I believe I am experiencing culture overload. Today after Czech class we journeyed to Prague Castle, a building that, at its core, was built in the 8th century. Our journey didn’t stop there. We soon went underground, descending level after level until we were there, inside a room of crudely dug sandstone, the lasting remnants of a far simpler, but brutal time. As I glided my hands across the worn, soft stone, I couldn’t help but hope that any wisdom of the former owner would magically ooze through my fingers. The fact that large sumptuous snowflakes were drifting down towards us outside merely punctuated the experience.
Soon after, my czech buddy, a flatmate, and I went to an art gallery supporting up and coming young artists. The splendid variety of canvases was incredible. One with gashes of vivid color, another with thousands of watered down pinpricks over an entire wall. Only to soon depart to the Opera. Cosí fan tutee.
Readers, I must admit, I have never been to an opera. The closest I ever came to one was the intro to “Mrs. Doubtfire” where Robin Williams sings (opera-like) as he dubs to a cartoon bird. This was an entirely different world. The building itself was stunning. The walls a smoky Robin’s egg blue mated generously with glimmering gilt. Rich, buttery folds of deep navy velvet masked the mysterious, deep stage, a pool of wonder and mysticism. “In a moment my being has been changed” this single line encapsulates my evening perfectly. Based on others reactions, I have discovered that one can seem cultured, they can look cultured, speak 4 different languages and have an Ivy League degree but without that incurable curiosity, a genius can come out a fool. May I never be a fool dear friends. May we both never be.
Entry 5: The Magic Lantern
While at the cinema today, I discovered that language, like film, has this magnificent transportive quality. A verbal, guttural suitcase? I’ve found that languages are not simply strange new words or accent marks, but portals to a new world, avenues to cultures. I know I must pick up czech first, but I hope to never stop learning, never stop cultivating these avenues, cobblestone by cobblestone, word by word.
Tonight I have seen the filmmakers of tomorrow. They are bright, fresh, inspired. The poor economic prospects may darken news screens, but creativity remains unbridled. Perhaps inspiration can survive all turmoil. No, inspiration is cultivated by such turmoil. I’m not sure if I adore the city or the company more. This feeling of genuine inspiration through mere companionship has me dumbstruck, dear friends. Even a mouth as boisterous as mine has trouble finding the words. I go to the cinema again tomorrow (my third time in a week) more to tell then!
Entry 6: There's no Butter in my Popcorn!
Here’s the main difference between American cinemas and Czech ones, in a single word, beer. Yes, friends, one can enjoy a luke warm Pilsner in the comfort of a sunken movie seat. Another thing I’ve noticed here, every building serves an array of purposes, you think you’ve entered a simple movie theater? No, no (ne, ne) you have indeed entered one of the rowdiest pubs in Prague. Think you’re at the Opera? Take that flight of stairs to the left and sudden you’re bombarded by an enormous, stunning restaurant where only the elite dine. Bizarre but always an adventure!
The other big difference from the states? Czechs love their short films! I’ve already been to three short film festivals, every one of them delightful. They were also all student films, the most recent festival of entirely FAMU students. They were incredible. I felt honored to be associated with such an esteemed institution. Here’s hoping my films will one day end up on the same screen. For now I will content myself to my place in the audience, gawking at the grandeur of their success.
Entry 7: Pastry-atism
As I attempt to explore the breadth of Prague, I have taken to long walks to strange places. After meandering for several hours I decided to give my windburned face a rest and pop into a small cafe. Sitting over my káva bez mleko a pečivo, it hit me for the first time how much I love this city. There I sat dribbling on for ten pages between nibbles and sips, losing myself in the lazy atmosphere of this tiny cafe. I walked around the Charles Bridge, explored the other side of the Vltava, went to Old Town, even reached Wenceslas square, the site where Jan Palach completed his final political protest through self-immolation.
I had to take a moment to reflect of such an event. Jan, I have been there, where your conflagration of martyrdom erupted into history. Wow. Every cobblestone here has a history it seems. Castles from the 8th century, town squares from the 10th. All this contemplation over a delightful raspberry pastry. Havel, the idealized Prague, and a few sheets of baked puff pastry, perhaps a new religion? A euphoric way of life here. In a country with the oldest, most architecturally stunning churches and a population of roughly 90% atheists, I have decided Pastry-atism isn’t such a bad idea after all. And so, dear friends, if you ever need to find me, I suspect I’ll be in a tiny cafe, my latest house of worship (sacrilegious, I know).