Trying to Understand Bohemia

For such a short period of time in Prague, do I try to live in or observe the city? One could argue that one could only observe a new place until one has comfortably gained a home of sorts in a place. However, for me, there are two types of travel. The first is to visit as many historical sights as possible and to take in numerous tourist attractions.

Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul, Vyšehrad

The second is to try to see things as a local would see things. I have most often adopted the latter approach, though my stays in other places have been significantly longer and have allowed me to establish a day-to-day routine that is unlike the tourist’s. However, a short stay doesn’t really allow this luxury. I have, therefore, adopted both approaches to Prague, taking in tourist attractions, as I am here to establish a setting for my in-progress novel, and hunkering down and writing for several hours each day and spending time in nearby neighbourhoods for writing breaks. I am hoping that this combination of a tourist approach and an attempt to “live in” provides me with the material I need.

The approach I am taking to this research and writing experience, however, is to avoid placing a template over my work. That is, while I had specific intentions before coming to Prague/Bohemia, I don’t want my pre-conceived ideas to lead me to conclusions. If I adopted this approach, I could have stayed at home and written things based on research from afar and photos found on the web. This hardly suffices, though, when attempting to write travel-based and convincing work. In fact, it doesn’t suffice at all. Travel writing, or travel-informed writing, is just that—writing based on movement and experience, and it takes time and particular attention to detail.

I think I could, perhaps, live in Prague. There is opportunity and choice and liberal attitudes, for the most part, to LGBT rights. But . . . the Caribbean . . . The West Indies provides a significant amount of material for this same in-progress work. While there is not the freedom to express the “queer” as there is in Prague and other places, there is a passion and vitality that is quite unbeatable. When I hit the streets of Kingston, Jamaica, for instance, I know I’m alive. There is an energy there that is difficult to explain. Prague has energy, but, like any cosmopolitan or quasi-cosmopolitan place (while the population here is mostly of Czech origin, there are numerous ex-pats living in the city), I think passion is tempered somewhat by a lack of homogeneity. Or maybe the reverse is true when thinking about a Caribbean kind of homogeneity. I don’t know.

Karlovy Vary, Western Bohemia

I feel it is important at this point, though, to explore my ideas about Prague with knowledge of and exposure to the different regions of Bohemia. A couple of days ago I went to Karlovy Vary, a beautiful town established in the fourteenth century, in Western Bohemia. Its architecture, like that of Prague’s, is largely intact due to the fact that, for the most part, the present-day country of the Czech Republic was not bombed during WWII. What also stood out in Karlovy Vary, though, was wealth/money. Everything is impeccably maintained, and the town revolves around tourism, with high-priced shops of every kind standing ready to sell. While beauty and the pristine abound here, I don’t think it would be effective to understand Bohemia without being exposed to the many little towns outside tourist zones. For this reason, I will try to take in as much of Bohemia as possible to expose myself to the variety of lifestyles that exist in Bohemia. During the drive from Prague to Karlovy Vary, for example, we passed by (on the highway) little towns which consisted of a bulk of dilapidated and abandoned buildings. These places provided a sharp contrast with Karlovy Vary, and I am hoping further travel to as many regions as possible in Bohemia might expose me to the heterogeneity, the diverse kinds of lifestyles, that might exist in this place.

Karlovy Vary, Western Bohemia