This is my last full day in Prague. I arrived on Friday, at lunchtime, and I leave tomorrow, flying just before noon. For my last day I’ve chosen to hang out in coffee shops and write, so this seems to be a good time to update my journal.
I’m glad I came here. For one thing, I’ve spent a lot of time with Bill and family, and that’s always good for my soul. Bill makes me laugh, a lot. You might not notice, even from up close, but we’re both laughing a lot. We have an identical sense of humour, which can sometimes be so dry that it looks like earnest conversation. But no one else shares my continual fascination that five Nazgul couldn’t beat four hobbits and a guy with a broken sword at Weathertop.
The dynamic of visiting Bill has changed a little since he married Radka seven years ago, and changed a lot since their son, Will, was born last year. Will, just over a year old, takes all of our attention when he’s awake. He bounces around the flat like a pinball, constantly changing direction with each new thing that falls under his gaze. And he gives everything HIS full attention when he’s doing it. Taking DVDs from a shelf and handing them to me. Navigating his walker around the room. Trying to make the remote control work, or disconnect the cable TV. So he brings me into the moment too, and that’s possibly the best lesson that I can learn right now.
I’ve done a lot of walking this week. A LOT of walking. Bill straps Will into his carry-chair, and we yomp along the river. Or Bill and I head out for coffee, and end up miles away from the dozens of perfectly adequate coffee shops around his flat. Or I just head out on my own, and walk along the river, or up to the Castle precincts at the top of the hill. I’ve seen a lot of Prague that way. I think I’ve doubled the area of the city I’ve walked in the past, and also deepened it. It turns out that there is a castle and cathedral district I’ve just never seen before, complete with medieval walls and a beautiful vista across the city. I now know how to walk from Bill’s to Mama, his coffee shop of choice (we’re meeting there for lunch in three hours) and from there to and from town. A lot more of the geography of the place has come together for me, and with it my feeling for Prague as a city, and not a loose collection of tourist spots linked together by trams (Oh, and I love the trams. There seems to be a lot more new rolling stock this time, and they are as cheap and as plentiful as ever).
There’s a feeling for me, now, that Prague is a place I could live. I see how it works, at least for the ex-pat workers here (and isn’t that an interesting word, “ex-pat”. Not “economic migrant” or “immigrant”. A cosy word, with all the implications of choice and privilege you could hope for). So I can see where I would stay, how that would link up with how I could work. Bill rents a co-working space with good IT back-bone. I could run meetings there for anyone in the UK, the US, or the Far East. I’ve always said that I need to be able to see my customers face-to-face, but I’ve worked in Edinburgh for two years now, and have had maybe half a dozen face-to-face meetings in the last year. Everything I’m doing now could be done from home, and in that case home could be anywhere. Prague or New York as easily as Glasgow or Edinburgh.
So that’s given me a lot to think about. Three days a week, or even two days, of paid work at my contract rates would let me live a very comfortable life here, and prospect of spending four (or five) days sitting in places like Café Slavia (where I am now) drinking coffee and scribbling in a notebook is very, very appealing (Bill has been giving me Master classes on writing in cafes. My ability to stare into the middle-distance, then raise my eyes with a dry chuckle before jotting down a few words has come on by leaps and bounds. I'm also working on improving my chin stroke).
Slavia is starting to fill up now. For those of you who haven’t been there, it’s a huge place, on the corner opposite the opera house, on the banks of the Vlatva with views across to the Hrad. The décor is mostly very 1930s, with some hangovers from the Soviet years. If I tear my view away from the window, I have a choice between a huge portrait of a poet being haunted by the Absinthe Fairy, and a glass and metal clock sweeping up the seconds. The table next to me holds five travelling children, in their early twenties, from, by accents, New Zealand, Germany and the States. The other tables are a mix of bohemian locals (and Bohemia doesn’t get more local than this) and business people with very expensive looking briefcases, marking out bullet points in their conversations with chain-lit cigarettes.
I’ve just finished my third cup of coffee (two cappuccinos with cinnamon and cardamom, and one corrosively strong Americano) and wondering if I should have another, or wander off into the little town across the bridge. At this early moment in 2013, I think that’s the sort of problem I can spend a little time pondering.