Monday, April 7, 2008

Prague, 26.6.03: At the Sign of the Donkey in the Cradle

A pretty summer day in Prague. Cumulus clouds scudding high above church towers. We’re in a quiet little bistro in the old town just past Charles bridge, St. Francis and St. Salvator churches. We discovered a walk-through away from tourists and are drinking beer overlooking a green square with lilacs (not in bloom), another verdigris church dome outside the window.

All is a bit disorganized and dirty in a way Germans wouldn’t tolerate—peeling paint, fly specks all along the wall by the radiator. I’m very tired, jet-lagged, mentally foggy.

+ + + + +

Evening in Prague. Beautiful summer evening. We found a nondescript little courtyard restaurant (the Donkey in the Cradle) near where we’re staying and had a Pilsner, sauerkraut soup (with onions, mushrooms, pieces of ham, and a piquant paprika sauce), sausage, and bread.

Very pleasant sitting under the open sky and a horse chestnut, while a table near us talked in New Orleans accents. We heard one young man speak of Esplanade and knew we were on track in identifying them as Orleanians.

As they left, we talked. The man we knew to be an Orleanian was, as was his girlfriend, of Hispanic parents. Their friend lives in New Orleans, but is from about 30 miles from Olomouc.

As we ate, a little mongrel dog with perhaps some collie paced the cobbled courtyard, scratched his legs in the sand between the stones, pawing it backwards, and looked up intently at a balcony—why, we could never see.

A man who may have been the owner or a Stammtisch patron sat smoking with a friend and occasionally petted the dog. When the New Orleans girl got up to use the bathroom, he saw she was waiting at the locked door and brought her the key.

As all this went on, a boy, thin and lanky, came in, sat down, and the waitress served him without his asking a shot of brandy or whiskey, along with a glass of beer. He lit a cigarette, downed his liquor in one slug, and sipped the beer, then got up and went upstairs where he seemed to live. Balconies overlooking the courtyard had laundry drying on lines.

All around, too, were little shops selling antiques and bric-a-brac—old apothecary bottles, lace and cutwork, postcards. There were also a Book Nook, an out-of-business cybercafe, and something attached to our restaurant called Kelly’s Tower, built, I believe, in the mid-14th century.

After the meal, we walked up the hill to Hradcany, stopping at the beautiful overlook and encountering the New Orleans group again. The Czech man said he’s been in New Orleans 10 years and likes it very much. We spoke of Vaclav Kaplicky’s book Witches’ Hammer and the association of Opava with the witch hunts. He said even to talk of the story gives him goosebumps, and when he first read the book, he said to himself, “F—k this religion; f—k this God.”

And as if to bear testimony to what he had just said, we went on down Neruda St. to a church—St. Mary Something—where Mass was beginning. Though I can’t imagine what’s being celebrated on June 26, as we watched from a kind of barred catechumens’ antechamber all these churches have, a whole entourage of priests and altar boys came out, heavy incense, cross decorated with ribbons and flowers. One priest glared at us in a very ugly way, and the celebrant stopped at the back of the church, evidently to chew out two men standing there.

And it actually is an anniversary for me—a double one: my parents’ 55th wedding anniversary, my brother Simpson’s 52nd birthday. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine.

No comments: