Prague

Snapshots of Prague.

Prague I (Street)
Slow morning. I wake before her, shower, dress. She only realises I’m not beside her once I’m fully clothed, ready to leave. She smiles as she wakes, seeing me, asking where I’m going. “For the bread.” She is warm, an becomes warmer as she smiles. I leave her wrapped in fresh white sheets, feel her softness on me as I ride the elevator down to the street.
It is a short walk to the bakery, two minutes or less. From yesterday’s visit I am familiar with the layout, and am greeted by the same girl who served me then. I skip past the temptation of sweet indulgence, and, pointing, ask whether I can have a half of one of the loaves that lie on tilted wooden racks behind her. Of course I may - sliced? I indulge.
In my right hand I hold the crinkly, crisp gathered bunch of waxed paper that contains my prize. Enough for a meal, maybe two. I walk back towards the heavy dark wood door that opens to our room, my left hand’s fingers fingering the angular peaks and troughs of the key that will open it. I’m lost in it all, in the peace of it, the picture. Alone in Prague, just for a moment, walking the cobbled streets to fetch the bread while she sleeps.
I am wearing new trousers. “Gap pants, alriiight,” croons yesterday's American husband as he folded them, placed them in the bag.
Suddenly a door to my left is thrown open and two huge dogs come bounding out and start walking circles on the pavement in large, excitable steps. They are an alien intrusion on the otherwise calm scene, but they immediately blend in as I appreciate their presence and how well they complement it all, offsetting it all so something in me grows, and everything is larger and lovelier and more inclusive than before. Another wave of it, there…
One of them brushes past my right-hand side, the scent of my clutched bag and what lies within it enough to make his head turn. The other squats to relieve itself, right in the middle of the pavement, its thick, curly black hair looking like any other overcoat on the back of any other person - bulky, practical, cumbersome, warm. They are followed closely by their owner, a woman wearing orange-rimmed sunglasses, black hair pulled back tightly over her head into a neat bun, forcibly extruding her soul into the world with her just-swallowed coffee as backup. She calls after them - I forget the exact intonation - something like “mi-chiii, mi-chiii,” and shuffles her bag and keys as she slips through the closing door.
I pass by them all, and am happy to leave their motion and energy behind to play out as it will. A minute later I’ve sunk the key into the lock of the heavy brown door and pushed against the mottled metal of the handle, briefly exposing the dimness and quietness of the hallway to the relative movement of the air outside. The slice of sunlight that opens and spreads upon my entry is wiped clean as the door closes. To my left the wide granite steps curve coolly upwards and away. I cannot remember what lies to the right. Directly ahead of me stands the soft black door of the lift. I thumb one of two circles of hard plastic that sit on the right of its frame. A deep red glow immediately issues from its heart as I release it, and I hear the muted clunks and whirs as its ancient machinery stirs into action.
I open the door towards me and step into the shoulder-and-a-half-width box that sits on the other side. I turn and close the two halves of inner door which click shut and are held in place by two small sets of magnets. A sign on the back of the door is stitched together as they close: “DO NOT OPEN DOORS / UNTIL SIGNAL BELL IS HEARD.”
The back wall of the box is taken up by an entirely untarnished bronze-tinted mirror. I wonder who might polish it - does an anonymous buffer patrol this ancient column, unseen? By the light issuing from one working half of a glowing array of bulbs I see my distorted reflection, standing calmly in his bronze rectangle of transient activity. The bulbs are set deeply within in a dark strip of plastic, their housing a series of circles drilled through it in a meditated line; a collection of suns, set against the pitch of space. Athip-height are the controls; a steady, extended pause of buttons set at 45° reflecting the pattern of suns above, their ellipsis five-strong.
My left hand reaches up, bronzed other mirroring, and depress a glowing “3.”
Prague II (market)
12 midday. Two women are sat at a cheap metal table, reclining in their seats, talking back and forth, small glasses of white wine resting half-drunk in front of them. Behind them at the pottery stall a large man reclines in a wicker chair of his own making, drawing on a hand-rolled cigarette, thick, heavy smoke issuing from his nose, beard, ears. A scattering of people drink beer from plastic cups, as casually as water. Children dressed in bright over-sized padded jackets, boots, mittens, hats, glasses look out at the world, led by mother’s adoring hand. One falls, slumps hard to the ground, cries out in perfect, open, helpless sadness. Mother reassures, picks him up, sets him on his feet.
