Prague was a delight that we quickly swore we would revisit forevermore.
We were wandering around the city in a sort of arty haze. Simone was into contrived composition. She plucked various components from our walk over a period of hours- a waft of mist rising from the river which settled on the blackcurrant cake we had in one of the exquisite pastry shops; a patch of warm moss-ridden concrete, a new pine rafter being laid on a roof and a plump dark violet flower growing in a garden. This was overlaid with that specific golden light of January sun to generate in Simone a sense that spring and all the good things were around the corner, the dark cave of winter, the anxieties of cold were nearing an end, that we would all get a second chance to live in this strange multicoloured world and this made her grateful even humble that somehow she had been selected and saved again. After that she treated obscure minor events like a crippled fly crawling away from a spider in the corner joint of a wooden beam in an old coffee shop with exaggerated poignancy as though her brain were newly wired for metaphor. Then there were comments like ‘I realised today that we are all just crawling away from ourselves’ or ‘I’m realising more and more that what you run away from just turns into a bigger monster’ and that more and more thing was a particular irritation because in her and others it usually translated to this has happened once and maybe it’s going to continue.. but then usually doesn’t. She also made reference to the vibe of a place having the power to permanently transform the visitor. The monuments and buildings may be forgotten but the vibe stays in the heart forever, and I marvelled at how for all those revelations and insights that she repeatedly had after attending workshops on pranic breathing, shamanism and the law of attraction, that nothing ever changed. They were all jaunty escapes, flights of mental fantasy that got her through the dark or should I say grey- which formed the default climate of her inner world.
My own experience of the city was more playful. I saw the river as a flow of Lyle’s Black treacle patiently waiting to flood the city and wrap its tentacles around every living thing and every building and every rock and stone. The sky was a silk grey sheet flapping and flapping in a wind which was not caused naturally. From the hole in the steeple where previously the clock face had been came a furious gust of air which I said filled the city with a special earthly gas that turned the inhabitants all wry and sardonic. I also yielded to a powerful suggestion of schadenfreude in a number of micro episodes. A man fell headfirst into a ditch, a waiter put his elbow in a boiling soup and delivery driver dropped a sack barrow full of boxes onto a busy road. In each case I saw the slow emergence of the Slavic smirk and I was ready for more. I had been secretly on the lookout for the Turnaway- the choicest of the schadenfreude cuts which involves being turned away because the restaurant is full or the door is locked or the address is wrong- so my keen delight in other’s petty misfortunes was nicely primed.
We took our distinct vibes into another cafeteria. For Simone the surroundings were fading away as she entered a trance of deep speculation in which she chose to see life as a serious matter of duty and intentional growth. She wanted us to have a meaningful chat, to uncover great truths on which we could now base our lives. The basic thrust of her mood was that so much had been wrong and now it could be put right. That was her vibe, not mine.
I was alive with every speck of action. I was up for giddy nonsense, to see the frivolity of it all. Life wasn’t a grand concept about which understanding was necessary or even possible. There was only the here-and-now playground where no gravitas was needed, just play. I was chiefly aligned with holiday fun and especially on the look-out for a turnaway (which Simone found puerile).
We were several wavelengths apart. Silence might save us.
I was always opposed to ‘chatting up’ waiters. I had seen enough couples do it and while it may look innocent I always felt the waiter was being used for the couple to show off to each other, to the waiter, to strengthen a world view and thus bolster a certain smugness at being right, or, more perniciously, to subtly attack the partner by ‘ganging up’ on them.
Simone instigated a chat with the waiter in which she won her desired tone of gravitas and earnestness. She aimed to use the support of the waiter to manipulate me into thinking I had been wrong, that if we didn’t connect it was because I had allowed my mood to be corrupted by childish frivolity. While the air of middle-class civility prevailed, underneath we were engaged in a psychic war, attempting to prove the other one as being ‘wrong’ in their interpretation of the city and thus in the resultant mood.
I was swift to counter. I managed to pull the waiter into a joke about real men always overeating. Simone’s face changed as she tried desperately hard to tone down the giddiness with sentiments of, ‘Yeah, but joking aside…’ The waiter shifted this way and that. He became our puppet through which we battled out our petty differences. It was exhausting for all of us. The waiter shrivelled away with a new curb on his previous bonhomie and if I hadn’t seen a turnaway this at least offered me a slightly different strain of mishap-but from the same SF family of dashed hopes, shattered good vibes and plans gone awry. The world had slightly unravelled for our waiter friend, and I was now afforded the luxury of my very own Slavic smirk - a pleasing sensation which emits tingles in the lungs, as if the chest is smiling. That fact that Simone intuitively knew the thread of my mischief and was mildly sickened by it only served to fan the SF flames even more as I found myself perversely delighted by her disapproval.
I watched the hapless waiter peter miserably out of the dining room and with the ensuing silence it was clear we had reached the murky depths of our disharmony.
We did next what we always did. We sought recourse in harmless generalities. ‘It’s a lovely day, isn’t it? Yes, gorgeous’ Logistics was another topic which reliably repaired the damage because it forced us to build consensus. We hacked business-like through our departure time, that we would get to the airport with two hours to spare, that Gabrielle should ring her mother after we’d eaten, that we would only need a light lunch, perhaps a prepacked salad from Pret a Manger and that when we got home, we could re-heat a lasagne that I had made during the week. Thus a new, albeit superficial, harmony was restored from which we re-built the familiar old pillars of our romantic edifice. Soon we were holding hands and laughing. She excitedly expounded on her forthcoming workshop on cellular memories and I believe I was genuinely interested. Finally we sealed the deal by uniting against a bogus common enemy (the resting ground of couples the world over). Suddenly Prague was a grim, hellhole, a misty dungeon of a place with surly, sardonic people, vile and ghastly, and happy together at last we vowed never to return to that dreadful place.