You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen. Simply wait. Do not even wait. Be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you. To be unmasked, it has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet. Kafka
I have never been to Prague. Almost, one time, last minute, next time. But I have seen it, and in my way I know it. My own private Prague first revealed itself in history books — the march of Hitler’s troops on the eve of world war, Soviet tanks crushing dissent in the spring of 1968, a hundred thousand shouts of liberation that announced the Velvet Revolution. I sought out the city’s faces on the printed page, trapped in Kafka’s claustrophobic world, Kundera’s sexualized playground, the dystopian futures of Karel Capek, the man who gave the world robots.
My Prague is a pastiche of reverence and regret, the familiar and foreign, the novel and nonfiction. Prague was where Tom Cruise learned betrayal, left alone on his impossible mission; Hugh Jackman fought werewolves, vampires and plausibility as Van Helsing; Edward Norton enchanted us with grand illusions but couldn’t convince us Jessica Biel was a noblewoman. The Prague we see and hear of has always been another’s; it was Kafka’s, it was Kundera’s, it was your college roommate’s on a backpacking trip between Budapest and Berlin. In “Amadeus,” Mozart’s laugh echoed through the streets and parlour rooms of a city merely filling in for Vienna.
We piece together narratives with images of people we do not know on streets we cannot name, surrounded by familiar strangers. We are watched by icons who have lost their stories to time, crossing bridges that span a river of imagination to nameless castles in the sky. As long as I never go, Prague offers itself as all these things.
the familiar and foreign,
the novel and nonfiction.
A photographer recently showed me a series of images from a trip through Europe. When I asked him how he had selected these sites and these faces, he sighed and shook his head. “I tend to seek out similar subject matter for photos no matter where I am in the world,” he offered. “This reminds me of home for some reason.”