Once Upon a Time in Bohemia

Long ago, before there was a Time to once upon, a little star fell to Earth. There were no territories then. No kingdoms or boundaries. Only the sky, the sun, strange animals, and vast forests. And the river.

Vltavín. Named after the Vltava, which traverses the land where the shards of this star now sleep, saturating the landscape with divine resonance. Legend says that it’s the emerald that fell from Lucifer’s crown before he was cast out of Heaven. From this celestial jewel, the Holy Grail was forged, as well as the fabled Emerald Tablet of the alchemists. Modern metaphysicians say it brings profound, sometimes violent, transformation. It is a light piercing the darkness, shining the way to one’s Destiny.

In the year 1998, two friends stood at a crossroads. The man placed a tiny green gem in the woman’s palm. This stone is special, created from the fusion of Heaven and Earth. It comes from a land called Bohemia. May it protect and guide you on your journey, La Vagabonde.

She closed her fingers around it and held it to her heart. They hugged and went their separate ways. He went to the northwest, a place of perpetual rain. She went to the southwest, the desert. But true to her nature, she didn’t stay there long.

She met a kind man who took her far away to a small island across the greatest of oceans, where the world is upside down and winter is summer and autumn and spring do not exist. There she lived for many years in a house of glass overlooking mountains and sea. She learned the language, but still no one understood her. She lost her voice and became invisible. She taught herself to speak through her pen, releasing the shadows that had caught up with her after so many years of flight. She’d hold the stone up to the South Sea sunlight, mesmerized by the deep green glow. Within its depths a golden city glittered. Prague. And there she was, striding down cobblestone streets, staring out a small window over rooftops, standing at the river’s edge. A soft, secret smile of certainty spread across her face, and then she’d laugh to herself and shake the silly daydream from her head. Was it possible for any place to be farther away from this lost little island?

Bohemia. If ever a realm could embody the spirit of Once Upon a Time and Happily Ever After. Castles perched on lofty hilltops. Rolling hills of golden rapeseed. Deep, dark forests. The iridescent mist that rises from the river, veiling the landscape in its spellbinding shimmer. An enchantment that’s impossible to dispel once it takes hold.

And what of the chapters in between? The struggles and the victories. The dangers and the illusions. The monsters. For every fairy tale has a shadow side. It is here, too. A chapel decorated with bones, a castle with a gateway to Hell, the church of ghosts, the wooden sentinels that guard the forest trails. In the villages, effigies of witches are still burned every April 30th.

It was the pagan princess Libuše who cast the very first spell. She stood on the hill called Vyšehrad and pointed across the river. From the depths of her trance, she proclaimed, “I see a great city whose glory will touch the stars.”

Praha. Threshold. The beacon in the center of infinity. Does the magic emanate from or coalesce here? Only the river knows.

The Prophetess Libuše – Karel Vitězslav Mašek
Image source: Wikipedia

La Vagabonde meandered the streets she saw so many years earlier. Could she be any farther away from that lost little island? The calm inside. So unfamiliar. Never before had a place felt so right. Such a long and convoluted path to arrive. It’s too perfect, she’d tell herself. I don’t deserve it. Yet there she was. The things we talk ourselves out of are so often the easiest to achieve, she whispered to the ancient stone walls. It’s a question of being ready.

A woman’s voice, felt rather than heard. Divine and devilish. A sweet, hypnotic hum in her atoms. As if you had a choice. The castle rose over the city, its towers piercing the sky.

We each have, within us, every story that’s ever been written. Imprinted upon our souls. Gifts from the ancestors. In arrangements as innumerable as the stars. How much of our personal story was written in these very stars, long before we were even born? How much are we really able to compose? We are in an artistic collaboration with the Universe. Each of us have something to add to the never-ending fable of humanity.

The Vltava encircles the medieval village of Český Krumlov. A protective embrace. A back street doorway beckoned. Magic green stones laid out on a counter. La Vagabonde picked them up one by one. There, tucked in a corner, was a walnut-sized teardrop. A jolt of electricity, of recognition. A knowing gleam in the merchant woman’s eyes. The right one chooses you. She took it home and laid it on her bedside table. In her dreams that night, it hovered over her. Observing. The time has come to speak your truth. Or give your life away forever.

The story we present to others. The story we tell ourselves. The embellishments and convenient omissions. The lies. The interpretations of others’ tales through the filter of our personal perception. So much distortion. What is true? Is life nothing but one everlasting costume ball? Meticulously crafted disguises and choreographed steps. We are masked participants in a perpetual dance of delusion. And no one deceives us more than we deceive ourselves.

