FROM THE BUCOLIC TO THE SHAMBOLIC — PART THREE: THE FINAL LEG HAS A FOOT OF CLAY

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It was important to me that a brutal hangover not define the second leg of our visit. After eight or nine hours of deep convalescing and gagging back bottles of whole fruit puree and several cans of something called Kofola, followed by a triumphant-if-wobbly set of fifty pushups, I felt sufficiently resuscitated for exploration. Once out of doors, the crisp November chill was its own medicine, helping to further refortify my wilted zeal.

My immediate impression of Old Town Prague: a pewter-colored paradise, both beautifully grim and palpably affluent. My people came from this part of the world over a hundred years ago. It certainly felt like a place I might have some roots in.

Besides the Kafka and Mozart connections, I remembered Prague as being a popular gap year spot for all those spotty-faced philosophy and anthropology majors back in the nineties. For all I know, it may still be a going concern for that crowd. It was a little difficult for me to really get in to the place for the throngs of tourists; the place is just lousy with them. For contrast, there are the local commuters, recognizable by how they haul ass everywhere (scurrying for the sake of scurry, if you ask me). You cannot stroll through town without feeling conspicuously casual whilst in their harried midst. Meanwhile, the tourists were all day and night gawping and snapping pictures with their smartphones, as well as their I-Pads (which looks excessively dumb). Other than a few snaps of the ol’ lady up against some of the carved granite scenery, I didn’t take a single photograph; I wasn’t trying not to, I simply didn’t feel compelled. My sense was that Prague had already had all the mystique snapped out of it thousands of times over and counting. Other than proof positive that — Hey, lookit me in Prague that one time! — what was really the point? That’s all I witnessed around me: tourists collecting some Facebook fodder. Watching all the people strike their contrived smiles with a canned candidness induced in me a tectonic groan or two. I think, if you could stand the cold, the best time to see the clock and the square and the bridge and all that stuff would probably be around four in the morning on a Tuesday in mid-February, (or anytime during the next flood).

I’LL HAVE THE SAME

One thing that struck me about my first experience abroad, starting from Madrid and ending at Heathrow, was the near absolute homogeneity of all peoples everywhere, though particularly in their manner of dress. Everyone from rebel fighters in Syria to child molesters in Daytona Beach seem to agree: distressed jeans represent the sartorial zenith in bottom apparel, even if one or two un-evolved curmudgeons like myself think they make the double-knit lapel-a-thons of the seventies seem downright natty and individual in retrospect. I’m sorry, but I will never understand the idea of wearing what are meant to be utilitarian trousers with bizarre wear patterns blasted into them that both weaken the fabric and defy all physiological explanation. Maybe I’m just annoyed because I quite often find myself absentmindedly wondering what the wearer of said dungarees would have had to be doing for the last several years in order to have giant, perfectly rectilinear fade spots on the backs of their thighs, when I could instead be wondering about…other…more…Godly pursuits…

I’m not about to suggest that this quotidian creep doesn’t extend throughout Bohemia as well, but their brand of sameness was effectively mitigated by looking so collectively sharp. Seamlessly book-matched to the Gothic spires and up-lit edifices shrouded in cold fog were knee-high leather boots, scarves and dramatic wool coats. I mostly credit this to the frigid temperatures while I was there, but I fantasize about some broader, stylistic underpinnings. Even our cab driver was dapperer than the original Dan.

I hadn’t packed enough season-appropriate duds myself, so after day two, the urge to hide in the hotel room and eat free food was great — a temptation upset by all the mirrors placed throughout my quarters. A lot of hotels really like to jazz up their guest rooms by installing mirrors on every vertical surface without a window or door, making a person uncommonly aware of themselves from every angle. I don’t care how much of an Adonis you fancy yourself, (I do not), it really gets old. So, I recycled my one pair of long underwear and sallied forth to buy some coffees and Budweisers, both of which are entirely different beasts in the CR. Not unlike the Euros I pissed away in Portugal, I found it dangerously easy to part with the candy-colored Kronas, depicting hirsute men with impressively delineated eyebrow musculature. The money is downright psychedelic-looking in contrast to the grim granitescape in which I pissed it away, where the sun starts to go down at half-past three and where I saw almost nobody smile, laugh or flirt.

Alongside everything being dark and chubby and blocky and Gothic, (like a lot of the chicks you knew in high school!), the absence of foliage in and around the square really added to the post-apocalyptic gloom of the town. On my first trip to the astronomical clock, there was a crazy bagpipe/tablas/bass guitar trio performing drone-y minor key ragas in druid robes and long hair. They matched perfectly the mood of the place, much more so than the weird dixieland jazz & 80’s MOR I heard pouring out of everyplace else. It was actually some pretty good din for being in the heart of such a touristy area, and I kinda regret not buying their disc they had available for purchase.

And that wraps up my flea-bitten, rambling insights on Eastern and Western Europe. This will likely be as close to a travelogue as I’ll ever dare veer. I still don’t understand how people like Bill ‘n’ Ted travel in what amounts to perpetuity. I can honestly say I will never have passport envy, and I suspect even more than before that for a lot of people, world travel is more about the status than experience or personal edification; doing something exotic to say they did something exotic. Of course, there are still parts of this fantastic planet I need to investigate: the Outer Hebrides, the forested foothills of Mount Fuji, and maybe even a quick romp through Antarctica. Still, on the heels of this last adventure, I’m not in anything like what I’d call a hurry.

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