It’s Friday night. I am home alone and I am bored. Sitting still is not easy for me. I have to work at it. Even a good book requires stops and starts before I can slow myself down. I stop to check email or to go to the potraviny (convenience store) downstairs to buy a bottle of the Mattoni water I’m mildly obsessed with. Eventually the turning of pages becomes all the motion I need and I settle into the comfort of stillness. But, it ain’t easy. My plans to stay in on Friday nights never work out. The second I set my bag down signaling the end of the work week I start to ping off of things. This weekend my roommates are away having adventures so the pinging is worse than usual. I’m like a monkey in a cage being taunted by a kid—a kid who will grow up to be a jerk. I need to get out of here before I start flinging poo at the imaginary little bastard.
I’ve decided to walk to a pub a few blocks from my flat. It’s chilly out tonight, but not cold. I don’t know the name of the pub. It has a green awning and a Pilsner Urquell sign out front. The word “spirits” is painted several times on the old chipping away walls. All the gastro pubs in Prague look like this—indistinguishable, warm and inviting.
The pub is at the bottom of steep cobble stone streets. There is a small park beside it. Street dogs are chasing (or maybe playing with) a groomed dog that escaped from its owner. The owner is calling for it in Czech. I don’t understand the words but worried translates.
The brick walls surrounding the park are covered in graffiti. Graffiti is everywhere out here in the neighborhoods—away from the preserved and untouchable city center. I step into the street. The dim lights above cast a faint mustard glow off of the stones beneath my feet. It feels romantic. I cross and turn back. I let the image ripple over me.
Prague is old. She has known war and struggle. She has known occupation. None of these hard things affected her love. She is too beautiful and too grand to be marred by smudges. Everywhere you look couples are kissing in the streets. Romance is elemental here. It is breathing. It is Prague. She is golden and beautiful and she knows how to tune people to her heart rushing rhythm.
The pub has a wooden door with a brass handle. I pull it open and warm air pours over me. There is a large table near the door littered with beer mugs and people—laughter and conversation. Several people turn to look at me. They look away. The man in the khaki colored jacket is of no importance to them.
The waitress spots me from across the pub and approaches with a green menu etched in gold.
“Dobry Den,” I say in greeting.
She responds in a stream of Czech I don’t understand. I smile faintly and ask if they have an English menu. I ask in my slow clear teacher voice.
“Of course,” she responds in perfect English. “Please take a seat.”
I drape my jacket over the back of the chair and remove a book and the hard-case containing my glasses from the jacket pocket. This turns out to be a blessing because there are only low lights in the pub and I can’t read a word on the menu without my spectacles. This scenario happens often. Usually I’m stuck with the point-and-hope method of ordering.
I have been to this pub before. The food is excellent. I am tempted to order the baked pork knee. It is a Czech specialty; delicious, but served in obese portions. I decide instead on the turkey breast with sundried tomatoes and gravy. Not wanting the gravy to go to waste I order a side of steak fries as well. I also order a Kozel Cerny (dark beer). As I hand the menu back to the waitress I realize that calorie-to-calorie, gluttony-to-gluttony I’ve managed to equal the output of the pork knee anyway.
The book I’m reading is called “The War with the Newts.” It was written by Karel Capek a famous Czech writer of dystopian and sci-fi fiction. He famously coined the term “Robot.” The book is good, but I’m not giving it the attention it deserves. I am holding it up so that I can peer over it and observe the people around me. Everyone always wonders about the guy eating alone. Why is he alone? Is he sad? Is he lonely? Poor sap can’t get a girl. They don’t realize that he is wondering right back. He is reading their clothes and their mannerisms and he is writing a story, a history with them in the lead.
The couple across from me has just finished their meal. He had beer and she had wine. Neither of them had the pork knee. This isn’t their first date, they are too comfortable for that, but they aren’t settled either. There is a newness and a hint of nervousness to their interaction. She calls the waitress to their table and orders a round of shots. The drinks arrive and they smile at each other in a private way that suggests that this will be the last drink of the evening. The last public drink anyway.
I look away, embarrassed by my intrusion. I turn my attention back to my book. My thoughts drift again. I imagine the couple leaving the pub and stepping onto the stone streets— into the dim mustard glow. I imagine the streets vibrating beneath their feet. They feel it but they do not recognize it. They think that it is anticipation and alcohol and the night air. They will go to his place or maybe hers. They will never know that their romance came from the streets. The sweet rush, warmth emanating, caresses and clutching, the smell of soap and sex; the physical belongs to them. But the inspiration belongs to Prague. Beautiful Prague. Golden Prague. She is the vibrations beneath their feet. She tuned them to her own indomitable rhythm of love.
I lap up the last of my gravy with the last of my fries. I down the last of my beer. I pay the waitress.
“Dekuji” I say.
“Prosim!” she replies sweetly.
I step into the cool night and the warm glow. I exhale and watch my frozen breath fade. I put my hands in my pockets. I walk listening to the clack of boot heel against stone. Prague is with me. I can feel her.