This post is written in the style of my favorite book as a child, the literary masterpiece Goodnight, Moon. Well, kind of- we all know that level of genius can’t be matched.
On the banks of the Vltava there was a castle. But who cares? I’ve only heaved myself up to it once in the last four months, lazily throwing the top half of my body, the half with all the Pilsner (unrelated) over the thick brick walls to trap the rest of the city in my viewfinder, camera strap wrapped only half-seriously around my wrist.
On the banks of the Vltava there was a cluster of orange roofs. And 100 spires ascending toward heaven, piercing through protective, perfect-shutter-speed clouds. And a statue made of iron in the image of one of the men they actually did cut through. And stones spelling out memorials to some more of those men. And groups of people who are still burning witches, in Letna park.
And Letna park. And the hills of Letna park. There is only one hill, but when there’s a beer garden at the top, there are so many hills in the way. And a tram, moving along by a mass of wires that are the opposite of a net. The tram brings you to the bottom of the hill. I’m sure there’s one that brings you to the top, but in four months I never sought it out. When a beer garden is at the top of the hill, you need the hill.
On the banks of the Vltava there are sausages. Not just laying about, either; they’re on plates, with mustard, cooked, and you learn to like them. And goulash. And goulash soup. And the waitstaff who as a rule sing along slowly, quietly but really not that quietly, enthusiastically to whatever song is playing while they hand you your plate of sausages. They only stop to say, “Sausage?” and they start singing again before you’ve met their eye and nodded and raised your hand slightly to signal that yes, I will be eating this for dinner tonight. And the rest of the Czech population which also, amazingly, is constantly singing to whatever is playing at that moment.
And there are books. And plays. And ballets, and operas, and noncredit research seminars with no other students in attendance. And so then there are walks around the city. And free trips throughout the Czech Republic, far from the Vltava or its banks. There are incredible cultural experiences and understandings you would never have had if NYU didn’t pay for them. Because there is also funding. And more funding. Not yours, you don’t really know whose, but it’s there. Vaclav Havel would want us to think about that.
And Vaclav Havel. And Franz Kafka. And the Lety concentration camp, Czech-run. And the former political prisoner forced labor camps in the Jachymov mines, and the guards that used to operate them who now shop for melka in the local grocery store. And lustration laws. And a nation in the throes of an identity crisis. And nostalgia that inspires xenophobia. And still after all these years, a sense of fleeting freedom which manifests itself, in part, in a loyal fascination in the foreigners from the free country of America.
Farewell, Vltava. Farewell, my commute: farewell, Delnicka, and farewell, the winding trams that no doubt inspire magical realism. Farewell, the grotesque, the ironic, the most meaningful, affective humor I have ever encountered.
Farewell, overnight trains. Farewell, graceful Czech consonants. Farewell, courageous professors and that Guy I Pass Every Morning Who Is Still Trying To Find His Place In This New Reality. Farewell, Communist-era public transportation that works flawlessly in the name of collective travel towards human’s greatest purpose: work. Farewell, positive human rights. Farewell, pale legs in tights the first few weeks of spring because really, why do we put ourselves through the pain of showing and seeing such pale things before anyone gets a good tan?
Farewell stars, farewell air, farewell antifi symbols covering Nazi graffitti everywhere.
Oh, what are you doing here, motivation to travel and make the most out of every bit of it? I must be dreaming to see you again, careful budgeting. A taste for beer? Pinch me. I must be dreaming now.