The fairest of the seasons

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I remember as a nervous eighteen-year-old being packed off to Oxford for my very first term with the reassurance of my parents that I couldn't be going at a better time - that autumn there was the fairest of the seasons. I remain institutionalized to such an extent that I still, some years on, associate the autumn with the start of the new school year. The leaves start falling and I sharpen my pencils, buck-up my ideas and dust-off my satchel... or something like that.

I remember how Oxford had a sort of patent on autumn, at least within my family - autumn was the mist lying low on Christchurch Meadows, and the trees along St. Gilles shedding their jaundiced and shriveled leaves. But for me, this is a nostalgia that I am only now able to project onto the city, because I was always too nervous and snowed-under, to use a rather un-seasonal turn of phrase, to truly enjoy this season at the time.

Now, I'll give Oxford its dues, it did put on a pretty mean autumn, but I think that autumn's rightful home might well be here in Prague. All the terracotta, auburn and ochre buildings spangle in the September sun, reflecting the transition going on in all of the city's parks and gardens. The heavy, stew-y offerings of Prague's restaurants the whole year round are suddenly put into context, and nothing, but nothing, seems more appealing than a big plate of goulash and dumplings.

In many other ways too, it seems to me that Prague spends its whole year waiting for the autumn to come around again, and this is the time that it springs into life. Far from being a moribund season, autumn here is choc-a-bloc with (often somewhat improvisatory) music festivals, state holidays and general activity.

Prague-dwellers or 'Prazaci' seem resigned to handing the month of August over to the city's hundreds of thousands of visitors, often, they themselves nip-off somewhere abroad. In the vacuum created by their exodus, what seems like a never-ending run of Don Giovannis is put-together and staged.

Prazaci reclaim the right to the capital in September, upon their return. September is a month of premieres and happenings, which, in a straw poll of the two guests I have had this month, goes down a treat even with the lay-visitor.

Albert Camus once wrote that "autumn is a second spring, where every leaf is a flower". It did not surprise me to hear that before penning this phrase, Mr. Camus had been to Prague.