I wandered through the cool flagstones of St. Vitus Cathedral, Chopin’s Larghetto in B flat filtering through my headphones, frozen by the afternoon sun burning through the massive circular stained glass window over the entrance of the Cathedral. In Prague, beauty seems to be taken for granted, apartment buildings adorned with intricate statues, mosaics, frescos, cobblestones, bridges and golden spires. The city of Prague pulses with summer vitality and inspiration.
Since the first day, my classes were spectacular. I attended a poetry workshop led by William Pitt Root for the first two weeks and Cynthia Hogue for the second two weeks. Every morning, I walked over the amazing historical Vltava River on a cobblestone bridge to sit in a lecture hall, where I could look out the window and see a castle! For a girl born and raised in the Midwest, this was an experience that I will always cherish. The lectures were just as impressive as Prague’s Royal Castle in that they not only included enlightening material about Czech literature and history, but they were also from a Czech-influenced point of view. Spending time in a city as ancient and as steeped in history as Prague was extremely important for my maturation as a person, as well as a poet.
An avid runner, I explored Prague in a whirlwind of sweat and joy. Running up Petrin Hill every morning before class to watch the sun rise over the city was one of the most inspirational rituals I have ever experienced. As a writer, the one-month Prague Summer Program automatically provided me with a community of fellow writers to adventure with in a cool city, who were just as inspired and passionate about writing as I am. These writers came from all over the U.S. I am happy to say that I now have somewhere to stay in almost any major city in the U.S. simply because of the connections I made in Prague.
A modeling career also opened up for me; a couple of photography students (photography classes are also offered through the program, as well as culture and literature courses) needed a model for their portfolios. I received some great pictures to add to my portfolio, which have helped me earn extra money on the side through modeling jobs when I returned to the U.S.
One of my greatest and most memorable adventures in Prague was hiking around a large natural preserve called “Bohemian Paradise,” which is located in northern Czech Republic near the city of Turnov. Led by the amazing guide, Milos, who guided most of our tours and was an excellent resource for intelligent information, as well as an exceedingly kind gentleman, we climbed the magnificent sandstone pillars of a long-ago shallow sea. The views provided by these strenuous climbs were breathtaking-natural beauty compared to the architectural beauty of metropolis Prague. The Czech Republic seemed to be a place simply bursting at the seams with beauty of all varieties, which in turn influenced my positive views of myself, my poetry and my future. Also, learning about the history of the Czech Republic opened my eyes to the struggles of past generations like I had never experienced in the U.S.
In modern day America if I wear a short skirt I am seen as a “tease,” especially if I don’t meet others’ expectations of a woman wearing a short skirt. I’m an attractive female. Should I really have to worry about my own safety and well-being based on what I wear? Does attractiveness bind women to labels?
Living in Prague for one short month, I realized (in a more personal sense than ever before) the difference between appreciation of beauty and the objectification of it. Based on my personal observations and experiences, I realized that there was a profound difference between the catcalls I received in the U.S. compared to those I received in Prague. The occasional horn beep while running or the indistinguishable slur of F-bombs combined with crude gestures are both exponentially more disrespectful and disorientating ways of showing appreciation than the thoughtful smile or the slow-walking whistle that the European men seem to have mastered. It seems that European men are brought up expecting beauty, fully appreciating the historically real standard of feminine attractiveness. Prague is filled with classic images of women, adorning streetlamps, buildings, and even in the media (a place usually ridden with plasticity and Photoshop), and women seem to be more voluptuously healthy as well as
aesthetically real. It seems that man’s perception of feminine beauty stems from the environment in which he is raised.
Living in Prague helped me understand my own beauty and where it stems from. It’s not just due to my long legs or shiny hair, but from the fact that I paid for this entire trip by myself and that I am growing and learning due to my own motivation and gumption. I embrace my physical beauty as well as my own resilient independence from society’s expectations of female beauty as well as its standards for feminine dependence.
Some history about Prague (in case you were wondering…): The Soviet regime controlled Prague until 1989, a short 22 years ago. Living in a country that survived such a powerfully corrupt governmental body was truly inspiring. There is a monument in Prague called the “Lennon Wall”. Once a normal wall, it has been filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of inspirational lyrics from Beatles’ songs. The wall caused great irritation for the then-communist regime of Gustav Husak. Young Czechs would write and express their need for change on the wall, which led to a clash between hundreds of students and police on the historical Charles Bridge. The movement these students followed was ironically described as “Lennonism”. This rebellion against the Soviets was led and inspired completely by students! That was the really amazing part to me- that young people, like me, can really create change for the better. The beauty of the city is not only found in its architecture or natural monuments, but in the fact that writing and academia had a huge impact on how the city operates in present day. Many of the ideals now held by Czechs have been shaped by that student generation. This idea was extremely beautiful to me and made me take a more introspective look at my own motives behind writing.
Prague is also relatively cheap compared with most other European countries. Let’s just say, beer is cheaper than water there…and many Czechs drink beer as if it were water…
If anyone is interested in participating in Prague Summer Program, visit: www.praguesummer.com