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give and take

The lord giveth, and he taketh away. Today, what was givethed was a forecast of rain and a reality of sun. The on-line forecast showed constant rain for the next 3 days, leaving me to believe that I would never see this stunning city in sunlight. But then, out the window was a hesitant yellow light, growing stronger. Quick, I thought, get out and grab some of that.

So I hopped onto the very old #22 tram, which goes over the river and to the top of the mountain opposite, to the Prague Castle. Which is not a castle at all, it’s a series of spectacular buildings, a cathedral, houses, towers, palaces, basilicas, churches and convents. Plus gardens. Plus the Golden Lane, a series of tiny houses that once housed the court soldiers, extremely picturesque except that they’ve all been turned into souvenir shops. The one Franz Kafka lived in with his sister for awhile, also #22, fittingly is a bookstore.
So in the welcome rays of the sun, I wandered about, in and out of a palace or two. Saw the defenestration window – some dissidents were thrown out of the window down a steep cliff, but landed on a manure pile and lived, thereby starting a religious war. It’s easy to imagine yourself in the Middle Ages when standing in a vast banquet hall with a vaulted ceiling and a gold throne. Except that you are surrounded by Russian, Italian, French and Japanese tourists. At a viewpoint overlooking the whole city, I stood next to a man who wondered aloud what the beautiful tree below was. “A magnolia,” I told him. He was from Arizona, where they don’t have magnolias.
After a final, blissful wander in the Palace Gardens, where among many exotic trees there’s one sugar maple donated by the Canadian government in 1958 – HOME! – I took the #22 back, looking in trepidation at the dark clouds in the sky. But they cleared. It did not rain.
Back here, however, was today’s takething away. You will find this hard to believe, because I find it hard to believe and I’m here right in the middle of it – but at the flat, I opened my bag to get out the tickets that I bought yesterday for two operas – and discovered that they’ve vanished. I’m sure I put them in a special safe pocket of my big bag, a deep one inside at the back where I only keep my keys, and they’re simply not there. I have looked everywhere, garbage pails, pockets, everywhere. When I was taking out my keys, could I have accidentally slid them out and dropped them? It doesn’t seem possible. A giant mystery.
Well, folks, once again I give myself a D minus in travel. I am an idiot, or else Prague has some pretty nimble, music-loving thieves. Or else, as Chris says, back in Toronto I’ll open something and there they’ll be. But at the same time, it didn’t get to me that much. Because once you’ve left your handbag with everything in it on a train in the south of France, losing a few theatre tickets is nothing. Absolutely nothing. I decided that it was karma, as my friend Wayson would say, and meant that I was supposed to stay home those nights and work.
On my way to meet Johanna this evening, however, I went to the place where I’d bought them, showed the man the Visa slip and explained. I thought he’d shrug and tell me to get lost. Instead, he said to come to the box office tomorrow at the State Theatre – he’ll be working and might be able to help me. So I might get in anyway. If I don’t, I’ll rent “Amadeus” and pretend I was there.
(On my tourist map, by the way, it shows all the movies made recently in Prague, like “The Omen,” “Mission Impossible,” “The Bourne Identity,” “Hannibal Rising” and many more. The whole city is one giant movie set.)
And then, the lord gaveth again. My young Cabbagetown friend and I had dinner together and then went to a concert she’d got us tickets for, a German ensemble called Weser-Renaissance performing the “Missa Paschalis” of Heinrich Isaac, written more than 500 years ago. It was sublime – Gregorian chant, many kinds of harmonies, five musicians with period instruments and five men with the most extraordinarily perfect pitch, sweetness, clarity, weaving their voices together in the echoing church. The counter-tenor had the richest male soprano voice I’ve ever heard, like a bell, sounding out above the others. At the end of each – movement, do these things have movements? Anyway, when one piece ended, the voices would shimmer and fall away in the echoey silence. Oh it was gorgeous.
Then we emerged into Prague at night, the ice cream houses glowing with lights, the turrets on the old town square looking like the silhouette of Disney’s magic castle. I walked home. And now – now, it’s raining.
P.S. I wrote here a few days ago that I’d made a mistake in my travel plans – should have done London – Prague – Berlin – Paris rather than the reverse, since the train from Prague to Paris goes through Berlin anyway. However, if I HAD done it that way, the very day I would have tried to fly into Prague is the day Obama and Medvedev arrived in Prague to sign the nuclear non-proliferation pact. The airport was closed down for two days and so was practically the entire city. So, by the sheerest chance, I did it the right way after all.
And maybe those tickets are just … hiding mischievously somewhere. Come out, come out wherever you are!

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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