All cities have a song, of course. London is grey and stately, Paris sparkles with life and romance, New York is unapologetic and raw, Portland proud and disheveled. But Prague hides itself. It seeps in like a fog. It takes over.
Some streets still made you feel like the best thing to do was drug yourself til you dropped. And in some corners, dark and damp with black sewer water, you could come down with schizophrenia as easily as you catch a cold. Then again, other places seemed to emerge from the magic spell of inertia to reconnect with happier days. By some miracle, or maybe it figures, these were the oldest places...
- Jachym Topol, A Visit to the Train Station
This is a Prague not found at the base of the Astronomical Clock, nor in the crowded places or the postcards or the audio tours. It lingers in the empty streets at the first light of dawn, at night in the winding walkways that lead to nowhere. It's in the cold concrete walls and the old people, in the ringing of water pipes and church bells. It is a hungry, patient debutante, siren-boned, crashing men and minds against its beauty. And I? I have steered my ship too close.
On the Charles Bridge stands the statue of St. John of Nepomuk. It's easy to miss, as the bridge is lined with statues on both sides. The story, more myth than history, says that John was a priest in the early 1300's who took the confession of the Queen of Bohemia. Her husband the King suspected her of adultery and, assuming that she had named the other man in her confession, demanded that John tell him what she had said. He refused, so the King had him thrown off the bridge to his death in the Vltava below. He is considered a martyr for the Seal of Confession.
On the base of his statue is a plaque that depicts the moment he is thrown into the river. How this is connected to his story, I have no idea, but local legend says that anyone who rubs the plaque will someday return to Prague.
Oh well...sure...why not?
So goodbye, Prague, for now. I'll be back.