Prague, Czech Republic – October 2010
Autumn in Prague. The muted sunlight infuses the clouds with a golden glow. We stand at the edge of the Vltava River and watch the steady stream of people moving across the Charles Bridge. We are psyching ourselves up to jump into the human current.
My eyes come to rest on a lone fisherman. He has managed to find some peace amid the masses.
Prague is beauty as far as the eye can see.
There is no low season in Prague, only slightly more room to move. When I was younger, I used to be contemptuous of those who travel on organized tours or those who only go to the popular places. Now I realize that it’s good that people are willing to make any effort to expand their horizons. My tolerance only goes so far, however.
Last night, after a day of waiting in lines and dodging aggressive souvenir vendors, I asked the receptionist at our small hotel, “Do you know a good local place to eat? We don’t want to be around tourists.” I rolled my eyes and smiled.
Her eyes narrowed. A scornful sniff was her reply.
As we follow the herd across the Charles Bridge, I suddenly understand her reaction. We are merely two faces in the hoards that have overrun her city. We had a lot of nerve thinking that we were different. The locals want to keep some places of their own.
When we arrive back at the Old Town Square, my husband points at a crowd that has coalesced in front of the astronomical clock. “Something is happening there.”
“Oh, yeah, at the top of the hour, the clock is supposed to move. Or something. We may as well look since we’re here.” I’ve done enough research about Prague to know that the clock show is probably overrated.
We merge sideways into the crowd. The spaces between shrink as others arrive. Glances become territorial. Elbows emerge. A large group of Polish tourists pushes to the front. A tall guy with a fat neck stands right in front of me. The crowd has swelled to several hundred people. The chatter becomes a din.
“A photo of the crowd is probably more interesting than the clock show,” I mumble to my husband.
“Do it.” His eyes sparkle with mischief.
I take his camera and turn around. Another gargantuan individual is standing behind me. If I lift my husband’s huge Nikon camera, it will be right in the guy’s face. I sigh and turn back around.
The chatter subsides as the clock begins to chime. Faces are upturned, rapt, as the small figures begin to move. It’s nothing more than a glorified cuckoo clock.
All at once I feel the harmony of the herd. I understand the appeal of conformity. It feels good to like what others like. To just go along with what we’re told. This is what one does when one visits Prague! Tears of joy spring to my eyes.
“Wow, that’s so interesting.” The sarcasm in my husband’s voice kills my buzz. “I feel incredibly ridiculous for waiting for this.”
“Party pooper.” I giggle. I look around at the other faces, expecting to see disappointment. However, they are totally blank. The crowd disperses into the various currents that move through the Old City. On to the next special attraction.
I ponder that brief synchronicity as we make our way back to the river. I now understand why most people are natural followers. It’s so much easier to leave the responsibility of making even the smallest of decisions to others. My aversion to conformity caused me much grief as a child and young adult. However, I’m now grateful for those character-building experiences. The loneliness has ebbed away, but the curiosity has endured.
I say nothing of this to my weary husband. He usually tolerates crowds better than I do. I won’t further burden him with my melodramatic reflections.
Because, sometimes, a clock is just a clock.