Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Pilgrimage that Wasn't

luckily for me, i'd been to prague several times before--had even considered not joining this semester's group tour. but other plans weren't coming through and it's a gorgeous city, so i planned my personal journey there, to visit again the street where jan neruda had lived, and to get to the cemetary where he and other luminaries are buried. i spent a lot of happy time on google trying to learn more about the cemetary and how to get there.  we arrived friday afternoon, and the class trips begun. one was being led by an old and beloved colleague whom i hadn't seen in years [since he decided tht part-time teaching at the Castle was delightful, but a bit less so than the directorship of one of Europe's great museums, the Rijksmuesum in Amsterdam. ] i went along on his tour, knowing it would be interesting and wanting to spend as much time as i could with him. when that tour was over i would join the group going to see Madame Butterfly, then do my one gig for the occassion the next day, the Kafka Museum, and would devote sunday to hunting down the spirit of my beloved neruda.

the tour was wonderful, and seeing peter again was exciting.  it was i who suggested he end his tour at the Charles Bridge so our group of students would be more familiar with it on their later excursions. in that, at least, i was successful. the kids saw the bridge.  what i saw was the concrete step before the bridge, onto which i promptly and thoroughly fell.  oddly i didn't lose consciousness at all; even more oddly, my glasses went flying but  didn't break. i could hardly get them back on my face though, since the cheek under my eye had developed a huge hump.  which probably didn't matter since the eye closed and wanted to stay closed, though i was able to persuade a slitful of light to make it through.

caretaker roles were at once, and dramatically, reversed. i wouldn't let peter end his tour, but 2 of the kids insisted on helping me; they got me to a bar and got the waiter to bring me ice, and were preparing to bring me home when the program director, dulcia, and her group walked by, saw me, and joined the kids in taking care of me. someone bought me a whiskey, dulcia got us a cab and wanted me to go to the emergency room, which i refused.  nothing seemed broken, it wasnt the top of my head, and anyway i just needed to lie down.  caroline and joel got me back,  brought me to my room,  settled me in, left emergency numbers for me and didn't leave till i'd promised to call if i needed anything, anything at all.  later in the evening some other kids came by to see if i was alright, and 4 of them brought me flowers along with one of the sweetest notes i've ever gotten.  several others, and a couple of staff and faculty members, came by later.  i felt enormously cared for and protected.

the next day some of the swelling was down, but the eye was still very puffy and i couldn't see underneath it; it was like a purple shelf had grown between lower lid and cheek.  i did get to do the kafka tour, though it would have been impossible without one of the student-staff members, rene, who got the kids to the museum, sent them into it on their own, then taxied back to get me,  organized the students around me outside, listened with apparent fascination to my lecture on kafka, taxied me back to the hotel, helped me pick up some groceries, and got me back into my room.  he did this all with such grace and cheerful  kindness that you'd have thought that he couldn't imagine a pleasanter way to spedn a saturday afternoon in prague.
i didnt go out again til we left for home; i spent the  rest of the weekend icing my face, sleeping, reading,  and looking out the window, with its wonderful view of baroque hotels and scurrying people.  and chatting with students and staff who dropped in when they could to see how i was.

i was unhappy, but surprisingly undepressed [that began the monday we left and i felt it coming at the airport; but knowing the signs i was able to keep it well under control].

i was lucky through the end. i became completely convinced that when i got back to the busstop  for the castle, the long walk in the dark would cause me to fall again, and no amount of logic would allow me to believe it remotely possible that wouldn't.  it turned out that ralph, one of the teachers, who lives in germany, had left his car at the castle.  ralph walked with me, and in spite of my gloomy foreshadowing i didn't fall.  when we got there the huge castle door, closed only when the place was empty, had been locked.  ralph phone dulcia, she phoned the ground manager, he phoned his assistant, and a near disaster, thanks to ralph, had shrunk to a small inconvenience.  and the depression never came on fullscale.

i'm sad that i didn't get to do my pilgrmage, but i'm sure neruda doesn't mind.  i got some rest today, and am still a bit sad.  but the swelling has been going down, sending black bruise-blood own my face; the effect is very attractive.   but it could have been so much worse.   not just the fall itself, which didn't seem to break anything.  but i could have felt totally alone and isolated.  instead, through it all, there was so much care and kindness, it's hard not to feel a little blessed [though i'd prefer my blessings henceforth to manifest with a little less oomph].  and still the fun of seeing the students going off to their big breaks remains.  caroline is staying in prague, to be joined by her boyfreind from home, and i loved her beaming face when she told me he was coming.  i do hope they're having a great time in that exquisite city.

and i hope they watch their step when they get to the charles bridge. caroline has had enough nursing for one week!


ilduce said...

Yike1 Sorry you got hurt! you know, none of this would have happened if you had planned on visiting a church. as per usual it wold have been closed....or maybe that's only guaranteed when I'm with you.

karen lindsey said...

i remember those churches well, though a few of t hem have been open in the past 25 years! however, do not underestimate me! i can trip over a closed church any time!....