WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Postcard pretty Prague

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (MindaNews/16 May) — I’d love to sit and write, but it’s just too damn cold, I’ve got to keep moving.

The place is Prague and the time is spring. Locals say there’s no lovelier time to see this city than in spring when the days are long and the weather is fine. Darkness doesn’t come till around ten at night and it goes away early. You blink and you miss it. People stay up late just walking about or meeting friends at sidewalk cafes for a nip of what is boasted to be the best beer in the world.

The weather was fine for the most part since I’ve been here. Fickle sometimes. Like, the sun decided to peep out of the clouds at odd intervals today. I’d run out to the castle courtyard to soak in the warmth.

Leaving home, Google promised warm days, but it turned cold when I got here. And on my last night in the land of Kafka, the conference at that old castle ended late. I was so looking forward to a walk across Charles Bridge. It rained. There goes the walk.

Am staying at a cozy hostel along Nerudova Road in Mala Strana. Out on the street is a row of souvenir shops. They give an education as to which aspects of Prague tourists find relevant. I’ve been up and down that road many times in the last three days.

Crystals and glass and ceramic. Puppets and porcelain dolls. Historical sites and notable tourist spots replicated a million times on mugs and shirts and key chains and refrigerator magnets and sports jackets. Pralines and wafers and gingerbread. Altar stuff and rosaries. Christmas stuff and the Infant Jesus of Prague. Old, old books. And paintings.

An Italian priest told me that Prague was a most solemn city twenty years ago. Last night, a local said it has turned into one big Disneyland, attracting tourists from all over, especially now when the economy in much of Europe is down and travel costs so much less. Not solemn, exactly. His tone was most somber. He didn’t like how McDonalds and Thai massage and matrioshka dolls on souvenir shops were changing the culture of the old town. I thought it best not to comment on American pop music playing on the radio.

I tuned out when they started talking about how men past fifty are a throwaway in Europe, in America. I was in a conference with academics from 17 countries in four continents and I heard the same thing there at tea. It’s hard to be on a mission to bring Mindanao to the world when the world has other things to worry about closer to home. Time to hit the streets.

Brick roads. I guess if I find the yellow one I’d be Dorothy. Out there somewhere is the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion and I’m willing to bet that the global economy is not foremost on their minds. I met black horses instead. They snorted. Like men past fifty in Europe, in America.

Sidewalk artists and musicians. And hordes of walking tourists; like an endless parade, they just keep moving.

The cobbled streets require walking shoes, so it’s a delight to see fashionable women in heels negotiating the uneven road. Beauty first before comfort.

Prague was made for walking. Going out that door is like strolling inside a postcard. But, like the endless stream of visitors to this city, I’m just passing through. (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Gail heads the Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services at the Ateneo de Davao University, where she is also the editor of the university’s journal, Tambara. For comments, email her at gail@mindanews.com.)