Monday, November 19, 2012

The Mysi Diry of Prague . . .

Stunning Prague
Image by Ocean/Corbis

I visited Prague way back in 1992 to see my friend Victor Pollara -- whose mathematical algorithms have taken him God knows where -- back before Communism had entirely relinquished its stranglehold on the city's throat, though the Communists themselves were gone from power, still before the city had even started its recovery from half a century of repression, but I wish I could revisit the place now, if for nothing else, to experience the mystery of the "mysi diry (mouse holes), the little passageways that run between Old Town streets," or so writes Evan Rail in "My Hidden Prague" (New York Times, November 16, 2012), and he describes them in a way that helps me make better sense of the golem stories, of Kafka, and of the greater mystery of Prague:
If you see a gate or a doorway at a crook in the road like the two at the end of Michalska Street, check if it's unlocked. In all likelihood, you'll find a hidden pathway.

Many such paths offer wonderful views, as I discovered when I struggled to find something that seemed as of it would be impossible to miss: a new walking and biking trail in the Zizkov neighborhood, after hearing it described recently by Pitr, a neighborhood friend.

"It's very long, and fairly private," Pitr said. "But the interesting thing is that it's almost completely hidden. If you don't know exactly where it is, you will never find it."

I made the mistake of not taking Pitr completely at his word, and after fruitlessly searching the area for half an hour, I gave him a call. Armed with fresh instructions, I backtracked toward Hlavni Nadrazi, near the top of Wenceslas Square, then walked east up Seifertova Street.

Passing under a railway bridge, I saw an elderly couple walking an even older dachshund and followed their route up an embankment to what had once been a small railway branch line. Hemmed in by elder trees and lined in some sections with herb gardens, it had been paved the previous year, creating a path directly behind some of Zizkov's most beautiful 19th-century apartment buildings. The voyeuristic views onto each pavlac, or communal balcony, offer a clear sense of what life -- hanging laundry, chatting with neighbors -- on those balconies must have been like 50, 60 or 100 years ago.
Sounds like a cycle-full of fun, that secret bike path, and Evan Rail sounds like an interesting fellow to bike with . . . if his riding is anywhere near as good as his writing.

But what ever happened to Victor? He was a fellow Fulbright Scholar, and we had some great conversations. I wonder if his career turned out any more illustrious than my own.

Victor? You out there?

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