It’s heartening — but I certainly won’t say humbling — to have received a number of comments on the last few Works of Art, describing observations from countries such as the Czech Republic and Austria, during the two weeks-plus we spent there with family.
“Humbling” is the wrong word. It connotes a feeling of humiliation, as if some of my observations were ridiculous.
But let’s drop the humility and discuss instead the reactions of some people to the articles about Prague and Hallstatt.
Ray Litherland, who, with his wife Joyce, remembers the extremely popular Austrian tourist area of Hallstatt as “a small town with just one main street going through it.” Ray asked me whether anything has changed over the five decades since they visited.
Well, the town has a great many streets, making it difficult to identify a main street. The tourists are thick, and like Prague, getting caught in a stampede would be my fault.
Let me explain:
Previously, I’ve mentioned the lack of awareness of others. People on streets and sidewalks seem to barrel through others. I’ve been there, in cities like Chicago (a topic for a separate column). In Prague, two weeks ago, I tried taking the initiative by using words like “please” and “thank you.” But that got nowhere. What surprised me more was, for the most part, the total lack of acknowledgement; if I let somebody go ahead of me in a queue, I’d expect a good ol’ U.S. “thank you.” It didn’t happen.
I believe that if I were to have pushed someone off the sidewalk, I’d keep the person from falling, dust that person off, apologize and even offer to buy him or her four beers. Well, none of that was necessary, as I doubt the initial push would have even been noticed. It might even have been appreciated.
In my conversation with Litherland, I also mentioned the tourists’ fascination with “selfies.” To the non-indoctrinated, a selfie is a photo one takes of oneself. It’s easy, as most cell phone cameras are self-focusing.
We saw endless lines of tourists who’d position themselves close to some landmark — a waterfall, a cable car, a church, a funny sign or an Austrian alp — and take a selfie. So selfish is this habit that holding up traffic didn’t faze the selfers, who’d look at the photo they just took, think about it, then take another.
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It’s heartening, not humbling, that my friend, Ron Wooten-Green, forwarded a copy of the July 2 Work of Art to a friend, Carol Smetana, now a resident of the nearby Pendaries-Sapello area. She was an assistant director for the filming of Red Dawn and assisted in the filming of Roots.
Carol, wrote, “It is true that tourists abound in Prague. My Czech friends complained that when they walk around the two main squares in Prague all they hear are foreign languages, no Czech.” Carol agrees that Prague is filled with “pushing, hustling, oblivious crowds,” but she asserts that “Czechs aren’t rude, and there are subtle signals given, as here, just not the same. And I suspect (Art) couldn’t tell the Czechs from the tourists.”
The signals to which Carol refers must indeed be subtle. On our walks from our hotel rooms to downtown restaurants, where we soon began to feel like regulars, we received no observable exchange. The Prague nod apparently is much harder to discern than we imagined.
Readers may recall that I headlined one of my European columns, “What? No Mozart?” as I lamented that the only music from that boy genius would need to come from a CD, or from memory. I mentioned that Salzburg, Austria, where I’d hoped to get my fill of Amadeus, just wasn’t on our itinerary. Because we had two grandchildren, ages 5 and 2, we needed to factor in some entertainment for them as well.
Carol says that as for my search for Mozart, I “should have looked for him in Prague. Unlike the Austrians, the Praguers loved Mozart. Marriage of Figaro was premiered in Prague at the Estates Theater, and the Czechs embraced Mozart.”
Carol added, “Art could have heard Mozart in any number of venues in Prague, including venues where Mozart himself performed — he’s a favorite, considered a ‘son.’”
Now I discover that it really wouldn’t have been necessary to take that long trip to Salzburg to get my Mozart fix. Had I dug deeper, I might have learned of the proximity of the music of Mozart.
And that late-breaking knowledge leaves me humbled.
• • •
Like many travelers, we Trujillos have accumulated a couple of plastic sandwich bags filled with assorted coins. It contains Danish kroners, Mexican pesos, euros from Austria, Czech korunas and Swiss francs.
Once on a trip to help build a small church in Anapra, a suburb of Juarez, my youngest son, Ben and I went to a store where I presented a $20 dollar bill and got back a wheelbarrow full of change. That made Ben believe that the more we spent the more we earned. At age 5, he didn’t realize the value of money.
We experienced something like that on our flight back from the Czech Republic, where we were carrying leftover change from three different countries. Though we were famished by the time our plane landed in London’s Heathrow Airport, we held off, as a purchase would have required us to pay in pounds.
That might have given us even more currency to lug home. Rather than engage in yet another transaction in terms we still don’t understand, we opted for waiting for regular airline food.
Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.