It was Milan Kundera who convinced me to visit Prague if I had the time. When I was a very pretentious twenty-something(I am still pretentious but I’ve mellowed), I carried Milan’s book “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” to restaurants, coffee shops, and on public transportation. I was posing as Someone Who Reads Literature. It was through Milan(note my casually calling him by his first name) that I encountered Friedrich Nietzsche’s Theory of Eternal Recurrence.
Eternal recurrence is a concept that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur, in a self-similar form an infinite number of times across infinite time or space. Basically, we have already done and said before what we are saying and doing now and will repeat them in the future an infinite number of times.
In his novel, Milan made a counter-argument that there can be a definite resolution of things. He first made his characters go through a cycle of getting together and breaking up, getting together and breaking up, and getting together and breaking up. Finally, the characters exercise choice to commit to a particular person. They were no longer subject of circumstances and coincidences. Well, that’s my take on it anyway.
Right here in Prague, I had the opportunity to experience eternal recurrence.
Prague is a beautiful city, in an austere way. The Gothic architecture of buildings, festooned with crosses and statues of saints, can make you suddenly remember all your sins. It gives me the feeling that God is watching out if I commit more sins. It has been raining for the two days that I’ve been here, and there’s a certain gloom over the city. The atmosphere makes me want to hide in dark alleys, pounce on unsuspecting passers-by, and sink my fangs into their necks.
The city’s layout is not for the direction-challenged. The few times I’ve asked for directions, the very friendly and helpful Prague residents would scratch their heads and begin their sentences with “It is difficult…”. Why not use a navigation app, you ask? Notice a smirk forming on the right side of my mouth. Maps will not be of much help either as attested to by the bewildered looks of scores of tourists I’ve passed by.
There is no concept of a block here. A “block” is a an irregularly-shaped plot of land with an assortment of Gothic buildings clustered together. The cobble streets are winding and somewhat circular although they give you an impression that you are walking straightforward when you are trudging on them. If you go around a “block” do not expect to end up at the exact spot where you first started. Instead, you will be transported to a different neighborhood. If you make a wrong turn, there is a likelihood that you’ll never be able to go back where you came from. Also, the buildings – very gorgeous – tend to look alike.
On my first day, I took Tram 9 to Wenceslas Square. I missed the stop because, despite my best efforts to listen to the automated voice announcements, I did not hear the name correctly. There is no relation between the pronunciation of Czech words and their spelling. I got off somewhere and started to wander. I knew that the square is nearby considering the high concentration of people scurrying about.
I ambled into a park and saw a man walking his dog. I asked for directions to the square.
“Hmmmnnn… It is difficult to give directions” he said while scratching his head. “Okay, follow me. Sorry, my dog does not like the rain. He wants to go home”. After a few seconds of brisk walking, he said “You see that street? Just go through that street and follow the tram tracks. You will be there in three minutes”.
I initially followed his directions. Then I asked myself why I should stick to the tram tracks. Why not take that small street over there? It seems to lead to the same direction. I took the small street and promptly got lost. I decided to move forward, since that was the most sensible way, until I found a small square with shops catering to tourists.
“Turistiké informace” read a sign. Tourist information! I asked for a map and directions to Wenceslas Square, which turned out to be a few steps away around the corner. One glance at the map and I immediately knew it was of no use to me.
I decided to just wing it and entrust myself to the universe.
So began the endless cycle of getting lost and regaining my bearings. I just meandered through the streets and suddenly found myself at various points of touristy interest without meaning to. I would strike out aimlessly and eventually find myself in a place I’ve been to before. Afterwards, I’d get lost again and so on and so forth. One time, I wanted to go the bridge leading to the oldest part of Prague. I did not want to walk beside the river and opted to walk through streets that I presumed were parallel to the river. After twists and turns, I found myself at one part of the river that allowed me to admire, from afar, the whole length of the bridge that I wanted to cross.
So, to experience Prague you must lose yourself in its universe in infinite number of times. It is the only way to know the charm of a city that somehow manages to retain an air of mystery in these modern times.