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November 1, 2009

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I've visited Czech Republic 8 times in 15 years for a total of about 17 months and even though it's a small country and Prague a compact city I'm learning on each subsequent visit just how little I've seen. I did not pack for today's bitter chill and I got turned around a bit trying to find my evening host's apartment towards west end of yellow Metro line near Luziny station in Prague district 5--relatively close to airport to make getting there by 5 am tomorrow less painful. A lot of high-rises in the area and crews working Sunday on a new one but her place was a duplex with garden shared by several friends. Slightly numb by the time I found the green gate, my hosts were in one of the cozy kitchens baking a "bio" (organic) chicken and getting baked. I made the rounds of the 8 large aquaria where doles of turtles trained by habit to expect food raised their heads and tried to climb the walls of their tanks at my approach, their claws scraping on the glass. It was a very relaxed vibe, the whole place seemed to be on turtle time. Borrowing hat, scarf, and gloves I left this cozy domesticity to rendez-vous with Dan and Julie at a Day of the Dead festival clear across town at Stromovka. (I imagined mariachis and tamales somewhere warm inside but instead we waited in the cold while Dan's niece and swarms of other children ran from table to table to decorate their sugar skulls. Well, if we were going to stand around anyway it might as well be in the long line for hot mulled wine....) On the way there I felt the kind of regret people might feel on their deathbeds--I had squandered my time! By spending time in Prague's center with its cathedrals, castles and statues I had completely missed the real Prague, the one where most people actually lived. I saw people on balconies and in doorways of 12-storey high apartment blocks. I walked along the top of the metro tunnel, where even in this nondescript place some provision had been made to create a public gathering space. Instead of thoughts turning to home I was planning my next visit--I would explore all the neighborhoods around metro stations, the farther flung the better. I would somehow apprentice myself and learn the art of laying sidewalks--setting the patterns, tapping with hammers, and finishing with fine sand. I indulged many such fancies. I think it was the cold that energized me. Everywhere I went looked really good to me and I felt a wonder and enchantment which I hadn't experienced since my first visit back in winter '94/95 when everything was fresh and magic. It must have been the weather. Or maybe it was the weed. Small amounts are legal here and young Czechs have become Europe's top pot consumers. I guess that's just the destiny of a country whose international calling code is 420.