As Audrey Hepburn tells us, “never a briefcase in Paris and never an umbrella. It’s a law.” And, let’s face it, what more perfect human will ever exist? So we (a we that may just include me, a third year Vassar student thrust into a new city and continually in the throes of a love of old movies and impractical but beautifully articulated travel advice) believe her. So basically, if I was in Paris I would be underdressed and soaking wet as I tried to pick up my belongings from the streets and Parisians would look on with delicately creased brows. (They all have umbrellas. They don’t listen to advice given in 1954.). Luckily for me, I’m in Prague. And in Prague if a girl’s going to get along she needs an umbrella. Needs. But more on my clumsy adventures in torrential rain sprinting later.
In the last day or so before I left for Prague I decided to read everything: every embassy page, every (prettily written) travel book, every internet page certified by the Center for You’re Going to Die in a Foreign Country Control Even Though You’re in a “First World Country.” Both my parents are doctors and I have hypochondria/paranoia in every cell I possess. Now, actually being in Prague, I realize I didn’t bring enough shoes, but let me tell you, I have enough hand sanitizer to perform open-heart surgery on the Charles Bridge. Though the CYGDFCCETYFWC is obviously a reliable and prudent source of travel information, I would probably have better secured my nomination for the practical human award had I learned some Czech. Alas. As I sit now, watching a dog down a beer larger than the one I’m currently drinking, writing this blog post, and clearly not studying for the Czech intensive final I have tomorrow, regrets are more than a little hard to keep track of in the dim bar lights. Let’s try the opposite:
I don’t regret listening to Vienna about eighty thousand times as I sat in the Austrian airport waiting for my connecting flight to Prague to finally arrive. I don’t regret the small herd of Prague-bound Billy Joel fans I met.
I don’t regret how I’ve gotten lost pretty much every day, because every time I end up at some different museum. It’s like the buildings can smell me coming and rearrange themselves so I never go to the same one twice (exhibitions of Dali paintings, and violins, and love elixirs to name a few).
I don’t regret seeing the US Soccer Team beat the Czech team in what was probably the most underwhelming display of nationalism to ever occur (We may or may not have been the only people in the US fan section). I sat right behind Petr Čech if that possibly means anything to anyone, maybe? I don’t sport, but a boy on my program screamed so loud trying to get him to turn around he lost his voice, so I gathered the moment was grave.
I do not regret drinking Tslivovce (Palinka in Hungarian) with an orthodox rabbi after going to Shabbat services in a converted hotel lobby (I read Hebrew prayers while seated on barstool). When a respected rabbi brews apricot moonshine and personally comes to your table to toast life with you, you will regret not raising a glass no matter how much your head is absolutely going to spin as you attempt to traverse the cobblestone terrain later that night. I don’t regret meeting his family: his wife, oldest daughter, and youngest daughter who looked like animate Russian nesting dolls whenever they stood in a line, all wearing almost the same conservative dress and running the show in the women’s section of the “synagogue.” If you haven’t been hushed by a five year old who speaks fluent Hebrew, English, and Czech, all in high-pitched singsong voice, you have not felt true shame.
Surprisingly, I don’t really regret knowing less than no Czech going into my first intensive class, even though that meant attempting to coerce my lazy American mouth muscles into performing previously unimaginable acrobatics. I would guess that to my lovely Czech teacher I sound something like the unfortunate child of a horse with a lisp and Kurt Cobain, but I’m trying.
I won’t ever regret, despite the build up, running in rain (the light kind of milky grey atmosphere that shakes itself loose at least once an hour in Prague). Sun showers, slippery as they make everything as you climb a platform that used to support the weight of the communist regime (namely a ginormous statue of our [least] favorite comrade), really are beautiful. They make the city, forcing you to pop into nooks and alleys and dusty coffee shops populated by odd casts of characters. At one table old ladies with hair in shades of pastel blue and violet are gossiping about I have no idea what (the only word I can confidently identify is coffee). On the high stools by the window, long-limbed university students are preparing for exams, already aesthetically prepared for the ’90s in combat boots and boxy sweaters. At another table an American, very clearly an American, attempting to process that she lives here now.