Friday, June 11, 2010

The Golden City

I cannot imagine that there is a more beautiful city than Praha. Even some of the most seasoned globetrotters from my hostel admitted that they had never seen anything like the place. The Czechs infuse every stone and brick with their passion for beauty. They have crafted a city the way ancient bards composed their sagas, expansive in scale, yet appreciable at even the most minute details. The old name for Praha was "the Golden City" since all the rooftops used to be gilded, causing the city to be bathed in a haze of light when the rays of the sun kissed these roofs. No wonder the Austo-Hungarians, not people known for modesty, chose Praha as their capital. The gold is long gone, pillaged by scores of invaders and by the dying empire's own need for funds, but that old radiance still lingers.
I have a redundancy of photos of rooftops, since even most of the dingy apartment buildings have spires of some sort. Architechture nerds will go a little crazy here since Praha exemplifies every major European style of architechture, sometimes within the same building. The city's most famous landmark, the St. Vitus Cathedral, has a bell tower that starts Gothic and abruptly changes to Baroque.
Amy showed up Wednesday, introducing me to her roommate Mike from Valencia. The three of us went on a walking tour of the city, escorted by an exuberant Welshman called Huw. He filled us in on the legends surrounding the grandiose and unique landmarks in Praha, particularly the sleepy Jewish Quarter, supposed home of the famous Golem (described by Huw as the Jew-bot). I saw another famous Clock, the Astronomical Clock of Old Town Square. It's the oldest piece of still-running machinery in the world. Huw also filled us in on the uniquely Czech method of dealing with tyrannical noblemen: defenestration. This word is essentially a fancy term for hucking someone out a high window, often with sharpened stakes at the bottom for good measure. I like this word, it's overly literary and describes something totally awesome. I really wouldn't mind defenestrating Glenn Beck for example.
Despite Praha's glorious imperial history, the city still bears the scars of years of communist oppression. Many of the old buildings were undergoing restoration to undo the damage of years of communist neglect and choking air pollution. You could see the line on St. Vitus where the restoration hadn't yet reached and the stones were still black with soot. Czechs were also much more reserved than other people I had met. Part of this is the language barrier; unlike, say, German, Czech looks completely incomprehensible to most English-speakers. Every time I read a sign, I though to myself "uh, can I buy a vowel Pat?" But the other, more sinister part of this silence is the damage dealt by half a century of repressive communist rule, where anyone could be an informant and your secrets were your tethers to your life.
In Vienna now with Amy. I typed this whole note on a German keyboard, which is just different enough to make me want to scream. Tomorrow, we venture into the other famed capital of the Hapsburg Empire. Guten nacht for now.

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