Come to Prague the City of Architecture

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“Of all the triumphs of life-haters today, of fun-haters today, of beauty haters today, of thought-and-love haters today, of the Forces of Satan, if you will, the one that most troubles my heart is the inducement of some Czechoslovak politicians and police to behave like cannibals toward the most humane and generous and gifted members of their society. […] These people are rooted like the saplings in a tiny nation whose people have created a major fraction of the Earth’s most important architecture, sculpture, painting, music, poetry, imaginative prose and most recently motion pictures. […] If a flying saucer person were to ask me what Earthlings considered to be their most habitable city, architecturally speaking, I would reply without hesitation: Come with me to Prague.”

Kurt Vonnegut- Taken from an archived article in the Czeský Rozhlas 

Prague truly is a beautiful city. Architecturally speaking, I agree with Kurt Vonnegut (RIP). I will admit that I haven’t been to all of the cities of the world, and that there may be others more beautiful than Prague, but it would be hard to beat this city of spires. Even on a bad day it kept me going; I had a difficult time losing myself into the depressive depths of me because Prague’s buildings kept grasping my senses, and I couldn’t get away from how lovely it was to walk through its streets. I’ve been to Prague four times. Twice to visit and twice to live. The first time was in 1997 with two of my friends. It was a bad trip to tell the truth. It was filled with a lot of fighting. The kind of fighting with friends that I think you only experience in your early twenties. Your twenties are much more difficult then anyone ever lets on. We are supposed to be adults, but adult-ing can sometimes take a lifetime to figure out. You think you know it all, but you still have little control over your emotional reactive responses, and you haven’t picked up the many communication skills that can ease an argument. It’s just a lot of yelling, and the word bitch get’s thrown around a lot (or some other pejorative). Still, the arguments are filled with learning points. What kind of friends and people do you want to surround yourself with, and what kind of person do you want to be? Where do you focus your self-reflections? Do you reflect? It’s all learned as we grow (hopefully) or perhaps it’s learned in Prague. Even amongst the fighting, Prague still left a huge impression on me. How could it not? Its spiraling towers touch the clouds, and its angels reach for the soul.

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I went again in 1998. A much better trip, and no fighting with my travel companion. It was a very short trip that also included a visit to Budapest. In 2000, I moved to Prague. It was while I was there that I was inspired to write about this city in a book. Again, I returned to Prague in 2015. This time may have been even more powerful than the last because I felt I had built a family in Prague. A family who is still there. It was the only time I cried when I left a place. In my heart Prague is another home.

What is it that is so spectacular about Prague? So resplendent? Much of it has to do with the architecture. Prague was fortunate to not be bombed and destroyed during WWII (except for the snafu bombing by the U.S. military in 1945- way to go U.S.A) and because of this it has been able to retain the history that has been embedded in its streets, buildings and houses. You can find gothic, romanesque, renaissance, baroque, rococo, and if you visit the Spanish Synagogue in the Jewish quarter you can also see Moorish revival which was influenced by the Alhambra in Spain (another must see).

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Nearly every part of Prague has some incredible sight to see, but it isn’t only a walk through the histories of the far past, if you visit the Dancing House or any of David Černý’s strange and fascinating pieces hanging throughout the streets, you will be awarded with architectural modernism, post-modernism and contemporary designs. This building, The Dancing House, which is a hotel and hosts art exhibits, is an amazement of deconstructivist architecture. It was built in 1996 and is the site of the accidental allied bombing of 1945. It is also call Fred and Ginger as it sways like the two famous dancers. It’s crown is a metal birds nest.

Most people when they visit will stick to old town, and head up to the castle district, but in every neighborhood from Vinorady, to Mala Strana, and from Vyšehrad to my favorite neighborhood Žižkov (my heart belongs in Žižkov) there is beauty to behold. So please, take my hand, and come with me to Prague, because I plan to return.

