Prague is a good place for heartache. It drips with gray skies and horizontal mouth lines that refuse to tip into grins. Its windy, 50-degree days chill bones in early spring. People walk faster to stay warm, click-clacking on cobblestones that, when wet, send bodies off-kilter, sliding.
My daughter and I did not fall.
She, nursing a freshly minted romantic wound, spent time in the Czech Republic trying to re-imagine the life before her. It was as unintelligible for her as the consonant-heavy Czech language was for me. We both gave up, gave in, and kept walking.
On Easter weekend we strolled by mounds of brightly painted eggs in the colors of passion. We couldn’t turn away from the intricate designs in deep, natural hues: apricot orange, dusky turquoise, bloody purple. We walked until our calves hurt, up hills near Prague Castle, downhill to Hemingway’s cocktail bar, through Old Town Square to watch the apostles dance in the astronomical clock.
The Czech folk stories, the ones they tell at touristy spots, are surprisingly dismal to buoyant American ears. On the Charles Bridge, I’d been eager to touch the statue of Saint John of Nepomuk for the good luck it bestows, only to discover later that his statue marks the place where he was thrown off the bridge and drowned. Dozens of images showcase an unsmiling Franz Kafka, the Prague literary son, whose sullen expression is as haunting as it is mesmerizing.
Despite the drab weather and feeling of stoic despair, there is exquisite, medieval beauty everywhere. There are towers and turrets, steeples and domes, tilted cemetery stones in the Jewish quarter, fortressed walls at Karlstejn castle outside the city, and statues. I’ve never seen so many life-size statues in one area: in squares, on bridges, at the top of buildings. People preserved in stone.
Yet sweetened colors persist throughout Prague like a muted rainbow. Building exteriors are saturated in pistachio, pea, grapefruit and salmon, and often embellished with one-off, ornate balconies, on this floor or that. Scaled to our human frames, we could touch beauty on any Prague street. We’d turn a corner, expecting the neighborhood to change into a more common city scene. Instead, another fairy-tale street would unspool with seemingly infinite charm, luring us to just keep walking.
My daughter was enveloped, comforted, swollen by Prague. The landscape seeped into her pores, clogging them with understanding. She floated her heartache long enough to sing “Let It Go” a cappella at a karaoke bar, an Irish pub filled with ex-pats. We fit in this room of misfits. I sang back to her “You Can’t Hurry Love.” There may have been tears.
Prague didn’t mind. It likes tears. It seems to have known them for centuries. Expecting nothing less, hoping for nothing more.
We can’t wait to return.