Things Have Changed

Every time I return to Europe it’s a little less exotic. The mystique of past centuries is a shade less evident, the glories of classic architecture unchanged but less dominant, their impact (spiritual and otherwise) diluted and encroached upon by banal corporatism and international franchises. English is spoken or at least partly understood by just about everyone in Prague now, and that’s very welcome. But in dozens of little ways this town has begun to feel like a faux-environment in Orlando, Florida — Pragueworld. Not to any overwhelming degree, but it’s certainly noticable.

Would I have the old world back? No. It’s glorious to hang in this great apartment (apart from the drunks singing outside my bedroom window at 5 am) with perfect wifi and seven or eight English-language channels on the 21-inch 1995 Sony TV. I can kick back and churn out material without the slightest hiccup or impediment. But I miss that feeling of slight uncertainty and having to adapt to the ways of a strange culture, and having my consciousness slightly re-molded by that.

When my ex-wife and I first came here in late ’87 it was truly a world apart. So different from the States it felt almost spooky at times. The Communists were running the show with impugnity, pollution was rampant and the air was filled with the odor of soft coal. (You could literally scoop the sediment off the window sills.) And the dollar was all-powerful. My ex-wife and I made the mistake of buying too many Czech korunas and realized halfway into our brief stay that we weren’t spending it fast enough. (You couldn’t buy your dollars back — what you had in korunas you had to spend or lose.) Prague used to be a bargain — now everything costs pretty much what it costs in LA or New York unless you venture into the outlying areas where tourists fear to tread.

“Gentlemen, progress has never been a bargain,” says Henry Drummond (i.e., Clarence Darrow by way of Spencer Tracy) in Stanley Kramer‘s Inherit The Wind. “You have to pay for it. Sometimes I think there’s a man who sits behind a counter and says, ‘Alright, you can have a telephone, but you lose privacy and the charm of distance. Madam, you may vote, but at a price. You lose the right to retreat behind the powder puff or your petticoat. Mister, you may conquer the air, but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline.”

Welcome to Prague, Mr. Wells, where you can revel and relax with every commercial and technological comfort of home except for watching new Blurays on your 55″ plasma — the one missing element. All this will make you feel very settled and secure, but you can’t re-experience what this town used to be. Yeah, I know — grim up, let it go, move on, be here now. But still…

It’s noon now and church bells are ringing from locations all over town. They can’t take this away, at least.

  • JLC

    ‘But I miss that feeling of slight uncertainty and having to adapt to the ways of a strange culture”

    “unless you venture into the outlying areas where tourists fear to tread.”

    Sounds like it’s there if you want it. But you don’t want it any more.

  • Jeffrey Wells

    The outlying areas are dull and so-whatty, full of drab low-rent apartment buildings and no culture to speak of. The remnants of old Europe are mostly in the Old Town areas of the big cities. Mala Strana (across the rivers) is pricey but a great place to stroll around, and a good deal quieter than my neighborhood.

  • chimbondasgloves

    Try Asia.

  • JR

    Jeff, in the mid 80s the $ was super strong (damn Reaganomics)…I can remember getting over 3 German Marks to the dollar, and a decent business class hotel room could be had for under 40 Marks (or less than $15 a night)….I stayed in quaint Swiss chalets with spectacular views for similar money…without knowing it, you wax nostalgic for the strong dollar of the Reagan era.

    Of course the world is smaller today, made so in large part by the internet, but if you were truly interested in experiencing the exotic, you would travel to India, not Europe.

  • Jeffrey Wells


  • FlashDust

    Go east, young man.

    Try Tallinn, Estonia.

  • Jason Pirodsky

    Jeff – take a short trip out of Prague to get some of that old world flavor. The castle villages of Karlstejn, Krivoklat, and Konopiste are popular tourist destinations, but any number of small towns less than an hour from Prague will deliver what you’re looking for…

  • nemo

    If you want the jolt of being thrown into a strange culture, visit Russia.

    Even in the many ways it has adopted materialistic capitalist culture, Russia has given it a Bizarro world twist.

  • jason

    past have been past,just go ahead!take it easy

  • Travis Actiontree

    I was there in early ’88 during my student days. Completely different place. Not sure when it became a spring break destination.

    The only sign of Westerness I recall is a crew shooting an INXS video. (the band wasn’t around at the moment)

    Though I joyfully dance on the grave of Soviet-era, Communist totalitarianism I must admit there was something cool and James Bondian bopping around the Iron Curtain countries back in the day.

  • Eddie Mars Attacks!

    The past is overrated.

  • cyanic

    The reality is no place remains an ideal once you’ve conquered the dragon and become familiar with the surroundings.

    My late uncle told me when I expressed to him my desire to become an expat for the UK, he laughed and said I’d be the same bum there as I am here, why am I assuming it’ll change because I’m in a new environment?

  • moviesquad

    Prague is now the Las Vegas of Europe. It’s the number one spot for stag parties for those from the UK hence why everyone speaks English there now. These guys keep the many strip clubs and prostitution outfits in business. I suspect it will only become more Vegasy over time.

  • he reality is no place remains an ideal Resimler

    The only sign of Westerness I recall is a crew shooting an INXS video. (the band wasn’t around at the moment