Our arrival in Prague seemed epic for several reasons. First because it is the final city on our tour although it was the first to be booked, and second because in nearly every previous city we have visited, people have responded always the same way when they hear the word Prague: a small gasp, followed by a long exhale, and a phrase like, “Oh, Prague is beautiful/really special/incredible/a great place for couples/the perfect end for your tour.” Neither Isaac nor I had visited Prague before, but as the months passed it became a fantastical image like Atlantis or some other lost mythical city. We landed at sunset on the jetway and waltzed through customs as peaceful as you please. Jenne greeted us just outside the international gate, her long hair and flowing cotton skirt reminiscent of a spiritual guardian welcoming us across the threshold. Looking out the window of the taxi on our way into the city, Isaac spotted a rainbow, clearly marking the cosmic significance of our journey here. Inside her building, at the base of the staircase, a dragon curled amongst the interlacing vines of the wrought iron railing. It was the first of many dragons that we would find lurking around Prague.
Over dinner, Jenne told us a little bit about the city, including the fact that the name itself means “threshold,” as in, the border between worlds, between east and west, perhaps between dreaming and waking. The popular legend tells of the clairvoyant daughter of the first king of Bohemia, who inherited his domain and foretold the birth of the city. We are here to teach at the Tango Alchemie Festival, held on the summer soltice and organized around the symbolic colors of black (dissolution), white (purification), and red (union), which just happen to be tango colors as well. Needless to say, we love the place immediately and, except for the complicated language, feel strangely at home. Czech grammar has seven tenses, three genders, and two states of being for objects. Names are conjugated depending on context. So for the moment, anyway, I’ve given up on anything beyond “thank you.”
Jenne and Pavel are wonderful, amazing people, and their stories of how Prague has changed over the past 10 years, post-Velvet Revolution, are fascinating. The accessibility of foreign foods seems to have been one of the most exciting developments, as traditional Czech meals are not the healthiest (meat and dumplings, cabbage, potatoes). Nowadays there is everything from vegan cafes to Algerian take-out. Also, in most other European cities, it is easier to see how certain areas were destroyed and rebuilt. Old Prague, on the contrary, remains largely intact. This might seem to be a superficial observation, but I have a feeling the atmosphere is thus preserved in a special way along with the buildings, despite the commercial onslaught of tourism.
And what buildings! I have quickly become a fanatic of Alfonse Mucha, credited by many with defining the style of Art Nouveau. Prague is full of architectural details, stained glass panels, and paintings by this artist, and by others in the same style. In the Mucha Museum we were able to see a nearly complete collection of his lithograph posters, which are incredibly beautiful. The lines of art nouveau curve and twist like plants, and the aforementioned dragons, as well as lions, angels, and other creatures dwell in architectural crevices around the city. Amidst all the decorative flowers and sculptures, a darker legend tells of the Golem, a creature conjured up by a medieval rabbi to protect the Jewish people…