At the cheese stall two small girls stand side-by-side, hand-in-hand, the left-hand girl clutching a note in her free fingers. Kind-hearted woman holds a metal blade flat and shining to the hard skin of a cheese at just above child’s-eye level, ready to slice, speaks softly to them: “Enough? Here?” The girls look at each other and agree, each making half of the decision – woman presses firmly down, cutting a segment free.
Fresh-faced man with short, hastily-cut hair and the waxen skin of a recent shave sees the world for the first time in days, hurries around the market with an excited, astonished urgency, seeking his meal. Thin curved limbs and flat green leaves of a coriander plant press against the rippling surface of his transparent red plastic shopping bag that he holds in a loosely clenched fist. It rustles as he cuts a shadow through the sunlight spread across boxes piled high with fruits, vegetables, briefly dulling the warm segments of apple cut and laid out for tasting. He scurries past, disrupting sparse columns of highlighted steam that expand and curl from the open swaying black-brown surfaces of coffees bought from the little stall, queue growing and shrinking with accordion rhythm.
A gigantic cooling vent two stories in height sits silently to one side, a towering innocuous presence that is warm and inviting, despite its brutal appearance. A gentle giant as protector, focus. The uppermost three-quarters of its concrete body project a series of vertical straight-razors that jut out in sharp parallel lines; the bottom six foot are coloured with scrawling, swirling graffiti the same as seen on all other buildings in the area, the contours and tones of the spray can and the arms that move them a shared human identity, expressed in colour, shape, practised rhythm.
In the shadow of the giant are a crowd of people, gathered to watch a child’s puppet show. Bright painted faces on wooden boards are thrust up and down with soft, bright, innocent eyes following – animated woman with creased, baggy clothes and a shock of long, unkempt grey-brown hair that bounces up and down along with her voice sounds off accented and accentuated character voices, grinning enthusiastically with the limitless energy of the mother, carer, entertainer. Next to her is a young, conscious, smooth-skinned man, long hair tied behind his head and with trumpet in hand, poised to begin. He watches his partner with warm eyes, entirely centred, ready to entertain, to play his part.
Pigeons fly overhead and land, the symmetry of their spread wings flashing a brief pin-badge icon. Ageing man with large backpack tries to engage with the occupants on a row of benches with a splayed, inviting hand – English? Français? Deutsche? Čeština? He reels off his options, abandons, and swans towards an empty bench, extracting a green plastic bottle of wine from the waistband of his trousers which slacken and begin to fall. He grabs a fistful of loose material and thuds softly down on an empty seat, takes off is boots that deflate and sit still on the ground beside him. He sinks into his seat; a moment of lethargy, then he sits bolt upright, draws two thick hardback books from his bag and places them ceremoniously on the bench beside him, swigs from his bottle, and begins watching the world. He smiles at passers by, offers comment, calls to one he recognises from a past interaction, then looks out in empty moments with an air of innocent longing, tinged perhaps with bitterness, but with something honest, small, vulnerable tucked deeply away. It glimmers before he is startled by the returning presence of people, and is drawn back to his affronting routine. He forgets his sorrow, reads in the wake of his finger from a book, looking eagerly up and down, performing to no-one.
Small dog bounces along between its owners, jumping and snapping continuously at its lead – seated man watches, exclaims as the image hits home, calls Czech commentary, applauds, and invites others with his searching eyes to appreciate this small marvel. Girl in her mid-twenties with long, flowing hair rolls silently by on an old thin-framed Peugeot bicycle, paint dulled, with cigarette in hand. Seated man produces a coin from his pocket, pinches it between both index fingers and thumbs and holds it out in offering, following her silken trajectory with lighthouse attention.
Prague III (Hank’s)
The sign is simple, in electric blue impression of typed face reads “Hank’s”, sticks out perpendicular to the bar’s walls, signifying presence. There’s not much else to tell it’s there; like all other bars in that part of the city it blends in with the façades of their mother buildings, only small outward-facing clues hinting at what might be inside. Discreet is the word. The windows offer little visibility to ascertain the mood inside; darkness and bodies and a lattice of metal shutters obscure the view.
With a push of the door you are drawn in to another world, a warm, dark, smoke-filled space studded with small lights, the immediate centrepiece of the bar that is wide, smooth surface with curved edges jutting back to the rear wall lined and piled high with underlit spirits of all name and variety, the occasional poster and photograph, a mirror. The place hums with energy, talk, movement, the sporadic sound of ice rattling in cocktail shakers. We enter, remove our coats.