Something was in the path ahead. La Vagabonde stepped around it, leaning her head to the side with a wistful smile. What is this here? It seemed she had come from the dangerous way. She shook her head. All the warnings that came too late. Hers was a story of poison apples, wolves in sheep’s clothing, evil queens, and dragons. She knew how it was to lose something precious and dive to the depths of a bottomless well to find it again. She looked down at the ominous design and laughed. Were those hard lessons worth the discoveries? She lifted her head and stared down the path ahead, eyes fierce with victory. Yes.

Down the path, then, and across the bridge. The river below was named after the funny creatures that played in its waters. Moss-covered rocks in the flow. Green velvet on steel. The river’s voice was like rain falling on crystal. The truth had been spoken. She was free. She sat on a massive boulder, leaned her head on her knees, and stared at her wavering reflection. There’s no such thing as forever.

Mirror, mirror, please tell me the truth. No matter how brutal. Within your reflection is the only soul that can truly free me from towers and dungeons. Reawaken me from the long sleep. Discern the worth in the woman covered in ash, disheveled, clothed in rags, banished to the perimeter.

La Vagabonde took a deep breath and stepped inside the labyrinth. No looking back. Breadcrumbs are for those who are afraid of getting lost. Ascend. Higher. Take me in. Deep. She grasped the stone around her neck. Where do I go from here? Turn on your searchlight, baby. Show me the answer.

A demon slithered out of a crevice. She pressed her back to the rocks. But I’ve already killed you. Many times over.

It loomed over her and hissed. You really think you can go it alone now, after all these years? You have nothing. You are nothing. You’re old. You’re just going to keep going around and around.

She pulled herself upright and stared into its eyes. The blackest void. I did the right thing. Be gone.

From far within the canyon, the now-familiar voice emerged. Calm and assured and amused. Ripples across a still, deep pond. An echo in the soul. Stay.

She shook her head. I can’t. I must leave here to bring this chapter to a close. There is no other way. She stumbled out of the labyrinth, battered and empty. She collapsed under a tree and fell into a leaden sleep. In the abyss of her dreams, the echo. Stay.

A little cottage in a northern wilderness. This is where La Vagabonde now finds herself. Inhabiting the empty page between chapters. The most magical place of all. A realm of pure possibility. Watery autumn sunshine streams through the golden treetops, a light that obscures just as much as it reveals. Could it be The End? She has everything she needs now. More than enough. But what is it that you want? You’ve always been your own Fairy Godmother. Write your wishes into existence and watch the tale unfold.

The maddening intoxication of mystery becomes the beauty of being haunted. An Art Nouveau doorway on a quiet back street. The glitter of moonlight on dark water. A rural castle illuminated by a soft pink sunrise. Memory and premonition are fused together into this eternal Now. Is it possible for a place to be any closer? A wind chime laugh in the cold breeze. You know damn well you’re not finished yet. A tremor moves through her and she catches her breath. Around her neck, over her heart, the stone glows.

Every story has a message, dear readers. Be honest. Keep your promises. Look beyond appearances. There’s no place to hide from Destiny. But one message encompasses them all: memento mori. Remember that you will die.

*The English word for Vltavín is Moldavite.

65 thoughts on “Once Upon a Time in Bohemia

  1. First of all — I’m always so excited when one of your posts surface! (more, I want more!)
    And wow! This is mesmerizing! The story, the images — just magical. Just rich.
    Not to be morbid and not that I’m interested in it happening any day soon, but as I near my 6th decade I find comfort and freedom in memento mori…
    xxx

  2. I couldn’t keep from smiling, wide like a moron, as I read this. You’ve dipped into the world of magic.
    Keep on ahead. Who knows what evil lurks? Hang onto that stone, LaVagabonde. It will be as helpful as the urim v’tummim.
    Peace and Love will overcome.

    • I can just picture that smile. 🙂 The stone will be with me until it decides to leave. I still have the little one that my friend gave me all those years ago, too. It so easily could have been lost in all the moving around the planet, but it somehow stuck with me.

  3. “There’s no such thing as forever”

    Well, thank God for that. I remember reading the Divine Comedy at 13, through our middle school’s redacted, Ministry-of-Education-approved paraphrases, and being horrified at the idea of heaven as a series of concentrical circles where everyone would just be singing praises to the Lord. I’ve been kicked out of the school choir aged 8 for being rubbish. How would I fit? Besides… how effin’ boring would it be?

    Thanks for this story, Julie. I’m sat by the bathroom window of a room in a skyscraper in Incheon, South Korea. It’s 4.10 AM, I’m as jetlagged as it gets, and trying not to wake up Better Half. For a moment I felt the rustling of leaves of a Bohemian wood.

