March 3rd, 2005

me: ooh!

Prague, Day 3. Walking in the sunshine.

This morning, Fraoigh left at five a.m., about fifteen minutes after three very drunk English snowboarders shows up in our room and fell asleep snoring. Becca and I got up at around 7:30 am. I was very glad to have drunkenly showered the night before so that all my things were dry and easy to pack. As I was returning from the WC, one of the guys in our room exited in only his skivvies, sleepily rubbing his eyes. He looked at me and stopped. He gawped for a good thirty seconds and finally said, "I'm sorry. I'm SOOO sorry. Oh my god, I'm sorry," and dashed off down the hallway. I giggled to myself and went back to the room. I don't think they were expecting to wake up and find pretty girls in their dorm. (Becca had to return to the hostel that night when her flight to Amsterdam was cancelled due to snow. The Very Sorry English Guys, as she dubbed them, were still in our former room and still very, very sorry. Also, they couldn't seem to tell that we were different people, as they kept asking her if her hair was shorter and without blue the day before.)

Becca and I dressed and went to hang out in the common room to drink tea and eat breakfast sandwiches. Opinionated German Man (Becca's nickname again) was there. Becca learned that he was a history professor on sabbatical, an odd duck in a hostel full of young people intent on partying. We were joined by some obnoxious snowboarders, the worst of whom, depressingly, a kid from California. He made a loud remark, to which OGM said, "Ah, that was very like American man." I said quietly, "Well, they're not all the same." To which Mr. Jump-to-Conclusions replied, "Whoa, I'm not going to touch that. Got some anti-American, anti-man stuff going on over here." I gave him my most withering look and said, "Hardly." Wow. I didn't realize that not agreeing with a male once somehow makes me an unpatriotic man-hater. Maybe I just don't like you, huh, buddy?

We left the common room to pick up water and headed for the bus stop. Becca hopped off the C line of the metro at Muzeum to catch the A line to Dejvicka and the airport. I rode on to Vysehrad to start one of the walking tours suggested by the Lonely Planet guidebook. I finally gave up battling the desperate urge to record things, resulting in the plethora of photographs in the Day 3 gallery. Everything was so different – the people, the buildings, the street signs, the obedient dogs who follow their masters, never on leashes. Of course, some things are universal, like piles of dog poop on the pavement, people standing by the river banks to feed the swans and ducks and tiny seabirds and men whistling at the pretty girls passing by.

I stopped for a pastry and a hot chocolate with rum and to do some writing. I tried to do another walk, but was foiled by the season. I neglected to read the portion of the Mala Strana gardens walk that tells the reader not to walk up the old castle steps to Prague Castle in the low season, because the battlement gardens are closed. As a result, I got to see the Castle itself, which was breathtaking. All that you can see from a distance are its turrets and those don't give an accurate impression of the structure beneath. I walked through residential Mala Strana when I exited the other side of the castle grounds. I got some lovely photos of buildings that are still damaged from the 2002 flood, stripped to the bone in places.

My wandering brought me to the front of the Museum of Music. The cloakroom attendant addressed me in Czech and with my limited vocabulary (Dobry den – Hello, prosím – Please, dekuji – Thank you) I passed for Czech. Probably the only time I'll get away with that. I also got in for free. The sign said that there was a charge, but the cashier just waved me in, possibly because I smiled at her and said "Dobry den." I heard her discourage two English tourists from entering, on the ground that the temporary ground-floor exhibition didn't have any English signs posted. It's amazing how much a mere attempt to speak a language will get you. Most people seem to be charmed by it. I don't know why English speakers don't seem to experience this; perhaps it's just the ingrained subconscious American expectation that everyone at least wants to learn to speak English.

Though I couldn't read anything but the names on the signs, I enjoyed the talented caricatures of early twentieth-century musicians, composers and conductors rendered by the artist Hugo Boettingera. The first floor exhibition blew me away. In each room, you could listen to recordings of the instruments on display, played by current Czech classical musicians. There was a lovely Amati violin with delicate mother-of-pearl inlay. There were paintings on display in each room as well, by anonymous 17th and 18th century artists. I guess what blew my young American mind was the casual treatment of these. They played second fiddle (ha!) to the instruments. I would have taken pictures, but I was much too busy listening to recordings of the hurdy-gurdy, sorry. Fascinating obsolete instruments abounded. Arrays of Renaissance era wood-winds, six-stringed violas, unlistenable quarter-toned grand pianos from the early twentieth century experimental period. A double violin that was, essentially, two violins pasted together back-to-back

I was listening to a recording of a viola di amour when a small girl came up to me and reached up her hands for my headphones. (There were only two pairs at each listening station.) As I handed them to her, smiling, she said "Deku" in her little musical voice, and I knew I was tired and it was time to leave.

Unfortunately, as I was re-bundling in the cloakroom, I explosively discovered that bottle of water I'd bought earlier was sparkling, not still. I'd tried to guess by color since I couldn't read the labels. I was wrong. Then, when I went to the WC to clean up, I discovered that the signs were only in Czech. I flipped through my Lonely Planet guide's translation section, but somehow a sixth sense warned me to wait for someone to exit one of the doors. It's a good thing I did, because the LP guide had them backwards. "Muzi" is man and "Zeny" is woman. I cursed the guide again and on my return, immediately submitted a correction to the web site.

I came outside to discover I'd spent two and a half hours in the museum. It was late afternoon, so I rode the green line north until I reached the Czech beer hall where I proceeded to get sloshed before my flight. I didn't mean to. I had two beers and attempted to get the bill. It wasn't until two beers later that I successfully combined the right body language and hand gestures to indicate that I wanted to pay. I trotted to the bus and the plane, where I sat next to a Czech snowboarder. What is it with me and snowboarders, anyway?