Leaving Prague

I’ve come to realize that I understand a place better the moment I begin to leave it. There are things that I recognize I will miss. I know that there are things that might not be replicated in other places. There are people I have to say goodbye to, and there is, of course, always a specific history that every place has. So here is a quick bullet list based on quick reflections as I get ready to leave Prague:

Czech Dumplings with Cabbage

What I Will Miss:

A cosmopolitan city full of medieval architecture. I have not yet seen this combination to this extent in other places. This is an impeccably maintained city with both an ancient and contemporary feel. As I pointed out in an earlier blogpost, the Czech Republic (or Czechoslovakia) was not bombed for the most part during WWII and, thus, its old buildings are relatively intact. The heightened awareness that this city is both old as well as very modern creates a certain romantic feeling that manifests itself in day-to-day contemporary routine.

The restaurants. This city is filled with culinary delights and almost any cultural cuisine one could imagine. In particular, there are numerous Vietnamese restaurants due to the fact that many Vietnamese people immigrated here during Czechoslovakia’s communist period.

The Czech language. Though I do not understand the Czech language and can only say hello (Dobrý den or ahoj), thank you (Děkuji), and you’re welcome (Prosím), the Czech language is beautiful. Its rhythms are so distinct from English—I couldn’t hope at this point to explain its differences—but I am jealous of them as a poet.

Detail from Karel Pauser, “Dog Family”

Czech stoicism. One of the things I have noticed here is a strength of character and a refusal to show any inclination towards a recognition of hardship. Even those who ask for money in the street are remindful of this stoicism: they remain in the same position for hours (most often prostrate) with bowls and containers in front of them. There is not a moment of asking or commenting. The request for social assistance takes place in silence and with a stony resolve. I think Czech stoicism (whatever its source) reminds one not to indulge in self pity and to carry on with life, no matter what happens.

The dogs. I wrote an entire blog post dedicated to dogs. Every single day I have asked to pet someone’s dog, and I have grown to love all of these canine friends. I was reminded of this city’s dogs when I saw a slapstick art piece by Karel Pauser, “Dog Family,” at the National Gallery. My view is not as sinister as his. I adore each and every canine friend I come in contact with.

Sacred Deer?

Agnosticism (or atheism). Though this country was once owned by the Catholic Church, with Catholic medieval cathedrals and iconography everywhere, this place is not overtly religious. In terms of the research I am doing and in terms of my lifestyle, I find it pleasant that a church or churches do not govern sensibilities. I was reminded of this lack of religiosity (I am not sure if this reflection applies to the same extent in areas outside Prague) when I went on my Bohemia road trip and came across a humourous and “sacred” deer on the side of a building.

What I Will Not Miss:

The prices of Prague. This is an incredibly expensive city. I’m not sure how local Czech people afford it on their wages. I have been researching day in and day out and have had to eat out for most of the time as a result. The prices here for meals are higher than Toronto and on par with Western European cities.

An inability to find “the soul” or a feeling of “a soul” in this city. I am reticent to claim this and aware of the fact some might take issue with me. However, I have encountered this same feeling in Toronto, Vancouver, and San Francisco, for example. I think what it is is that certain metropolitan areas, for better or worse, do not maintain a distinct spirit. Now, I am not a fan of nationalism. I feel there are many frightening things which attend nationalism, and, today, we are seeing dangerous forms of nationalist discourse. However, there is an obverse to consider here. One of the things I delight in—and one of the things I think others might delight in, too–is a passion in places that is the result of collective experience. This manifests itself in such things as language and traditional cuisine, of course, but there is something like a collective spirit, difficult to define, which can remind you you are in a distinct place—one that could not be replicated elsewhere. In Prague, I did not feel this. I truly feel that I could have been in Toronto, Vancouver, or San Francisco except for the unique nature of Prague’s location and architecture.

Cattle Feed, Czech Countryside

What I Will Miss Incredibly:

I will miss the chance to explore smaller areas, such as villages, in Bohemia. The countryside in the Czech Republic is beautiful. It seems, for instance, that a creative work based in Prague would somehow have to dip into countryside from time to time. Large fields of yellow break up the green fields of Czech like a Van Gogh painting. This is rapeseed, used for making canola oil. There are large patches of beautiful pink at times which, I was told, is a certain type of feed for cattle.

The early summer outside Prague is rich in colour and tempered by a peaceful feeling.

Rapeseed, Czech Countryside