Jake and I stayed at a hostel on the east end of Prague called “Pilgrim’s Hostel.” Although the interior of the place was a bit dilapidated, with chipped floor tiles, dirty carpets, and buzzing fluorescent lights, the hostel owner, Yanni, was the nicest man who ever decided to live. He was happy and Polish and grinned a lot, nodded his head when we spoke, asked questions about America, and all the while continuously offered free shots of whisky and vodka. Which was highly welcomed at first, but we didn’t yet know the extent to which this would influence our visit.
On the morning of the second day, we walked downstairs with just enough time to catch the end of breakfast. The first thing Yanni did when he saw us was pour us both a shot, completely without asking.
Now, taking shots first thing in the morning is not something of which I’m terribly fond, but since the shots had already been poured, I reluctantly clinked glasses with Jake and gulped it down. It wasn’t bad, a mild whiskey, but not ideal for nine a.m. We thanked Yanni and went to the kitchen for breakfast.
We took two more shots that morning: one as we finished breakfast (bread, cheese, salt, and some sort of prepackaged pork spread), and another as we were heading out the door. “It’s hot today,” said Yanni.
So by the time we reached the main square we were both buzzing pretty hard (well, hard at least for a Wednesday morning) andsoon we got lost in the humid crowd of middle-aged tourists. We were swimming in camera flashes and food wrappers and mayonnaise smears on the bases of statues and memorials and sculptures of important men, all looking strangely similar, and at each other, and at me, and the whole crowd moved as mass, to one thing then another, like a giant slug, leaving a trail of slime on everything it passed over. To restaurants to cathedrals, to fountains to street performers, to taxis through intersections, then collapsing in on itself. Children crying, mothers calling, fathers grunting, sisters complaining, brothers yawping at each other from across the square, and there! between the KFC Chicken Hut and the Mcdonald’s Burger Plastic Toy Palace, was a bar.
Finally, a bar. A drink to cool off. It is hot today, Yanni was right. I could use a drink, a nice light beer. Czech beer is supposed to be fantastic. And only 28 crowns! That’s cheap, that’s nothing, I’ll take two. The bartender’s seems like a nice guy, looks like he shaved this morning, definitely has a wife, a daughter probably, too, she’s older though, moved out of the house and probably has a husband herself.
Oh. You bring the beers to the table. Ah, then I’ll just sit down over there then, thanks.
We each drank two beers that afternoon. Not really saying much. Just drinking. The occasional remark about the square, the hostel, Yanni, but mostly nothing was said. However, I do remember three events of significance during that hour and half period.
After the first beer, it started to rain lightly outside.
Four drinks into the second beer, I got up to use the bathroom.
Near the end of the second beer, a man with long beard walked in.
After we finished we left the bar, as we were starting to feel sleepy from the alcohol. It was raining moderately then, and it all felt kind of depressing. I was looking forward to getting back to the hostel to sleep for a bit, which isn’t the kind of thinking I like to have while traveling. Furthermore, my drowsiness created something of a dip in my consciousness. I couldn’t look at anything. Which is to say, I could sense its presence, acknowledge it as an object I needed to avoid, but that was all. I couldn’t appreciate or feel anything; I was lost in my own inability to fully exist! (Which is something of a ridiculous complaint, I’ll admit, but that’s how it all felt at that point, and I wont cheapen that emotion for myself or for you by claiming that my state of mind didn’t hold any value).
But the last image I’ll leave you with is Jake and I crossing Charles Bridge in the rain on the way back to hostel. On our way we passed a beggar. A man in his late thirties, bony and thin, wearing a tattered green fleece, muddy cargos, all of him soaked in rain. He was on his knees, his elbows on the ground before him, his head tucked between his arms. Where his hands met in front of him, he held a faded red baseball cap, and in it were a few crowns.
As I passed him, I thought about giving him money. I always think about giving money to the homeless, and always spare a second or two of cheap compassion, but usually, in the end, I forcibly stunt my empathy and walk right past. I’m not proud of it, but that’s exactly what I did just then on the bridge, even though I had the money in my pocket and could have spared him a cent, and even though I had spent most of my money that day on myself, on getting drunk, just to feel awful in the end.
I guess the point of all this is that I could have indulged differently. I could have indulged constructively, even if that meant sparing a few cents for someone in need, whether I truly needed my money or not. I could spend pages justifying myself, but the fact is that I sometimes choose to indulge in my own boredom. This is painful to realize and admit, especially if you’re a traveler in a city as vibrant and beautiful as Prague. I’d like to admit I was helpful to others in all the places I’ve visited, but that just wouldn’t be true. A lot of days I just spent dicking around, and a lot of the time…it was boring.