We got there by Metro and that’s when I fully realized I had no idea which way to walk. I had read a review of the King Charles Boutique Hotel when I booked it that said that the hotel was right under a castle. And that was all, plus the address, of course.
We asked an official person in the Metro station that told Juan we had to go back two stops from where we were, but I knew for sure we were in the right metro, so I insisted that we look in the map. The names of the streets were so tiny they were nearly useless, but Juan managed to locate the street by chance and, yes, it was somewhere near where we were.
For a moment we thought it might be on the other side of the station, and we had already gone up and down the stairs with our two suitcases… Luckily, I saw a sign to the castle and we walked in that direction. Some time later, we saw a hotel, and I went in and asked where the street was, but the girl said it was “down” so we kept walking down the street. A hill with two suitcases and a backpack is no easy task. I was carrying the backpack, which felt super heavy, and Juan rolling one suitcase in front of him and one in the back. Soon, we were not sure which way to roll, so I tried to locate someone to ask for directions. There were some very young couples, but I didn’t want to interrupt their romance. An older man came out of a tunnel, and his white beard and hair seemed respectable enough, and he had no girlfriend kissing him, so I chose him. He smiled, pushed me by the waist in a very flirty way and asked me to follow him, half English, half Czech. I felt weird and like laughing at the same time, so I decided to trust him and followed. Juan was not far, with the suitcases. First the man indicated the way, and I didn’t quite get it, so he crossed the street with me to point straight ahead. I smile widely and thanked him and we were on our way.
Finally, we made it, but only to find out that I had made a mistake when I booked. I meant to book 2 nights and booked 3. Still, this was better than the opposite situation, and the young woman at the reception told me not to worry, we had our room. They still charged me for the room, but at least we had a room in Prague during the high season, when everything is booked. And that was a great relief.
1. This hotel was in a totally different part of the city, which led us to the conclusion that no matter which way you walk in Prague, you will find something beautiful. We were under the Vyšehrad Castle, an area apparently inhabited by artists, a gay community and working class families. The hotel is exaggeratedly ornate in its décor, but it was kind of fun to sleep under a canopy and have a rocking chair in the room. I also liked the Giant wall hanging of the Vitruvian Man, which was a cool touch in an otherwise neo-rococo style. That day we were too exhausted to go far, so we ate Vietnamese food in a nearby restaurant. It was super cheap (something like $3 per dish, and they were big…) and delicious, so we were very happy. The Vietnamese community arrived in the old Czechoslovakia during communism to “study” but really, according to our source, it was to work in factories. Same with Cubans. Then a portion of their paychecks was sent to their countries. When things changed, they had already built their lives there and stayed. There are many restaurants of this type, just like Chinese restaurants in NYC, and with the same concept of food from pictures that you can choose by number. The girl understood English, too. And we had a great meal.
I couldn’t sleep well this night. I think realizing it is time to go back got to me. I very much want to go back, but at the same time dread what awaits. I have to deal with the mural that burned, I have to finish a commission, I have to organize an exhibition of the paintings I am bringing back, and I have to fix my house and prepare for a long-term visit from my dear nephew who has been having a teenagehood attack worthy of calling some Russian troops to the rescue. And then I will go to New Mexico in August for a month or so to be the grandma of my beloved friend who will be having a baby and that’s something I can’t miss. (It was my grandma who saved my life when I gave birth, so that’s why I say grandma and not sister or mother…)
Our last day was truly a Grand Finale. We met Mercedes, a Cuban woman whose love story placed her in Prague three days before the Russian takeover, and she was stuck here during the whole communist era. She was a young student in Cuba who was assigned to give first aid to a Czech math professor who had gotten hit on the head (I think from being too tall, nothing too dramatic…) Then it all took off from there and he wanted her to visit his family in Prague, but her family said, No way, you are not leaving unless you get married first, and they got married and went to Czechoslovakia. I think they were expecting to go back to Cuba, but three days later, the Russians arrived and they made their life here. I liked the love story! And Mercedes was the most wonderful tourist guide in the world! We had tons of tours, but she was the best. Then we went to church with her, in Mala Strana. Poor Juan was stuck in the front row, getting up and kneeling, and singing. But it was a wonderful part of the Czech experience because we got to meet lots of Spanish speaking people who live in Prague and even the Dominican consul was there, so Juan spent the whole agape talking to him. Then the priest showed us the antique library. We saw thousands of ancient books, an antique Lutheran Bible and an atlas, as well as had a closer look at the frescos on the ceiling of the church. All in Spanish!
