The Amazing Blow-Up Woman of Prague

September, 2000

After the arrival of Petra, the amazing 6-foot babysitter who is adored by all children, we went downtown to a 15th century beer hall with the unpromising name of “U Flecku.” My first experience with a beer hall!

The place has big, dark oak beams, painted murals from who-knows-when, and a lovely tree-shaded inner courtyard. There are long wooden tables that you share with whoever happens to sit with you, and these good-looking, burly waiters carry 6 mugs of beer at a time in each hand. They just plop one down in front of you whenever you look like you need one, and tally it up on a scrap of paper lying on the table.

There is only kind of beer–Fleckova–which is a dark, excellent beer brewed right on the premises, so it is easy to add up the bill. This is why Czech conversation books always practice counting beers “Jedno pivo, dvě piva, tri piva….” We also had gulaš(beef stew) with knedlícky (Czech dumplings.) The food was pretty good, although I wouldn’t care to eat like that every day, or I’d soon resemble a dumpling myself!

There was a silly sort of band with a very good tuba player playing underneath an awning in the courtyard. There were large groups of Germans sitting, drinking, and singing some kind of rugby-disco-drinking type songs. Eventually, one table, populated by enormous Teutonic men, started to do the wave–they weren’t very good at it. There was another table of Japanese tourists in the next room who had permanently hijacked an accordion player and were all singing “Volaré” over and over again. By the time we left, the Germans were lifting each other up and bodysurfing down the length of the tables.

Anyway, since the waiters would keep putting beers in front of us, along with a nasty-tasting Czech liqueur called Becherovka (“It’s Good for You”) which is apparently what you use to cleanse the palate between Fleckovas, we decided we had better leave while we could still walk. We strolled along the Vltava, admiring the absolutely fantastic Art Nouveau architecture of the buildings. I won’t even try to describe it–you really have to see this place to believe it. Buildings that can only be considered works of art are found on every street in the down town area. Many have been fully restored, and many more are in the process. It will be interesting to see this progress over the next few years. I hope that the place doesn’t become complete restored however, because then it would look more like Disneyland, and less like Prague.

As we approached the Narodní Divadlo (National Theater) we noticed a crowd of people standing on a bridge. Of course we had to see what they were looking at, and it turned out to be the river. But they were clearly waiting for something, so we though we’d hang around a while. Anyway, there were lovely benches on the bridge just perfect for admiring the moonlit city and engaging in a bit of “snogging” as the Brits call it.

At the stroke of 10 PM, spotlights illuminated the river and New Age music began emanating from the trees. Something big disturbed the dark surface of the water. Ducks and seagulls raced away, as a huge inflatable figure began to rise out of the river. In the end, it turned out to be a 150-foot inflatable woman (a “watery tart” as my husband put it.) After she was fully inflated, a fountain sprang to life out of her head. Then three people jumped off a pier and swam out to the figure. We though they were probably going to dance naked on it or something dramatic like that but they just swam out and back. (That water must have been awfully cold–perhaps they just changed their minds at the last minute.)

Finally, a huge stream of water, presumably coming out of a fire hose, burst from the trees behind the woman. Hey we aren’t far from Vienna, the home of Sigmund Freud. You figure it out. That, apparently, was the finale of this piece of performance art we had inadvertently stumbled on. Half the people on the bridge were attempting to look very serious, and the other half, including Czechs, were just laughing outright. Perhaps 10 PM in the Beer Capital of the World was not the best place for this event. I asked my husband, the Cultural Affairs Attaché and therefore the spokesperson for U.S. artistic sensibilities in the Year 2000 European City of Culture, what his comment was on the performance, and he abruptly stopped laughing and looked vaguely worried.

Afterwards we walked to Bohemia Bagel, the meeting place for the young and affected crowd, bought some admittedly delicious bagels, and called a taxi. We hurtled home at about 60 miles per hour, while listening to the Oak Ridge Boys’ “Elvira” sung in Czech. Except for that immortal chorus, of course: “giddyup…” At which point the cell phone rang–the husband was duty officer that weekend–and reality intruded.

Thus ended our second night out in Prague. Petra’s coming back next Saturday, and I can’t wait!

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