Letter from Prague

It's difficult for me, living as I do in Prague, to see the city through the misty eyes romanticism of the tourist. To many visitors, Karlova Street in the Old Town is a quaint thoroughfare snaking from the Charles Bridge to the Old Town Square, where lovers stroll hand in hand soaking up the atmosphere on cool spring evenings. For me. Karlova is simply a bustling, pedestrian-rage inducing nightmare that I do my utmost to avoid.

When the tourist stand in a group of 600 or so and stare up in admiration of that middle-aged feat of engineering - the Astronomical clock, I just glace up and spot a lot of colorfully dressed puppets nodding their heads and going 'peep peep.' I may sound like a real stick-in-the-mud but this is exactly what happens when you live in such a beautiful city as Prague - what is it they say about familiarity breeding contempt.

There is only one view, one sight in the city these days that still makes my heart skip a little, particularly on a clear sunny morning in early May, for example. It's the famous one that is the embodiment of Prague in all the tourist literature and picture postcards - the Castle in the background rising up majestically above the red roofs of Mala Strana, the oxidized copper green dome of the St. Nicolas Cathedral and of course the Charles Bridge.

If any element of that scene were removed it would be diminished. That is why the present concern over the health of the 644 year old Charles Bridge is quite worrying. I suppose that it would be unrealistic to expect a stone structure of such an age - particularly a bridge battered by the river and sporadic floods - to be in great shape. According to the expects very thin but very deep so called 'moisture cracks' have been discovered on the bridge. The problem was apparently glossed over back in the 1970s when the old stone edifice had its last facelift, but they now threaten to close it completely. The authorities claim that every effort will be made to keep one of the most famous tourist attractions open to the public. Of course it will be - The Mayor of Prague One Jan Kasl is stressing the urgency of the repair work, and that the government has a responsibility to cover the estimated cost - somewhere in the region of 6.5 million US dollars. Now.. just let's get this straight. That figure is roughly the annual budget for the care of all of the historic buildings and monuments in the Prague 1 district.

The Ministry of Culture here have responded by pleading that the money simply isn't available. Maybe that's true, but if it be so then hurry and make sure that the millions of dollars are soon made available. Can you imagine the cost in lost tourism if the old girl just fell into the River Vltava one day? I shudder to think.