Next, we had to go pick up the paintings, and made a stop in between to eat a snack in a fancy Thai restaurant at the exit of the metro. It was delicious, but a fancy restaurant in the subway? Strange! And they even had a terrace overlooking the city. It was hot, so we stayed inside.
Paul, his wife Lenka and daughter Tereza met us at the congress center. We had invited them to dinner to thank them and say good-bye. They helped put away the paintings and then we went to a typical Czech restaurant in Old Town Prague. On our way there was a surprise awaiting us: Paul had arranged for all of us to go by horse carriage to the restaurant from the main square! That was fun, and so cute of him!
We said good bye with the promise to see all of them in NYC.
We had one last stop. The Hard Rock Café… yes, our son sort of collects the t-shirts, so we went to get one for him and another for Jean Carlos, my nephew. Oh well, it’s getting to be a tradition.
Back home, I spent the first few days very tired and very sad. This trip moved me in ways I did not expect. It made me think of what I want, what I don’t want, what I like and don’t. It made me revise my everyday life and my extraordinary life. Extraordinary as in away from a routine, and extraordinary as in all the gifts I receive everyday. And it made me think of what are the next steps in my artistic career, as well as in the design of other areas my life. I don’t think it had anything to do with the things I saw and did, but with the collisions that occurred inside of me. I had the most conflictive feelings all along, both of wonder and boredom, excitement and sadness, learning and mental exhaustion with memory loss. By the last day I was unable to remember which was the virgin I wanted to see in Prague, and was embarrassed when the priest tried to help me and I could not be sure of the name. I felt a lot of embarrassment during the whole trip for lots of different reason, a feeling I am not used to. I, who am not afraid to stand in front of 1,000 people to talk, was embarrassed all the time here. Which I think had causes beyond its manifestation. When I arrived in NYC, I just wanted to be quiet, in bed, but was tormented at the thought of all I had to do. I tried to begin, but couldn’t.
Then I did what I tend to do when I feel lost: go to the bookstore. I walked 40 blocks. I bought an umbrella for the rain. I read a book the asked, What is your purpose? Those are the epiphanies I get in the bookstore.
I am working on a life plan right now, so that the next trip I take will not hit me so hard. So I can enjoy life more fully. Whatever it is I need to do, needs to be done soon. Or at least I need to begin making some changes. The good thing is that I have most of the pieces in place and I know that this is just one of those moments that are designed by the Great Universe to push you to the next level when you have let yourself become too comfortable with situations that are not taking you anywhere. I know my lack of energy comes from not doing the things that give me energy, and compromising all the time with things that just suck it out of me. And even when I know all this, how did I get here when I was so far from this place not so long ago. Bad habits crawl back up to you if you let them. Except now, I am more aware. That is good.
One thing I know right now: I need a support team. If I want that mural and any other mural on the wall, I need the people that can make it possible without me agonizing over it. Rather than giving up on murals, I need to find some people to do what I dislike and am not good at, like measuring, cutting and installing. That way my brain will be free to create, and I will help other people get jobs, too. It is a simple thing, why have I not done it? I am not very good giving orders, and my perfectionism kills me, so I prefer to work alone and save the bad feelings. Time to get over it!
So this is what this trip was all about, and this is where it has brought me. Lots of people saw my art, and I have stats to prove it: 96 visits to my blog from the Czech Republic, a country that never before figured in my stats. Considering how many things we see without bothering to write down a website and then looking it up, 96 is very good. How does this translate into furthering my art career? I think, most of all, it shows I am willing to make the investment in my own path. It adds to my arsenal when I present myself to people through my art blog and in person. It tells my customers that I am not stuck, and that one day their investment in my work will pay off (although I hope it is already paying off!) And it tells me that the world is wide open, and all I need to do is reach out. Sales? They were not permitted at the Congress Centre, and I decided that was not the point of this trip. That part comes next, here in NYC. Two pieces have already sold just from hanging them in my living room and casual visits to my studio. I just need to actually put effort into that!
When I thought I would die, I remember feeling that it was ok, I had accomplished much. Now, if I had to die, I would feel disappointed that I still have so much to accomplish. Weird but true. So now I go to work, to assemble my team, and go forward in that plan not yet conceived. The end.