Thursday, August 23, 2012

Not So Plain Jane

So I decided to stay at one of the ubiquitious Marriott Courtyard hotels in Prague, on points mind you, since I was still traveling on a budget. It was snowing, covering the world with an icy veneer that appeared even icier when one was desolate. I lay in bed, my body was leaden and wobbling, that disorienting state of weakness when you are on the verge of recovery. Without neighbors, there were no distractions and no motivation to see the city, so I wallowed in my own thoughts. Every mistake I had ever made, every regret I had about life, men, and career choices appeared in vivid images before me, and I felt my own worth dwindle in some intangible way.

I had never felt so lonely. Jenny called me after receiving a particularly depressing email from yours truly. Jenny was Chinese, fine-boned and fashionable, the epitome of professional success in corporate America. In her early thirties, she was a pharmacist and global director of regulatory in one of the most prestigious healthcare companies in the country. Why was she friends with a basketcase like me?

Jenny informed me that a mutual friend in NYC, was having a birthday party at a posh club. Dan was an MIT-educated ABC (American Born Chinese), eternally energetic and known for bar-hopping every night of the week, and he conveniently knew every happening place in Manhattan. Not that he could always get us in. Dan was an oxymoron; he was simultaneously painfully shy and eager to party, he was outgoing and conversationally distant, he seemed a Peter Pan who refused to grow up and yet he is the most responsible friend I know.

I felt even lonelier.

The next day, I dragged myself out of bed and walked through the historic part of the city. It was still snowing. Prague was an exquisitely romantic city, with glittering rooftops the color of brick, uniform and yet unique at the same time. (Reminded me a bit of Mykonos, with the whitewashing and cobalt rooftops.) But romance, when steeped in sadness, appears ever tragic.

Nonetheless, I made my way to Prague Castle, abode of the Holy Roman Emperors, republican presidents, Nazis, and Communists. Comprised of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, this was supposedly the largest castle in the world, although the sheer size was not due to any particular building, but the archipelago of structures which congregated in such a dense space. What I remember most was how exorbitantly long it took to cross the courtyards to get from one building to the next, especially in below-freezing weather. The Basilica and monastery of St. George Cathedral was particularly impressive, harkening back to an old poem...

"Here come I, Saint George, the valiant man,
With naked sword and spear in hand,
What mortal man would dare to stand
Before me with my sword in hand?"

It was the mother of Marie Antoinnette, Empress Maria Theresa, who commissioned the final rebuilding of the castle.

However, it was en route to see the Czech crown jewels and the National Gallery Museum in one of the lower rooms, that I met her.

A sweet-faced Australian girl named Jane, who was loitering by the paintings with a similar level of scrutiny and annoyingly slow pace as me.

Things were looking up.

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