    • I got a good laugh picturing you in a choir. Good heavens. Or Hell, more likely. I’m happy that I could transport you away from that urban hive for a few minutes. Jet lag sucks. Hope you have a great trip, wherever you’re headed.

  4. There’s only one way to write like this, and that is to live like this. Inspiring as ever, Julie. It’s always interesting to me how uniquely the magic of authenticity resides in each of us, and how despite that fact we know it when we see it. It never fails to illumine and remind, to penetrate facades and resurrect the truth. Grateful to have stumbled through the forest and happened upon the words of your still growing heart…

    Peace
    Michael

    • Hi Michael- yep, this is me. The clock struck twelve and I didn’t flee. Hey, that rhymes. 😁 Walking away from the masquerade is both liberating and isolating. That’s why I am so grateful to have met so many beautiful souls through my writing. We’re here to guide each other through the labyrinth. Peace back at you.

  5. Your journey has had more twists than many, as if your green stone were in fact a lodestone of some sort, pulling on you to move in another direction just when you thought you were planted. I’m glad it or some other force has lured you back to your roots for now, for forever?, who knows, but you seem genuinely happy and prepared to set your own terms. Glad you have returned here as well; we have missed your introspection and insights. Happy northern fall – it’s about to get pretty bare and raw up there! 🙂

    • Ain’t that the truth. I’m not really into crystals, but moldavite is special. I can sometimes feel it hum very softly when I wear it. Who knows if I’ll be here forever. One thing about starting over is all the possible roads and no one is more open and fluid than I am. Just waiting for the nudge and enjoying being in my woods in the meantime. And it’s good to be back online. I’ve missed everyone. Bare and raw has arrived up here- 6 inches of snow!

  6. We all have the capacity for making life a remarkable journey – a very poignant post for Armistice Day when so many were cut short. I have always been too aware of my own mortality which weakly justified far too many broken promises – ‘you only live once’. Another thought-provoking post – many thanks and welcome back, Julie.

    • So very true. We can use the gift of mortality as an excuse for irresponsible behavior or we can use it to motivate us to face our fears and go for our dreams, whether they are humble or lofty. I’ve certainly used it for both. Thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts, Robin.

  7. Julie, this is so beautiful. I know this post is about your life, but you’ve written it so eloquently it made me ponder about life itself — how ours is just temporary. By the way, I’ve been re-reading your posts on New Caledonia since they just held a referendum. Moreover lately an Indonesian news channel has been reporting about the Javanese community on the island (I’m Javanese, so the story has been very fascinating to me).

    • Thank you, Bama. I always try to write so that readers can relate it to their own lives, even if their personal experiences are different.

      That’s right, they had the vote and voted no. For now. There will be another one in 2 years, and then 2 years after that if it doesn’t pass. I remember our exchange about the Javanese community on the island. There are a few different ethnic communities there. It will be interesting to see if they stay on the island if the Yes passes or if they leave.

  8. “Long ago, before there was a Time to once upon, a little star fell to Earth. There were no territories then. No kingdoms or boundaries. Only the sky, the sun, strange animals, and vast forests. And the river.“

    I love this opening. My granddaughter told me last week that she came from the stars … 🙂

  9. Your words and images are absolutely magical. It does look like a fairytale place,with all the light & dark that implies, fantastic landscape and cityscapes, and interior decorating with skeletons.

  10. I really had to concentrate when reading this … there is just SO much to take in! Your writing, Julie, held me spellbound. This is how to live … questioning, daring, boldly, searching, embracing, creating. To live in a world before Time began. Just an incredible tale you’ve woven and I thank you for sharing it. Brava! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼

  11. Ahh… what a satisfying post. Yes, dense. Yes, calling on the reader to just hang tight and pay attention and follow the narrative. Oh how I wish that more made the choice between substance and complexity vs superficiality and speed… Beautifully written, and importantly, beautifully conceived, for there is thought before there is the word…

    “Hers was a story of poison apples, wolves in sheep’s clothing, evil queens, and dragons.”

