This story is true. It takes place from Journal Entry from Prague Czech Republic during my artist residence 1996-2003.
A young man in his recollections, augments in his journals, a glimpse of a time in the past:
It seemed a long time ago but still fresh in my mind, a brief glimpse, of time passed, but focused memory, those streets of Prague and those slalom structures, a thousand spires that built the city. The town breathed with the hearts of ancients as well as some surrealism left in bygone ages that were sandwiched between ages, with soft coals smell drifting through the streets and a subtle bent of newness entrenched within the Gothic parable of bygone ages, gray, mustard and tinder.
An essence of restlessness was around each corner.
I could feel the riddle written in the streets between Nove Mesto and Staromestska, a fulfillment of the treats of sausages baking on the grills between places down towards the center of the old village, still patched and scraped with memories of all who lived there.
I too was the walker and sojourner of these channels and matrix of streets wandering ever impatiently as a newcomer, feeling a fallen spirit placed here again.
I walked these streets a good dozen miles a day at times, and perhaps more on some occasions. The stone beneath my feet always played an uneven sway in my step as centuries had worn them, prominent ages, and providence giving me a chance once more having a glance at the raised towers and history which made this town drifting through my head on each walk, and journey throughout the streets from the old and grainy mustard Jewish cemetery, with its oracle crows calling “break” at the falling of another eve, to the young lovers whose hearts beat tenderly together in the magic of youth and of love which was admired as well as jealously wanted.
This was another evening looking up at the sunset between those lofty buildings so old, and long forgotten, that one couldn’t really describe their history, those coal suited buildings that lay between my eyes and the sky as I walked, feeling those cobblestones under my feet again on such an eve. I was walking from Opalatova Street up, my valise heavy with teaching documents, my class ended in English, I a free man of sorts to think about other issues, a full 4 hours down of speaking, teaching and scratching diagrams all over the blackboard. I was tired, I moved with a quickened pace home. Still the dream like essence of Prague was insistent on my attention.
This was my nightly path between the center of Prague and the subway line to “Museum” or rather “Hlavni Nadrazi” (The train station) which was a mark half way home from the center. Usually I was taking the bus, but on some nights I walked the parallels between the crowds, elbow room only, Germans, Italians and then some Russians.
This was a real walk, far from internet, and hard stones under my feet, pounding pavement under-foot.
Tourists arrived like clockwork here, different groups every week, arriving and departing on their holidays. Somewhere here seemed at times like a city that was between spatial references, way out there in the midst of a gigantic international world. Today it was a group of Italians that were gathered walking evenly following their guide, his pole held high. They were following, I was escaping.
I could seen the last rays of light spread upon edge of the Museum out the the end of Wenceslas square, watching traffic, being especially careful of the trams that would appear out of nowhere as I moved on my special path up, crossing the street and over towards the Hotel Europa, that hotel where I had residence for many months and sometimes still resided in my mind.
Time plays tricks it is said. Was this the late 1990’s or the early 1930’s, still in an old style movie, faded color but true to the essence, a poetic movie wrought before me, through my vision, in polite integrity of real circumstance, somehow measured the details, and put upon the pedestal of time for investigation.
Suddenly a thought passed through me, and upon the wall, like a shadow; to stop by Europa and see if Dieter was working the desk. Dieter had been an old friend who made violins up in the attic of Europa during the days of residence at this legendary hotel. There was the Europa, grand in style and offering music in the Cafe heard from across the boulevard. The old Europa now demoted somehow to one star from five, by the period of reconstruction after the fall of communism. There is stood, and archangel of great gilded times past, the dim lights from within shining, one savored this time of thin harmony of music from the cafe as I approached. It was Bedrich Smetana tonight. Sometimes it was jazz.
I rolled around through the turnstile of a revolving door into the lobby. It was like a merry go round between centuries, entering the last of the 20th through a portal of the 19th.
A passing friend from the hotel tipped his gray Czech brow in welcome greetings. I could smell the cafe, something fresh was cooking that included meat, onion and garlic.
I sank myself in towards the front, half covered by the red velvet curtain that provided some covering from the doors in winter. Yes, I could feel the snap from the back of me of the cold as well as the steam from the radiator that was at my legs as I peered into the Europa Cafe from the side door, bolted shut. None of my friends could see me here. Carefully I scanned for Petra, Vossek, Dmitri, and Vera. They were not at their nightly chairs at this time, sitting drinking wine or coffee and absorbing this old expensive place and its nostalgia of the turn of the 20th century guild. No, they did not come tonight.
