Olomouc: A Quiet Happiness

Olomouc was not a city I intended to write about. I came here with the intention of staying stationary for a few days, taking a moment to relax for once, recouping and drinking some good beer, that sort of thing. But the longer I stay in this city, the more I feel the need to mention its existence. Not because it’s larger than life, or particularly culturally unique, or that it’s really anything at all out of the ordinary. In fact, I’d say that Olomouc is by far the most normal city we’ve encountered thus far. It’s moderately sized, lightly populated, has two parks, a Lidl supermarket, two or three nice cathedrals, some doner kebab, and a smattering of pubs, but all in all, Olomouc tends to fade into the background.

However, despite Olomouc being so incredibly ordinary, I’ve been feeling a certain sense of calm here, a certain serenity that seems to emanate from the city itself. I think this is partly owed to the fact that this city is in no way a tourist destination. Which is to say, it’s not here to be gawked at or snapped pictures of, it doesn’t have big, flashy neon signs declaring its brilliance, and, as far as I know, it doesn’t offer even one guided tour. No, Olomouc is just here. It exists for it’s own sake, has absolutely nothing to prove.

And this unusual calm I’ve been experiencing has led to a certain sense of well-being, perhaps even a quiet happiness, a feeling I’ve yet to experience whilst traveling throughout Europe.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve felt happiness in other cities as well, but always in a different form. Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I had to dig through the dumpster of Dublin to find its happiness, I placidly absorbed the happiness readily available to me in San Sebastian, and Paris was a massive leap towards greater happiness for the whole of my being. But in Olomouc, I’ve tasted a sweeter happiness, one without bitter aftertaste or hangover. One that makes one feel pure, untainted, humble, and calm. It’s a form of happiness that I did not know existed.

In the narrow, cobblestoned streets, the drunks in the plaza, the cathedral’s massive cuckoo clock, and the small windows with white, translucent drapes. The tram going by my window at four a.m., the cockroaches in the sink, drizzling green dish soap in the pasta by mistake. Confusing the women’s bathroom for the men’s, the spilled beer on the bedroom carpet, the poor directions and getting lost, here I’ve found happiness in the details. In the uncomplicated, the patient, the slow.

And I know that once I leave things will go back to the way they were. I’ll go back into my head. I’ll begin worry again. About my lack of money. About the fact that Jake is leaving in two weeks, and I’ll be alone in London without a job or place to sleep. About my ability (or inability) to make it as a writer, a musician, or a bartender. About my family, my friends, and my home. It will all come rushing back to me in one powerful surge.

But this is what I want. I only desire calm and comfort for a short while before the urge to drink from the well of chaos rises again. I know this city will be here when I’m old and through with all of this; it already knows where I’m headed. It knows all I really want is to be alone for a while, to read, to write, to stare out my window. The happiness of Olomouc is the older self calling, but I won’t listen yet. My future must still hold its menace, and I must embrace this feeling until my bones weaken, my skin softens, and my will to live grows inward.

Olomouc has challenged me to reconsider happiness, and I’ve realized that it doesn’t need to be so big. Happiness can be as simple as sitting in the plaza on a Sunday eating an apple from the market down the street, or as uneventful as reading Dostoevsky in a park near the edge of town. Maybe happiness doesn’t really need to be anything at all, and perhaps more importantly, I don’t need to be anyone in particular to experience it.

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