    It is incredibly prescient to read these words in the era of political imbriglio we are in. In Sri Lanka, the political world has been turned upside down, a 180 degree turn from democracy is allowing the dragon of totalitarianism to return after a brief 3 year hiatus. But there are also poison apples (bribes to members of parliament to switch over from one party to the other, for political expediency. THere are certainly wolves in sheep’s clothing. When the Buddhist orange-robed monks descend upon the media to hurl menacing words about any pushback from a totalitarian power grab. The peace and humility orange rope is but sheep’s clothing for a buddhist-supported coup… Evil queens – well, the President of the country who reaches into the country’s homophobia to blast his Prime Minister for running around “butterflies” – the Sri Lankan derogatory reference to LGBT. So I guess we have evil queens too!…

    “We are in an artistic collaboration with the Universe. Each of us have something to add to the never-ending fable of humanity.”. Amen sister! This is a simple yet brilliant synthesis of a world view that believes in destiny, and yet, between the inevitable milestones, the ability of the write individual chapters or verses of our distinct, respective lives. The trick, I think, is to be satisfied with the blank pages between pre-written chapters, and to engage in this artistic collaboration with the Universe so as to feel, when looking at the masterpiece of one’s life, that one was not just a mere observer or subway rider with no influence on the pace and distance of the pre-scheduled stops.

    Thank you for this thought provoking and, as always, mesmerizing read…

    Ben

    • Ahhh…what an epic comment. Wow, Ben. It’s a very good feeling when my work provokes such a deep, multi-layered reaction. From your local politics to our personal destiny. Thank you for taking the time to share all of these thoughts. Yes, we live in a very superficial world where it seems that most people have lost the ability to dig deep and truly communicate. So much self-absorbed bullshit. Everywhere. I was recently very tempted to throw in the towel on my online presence and just disappear. But then I come back and receive such honest generosity from lovely souls such as yourself and I’m reminded again why I write. Thank you, Ben.

  12. You tell stories in the best way. Thank you for always bringing me back to that place of magic and mystery which, like the best fairytales, shows me the deepest truths. I’m so happy you’re back and gifting us your “artistic collaborations with the universe.”

  13. Brilliant, Julie. I’m glad to have read your text before comments are closed. 😉
    Yes, we all die. And trust me I have had this constant reminder for the past 18 months.
    Reminder and sorrow. But that is besides the point.
    That mere truth: we all die means only that all we have is Life. Whatever it is.
    And whatever we chose it to be within the… array of possibilities.
    As I read the comments I was thinking of buying Dante’s Divina Commedia and read it in Italian.
    As an adventure of sorts. When I stumbled on Fabirzzio’s comment. (Arewethereyet) He must have been an interesting choir boy. (I will still read Dante.)
    And as for your current peace? Enjoy it. No rush. Maybe you will “leave” again maybe you won’t. Maybe going full circle is what you were ultimately looking for?
    I know I might go “full circle” one day.
    And also remember one thing: we may have the illusion that we chose our stories, the stories we live, those we write. Nope. The stories chose us. We are mere conduits.
    Bises mon amie. Enjoy the peace.

    • Mon chér Brian, so much to ponder in your generous comment. The very things I thought about while writing this. Yes, we are conduits and the stories choose us, but I do believe we have some choice in it all as well. Mainly the choice to let go and follow where we’re being guided rather than try to control everything. Keep the conduit clear and watch the magic unfold. It’s both the easiest and most difficult thing to do. There’s that tenacious ego to deal with. I have a feeling you very well may go full circle back to your beloved France. Que la lumière soit. Bises.

      • Yes, que la lumière soit. (Actually I might go live in Penang for all I know…) 😉
        And yes, we always have a choice. Regardless of what “story” comes our way, we always have a choice. Idiots are idiots because they chose to be. One can chose doing good to others or to wrong them.
        A good example is Frost’s “the road not taken”. Which I stumbled upon in Grad school. In Alabama can you imagine? 🙂 I’d actually never heard of Frost. But his words are always with me. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” The roads are there. have been there forever. Which road do you chose?
        (You, and maybe I, have taken the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference)
        Biz back

  14. What a spellbinder you are, Julie. Part of me wants to inhabit these places with you and part wants to run and hide. Truth. Honesty. The persona. Fooling yourself. It’s fascinating, intimidating stuff. 🙂 🙂 I’ve never heard of moldavite but I shall keep a watchful eye. Happy for your new outlook and acceptance of self. Hard won.

    • Hi Jo, yes, it’s intimidating to dive deep, but so very worth it. The deeper you go, the more incredible life becomes. There’s a reward for facing your fears and shadows.

      I have lots of pretty stone jewelry from the places I’ve visited/lived in, but the moldavite is my favorite. Truly unique and so beautiful. The only stone of its kind on this planet. Its becoming scarce. Much of what still lies in the earth is in a national park (Sumava) so thankfully miners can’t tear up the ground there. But that means that there’s a lot of fake stuff out there. I got a certificate with mine.

