Sunday, June 19, 2005

irish breakfast, castle guards, and crazed authors

It was the second time it had happened today. I had hailed the waitress and she came and took my order but ignored my two girlfriends. Perhaps my mind has become infected by the crazed writings of one famous Czech author, Franz Kafka (after whom this particular cafe was named). Were these two girls merely figments of my imagination? Were they invisible to the rest of mankind? No, it couldn’t be that. I haven’t even read Kafka. So why were my friends being ignored?

I can only assume that it is a cultural thing. When a group goes out to eat, perhaps it is customary for one person to order for the entire group. Whatever the case, Christy and Tami eventually got their goulash and dumplings.

The Franz Kafka Cafe off of Old Town Square was our last stop of the day. The three of us had met on my side of Charles Bridge and headed toward the U.S. Embassy to enjoy a hearty breakfast at the Irish Pub just down the street (This was the first location where a waitress ignored my friends.). It all seemed so cliché. There we were sitting at a table on a cobblestoned sidewalk in a European city. Warm sunshine poured on us as we ate breakfast outside, listening to opera music floating out of an open window across the street.

Afterwards we climbed the hill, zigzagging through quiet medieval alleys till we reached the gates of the Prague Castle. Before us stood a massive crowd of spectators. Trumpets blew and over the heads of the crowd I saw the flash of metal. We looked at our watches. Noon. It was the ceremonial changing of the guard. Normally I scoff at normal tourist activity but I found myself rushing forward, holding my camera over my head, snapping away at uniformed youths who pretended to protect the contents of the castle from the republic’s foes.

When the commotion died down, the mob ushered us through the gates till we found ourselves standing in a line awaiting entrance into the castle’s cathedral. The only think I could think of was that I wanted to get as many pictures as I could to one day use in my Art History class (crazy teacher that I am). Perhaps for the first time I appreciated one of Europe’s thousands of Gothic Cathedrals. I marveled at Mucha’s stained glass window. I became excited as I photographed a gorgeous mosaic adorning one of the church’s entrances. And then there was the flying buttresses. I was a zealous fashion photographer determined to capture her model from all sides. My excitement only escalated when we rounded the corner and there stood a prime example of Romanesque architecture.

Call us cheap but we opted for the “free” option as we toured the castle. If a building required us purchase a ticket to be admitted, we turned our noses up at it and turned towards areas where we
were appreciated for more than our American dollar ... which basically limited us to the castle’s garden along the wall. I did, however, defy the system and walked straight up to the gate of Golden Lane, stuck my arm through the bars, aimed my camera so that it pointed down the lane, and took a picture ... imagine paying to walk down a street--the audacity! As if ...! I decided instead to settle for the thousand words of a picture over contributing even more to the weariness of my blistered feet.

From the castle, the Old Town was our next destination to join the masses of tourists in their quest for the perfect souvenir. Surprisingly, I didn’t have the stomach for it. Perhaps it was the heat, or maybe the sight of walls of magnets and T-shirts, shelves of Russian stacking dolls, and rows of sparkling bohemian crystal glasses (that were actually made in Hong Kong) doesn’t impress me as it once did. So I strayed from the stalls of the profit-hungry and approached my old acquaintance, the goose, John Hus, the forerunner of Martin Luther. There he stood memorialized in bronze turned green over the years standing in defiance against a corrupt church. The man who translated the Scriptures into the people’s tongue, forever solidifying the Czech language. This brave martyr more than deserved a few snaps of my camera’s shutter.

As I returned to my souvenir-hunting friends, I passed by the waiting horses and carriages, briefly noticing a bucket that was being filled to quench the thirst of these poor animals of burden. Moments later, I turned around to see a geyser of water rivaling Old Faithful shooting into the air. Horses and carriages moved out of the way, and tourists gathered around to witness one of Adam’s descendants tame this fury of water. Applause erupted as a drenched carriage driver replaced the rod that had been knocked loose from the water’s source. The gusher subsided and the tourists went back to their shopping.

It is here that Christy, Tami, and I sought deliverance for our weary, sunburned bodies under the canopy of the Franz Kafka Cafe.

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