Meat and Potatoes
By Kamal Sunavala

My friend Wendy who speaks six languages, reads three newspapers, eats all meat known to man and has more passports than most people I know, decided that it was finally time to honour my request and check out my favourite Czech city for herself. A product of an Anglo-Indian family, raised in Goa, Bombay and London, she has travelled the world in search of the perfect photo opportunity and it can’t get better than Prague. She promised herself three days in Prague before heading out to Budapest. I promised to write about it.

Day One:
Wendy is overwhelmed by the lack of English, the lack of customer service, the lack of civility at immigration and the overall lack of European hospitality. She is a seasoned traveller, so she takes this in her stride, hails a cab (typical, eh) and heads to the Marriott. No, she is not a backpacker and won’t apologise for it. She is safely ensconced in her bright room, with Náměstí Republiky as her offered attraction. Since the weather is cooperative, she heads out immediately and runs headlong into American tourists who are drawing irritated glances from passers-by at their apparent lack of decorum and street manners. Wendy is aware of one old gentleman staring at her from the CSA building and later realises that he has mistaken her for an old Czech actress. A brief conversation in German confirms that. Yes, Wendy is a startlingly beautiful girl, even by Czech standards. She grabs a strawberry zmrzlina, a map and walks down the square and turns off inevitably at Můstek. Those who live in Prague will remember a particular gent at Provaznická, bent over his cap on the street, in the hope of alms. Wendy bends down and offers him a beer. He is frightened by her personal attention and waves her off but accepts the beer. Two hours later, weighed down with unnecessary blue crystal, she stops off at the Gyros stand and gets him one as well. He waves her off again, even more alarmed. Wendy hates clubs but is determined to check out a herna bar and then La Fabrique. Short of being mauled, drugged and deafened, she steps out into the cool night air and heads back towards the Marriott. She asks for a very large brandy and a cigar. They swallow while she bats not an eyelid.

Day Two:
Wendy is on Charles Bridge, unable to believe she is standing on a priceless piece of history. She takes tons of pictures and buys a thousand knick knacks for ridiculous prices and doesn’t complain about being ripped off. She is dancing along towards my favourite Kafka store beneath the bridge, when she is stopped by a policeman demanding identification. She obliges. Then the policeman, in fluent English, asks for her hotel address and room number. She wonders why that is necessary but obliges again. And finally he tells her, while peering down her long legs that he finishes by ten pm. Wendy casually takes her passport back, kicks him in the shin and walks on. She has spent enough time in Marrakesh to know how to deal with the perverts. She has promised herself an evening at the State Opera at my insistence and Verdi’s La Traviata does not disappoint. Followed by a delicious dinner with my ex-flatmate at Ambiente, she goes to bed a satisfied woman.

Day Three:
Wendy has been instructed by me to walk through Vinohrady to experience the wonder of what I call, the perfect living district. She even stops in at Medúza for a cuppa and then at Zanzibar for their scrumptious omelettes.  She ends up in Havlíčkovy Sady for another photo session and then walks back towards Radost to have a new-age Mezze platter. Later in the afternoon, on her last trip out, she visits Jan Saudek’s new gallery on Celetná and is lost in a trance when she is asked to leave, on account of the gallery’s closing hours. She has dinner at Slavia, while looking at her photographs, not caring about the lack of service because the view captivates her.

When I met Wendy last night, she was beaming with excitement about Prague. I was preening like a proud parent. It would have been a perfect end to this fairy-tale if Wendy had not casually tossed out, while leaving: But you know, it’s just another gorgeous, meat-and-potatoes European city.

Wendy and I are not speaking.