Elizabeth is "Having a think in a nobleman’s gardens." This is an excerpt from "Prague for Beginners"

If I get on the Metro going south, I can be in Průhonice in about 30 minutes. This former village just outside Prague has an enormous park, in the sense that royalty has a park: an immense family property thick with meticulously-tended trees, shrubs, flower beds, streams, and secluded places to sit and admire the view.

Zamek at Průhonice
The brochure I got the last time I visited says that Průhonice Park is currently owned by the State, and is the headquarters of the Institute of Botany of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, a grand-sounding organization whose headquarters consists of a few offices in the park. They've been there since 1962; I guess no Party member was important enough to live in the small Neo-Renaissance castle there, or pious enough to attend the early Gothic church built in 1187.

I get off at Chodov and catch the bus to Průhonice, where I stop for a quick pub lunch before I enter the park. The 20-car parking lot in front of the park is empty and I panic, wondering if it’s open. Yes, it is, I buy a 10-crown ticket and enter the gates. Stretching in front to me are trees and shrubs, cut by a winding path that branches left and right. I go left to look at the small old Church of the Holy Virgin Birth, which I know is open only for Mass on Sunday morning; maybe I’ll catch a glimpse if someone is cleaning it. No, not today. I pass the Institute offices and an open set of gates, then stop to admire the view of the castle in front of me.

My brochure states that the present castle, like every old building in the Czech Republic, is not at all what it looked like originally. The first records date to 1270, and historians imagine it was a small fortress, plainly built, with a tower to use as a retreat in case of attack.
It was reconstructed in Renaissance style in the 16th century, devastated in the Thirty Years‘ War (another terribly destructive religious/political war from 1618-1648 between peasants and royalty, Protestants and Catholics; nearly 1/3 of the people living in Bohemia died in this war), rebuilt, briefly owned by Jesuits, destroyed again by war in the 18th century, rebuilt again, deserted, and used as a farm. Then it fell into the hands of a Portuguese nobleman who married a Czech countess, and was once again rebuilt in 1885. 

His architects turned the castle, essentially a modest manor house by this time, into a fantasy castle with spires, cupolas, domes, statues, wrought-iron balconies and other neo-Renaissance, Gothic and Romantic details.

No one is in sight, so I take pictures and amuse myself with making sketches and walking slowly around the front courtyard. Then I enter one of the tunnels that leads to the inner courtyard, where the view of the gardens opens up before me. 

I stand and examine the dramatic landscape below me that the Count created with his team of landscape architects.

To the left is a long “mountain” pond (made by damming the brook), surrounded by towering evergreens and huge rocks. A winding path to the right goes around another pond, then opens out to acres of gently rolling hills, rocky outcrops, planted flowerbeds, wild flowers, streams, ponds and walking paths. In the news in 1992 was the discovery of a mutilated body in the bushes here, but Marek assures me it is perfectly safe now, so I ignore any momentary fears and descend to the path.

Spring is advancing here with determination. The trees are budding, leafing out and beginning to blossom according to their individual patterns. Most of the shrubs are fully green. Beds of hyacinths and daffodils are filled with flowers pushing up, green leaves unfurling as they rise. The ground is moist, giving out a rich smell of life after the long snowy winter.

Hyacinth - Anglesey Abbey

I find one of my favorite seats, a concrete bench with wooden arms next to a small round pond. Here I sit and pull out my notebook. Time to set up options.
  • Leave Prague
  • Stay in Prague and get a new flat
  • Stay in Prague and get a new job
  • Go back to the US and go to law school
  • Go back to Boston and get my old job back
  • Get married
  • Have kids
  • Get a job teaching English in Japan
  • Become a nun (there are Episcopalian nuns)
  • Get a job at the CIA
The list is no different than lists I've been making for years, except for the Prague part. Prague was supposed to be the answer to my lack of direction. I would suddenly know what I was made to do, my raison d'être, the fate for which I was formed. Instead, I have drifted here as I did in the US. The last two options illustrate my deep desire to be told what to do; #4 and #6 hint at that desire, too.

What am I missing inside that seems to propel everyone else? If you read about St Paul in the Bible, for example, it’s absolutely bewildering how he takes charge of his life and goes everywhere he can get to in a boat to tell people that Jesus is God. He relishes the shipwrecks, storms, mobs and jails that he gets into along the way, seeing them as tests of his determination rather than clear signals that he’s on the wrong path. What for me would be discouragement is the ultimate encouragement for Paul.

Rembrandt St. Paul in Prison

Why don’t I have a grand design for my life? Surely a lifetime of church and school has left some imprint on me. Maybe, though, it’s only taught me that institutions offer better ways to build a life than trying to make it on my own. I’m like those prisoners who get out of jail and immediately commit a crime, so they can go back where they know the rules and feel at home. If this parallel is true, I should never have left Sewanee.

You might imagine that such self-doubting thoughts are painful for me, but they are not. I have this mental debate every month or so, wondering why I am such a dweeb. But I can never get beyond my past. My patterns of thinking are as set in stone as any fervent Stalinist or Roman citizen. Apparently I was not made to change the world, but to be pushed around in the name of someone else’s dream.

The day is warming up and I take off my sweater. My notebook slips off my lap and I laugh at myself with melodramatic bitterness that I can’t even focus on my future for five minutes without dropping things. But bitterness does not come naturally to me, so I just let it go.
Right about now I would expect, if this were that artsy movie, to either be attacked by some crazed armed person, have a vision from heaven, or look up to see a person standing over me, offering yet another version of a new life. None of these things happen. I sit in the sun and fall half-asleep, in a kind of pleasant doze.

A snapping noise wakes me. Near the pond is a deer, nibbling on the new grass. He doesn't see or smell me yet. I make no move. For the next few minutes I watch him move at a leisurely pace, quite at one with his surroundings. He looks up sharply, perhaps getting a whiff of me, swings his head in my direction, then turns and ambles off into the woods.

I pick up my notebook and make a rough sketch of the deer. I add the pond and trees, date and sign it. So much for today. Time to head back to Prague and start the round of phone calls again.


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