Medúza, the Káva Shop at Belgická
By Kamal Sunavala

It's as if it is ordained that every time one forms an opinion about something it must be subjected to change. I was there this afternoon with my friend Lindsey from Kansas City, Missouri which is about as far as you can get from Prague. And there we met two old chess playing animated gentlemen. Both Czech and yet they completely defied the stereotypical mould of the older Czechs which we have had opportunity to witness so far. They smiled and asked us where we were from. They spoke faltering English for which we were glad for our Czech is in its neo natal stages. One of them told us that he had a daughter in London who was about our age and smiled reminiscently as he sipped his káva. We smiled back, grateful for their foray into the world of the younger generation which tends to smile easier.

The parlour, for one could only call it that, had the smell and the feel of an old English tea room complete with the personal attention of the well mannered young proprietor who ripped off the foil of cigarette packets before handing them to a lady customer and smiled generously after the English blend had been ordered. The pictures on the wall had everyone from the obligatory Kafka to unknown enticing nude women and one of what looked suspiciously like an aging Frank Sinatra at a piano, placed strategically over an old piano. In Prague it would not be hard to believe it.

The crockery was old, very English and terribly mismatched. The comfortable sink in armchairs, the slightly ratty couches, the old scratched tables which probably belonged to his grandmother and the faded Persian carpets gave the perfect background for a cynical Kafka pouring his coffee into a chipped white cup or a straying Hemingway scratching out notes about the smooth cobblestones along Belgická. I felt like a writer there. A writer on a well deserved Saturday afternoon coffee break. I wanted to rush back and write. But I resisted the urge and instead drank in every detail with alternate sips of my English blend.

My mind wandered briefly to the coffee shops I frequented in Singapore. The sleek polished, highly priced coffee emporiums with modern uncomfortable furniture, tall mugs with witty sayings on them and the breakneck speed of the service by a waiter who believed that he was wasting his time waiting upon you, for you should have made up your mind before you entered his portals about whether you wanted decaf or latte. I didn't feel inspired to write there. I didn't feel inspired to watch people either. They were all the same. Perfectly made up bored dolls with plastic around them and probably inside them too.

My convent education, my teacher's profession drifted so naturally into graciousness here, into gratitude for the nuns who taught us about appreciating time and beauty in the oldness of things, in the oldness of smiles wrinkled with years of simply living. Imagine Julie Andrews being a nun in Singapore. Imagine her being one in Prague. Actually I think she's sitting over by that table near the window.