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Hlavní Nádraží’s station was stunning. The prodigious dome, with its illuminated stained-glass windows, and the colorful matted walls with winding plants that undulated in whips of movement had caused me to pause for a moment. There were statues leaning from the corners of the walls. Their faces with carved blank eyes, all more than a century old, stared down at me. I was crossing platforms that had been crossed by hundreds of thousands of strangers. People just like me, and people nothing like me, but we were all traveling. The colossal doors with sweeping archways were framed by statues of supine women draped in stone fabric that looked to flow and breath. The marble women, with their down-turned mouths and closed eyes, curved like open yawns over the arched windows of the doors. The station was a reminder of a time when travel was ostentatious and reserved for the wealthy.  And here I was. I had decided to move to Prague because someone had told me that the Prague of the nineties was like the Paris of the thirties, and I was a romantic.

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Good-Bye to 2014

At the time of writing this post there are six hours left until the New Year begins; for me that is. My friends in Australia and New Zealand have already seen the date change.

I think that if it were not for one event in my life, and a major event it was, I would chalk up 2014 to being challenging, but pretty thrilling, and damn- for lack of a better adjective: interesting. But, there was the main event that just broke my heart in a so-far-irreparable way: my heart was shattered. No one wants their parents to die (almost no one) and no one wants to know that that precious parent was found dead alone on a bedroom floor, and no one wants to know that that parent died of a drug overdose; prescription or otherwise. Yet, at the end of the year no matter how that loved one died, death is death. That life is over and you just have to let it go, and keep living.

In all honesty, I haven’t really dealt with it too much. When the thoughts of my mother rise, my brain goes into emergency mode: “You can’t think about it. Don’t think about it. You are not in a safe place. There is no passage here. Avoid it. Avoid those thoughts!” And so I mostly do.

Well, this is the New Year. I’m in Prague and the snow has fallen. Time is ticking and my year is nearly over- not that life is really gauged in years, but it’s a great way to write out a list.

2014

New Year’s Eve in Zhengzhou, China. The night starts out at Maddie’s with Bobby. We have too many drinks and go to Muse, a little smoky dance club next to Maddie’s apartment. Maddie leaves at a reasonable hour, but Bobby and I stay the whole night, have to climb stairs in the morning, and we wake up on Maddie’s couch. Bobby is covered in Gummie Bears. He fell asleep on them.

January
I travel to Ho Chi Minh City and meet a new friend who I had been communicating with via Facebook. We were on similar journeys. Took a trip on the Mekong River: One of my favorite moments in Vietnam.
Met up with a dear friend in Australia. We met new and great people in Sydney and Melbourne.

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Sydney

 

February
The 13th read a message from my mother. She was excited to hear about my trips to Vietnam and Australia. I wrote her back saying I would write on the 16th.
14th back in Zhengzhou.
16th forgot to send an e-mail to mom.
19th around 10:00 p.m. in Chico, California: Mom dies.
20th around 2:00 p.m. after school, Zhengzhou, China: Get a strange message to contact one of mom’s friend’s. Skype to find out my mother died.
21st Fly to San Francisco, CA. Stay a night with a friend before another, my best childhood friend, Rachelle, comes to pick me up and drive me to Paradise, California.
22nd another of my best friends, Rosi, comes from Seattle to help me with mom’s funeral arrangements.
23-24 We pick up mom’s things from the police. Have her cremated. I don’t see her body (not sure if this was good or bad since I haven’t seen her since August of 2013). We clean her apartment with mom’s best girlfriends. She had really loving girlfriends just like I do.
25th- My birthday begins with cleaning mom’s apartment: she had so much shit. A regular little horder. My best friend Rosi and my mom’s friends kick me out of the apartment. Rosi says, “what do you want for your birthday?” I say, “I want to go to the psychic, Madame Ruby, who lives across the street.” I’d seen her neon palm in the window since I was a little kid.
Rosi leaves, and Sara N. comes from Portland. We pick up mom’s ashes and Rachelle and her husband drive us to Eureka to spread mom’s ashes. My only knowledge of the place is that it was her only place of positive childhood memories. We spend the night in Eureka and then drive to Trinadad. We hike up the mountain and throw some of her ashes into the wind above a dramatic pacific ocean. I don’t know what she would want. She didn’t plan on dying so soon. Some things are hard to plan.
Dad comes to visit and drives me around Chico to the places where mom and him met and the first place they lived.
I give some of mom’s ashes to her girlfriends, and put a few ashes in Chinese stacking dolls for me.

