Sunday, October 11, 2009

Meet Tomas

When it rains in Prague, the streets become a mosaic of umbrellas.

I played email tag with Premysl, bouncing notes back and forth. We tried to find a common time to meet, but obstacles popped up at every turn.

Cindy met a British guy, Nick, who promised to take us out and show us the seamy underside of Prague, the places where tourists didn’t go in their Charles Bridge-Prague Castle-Old Town Square trifecta.

One night, I set off in search of Cindy and Nick through the clusters of buildings in Prague 1.

I was as likely to get lost as I was to find them. I had the free map from the hotel and scribbled directions about subway stops and neighborhoods. In truth, though, I had no idea where I was going.

I took the metro to a strange neighborhood just east of Prague 1 and by some combination of luck and intuition, found Cindy and company. We found the night spot Nick knew, a multi-room maze of a bar filled with smoke, glass shelves of bottles and mostly men.

Shortly after we settled in and ordered Becharovka-and-tonics, which tasted like iced chai with a twist of citrus and a strigent gin-like after-taste, a medium-height man with dark hair and glasses swiveled around from the bar holding drinks and looking around for his friends and a place to sit. He spotted two empty chairs at our table and asked permission to sit there in Czech. I had a sense of what he was saying from his gesture and lost expression, so I nudged the chairs out, offering him the seats.

My knowledge of Czech had now expanded to “Thank you,” though I didn’t quite know how to pronounce it and often offended shopkeepers by saying the informal version. He knew English well, though, so we resorted to our common language.

Meet Tomas.

My second official Czech friend in Prague. He taught me the shorthand for Becharovka-and-tonic, “Beton,” and the secret of mixing dark beer with light.

Beer is the orange juice of Prague. People practically have it for breakfast. That night I stayed clear of the beer, though that seemed to be the drink of choice at most tables.

Tomas and I talked into the wee hours when Nick shuttled us across the Charles bridge to take the night tram. Tomas walked with us for part of the way and we shyly traded emails by the tram stop, an act that made me feel vaulted back to junior high. Cindy and Shara waited off to the side, pretending like they were caught up in a vital conversation at 2 a.m. by the tram stop.

As soon as Tomas left, we swarmed back together and traded stories of our nights. The tram never showed, in true Prague fashion, so we walked home up the narrow cobble-stone streets, the shortcut from Prague 1 to Prague 6.

Being good tourists, we stopped to snap a picture on the way up.

I felt better back with my friends who spoke the same language and shared similar landscapes and cultural references. Though Tomas and I both spoke English, we were worlds away from real communication.

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