I am sitting in the Botanic Gardens near my hostel. I am filled up with the beauty of colour, of purple and yellow and blue, of green everywhere, of birds chatting and insects at work. I can hear cars still, but the stillness here is greater. There is the most delicate perfume, like a drifting memory of scent. This place makes me think of my mother – a landscape designer. I imagine coming to work somewhere like this every day and I think that would be a dream.
The people who work here all wear green and emerge from the foliage unexpectedly. It is like looking at one of those trick paintings where suddenly you see an image hidden in every corner. I think it would be easy to stay here all day.Perhaps the castle can wait until tomorrow. I wish I had brought a packed lunch, a thermos of coffee.
I was reminded this morning of the Spanish women on my train trip from Berlin to Prague. There were three of them, a mother and daughter and an aunt.
The aunt pulled out a little pottle of Nutella at one point and then a little spoon and quite happily dug into the tub. I remember thinking it was a very good idea and one I never would have considered.
I met a Canadian couple at breakfast this morning and the woman said she loved Nutella (the conversation began because there was a plate of shredded croissants and strawberrys smothered in the stuff). She had the naughtiest look on her face when she admitted that she always told her children, “Just a little bit of Nutella, just a scrape” because she knew how good it was.
One of my roommates, a young Brazilian guy, told me some scandal has broken in prague today and that nothing this big has happened since the Velvet Revolution. He looked up at me, “I hope they don’t take to the streets.” He is leaving for Vienna today so he doesn’t need to worry. I will come and hide in the gardens if things get rough. It’s hard to believe I only have another two days here after today. Each city I visit I imagine myself living in and so it’s a little shock when suddenly I have to leave.
Prague has been a different experience to Berlin. It has been almost like a calming down period, a little rest. Berlin was heavy and fast and a little like falling in love. Prague has been more a gentle wander. No enormous graffiti art blazed on every wall, no furious jazz groups battling away in an old bunker.
I visited the five synagogues that are part of the Jewish Museum group in Josefov yesterday as well as the old Jewish Cemetery. The experience was sobering. The cemetery with its high walls containing up to 12 layers of bodies and the tomb stones crowded and leaning all over each other – for a long time the Jewish citizens of Prague were only allowed to bury their dead in this one cemetery.
The installation of children’s artwork from the Terezin concentration camp was heartbreaking. Some of the little pieces reflected the horror of their surroundings, but perhaps even more poignant were the ones filled with sunlight, playing, families together. One particularly struck me – an image of two camp guards, one short and very fat, another tall and thin, both with beautiful big smiles on their faces.
The most stunning was definitely the Spanish Synagogue. It was like walking into another world – every inch of wall and ceiling painted in beautiful tessellations and colours, gold accents everywhere.
There was something about all of the museum installations and the history that left me feeling unsettled, different from the deep sadness at the loss of lives in the war. As I sit in this beautiful garden now, I think what I felt was that all this incredible history should still be in use, all these relics should be part of the lives of all of the people whose children and children’s children should be here now. And instead they sit behind cold glass, not forgotten, but left behind.
I find a little cafe on my way out and I sit on a little vintage sofa with my double expresso and a sandwich. As I take my first sip of coffee, I notice a copy of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods on a bookshelf beside me and I have a feeling in my chest that I am in just the right place. Exactly where I’m meant to be.
I did end up going to the castle and found myself on a tour with a most hilarious guide, but more on that tomorrow.