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Last day of school

 

March-July
One last night in San Francisco before returning to Zhengzhou, China
Shao Boa, and Xiang Kia take me to Hua Shen, and we hike one of the most dangerous mountains in China. I toss some of mom’s ashes off of the sacred mountain. Now that she’s dead she can travel.

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Hua Shan

 

Apple takes me to Luoyang and we visit the Longmen Grottoes and hike in a gorge outside of the city after being stuck in what may have been the craziest country Chinese traffic jam ever.
School ends.

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Longman Grottoes

 

My students take me to Kaifeng for a three day trip. Me and five 16 year olds on e-bikes.

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Kaifeng with some of my students

 

July- August
I work at a new school.
Trip to Xi’an and meet a new friend: Leslie a fabulous scientist! See one of my childhood dream sites: The Terracotta Army.

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Terracotta warriors

 

August
Leave China.
One day and night in Seoul, Korea.

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Seoul

 

Arrive in Prague, CZ.

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Prague

 

September
TEFL training and certificate.
Visit Viktoria in Switzerland.

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Switzerland

 

October
Go to Cesky Krumluv and Ceske Budejovice
Can’t decide if I want to stay in Prague

November
Decide to stay. Begin visa process
Go to Poland for Angloville- 5 days

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Warsaw, Poland

 

Go to Berlin for Visa application- 3 days meet another amazing woman.
Back to Prague and begin new job
Go to Brno, CZ for first teaching job

December
Malacky, Slovakia for work.
Trenčianske Stankovce, Slovakia for work.

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Trenčianske Stankovce, Slovakia

 

Poland for Christmas.
Prague for New Year’s.

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Prague

 

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Snow on the Zizkov tower babies

 

The End of 2014

 

Thinking of Henry Miller

I’ve moved rooms, again. I’ve moved five times since I’ve been in Prague, and I’ve only been here four months. It’s really not all that unusual for me to move so often, but I’ll save all that moving talk for another post. This is about Henry.

I’m currently staying in a hostel. This hostel names their rooms after colors. My last room was “Beige”, and now I have moved into “Ruby”. I’ve also stayed in “Lavender” and “Purple”. Funny enough, my “Beige” room had lavender painted walls; not that that means anything, but I like to pull connections out of nothing. The night before I was to move, I had been lying in my bed in the “Beige” room, and sort of mentally writing. I do this a lot. I imagine that I am writing. Sometimes I am smart about it and actually write these moments of genius thought down, but not often- so my genius is often lost. I was thinking about the first time I had ever read Henry Miller. I’ve been reading Big Sur, by Jack Kerouac, and I was thinking about the part in the novel when he mentions a possible visit with Henry Miller. That’s all that is mentioned in the book, but I know what happened because I had read all of the other accounts from other writers. Maybe it was Carolyn Cassidy or maybe it was Henry or perhaps it was Kerouac himself that had told the story. The plan was for Kerouac to sneak quietly into San Francisco, and meet Ferlinghetti, and together they would drive to Big Sur to have dinner with Henry Miller, and then Kerouac could settle into the cabin, but it didn’t happen. Kerouac came roaring into San Francisco with his bourbon and drinking buddies, and never made it to dinner. Kerouac was already deep into his alcoholic depression, and going to Big Sur was his attempt to try to clear his mind and confront his demons, but he didn’t succeed. He ended up drunk, disoriented, and threatened by the dramatic coastal environment. Where Miller saw life Kerouac saw death.