  15. Absolutely beautiful. ‘We each have within us every story that has been written’ – such a wonderful line and through your writing I experienced many stories. The images are wonderful, the sense of place and magic are brilliant. Great writing.

  16. Thanks for sharing your philosophy, stories and journey with us. It’s been riveting for those of us on our own unique but different path. It sounds like you’ve reached a happy place, and that is the best any of us can do. I doubt the journey has ended for you, but you’re headed in the right direction.
    And I loved the references to the Czech Republic. Bohemia does seem like a fairy tale location. Český Krumlov is one place I would like to go to.

    • When I moved to the Czech Republic I didn’t expect much in the way of dramatic landscapes. I came from Slovakia, which is so wild and awe-inspiring. Bohemia’s spell caught me off guard. The more you explore the country the more it captures you. It doesn’t have lofty mountains or a seaside. The magic is in the gentleness. You really experienced Prague and you got to Kutna Hora. That’s already a good trip.

  17. No one can take me into deep into a story as quickly as you do Julie and I am not blowing smoke! You transported me with the first sentence and keep me transfixed by the way you interwove the magic of Bohemia and the heart and soul of La Vagabonde

    And then there is the shared experiences that you put so eloquently; of being rendered invisible, of the things we’ve talked ourselves out of and the ease of achieving those that we did not, of working through the distortions and disguises and surviving the dangers in our paths … and knowing that nothing is forever and remembering that we will die

    I’ve missed you my good friend! One of the best thing about returning from my own social media absence (both location and self imposed) is to spend a few moments with you here again.

    Hugs from South Africa!

    • Thank you, Lisa. I missed your presence, too, dear.

      Our personal stories are unique, but we all share so many experiences. I originally started this blog as a way to keep my stories in one place. I’ve done so much that I was starting to forget. I never expected people to read it. Then the posts started taking on a life of their own. They’re not just about me anymore. At least that’s how I try to write now. It’s very rewarding when I hear that readers can relate. Makes me feel less self-absorbed. 🙂 Warm wishes from cold Michigan.

  18. Wonderful. I love the way the story, and the idea of stories, weave in and out of each other. Remember that we die, so we must tell our stories, our most precious jewels, and hand the best ones down.

    Bohemia has always been such an evocative, legendary name but I’ve never been. (Although I have been to Prague many, many years ago for one of the most astonishing weekends of my life that lurched from disaster to triumph. But that’s another story!)

    • Thank you, Alex. Disaster to triumph. Sounds like an authentic Prague visit. Haha. Things have a tendency shift pretty dramatically from horror to hilarity/bliss in that city. Sometimes within seconds. I have no doubt that your story is one of your most astonishing.

  19. Beautiful, travel, life’s mysteries, magic stones, and mirror, all weaved together by your personal tale…

    As where is the perfect place for us?

    I think it’s not important, like most big events in our life, you do not need to seek them, they come to you.

    Wonderful Julie! 🙂

  20. Love the last photo, brings together this fairy tale. A perfect description of Bohemia. Your writing has the timeless feel which is what you find in Prague and the Czech countryside ~ a feeling to match your words “releasing the shadows that had caught up with her after so many years of flight.”

    This is perhaps what makes the lands of Bohemia special, the ability to recreate your life again understanding that within this fairy tale there are always “The dangers and the illusions.” Words fitting when your photo of Český Krumlov came into view. Bohemia has the magic to invigorate the soul, and no matter how much Bohemia wants to retain you, her magic push you to further pursue life. To go out and find those “empty pages of possibilities” and write your own verses elsewhere. I can feel it happening, and it is exciting as it is comforting. No rush, but the inevitable knowledge that somewhere around the corner it all happens ~ a new life, a new world…memento mori.

    • This one’s for you, dear. ❤️Memento mori. Your new life/new world is going to be mind-blowing and incredibly fulfilling. That’s how it is for those who step out of comfort zones, seeking new frontiers not just in the external world, but also in the intimidating and awe-inspiring landscape within. Who take life’s magic in even its darkest forms and transform it into something pure beauty. We are all a work-in-progress. We can choose to stay in our cozy little worlds, or we can go out and grab life by the balls. Someone who has never traveled recently told me that this is what I’ve done. Made me laugh, of course. Never thought of it that way before. Maybe a different metaphor is more appropriate for you, though. Haha. I like your « no rush » attitude. Divine timing and all that. It’s a question of being ready, and I don’t think it’s us little humans who decide when that is. 🙂 When the time comes for you to move on, you can be sure that Bohemia’s magic will come along, and you will also leave some of yours behind.

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