A Skoda Filled With Mullets and Fur Coats – Prague, Bohemia, Czech Republic

A Skoda Filled With Mullets and Fur Coats

Prague, Bohemia, Czech Republic

Czech royal soldiers wearing furry hats
Czech royal soldiers wearing furry hats
A familiar arctic chill hugged the air, which reeked of hot mulled wine, the stalls of the Christmas markets hawked authentic Czech cultural souvenirs (complete with made in China stickers), and an elderly man with a violin sang “blue suede shoes” by Elvis Presley, followed by a beautiful rendition of “Shabut Shalom” on a stage in the old town square in front of the Tyn Cathedral. Mother Prague had already held me in her loving arms.

I have been in the Czech Republic only hours and have already been offered more drugs than I could possibly snort or inject, been offered the services of Czech prostitutes (of which, I assure you mother, I promptly turned down), and listened to BB King songs being played by his Eastern European equivalent in a basement Jazz Bar next to my hostel.

Half this country is chic, couture, malnourished and walks like any Eastern European supermodel would. The other half of this country abandoned communism with a bang and adopted the hyper capitalism of the 1980s; Grey, badly tailored suits with skinny ties, Jarimor Jagr Mullets, and fur coats; many, many fur coats. Prague is traditional and ultra modern, rich and very poor, East and very very West. In this confused part of the world, the museum of communism is appropriately located above a McDonald’s and beside a casino.

The Streets of Cesky Krumlov
The Streets of Cesky Krumlov
There is, of course, another element of society, the expats; those who escaped the clutches of their wealthy Western countries in search of inspiration and cheap beer and never looked back. They make their living selling cubist paintings from hole-in-the-wall galleries, or recycling Kafka quotes and reciting them at evening recitals in coffee houses and cathedrals.

Prague is stunning. Cities as old as Prague that have been untouched by war generally are. If one is a connoisseur of the finer things in life (art, classical music, theatre, and architecture), then Prague is a smorgasbord of styles, eras and genres. If one is white trash, like me, and fails to appreciate the finer things in life, at least Prague has very cheap food and beer.

The people of the Czech Republic are trying hard in their adolescence of independence (they only officially became sovereign in 1993) to maintain Western lifestyles. Unfortunately their images of Western life are formed by old episodes of Dallas and coffin dodger tourists who frequent the cobbled streets of Prague attempting to extend their lost and forgotten youth. As such, I have seen more bad perms in the Czech Republic than I could possibly make fun of.

Cold War values are evident in the National Museum, which has an obsession with quantity over quality. Like something out of Stalin’s trophy room(s), the museum poorly displays thousands upon thousands of exotic dead animals. The more endangered and extinct the animal is, the more likely it is that the National Museum has 10 dead ones on display.

Statue at Krumlov Castle
Statue at Krumlov Castle
Finally on day three in Prague, I left tourist Prague behind…past Prague Castle, past the stunning St. Nicholas Cathedral, past the overpriced marionette shops…I walked and I walked. I was not looking for something out of a fairy tale (which old Prague tries to be), but for the extreme polarization between rich and poor that I knew existed in former Soviet states that have been thrust into capitalism at light speed. I found it in the Soviet style apartment blocks, the massive abandoned industrial factories, and the dangerously polluted side streets.

Tomorrow I board a bus south to the town of Cesky Krumlov where desperate Eastern European women yearning for a visa to Canada await my arrival.

“Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy.” Franz Kafka. Mother Prague’s favorite son, and most celebrated pessimist.

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