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Everything Everywhere: A postcard from Prague ... and Brno

Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010

Here in the Czech lands the hillsides are wearing their riotous autumnal colors: from Petrín Hill overlooking the Vltava River in Prague to the rocky Moravian Highlands, the landscapes wear gold and red and orange and yellow and brown and the last of the brilliant green of summer.

Some of the cornfields have been plowed under and the celebrations of young wine (sweet as apple cider, if not sophisticated in flavor) and local elections (results not earth-shattering, but the Czechs have a stable government and a strong currency), and it’s the eve of a holiday celebrating nation that no longer exists.

Klementium: a historic site in PragueAn independent Czechoslovakia came into being on October 28, 1918, wedding two regions into an independent nation. That nation ceased to exist on January 1, 1993. But the holiday persists.

Some of my Czech friends find the celebration absurd; but having lived and worked in the Czech Republic in the 1990s, I’m among those who hold a special reverence for the fact that the little country of Czechoslovakia was formed at all—and then tragically dismembered at Munich in 1938, with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returning home and saying, “How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.”

That country is not so far away any more. (Not that it was far away then; Prague is closer to London than Vienna is.) But historical memory has a way of receding so quickly.

Some of the students at Santa Clara were born after the Velvet Revolution brought down the Communist government here. Why does that matter?

As I write this note, I’m actually in Brno (second-biggest city in the Czech Republic, capital of Moravia, with a tiny fraction of the tourists that Prague has). Our friends here who lived through the heady days of the autumn of ’89 long ago pointed out that when the student protest began, joining them were people of their grandparents’ generation—those old enough to have lived under a democratic government and remember what was possible.

 

About the photo: Nestled in the Czech Republic is the Klementinum, a complex of buildings historical in its Baroque architecture as well as in its missionary past. It was built by the Jesuits at the foot of the Charles Bridge in Prague over the course of several hundred years. Formerly a Jesuit college, this complex is now part of Charles University.

Steven Boyd Saum, managing editor, Santa Clara Magazine, and Lindsey Nguyen '13, editorial intern, SCU Stories

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Tags: Charles Bridge, Charles University, Czech Republic, Jesuit, Klementinum, Prague

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