I am writing this as we enter the sixth week of the COVID-19 lockdown. It isn’t easy. We are all in the middle of a worldwide crisis and photography is not particularly the first thing that comes to my mind. It seems irrelevant to share my photographs next to the news about how many more people lost their lives with this seemingly never-ending virus.
On the other hand, no matter how self-indulgent it is, the lockdown opened up new opportunities. It created more time for me to reflect on the past years and go back to the places I love. At least in my thoughts. One of those places is the heart of the country where I grew up – Prague. The magical city of a hundred spires, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, stretching through the valley created by the meandering Vltava river.
For me, the city is full of fleeting, unrepeatable memories and unexpected encounters that found their way into my heart. I fell in love and it was love at first sight. However it wasn’t just a sudden fire that flared up and burnt out as quickly as it started. Over the years it turned into a steady flame that doesn’t go out. Regardless of the changes that the city has been going through. Regardless of my fear that the Prague I remember from my childhood and teenage years will slowly disappear under all the tourist traps.
That’s because it is not in anything tangible that can be demolished and rebuilt again. It doesn’t depend on something so impermanent. It is not something that can be explained or written about. It is not in words, but in the whole being that Prague is.
It is in those moments when I watch the dusk settling over the city. And Prague, like a beautiful woman, starts to get dressed into her evening robe to show off her astonishing charms. Slowly, one by one her hundred golden spires light up like precious stones, embellishing her breathtaking beauty.
When the twilight gradually takes over and the vanishing light becomes an artist’s brush. The evening disappears in the depths of the purples and blues, and the night silently falls over the city.
It is when I wander through the darkness into the soft yellow light of magical street lanterns. Then the familiar sound of a tram breaks the silence of the early hours, and I suddenly find myself back in the old times.
It dwells in the flickering lights reflecting in the moonlit river, the cobbles on Charles Bridge glistening after the rain, the red-tiled rooftops and white chimneys. A quiet midnight hour on the Castle steps, a morning walk along the river through the sunlit haze. It is 6am on top of the hill, watching the sunrise wander into the valley, which resounds with church bells chattering away and echoing through the morning mist.
It happens when I give up the desire to decide where to go next, when I just let the wind take me wherever it pleases, and when I allow myself to get lost in the maze of cobbled alleyways, hidden corners and ancient streets. Like a century ago a Czech poet Vítězslav Nezval:
Prague, I am turning you in my fingers like a precious amethyst. But no. That’s only a vision in a magical mirror made of dusty crystals, like Prague itself. A vision of a man, who full of excitement keeps getting lost while looking for himself, a man whose fate is finding himself by getting lost.
That’s what Prague is to me. That and much more. For all that, it is impossible for me to fall out of love with it. For all that, I will always long to go back, even though I know it’s never going to be the same.
A Wondrous Tale
Such a plain and seemingly ordinary day,
Fading away, gracefully coming to its end,
In this old town made of stars that wandered astray,
Where dreams and fairy tales seamlessly blend.
Little by little, as the twilight shadows prevail,
The eve’s tender arms wrap the streets in slumber,
Subtly this old town weaves a wondrous tale
Of the silent night – every sound becomes a thunder.
Gently the dusk falls over the quiet alleyway,
Lone lanterns through the darkness faintly gleam.
Such a plain and seemingly ordinary day,
Yet it bears more magic than a fairy tale dream.