Friday, February 18, 2005

Umbrellas on the Charles Bridge with View of St. Vitus Cathedral - Prague (April 2004)

I thought this was an interesting juxtaposition of modern life against the ancient aura of Prague. There is the majestic cathedral and the solemn pope beside the ludicrous rainbow umbrellas of a caricaturist out to make a buck. I wonder if the Charles Bridge was a tourist trap in the days of Charles. Its design seems to invite that sort of atmosphere. But it's interesting how the bridge changes over the course of the day and how the personality of the crowds that wander across it shift depending on the time. In the early morning, while the world is still dark, it sits quietly enjoying the company of the group of 3 or 4 drunken teenagers who spent all night chatting away on the bridge. Then it is joined by the photographer crowd who capture the play of light as the sun rises. The occasional health enthusiast jogs or cycles by. The first tourists emerge from their fancy hotels and wander around with their jaws gaping. Then the vendors, mostly artists or people pretending to be artists, wheel their carts out, jangling noisily over the cobblestones. A little later the musicians will emerge to cater to the larger crowd of tourists now waking up from their late-night escapades on the town. Around midday the bridge is so packed with people that crossing it becomes game-like. It's a constant effort to dodge the oncoming tourist groups, each one chattering in a different language. Part of the game is guessing which language they are using. At some point a relic of Prague may show up and set up a stand on the castle side of the bridge. He's a comical-looking old man who sits in front of a mirror with his tongue hanging out. He paints self-portraits of his extended tongue and sells them, occasionally proclaiming loud humorous Czech profanities at passing foreigners who are oblivious to his offensive comments. Slowly the day ebbs away, and the sky gets dark again. This is when the freaks come out. The fire-twirlers, fire-eaters, and fire-jugglers all put their hats out for donations. Groups of youths with piercings may gather. Around 10 o'clock the last lingering musicians pack up and head home, leaving the last tourists and wandering couples to enjoy the company of the freaks. Midnight comes and goes, and in the morning there are 3 or 4 drunken teenagers sitting on the bridge after chatting the night away.


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