Monday, August 31, 2009

Příští zastávka: Malostranská

On the first morning of classes, I had my first lesson in catching the tram in Prague. The 22 tram stopped across from the Pyramida between two lanes of traffic and sidewalk islands that held waiting passengers. There were three ways to catch the tram:

1) waiting on the sidewalk island until one arrived—a method that allowed for more time to get to know fellow passengers, such as the commuter carrying a flask in his jacket or the couples competing for the world’s longest kiss

2) spotting the tram up the block (or from the window of the nearby nonstop convenience store) and making it to the platform just as the doors opened

3) running into oncoming traffic and across the railings behind the train in a sprint likely to catch the attention of the driver who, unlike New York subway and bus drivers, would wait for the passenger to board

I preferred the third method, minted on the first morning by Margaret Von Steinen, Coordinator of the Prague Writing Seminars who spotted the tram barreling down the street as we exited the hotel and broke into a run. I followed and we hopped into the back door of the tram just before the driver lost his patience.

Other people I recognized from the reception the night before hopped on the tram, including an elderly playwright in an animated discussion on the importance of marketing all while his fly was completely unzipped.

At each stop, the melodious automated voice of the tram announcer called out “Příští zastávka,” over the speaker announcing the “Next Stop” after the doors closed. On the newer trains, the next stop was announced on an electric sign as well as over the loud speaker:

I preferred the voice—at the same time coy and efficient—that warned of the stop in advance and just as the doors opened. Here is a youtube clip featuring "Příští zastávka" that gives a sense of how far the Czech spoken language is from the written:

Příští zastávka

The stop for the Philosophy Faculty at Charles University is the Malostranská stop,

just across the river from the building.

After morning workshop and lunch, I crossed the street to catch the bus 133

that ran to Náměstí Republiky near the building where my afternoon literature seminar was held.

I rarely took the metro, which completely lacked the sexy “Příští zastávka” announcement, instead saying the Czech equivalent of “Next Station.” The steep escalators

and fluorescent lit waiting areas

were less appealing than the above-ground tram, but sometimes I did take them to get farther out: to the Prague Zoo or Vyšehrad.

On my last day in Prague, the taxi driver dropped me at the wrong station, and I had to navigate to the other station on the metro. While waiting for the train a couple spoke from across the tracks—they arrived at the station together, but were going in opposite directions (she’s the one in red, he’s the one in short pants—a popular fashion for men in Prague).

The couple’s back and forth exchange emblemized my experience of Prague—plans went awry, meetings were missed, and attempts to communicate often ended with both people confused and tumbling away from each other at high speeds.

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