Listen, My Children...

Every Little Helps

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Prague


I was in Prague first back when my family was living in England, so probably in 1995 or 1996. They'd just split from Slovakia a few years before, and were just beginning to rid themselves of the remnants of that association -- that is, try to look less Slavik, more European, more cosmopolitan. It was incredibly cheap, with free and nearly-free music concerts everywhere every night; when we drove over the border to Slovakia, my father, driving, next to his wife, with three children in the back seat, was accosted by dozens of Slovakian prostitutes standing right near the border of the country where it used to be legal for them to work -- I heard later that, with prostitution being outlawed in the Czech side, they lost most of their more lucrative business.

Now, ten years on, the Czech Republic is doing quite well for itself; fabric stores (I ducked into one) still carry extremely low-quality material and department stores hold Iron Curtain fashions, but prices for them are the same as for their higher-quality equivalents in western Europe. Perhaps selling cheap things as quality ones isn't new there, though: many of the majestic stone buildings are becoming decrepit and showing themselves to be nothing but plastered-over brick.

The concerts -- which are still excellent and everywhere -- cost $15 a pop, the same as in Vienna. The quality is the same as well, though, and the buildings in which they are held are so much more old-country. Vienna is huge, imperial, with massive marble and granite constructions lining every street. Prague is a jumble of variegated narrow buildings, many painted gaudily or with intricate moulding and openwork. Vienna's colourful Stefansdom is in a square to itself and seems built for photo shoots. Prague's blackened church of Our Lady of Tyn is practically inaccessible, the buildings around it are so close, and at night its delicate turrets light up like Dracula's castle. Yes, Prague does still have many things to offer that aren't available in western Europe. Kafka paraphernalia galore, as well.

And Croatia, I hear, is the "new Prague," the new version of the Prague I first saw, cheap and finding itself and eager for tourism. Will have to go there some day.

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