The Small Moments

In The Art of Travel, 6. First Book, Prague by EricaLeave a Comment

For John Banville, who wrote the novel, Prague Pictures: A Portrait of the City, his numerous visits to the Czech Republic left him with an array of different memories- many of which are quite similar to my own. In chapter 3 of the novel, Banville writes about a time he went over to the house of a woman named Katerina with his two friends: Philip and Jan. After his strange night, which consisted of drinking slivovitz out of tumblers and sitting on a couch that often sunk in like quicksand, Banville writes “why have I remembered that night, and with such clarity, such vividness? Nothing, like something can happen anywhere… Yet those particular nothings that happened…are somehow the quintessence for me of Prague… ” and I think that this statement really exemplifies how Banville’s novel is written (Banville 127). Throughout his novel, Banville describes, with vivid detail, seemingly mundane and normal experiences. He writes about the “particular nothings that happened” and turns them into beautiful memories that are vivid and full of life.

In the beginning of the novel, Banville talks about his first trip to the Czech Republic. Within the first few pages of the novel, he begins by describing his train ride to Prague, which consisted of passing by many “unpronounceable station(s) along the way” and then where he notices “that someone had blown his nose on the tied-back oatmeal-coloured curtain” (Banville 2). While reading these first few pages of the novel, I found myself thinking back to when I was riding the train from Budapest to Prague after a weekend in Hungary. During the train ride, I, too, found myself confused by the names of the stations, and, as Banville puts it, “was plunged in shame for my lack of languages” (Banville 199). For Banville, who has visited Prague a few times, he often found himself in situations where language played a large barrier. Throughout his novel, he writes about situations where the people around him are speaking in Czech, and he finds himself fumbling around with his hands or with anything to keep busy during the conversations- which is something I also find myself doing when confronted with language barriers.

Another instance where Banville’s vivid description of very “normal” memories can be seen is when he writes about his friend, Jan. Banville describes Jan as “a tall, think, bearded, nervous young man with a tremor in his hands and a permanently worried expression” (Banville 100). In the chapter where he describes and writes about Jan, he includes small details that helps paint a picture of Jan and what kind of person he is. In one particular instance, Banville describes a moment in a taxi cab, where Jan is speaking to the cab driver, and Banville notices how Jan and the taxi driver seem to know each other. He then goes to write about how he envies “those travelers who can drop in on friends in all corners of the world at a moment’s notice and be at ease in their company,” which I think goes to show how Jan can create lasting and meaningful relationships with those he meets while traveling (Banville 103). So, through this very small moment, Banville was able to show characteristics of Jan that weren’t physical and would be hidden to the eye at first glance.

By describing small details of Prague and vivid descriptions of very humdrum moments, Banville paints a picture of Prague that, I think, really helps the reader feel as if he/she was actually there/was actually present during the moment. Banville writes that, “When I was young I thought that to know a place authentically, to take it to one’s heart, one must fall in love there,” and I think that, by noticing the “little things” of Prague and his experiences here, he helps the reader fall in love with Prague from the perspective of another person.

(Image: Prague from My Window; Source: Erica)

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