The floor is carpeted, patterns of deep reds and blacks and golds twisting together in a repeating mess of jagged and swirling shapes all trod thin from years of footfalls. The cushioning creates a comfort and a sense of alienation from the norm, a sense that I was in a place somehow separate from others, as though I’d stepped in to a relic of a time-gone-by, a vestige of something that’s clinging on despite the pressing march of modernity. The carpet, of course, is entirely impractical, but that gives it character; mood and style take over, eschewing practicality in favour of personality, charm, just enough fantasy… All tables are occupied, but the place isn’t crowded. An ideal number of bodies have gathered, in natural equilibrium with the evening. Later in the night, more press in and the first twitchings of drunken fever light up the bar as we are leaving, the mood changing but always naturally, in time. To the left of us are mostly groups of two-seaters, and a few larger tables out in the wider space at the right of the bar, where a healthy clutch of figures stand around, waiting or chatting back and forth, firmly set in their position. Some come up, order then leave while others are perched permanently either on a bar-stool or simply leaning with elbow as support. As we order we hang our coats on hooks underneath the bar—always a delight to find them—and we are happy to stand for a while as we settle in to the place. We look around.
Smoke hangs in the air, curls in little belly dances, in long bleeding brushstrokes, in hooped question-mark hooks from the glowing and swinging ends of casual cigarettes, dissolving then as sugared seahorses into a warm, wanting sea of air. People sit together wherever there’s space, on ledges and in nooks, sharing a small table with a refreshing ease and comfort. Conversation comes in from all angles; Czech, English, German, the occasional twang of something else, perhaps a French exclamation, an American drawl. There is a sense of place here, the feeling that beyond language we might all be here for a similar reason, that we might want to exist and indulge in this specific environment together, something unspoken, a sense that we’re all just getting on with it, with less of the separation and agitated need found in my home city, as strange as it is to call it so. We notice a couple on one of the left-side tables getting up and making their move; I unhook my coat, clutching a rippling bunch of its thick material in my hand, walk over and casually place it around the back of the vacant chair. We sit, beers in hand, and cheers with winking eyes again, to happy holidays, to absent friends… Under the shelter of the wall we feel secluded, though we’re right in the middle of it. We look out at the scene, allow it to unfold and dissipate and be slowly reborn again and again like the smoke escaping the glowing orange constellations that wink and glow and shift around us.
We finish our drink. I go to the bar, lean amongst the others already there, and wait. I blend in and watch the two barmen flicking the beer taps with inviting gestures of their index fingers, then standing watchfully whilst the glasses fill. They adjust the flow of beer with a small metal lever on the side of the taps so that foamy heads top the otherwise brilliantly clear amber-coloured liquid, and pass them out. Three wide-armed fans spin diligently above, circulating the air. I turn to look behind me; she is sat in profile at our table next to the wall, cigarette in hand. She casually takes a puff, rests her arm on the table and blows a small, soft, rounded plume of smoke back into the room. She blinks and looks forward, lost in a small moment of seclusion, then her eyes dart sideways and she sees that I’m watching her, and smiles. I mirror her smile, and turn my head towards the bar. One of the barmen looks down its length, catches my eye and holds up two fingers with nod both questioning and certain, remembering our last drink and predicting our next. I reflect his nod in response, and he draws two fresh glasses from the shelves to the right of the taps. He pours them, deeply embedded in the practised motion of it all and approaches, taking the time to place two beer-mats on the bar before he sets the beers down. “Seventy crowns, please.” He asks in English, in a friendly, open tone. In misshapen Czech I offer him my thanks, and hand him a note.
Then back in. The old routine; eyes meet, sparkle. To absent friends, happy holidays. Glasses clink, and small measures of perfectly cold beer appear from beneath the head of pristine white foam. We drink, recline, settle in. Smoke curls, voices chatter, time unwinds. The door opens, closes. Perspective zooms out and is forgotten and we are here, perfectly here.

Inspired by this project? Showcase projects you’ve worked on and inspire other people.

Like what you see? Be the first to leave a comment for Tom!

Add comment
All-round creative with a wordy output.