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Prague and Southern Bohemia

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Prague and Southern Bohemia

October 14, 1997, via email from Bad Homburg, Germany

Friends: this is an experiment in communications — writing on the road. I plan to take care of at least part of my compulsive communicator addiction by posting these sort of things on a travel corner on our web site in the future — will use digital camera for graphics. Am sending this to a few of you more tolerant souls on my mailing list to see what it feels like to write and transmit quickly. If you're busy, dump this now. If you want to ride shotgun thru Bohemia, read on . . .

Left SFO October 8 via United. Changed planes at JFK en route to Frankfurt/Czech Republic. Had premonition: “Hope they get my bags to FF . . .” Should have stuffed that in my subconscious, for they indeed never came up the carousel escalator. Ultimate airport bummer!

My choice: wait around until the next day when they would probably appear, or take off on the scheduled flight for Prague with the clothes on my back. Chose the latter, as I only had 4 days until the Frankfurt Book Fair.

City of 1000 Spires and 29 MacDonald’s: Got into Prague, checked in to the Grand Hotel Europa, a great art Nouveau hotel on Wenceslaus Square. Over-touristed, but slight air of decadence makes up for that. Austere room, bed hard as a rock, bathroom down the hall, $40, incl. big bkfst. Bldg a wonder. Every surface decorated, every light fixture, bannister, staircase, skylight, door artistically hand crafted. Just think of a time when people took the time to build like that. Wenc. Sq. has a lot of garish tourist shops, but also great old bldgs, incl. the Melantrich Building across from the Europa, where Alexander Dubcek and Václav Havel stepped onto the balcony in 1989 to formally depose communism in front of wildly cheering crowd. (Recent!)

OK being forced to travel light, just my L.L. Bean rucksack. One pair of Levis, reversible Patagonia polar fleece jacket, comfortable running shoes. Bought toothbrush, shirt, and socks from Marks/Spencer. Caused me to rethink future travel gear. Light, quick to pack up and move on, carry-on technique means you’re out of airport and customs quick, no anxiety wondering if luggage will show up. Slick!

Prague is truly a beautiful city. Any one of a 1000 buildings would be a national treasure in any US city. Walked 10–15 miles in 2 days. Found French bistro, Cafe Marcel, had lunch of roast chicken with incredibly good pommes frite ($3),amber Starropramen beer like nectar (50 cents), followed by a cappucino.

Lovely parks, golden spires, here and there narrow cobblestone streets strangely silent for mid-city. Tourists everywhere, this the biggest downer. Lots of Germans, Japanese. And this is the off-season. Summer must be a zoo. Many western bizmen, all w/cel phones. But also lots of 20-yr olds. Lots of MacDonald's, Dunkin Donuts.

Sat in out-of-way park, clear after-rain fall morning, apple and pear trees, fruit on ground, no one else there, leaves blowing across green grass in red and yellow cartwheels, fine shot for bittersweet romantic French movie.

Chamber music Fri night at baroque church. No mikes nec. Mozart, Hayden, Vivaldi. Dhr Hayden violin solo, closed my eyes and elec. current passed up my spine, made me shiver. Later reflecting: 11 musicians, no electricity, music hundreds of years old as powerful as ever.

By end of 2nd day, a bit city-weary, up at 6 to catch the 7 AM train to Ceské Budeovicé ( the pronunciation I am proud to have learned, to the amusement of a couple of locals). Grab ham/chz sandwich and can of Coke for bkfst in rail station. Lots of what the English call allotments by railside, wonderful gardens, lots of fruit trees. Manicured forests. Ceské Budeovicé is the city where the original beer that has now tragically become America's Budweiser was brewed.

Drop City Deja Vu: Pass thru Tábor, founded in 1420 by Hussites, anti-Catholics who believed “nothing is yours, nothing is mine, the community is owned by everyone.” According to my (excellent) Lonely Planet guide book, “Newcomers threw all their worldly goods into large casks in the marketplace on arrival and joined in communal work. . . . This extraordinary nonconformism helped to give the word Bohemian the connotations we associate with it today.”

Why did this ring a bell? In the ’60s, hippie residents of Drop City, the chopped-out cartop dome community in southern Colorado, all slept in a loft and would toss all their clothes down on the floor below each night; the next morning upon arising they would put on whatever (and whose-ever) clothes they fancied . . .

Catch bus to Ceské Krumlov, am amazing medieval town in southern Bohemia, check into hotel on town square with 3 foot thick walls and look out the upper-story window at rain falling in the square, church bells ringing. Grey skies, walking around town with an umbrella,find a great small restaurant, warm inside, shared wooden plank tables, bustling good-vibes ambiance; roast pork, potato dumplings, heavenly sauerkraut is $2! Mug of beer 50 cents. This has got to be the world's best beer. Turkish coffee. Yowzah!

Amazin' World Dept: A few days ago I was working on a new computer program with my more technically-savvy and brilliant cohorts on a Sausalito houseboat and here I am in an ancient Bohemian village wandering the narrow rain-soaked cobblestone streets. And a few weeks before that, was in 105 degree Mexico heat driving through lush tropical desert (recent rains) going south into La Paz. Hey, life is rich!

Dark rainy night. Head out with just-purchsed Czech umbrella, open heavy wooden door of an inn. Inside low arched ceiling, rough whitewashed walls, the only light on is candles on wooden tables and the built-into-wall, about 4 feet high, fireplace with logs heaped up, orange coals and dancing yellow flames. Order beer and toast with cheese grilled on the coals in the fireplace.

Buildings have soul, as I've learned though years of shooting pix of them, and this room, with soft ancient music, warm light, and murmuring conversations evoked karmic flashback. Medieval ancestors? Couldn't karma be genetic? Don't we carry remnants of ancestors in our cells? Karma more scientific than psychic?

Once in the ’60s sitting at a table in Big Sur, sharpening a chisel by kerosene lantern, I got this flash. I had done this before, generations back . . .

Bus at 7 AM Monday back to Prague. Bus better than train, going through villages, partly on winding country road lined with apple trees. Here's a village not of show-stopping medieval splendor, but of nicely-situated feng-shui-savvy tidy and cosy houses with red-tiled roofs, each with thriving vegetable gardens, apple and pear trees, shiny-feathered chickens scratching bugs out of the weeds.

Tree leaves in surrounding hills turning autumn red and yellow. Fields of yellow mustard and green cabbages. I feel relief in the soulfulness and purity of the country, but big-city stimulus beckons. How great to mix the two!

Woman in front of me turns around, silhouetted in profile, looks like Mick Jagger in drag, even bigger lips, purple eye liner, . . .

Cab City: From cabbie, twinkle in eye, in Czech/German/English combo: Havel is a good poet but bad politician, is married to much younger woman a bit crazy in the head and he listens to her. The Russians left with their tanks, but returned with their Mafia, who now have a lot of control. Mafia-controlled cabs have been known to charge unwitting tourists $275 to get to the airport. Wonderful world of capitalism.

Back to Deutschland, picked up errant bags (thank God!), heading for the Book Fair.

LATER, Oct. 14, 1997, 10 PM — Quote seen in Frankfurt on my way back from Random House cocktail party:

AFFLUENCE, n: A shortage of sackcloth and ashes. Because of neglect of public works, the result is a condition of private affluence accompanied by public squalor . . .

A Dictionary of Political Thought

Lloyd Kahn, Publisher