essay

56686 winter bridge

Yesterday, I happened to be in the center of Prague. I often go weeks without venturing there; most of what I need to do can be done more easily closer to home. But there I was, finished with my errand, and starting for home. A soft, light snow was falling. I thought, I have not been near Karlův Most (Charles Bridge) in a long time — I generally prefer to avoid the press of tourists. I thought, I shall go now to the Charles Bridge, to see what it looks like in this nice afternoon snow.

There were few tourists today, as it happens. January, by itself, keeps them at home; bad weather often keeps them indoors. Swans were paddling the cold brown waters of the Vltava and sea gulls floated effortlessly on the air, calling at each other with piercing squeals. The statues of the Charles Bridge, famous for their black and gold, had added white to their wardrobes.

A young couple made the traditional wish (throwing a coin in the river) at the spot where Jan Nepomucký, on 20 March 1393, was thrown into the water, his tongue cut out, for having angered King Wenceslas. What do they wish for? Long life? Eternal love? We dare not ask, for the tradition says that to divulge the wish is to nullify it.

A tourist was feeding french fries to the seagulls.

It is said that Karlův Most, until 1870 known simply as Pražský Most, was designed Peter Parler after simliar earlier bridges, possibly the Roman bridge located at Trier in Germany, or perhaps the one at Regensburg in Bavaria. It is also said that a precise time was chosen for the laying of its cornerstone by Charles IV himself, at 5:31 in the morning, the 7th day of September, 1357. The alert among you will notice that this constitutes a numerical palindrome: 1357-9-7-5:31, hence the auspiciousness of that particular moment. Mystical Prague is everywhere, if you just know where to look.

It was quiet and cold. The Christians were shivering and pleading, as they always do, in their tiny cell watched over by the fat, indifferent Turk. As I crossed over Kampa Island and neared U tří pštrosů (The Three Ostriches), where, in 1714 the Armenian Deodat Ramajan sold the first coffee in Bohemia, I needed to warm up. I headed for the nearest coffee house to enjoy a cup of Ramajan’s legacy to the city.


A version of this text was first published on the blog Poemas del río Wang in English, Hungarian, German and Italian.