Thank you, Prague!
The fairytales of my childhood must surely have all originated in Prague. Here I found castles, bridges, legends, cathedrals, majestic gardens, narrow streets, kings, maidens, famous literature, synagogues, broad boulevards, murder, romance, towers, art history, archways over cobblestoned alleyways, medi evil city walls, Jewish pogroms and heretics burned at the stake. From Medi-evil intrigue to present day high street retail, there is literally nothing missing from this tiny, charming, stylish city. Not to mention the beef goulash and apple strudel! My days here have been spent wandering aimlessly, joining guided tours of historical areas, gaping skyward at spires and statues, hearing the Prague Musical Orchestra perform Vivaldi, Bach and Pachelbel in beautiful Municipal House, visiting cathedrals, synagogues and museums, getting lost in the maize of cobblestoned alleys of Old Town, climbing the hills and wandering the gardens of the Castle, and eating / drinking at establishments which have existed since the 1200s.
My hosts were particularly vague on communication when I booked in with them. The night before my early morning departure they informed me that they would be absent for the first four days of my stay and a family member would meet me at the apartment to let me in. The fifth floor apartment in this sprawling 100 year old building seems like it could be from the set of Roman Polanski’s World War 2 film The Pianist. Adrien Brody plays a pianist in this autobiographical story of a well known Jewish-Polish musician who manages to survive life in Warsaw during Nazi occupation by a combination of good luck and good friends.
During my four days alone here, I wondered where the secret button might be that would open one of the ceiling-to-floor bookshelves and reveal the secret room where Jews hid during Nazi occupation of Prague. Chandeliers hang from high white ceilings, white washed wooden panelled doors lead from one room to the next, each with at least two doorways interconnecting every room in the apartment. Furniture straight out of 1940s, large sprawling rooms and wooden floors, all above a cobblestoned maize of streets below the narrow balconies looking out towards the Vltava River. On Monday it didn’t stop raining so I didn’t leave the apartment, soaking in this romantic atmosphere. I even watched The Pianist, to compare their period movie set with my own. Very similar indeed!
When the owners arrived home two nights ago I found out why they had been so vague with me. They are well known media identities. Not that I’d ever heard of or seen either of them before, but I am not well versed in the Czech Jet Set. An agent sent them to London for a movie premiere, hence their unexpected absence. They are both young enough to be my children and they both seem very down to earth despite the chiselled good looks and youthful confidence, such that I haven’t felt at all intimidated or out of place with them. Her father is a musician and another guest in the past few days is a family friend whose father played in a band with the Beatles. Funny that one of the Spanish friends I met in Cambodia and am joining in Spain in a few weeks’ time is also “local-famous”. Again, I’d never heard of / seen my friend when I met her in Mondulkiri with Kim a year ago. But in Spain she apparently has a hard time walking down the street. It should be interesting hanging with her in Spain, after our time in Cambodia where she was completely anonymous (which is why she chose to live there for almost two years).
Returning to London tomorrow for a few days, my old nursing student friend and I are then meeting up on the south coast to drive to France. Her mother, who I’ve also known for >25 years and have traveled with a number of times including to New York as well as Cambodia, now lives in Dordogne. After five days in Dordogne I will travel overland to Toulouse to join my fellow Phter Koma Board Director at her home for a few days. Then I travel to Spain to join the Spanish friends I met during a holiday in Cambodia last year with fellow-MSFer, Kim.
A road trip to Europe! When Kate suggested this to me last week, while I sat in my 1940s-style Prague apartment, I literally kicked myself multiple times to check I wasn’t dreaming! Such exotic experiences belong to other people, not to me! The way that one trip has slotted in to the next, time-wise, is uncanny. Serendipity definitely happens in life at times.
On the same day that I was kicking myself over this exciting turn of events, I heard from my doctor friend in Cambodia. He had an exciting day too – on the very same day two different people had given him a book to read, the first in English and the second in French. He could hardly believe his good fortune. His words on this were “One day, two present. All the present are the reading book. Unbelievable!”. How different our versions of serendipity are. Good fortune has played a very strong role in my life to date, beginning with where I happened to have been born. After surviving Pol Pot’s terror and now living in a country where good fortune is only possible to those with connections within a corrupt system, his luck seems to have far more substance to it than mine, despite the apparent lower earthly value.