I glanced at the postcard that took two years to reach me and knew that I had to go.
It spoke of 50 cent beer and a people bright with optimism, a place of wondrous history and democracy fresh and new, free of the corporate deathgrip America's process and people are enslaved by.
knew the money would be difficult, but nothing stands between a man obsessed and his dreams. I began to save.
I read every piece of consequence on the place (including more than a few of questionable veracity), and started to notice something disturbing about the articles. Where were the Czechs? What of the people who had long suffered to bring this place to its current state? Why was there so much to read about Americans and their successful exploits, but no information to peruse about the exploited, the citizens of Czechia?
I attempted to find some information more honest than the bombardment of happy bullsh*t that the television and the internet offered, but none was available. Every media outlet seemed fixated on either promoting "investment" (basically, buying former state businesses dirt cheap then screwing the employees), or tour packages of "authentic Prague" (as opposed to the McDonaldized colony that now grows unabated).
I gave up my search, knowing that only my own visit would separate the myth from the reality.
As I have prepared for my trip to Czechia, I have made it a point to speak with recent visitors to the land. Often, while speaking with these people, our conversations have been interrupted by others whose media-shaped impressions belie their naiveté. An interesting incident I recall (at a coffeehouse in San Diego, CA) comes to mind.
To the best of my recollection, the conversation proceeded thusly:
"So what was Prague like?"
"Oh, it was cool, but it wasn't as Bohemian as I expected it to be..." (A young hipster interjected herself at this point)
"But, like, weren't there lots of poets on Charles Bridge? Weren't there a lot of like, you know, hippies and stuff. I saw a report on the Travel Channel that talked about all the culture and the friendly people who like, love Americans and want us to come over and help them and stuff...."
Darius, the Dane I had asked about Prague, was now annoyed, and interrupted her.
"The Czechs are beginning to hate Americans, just like most of Europe. They don't need your help, and they don't like your rude, presumptuous ideas and all of your business suits and lies, so try to stay out, you know?"
I watched her eyes roll like he was full of sh*t, and she walked away. I heard a mumbled "f*ck you." Darius heard it as well.
"I would split you in half, you stupid cow. You nosy brat. Go consume little girl, go buy something to help you feel better. Don't read books, you might learn something or hurt your brain, and that would be unAmerican, right?"
I waited for him to calm down, and couldn't help but laugh a little at the eloquent dissection of the girl..
"There are more McDonalds than Czech restaurants in Prague, so you should feel right at home. It sucks. Every year, there are less places to see Prague as it was, and more to see it as it falls. Old buildings I see in American travel offices are gone now, and stupid churches for all the business people are popping up.
You might be o.k., but you should pretend to be Spanish, or you may be treated poorly. Americans aren't as welcome as they were."
"Anything I can do to get by, Darius?"
"Be ready to be pissed off, maybe. Maybe beat up a businessman in front of an American business. I don't know, really. Respect the people, learn, be unAmerican and don't try to buy up the country. Listen first, talk later. I think you know the evil of the ugly American. Don't contribute. Oh, yeah... stay quiet and be polite. Learn Czech. Don't walk around and ask who speaks English."
Darius slapped my back. "You're o.k., Frank. At least you listen to people. That's a good thing. Be yourself, but leave America in America, heh?"
"Thanks, man." I am bewildered.
I spoke to Darius last year. I know that I will keep only the words of travelers who have been there in mind for my trip. I watch the same stock footage of Prague roll across the television screen, and always change the channel. So much bullsh*t, so little reality. Smells like America.
I fully expect Charles Bridge to be covered in product endorsements by the time I visit it. I hope not. If it is so, perhaps a new revolution is in order friends.
See you soon, Prague.