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Worldwide Ace » Bohemian Rhapsody

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Bohemian Rhapsody

8 October, 2008 (23:13) | Random

The moon rises over the old city in Prague.
For more loony pictures of Prague, click here.

It’s the eyes. Glowering, slinking ever thinner, as if she wished she were Asian. I’ve been to Asia. she doesn’t want to be Asian.

“Mustard,” she snaps, her face contorted in the most hateful stare I’ve ever seen.

“What?” says Matt. She doesn’t even bother to reply. She simply rolls her eyes, sighs in exasperation and waves the bun toward a giant spigot, little yellow drops hovering at its tip.

“Yes, please,” I say, starting to laugh.

The drunkards in Berlin had warned me of this. The service industry in Prague should simply drop its first name to be more accurate. Then again, perhaps they could market this. Kind of like those restaurants you go to where it’s custom that the wait staff abuses you for your entertainment.

I think our giggling is only pissing her off more. She says something sidelong to her coworker as she slathers out sausages and slaps them into napkins on the counter.

“Thank you,” Matt says with his little bow as we walk away. She scoffs, but I take it as a “you’re welcome.”

Prague is symphony. It’s a collection of movements and pieces that twine around a central theme. Some are mystifyingly beautiful: the way the sun slips through the brilliant fall colors on a couple on a park bench; the incredible wealth of architecture and robust ornamentation on the buildings, unscathed by the wars that ran rampant around them; the beautiful people, their happiness virulent and viral, infecting me as their smiles slip into my consciousness through my nose, mouth and lungs. Some are dark and disturbing: the rank stench of communism still permeating the streets, clearly visible in the dull red and white rails that mark street corners and the square buildings leering down on passers-by; the sneering glares of the clerks and waiters, not even bothering to wait for a reason to hate me; the dark alleys, so alluring with cobbles gently lit fading into bleak fear during the emptiness of night.

Symphony is not the right word. Prague is too jumbled, too seemingly random to be a masterpiece of a symphony. Rather, it’s a rhapsody.

Let me pause for a minute and address those of you rolling your eyes and thinking the title and metaphor above is simply a forced pun on the song by Queen. Though I’d have happily made such an allusion, the meaning is apt and the title chosen after the fact. In music, rhapsody means “an instrumental composition irregular in form and suggestive of improvisation.” It’s rare I actually get to use it in a metaphorically correct manner, but in this case it is.

Prague is a jumble of cultures, governments, and remnants of empires past. It’s a motley collection of history and people. And every time a truth appears here, it can only exist by changing into a new and inventive form. Take communism for instance: When the communists took over, they were the conservative right. But by the time Gorbachev took office in the 80s, the Czech government was far more conservative than the USSR, making the soviets the liberal party. Only in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia) could such an odd switch happen. It’s indicative of the wholly unique and interesting way the city works.

When Czechoslovakia was founded at the end of World War I, it was a combination of three cultures: the Bohemians in the West near Germany, the Moravians in middle, and the Slovaks in the East, with just a dash of Carpathian Ruthenians from Southwestern Ukraine, mixed with democracy and shaken until 1992. In 1992, Slovakia split, leaving Moravia and Bohemia as the Czech Republic.

SIDE NOTE: My grandfather always referred to our family as Czechoslovak, though I’ve since found out that we’re primarily Bohemian, with a smattering of Moravian in the extremities and a Prussian last name (Barta, derived from the Bartians), so to find multiple ethnic groups who have no intention of blending into a common people never really crossed my mind. Unlike Americans, the Czech people are really a smattering of different cultures that refuse to blend. Much of Europe seems to be at a crossroads culturally, refusing true equality to those who don’t adapt fully into the local culture. It’s both a benefit in the amount of difference in such a small area and a detriment in the way it maintains division and harms cooperation. The EU is a step in the right direction, but it’s just a start on healing Europe and making it viable once more.

Matt and I sit on a planter across Wenceslas Square, eating our dogs. Throughout history Wenceslas Square has been the center of Czech politics. It’s hosted protests, been the point of independence for Czechoslovakia, and boasted the centrail tram line among other things. For me, I see none of this. Instead, I see a simple bustling square.

As I bite into my sausage again, the eyes catch me anew. I’m perfectly aligned with the doorway to a jewelry shop. The clerk behind the counter, a beautiful curly haired girl, is leaning over a magazine and looking up at me as I chow down. I smile and she ducks her head down into the magazine, gently brushing her hair over her ear.

This is the complete opposite of the clerk I had just dealt with. It’s indicative of Prague, where such blatant differences live side by side. I’ve seen hip hop dancers practicing in front of old statues. I’ve seen school kids staring in awe at a lunar clock. I’ve seen crowds of gentiles lined up to see the original ghetto, home of Rabbi Loew‘s Golem. It’s a beautiful and strange thing.

I consider for a moment finding an excuse to go in and talk to the girl behind the counter, but just as I’m formulating a plan, a customer walks in.  Matt heads back to the hotel to wait for Krista and I decide to duck across the street into a tent boasting a free art show.

The images are photographs taken over the last 50 plus years by a staff photographer at a newspaper in Prague. They range from pictures of everyday life to grand moments in history, all of them revolving around Wenceslas Square. The captions are odd. They’re not descriptive so much as sly and friendly. Instead of explaining the scene, they offer a nod and a wink to those in the know. “I think you know what happens next,” reads one. “No trip to Wenceslas Square was complete without ice cream. Am I right?” reads another. “I’m sure you’ve met someone down at the rail,” reads a third. It’s novel and different from traditional Western journalism.

As I leave the tent, I notice several more notices for performances tonight. It seems every church has a public performance of classical music each night. The moon is rising over the city, casting soft light across the darkening rooftops and spires. The combination of skyscape with the waning light is magical. It’s another note in this Bohemian rhapsody. I’d never have thought so, but it really is perfectly Prague.