The book is depressing, even without the part about ditching Miller. It’s depressing because Kerouac is loosing it, and I can recognize the serious depression, delusion, and alcoholism that he is experiencing. The depression is too familiar, and as mine is increasing in its strength, I feel like I don’t need Kerouac, I need someone else. I need Henry.

The first time I ever read Miller, I was staying in a hostel in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was the Princes street hostel, and it was 1998. I had been trying to find work but couldn’t get a job anywhere because of not having a work visa. I had paid for a full week’s accommodation, and bought food for a week, but once that week was up I had no money. I had managed to find work in a hotel, but I was fired after two days. I had never been fired in my life, but I didn’t make a very good maid. I wasn’t fast enough in my cleaning. So far it remains to be the only job I’ve ever lost. I was feeling dejected and nervous about what to do next. There was nothing for me to do, but to wander the city, and go to every museum because they were free. I would sit under the castle and want to cry because of the upcoming homelessness and winter, but it was too beautiful to cry. It was a desperate time, but there wasn’t much I could do except look for work, wander the streets, go to museums, and read.

I had been sitting on the top bunk aimlessly staring out the window when I had noticed Henry Miller’s, “Tropic of Capricorn” on my flatmate’s bed. I was curious to read him only because I had been told I wouldn’t like him. My boyfriend had said that to me when I was 20. He had been reading Anais Nin and Henry Miller. He had told me I wouldn’t like Miller that I would think he was too vulgar, but that I should read Anais Nin. He had felt she was more my style. I ended up reading Nin, but I didn’t care for her writing. Too flowery and perfumey: vagina’s like petals, and sex like every bed had silk sheets. It didn’t appeal. He was wrong about me liking her at that time, but I still trusted his judgement on what I would like and not like so I didn’t try to read Henry Miller.

But, that was five year’s before, and he was, in ’98, engaged to another woman, and I was alone traveling and poor in Scotland. His opinion no longer mattered. Henry was waiting for me. My flatmate gave me the book, and as I read I found myself laughing out loud at his vulgarity, and his boastings and rantings. I remember thinking, “how can a person write like this? How can a person be so free in their expressions. How can a person love life so much?” He spoke to me. I wanted to be as free as he demanded I be— that all people be. To not live among the dead that walk around in the “daily processes”, but to soar with the living. Don’t just get by. Do more than get by- live.

I think in many ways the dead can speak to us through their writings. They tell us to get up, to keep going, to have some passion, and to not give up. To wake up and see the world. The real world not the illusion of the world. I had thought about being a writer. I had written stories as a young girl, but I had felt insecure because really what did I have to say. Writing was for the “intellectuals”. I put all my energy into acting when I was young, but the moment that I read “Tropic of Capricorn”, and saw the way that Miller wrote, I knew at that moment that I wanted to be a writer. In a small way he changed my life. He crossed over the barrier of death and shook me, and gave me permission. I haven’t read a book by Miller in a couple of years, but he comes to my thoughts every now and then.

My move to Ruby was tedious. I only had to move down three floors, but I didn’t bother to pack so it took too long. It should have been a lot easier than it was but the close proximity of rooms made me lazy. I had managed it though, managed to make the chaotic move. The new room has several beds. I could have a huge slumber party I have so many beds. The beds have the graffiti of people who have traveled through Prague and stayed in the hostel. On one of the beds in huge black permanent ink is written, “READ HENRY MILLER NOW.” At one time someone passed through this place that was like me, someone who also was changed by the writer. Someone who also felt that Henry Miller was needed to be read. Now.

An unknown stranger writing on a bed in a ruby room. Look at us talking to each other, and we’ve never even met. See, connections out of nothing, and yet, it’s still a connection.

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