(insert "life is a journey" cliché here)
Before my departure from Auckland for my big overseas experience, a friend showed me a photo of this historic building in Prague. From relatively young NZ, I thought it so stunning; it was the decider. I had to go to this city and see buildings like this.
It took a lot of walking through Prague’s photogenic Stare Mesto (Old Town) before I turned a corner and suddenly came across that building. As I approached, an even more marvelous sight hove into view. An elephant solemnly strolled beneath, wearing a cloth banner that advertised a circus, while the keeper handed out leaflets. I reached for my camera and stopped with a groan. I had just run out of film. (Those days seem unthinkable now, to have only 24 or 36 shots at a time.)
A day later I returned with loaded camera to photograph the building, hoping beyond hope that an elephant might be strolling opportunely below the magnificent frontage. There is no elephant in this photo, yet its memory is invisibly imprinted here for me alone.
After some time south in Bohemia, I returned to Prague for a weekend and had been offered a night’s couch-surfing in the apartment of a student I’d met. We headed by train to the very outskirts of the outer suburbs: miles worth of grey residential tower blocks that looked decidedly ‘eastern bloc’.
The building we approached was uniform, drab, entirely concrete and devoid of colour. The stair well smelled of urine, the lift stopped just short of the floor so we had to climb out the door. But beyond the front door of the apartment was a welcoming and cosy student flat, full of warmth, colourful posters, comfy cushions, and pots of tea being dispensed from the kitchen.
Home is inside the walls. I’ve always remembered this since, in my travels, when observing buildings that seem terribly unappealing to my first world sensibilities.
I must add two ‘shop’ recollections from Prague:
A tiny stall selling umbrella parts. Yes. Parts to fix your umbrella. The Czech Republic was only eight years out of communism and yet to embrace western throw-away culture.
And this one, on the road to Prague Castle….
Note what useful items you can buy in this souvenir shop after parking your Lada. Baguettes and ceramics. Funny hats and amulets. Perfumes and ‘parfume bottles’. And weapons. You’re sorted.