I turned around and looked at the front desk. Peter was tending the desk, the German-Czech with many legends, known and unknown. There were two people just receiving their room keys, and set off. Casually and with a great sense of balance he seemed to turn around and see me there, glancing straight at me as I approached, addressing me with a smile. He reached to the key box behind him and produced a key. It had been many months that I had stayed there, this was still automatic with Peter. He smiled, “My friend...you must have your room key!” I laughed and told him I was living elsewhere, in Zizkov this time and didn’t reside at the hotel but would return one day to my room. He again looked in back of him and pointed to #10, my room, “It is here for anytime..” he smiled, and then asked me about my life and what was new. We talked a bit and then I asked if Dieter was working that evening. Peter paused smiled and then shook his head. Out of the corner of my eye a familiar friend Vacek appeared. Shaking hands, we greeted each other, conversed lightly and bid farewell. I spotted the clock and I had been already almost ½ hour off my usual schedule home on this night. I would have to grab the buss at Halni Nadrazi for the trip up, making some better time. Natasha had cooked some dinner and was eager for me to come home for supper. I bid farewell, headed off into the night, up the street, catching the bus and seating myself on a crowded coach toward Zizkov, paying close attention to the bus stops as they passed not to be confused with my stop.
Soon I was at my street and viewing my apartment building, not as ancient as the old town amidst a group of 1920's era 12 story structures. The large door opened and I walked in, tired from the walk as usual, up one and then two flights of stairs and a mustard colored Mezzanine, typical of the old Soviet designs.
Ringing the loud harsh sounding doorbell Natasha was eager to see me, gracefully inviting me into the front room and setting me on the sofa for the evening Becherovka, an aperitif. My greeting home was endearing after the often cold day on the frontier, I one of the very few who seemed to have drifted through Prague, and on this occasion decided to establish an outpost here, and now with the drink of Becherovka, toasting to the day which was not easy, but difficult only now to have my kindness given to me at home before dinner.
Tatyana was a lovely lady. Her inspiration was Prague for me, her smile an effervescent light at the end of an often dark street, living and trying to make it in a totally foreign land. It was my first year. I had been lucky.
I went back in memory at that point to the first sight of Prague from the train station, the time when I stepped off the train was given a room at the Hotel Europa to stay and all of the dramatics that I had seen. Memories had their willing target, I a nostalgic person.
Nostalgia in mid- 20th century psychology was perhaps seen as a illness. The nostalgic mind collected but never dispensed with its legacy of thought dealing with the past, to be reconcilled in the past, gathering and haunting, cobwebs of the mind, the art of collecting old objects, while the new was put aside. In some minds nostalgia, was this thwarting of now to recollections, time dead and lost. The future, or at least to exist in present moreover impressionable and possible, if not profitable for the keepers of time. Diagnosis was not my thing, although many a diagnostic were held across coffee tables and in bookstore cafes in Prague. The relationships to old books, and knowledge were safely kept among those shelves, the libraries, archives. It is sure to realize that if all the past left in one second, nature itself would curl under-foot, such with the nostalgic, a history sense, long dialogs of World Wars One and Two, the cold war, and what will exist thereafter in a repeat of nostalgia, or rather a new word: “Statifiticosticy”, which is no word at all but a continual pinning to the present, which offers no cure for coffee table talk, memory, eyes pinned at ones feet, walking, bumping ones head into the should-be-known of what one had learned, baying off one part of nostalgia in keeping with learned lessons. But this was not my game. The British fellow Gleeson, and the old German Macke were viscounts of the old knowledge, Macke a collector...deemed the ultimate 'nostologist', cobblestones, and cobwebs, Russian and German helmets with “rausse and wooden baton...” ; what happened in 1941, a coffee table argument of Marshall plans and futuristic electronic implants, dread Futureama, dangers of communism and relic, warnings to the future from old minds who knew. I was not ill with nostalgia, among this crew...there was no cure for an interested mind however, an apt collector of small wit filled things. The coffee shops would be passed, one could hear the baited arguments by Mensa minds.
Simplicity had its essence in recording, at least for my own presence, this was the night, day, hour and second. Over the course of my stay in Prague I would see the old dissappear, and the new take its place over the course of years, some coffee houses empty out and replaced with shining examples of suit and tie corporate identification, stress, handshake-indemnification and cleanliness of what is profitable. Looking back, in my sickness of nostalgia...one might say, I miss the old arguments that once filled those tables.