After weeks of Prague’s late-winter clouds and cold there came a few bright days when everything sparkled, even the grim iron wheels of the trams. I had met the Kafkaesque challenges of the Czech bus system on my journey to the countryside the day before and decided to spend this new day on foot. Under the March sun I walked the city from one end to the other, from my friend Connie’s apartment in the Dejvicka neighborhood in the north, all the way down to the Botanical Gardens and the ancient fortress of Vysehrad, where families and lovers strolled the parapets above the Vltava River and against a distant backdrop of Prague Castle and Old Town.
Children were still bundled up as if for snow, looking like tiny colorful Michelin Men, while beautiful young women shivered in summer dresses and fashionable orthopedic-looking sandals. The mud-brown Botanical Garden beds showed no life-stirrings, but tiny flowers of a marvelous forget-me-not blue had popped up in the surrounding grass. Above every street the birds trilled and hopped in bare trees festooned with plastic bags that the wind had snagged up there — postmodern foliage until summer leaves would open to hide them from view. The birds sang so cheerfully everywhere I walked, it didn’t matter that at lunch I had to challenge another waiter about another padded bill.
The sun was low in the sky as I headed back to Connie’s place laden with groceries from the Dejvicka market, including a gigantic leek I was carrying like a spear because it wouldn’t fit into my tote-bag. Suddenly a big German Shepherd tied outside a shop lunged at me, snarling, and bit me hard on the thigh. I shrieked and pushed at the monster’s muzzle, my fingers sliding right between his slavering jaws, until a huge rip opened in my pants leg and I pulled away at last.
As I did so, a passing couple in glamorous furs stopped and shouted into the store for the dog’s owner, upon which a hulking character with greasy hair and bad teeth emerged. He brushed off the couple’s indignation, untied his dog, and led it down a side street, leaving the well-dressed pair absolutely beside themselves. When I assured them (in pidgin German, for some reason) that I wasn’t bleeding — “Keine blut, keine blut” — they turned to each other sarcastically repeating, “Keine blut? Jo, jo! (“Yes, yes!” in Czech) and shaking their fists at the now-distant Shepherd with his shepherd.
I said “Dekuji” (“Thank you”) several times, patting the gaping hole in my pants leg and adding “Iss OK,” until it didn’t seem too ungrateful to retrieve my groceries and turn toward home, hungry for dinner and glad I wasn't wearing good slacks.
At which point the police arrived. The well-dressed pair ran after me to pull me back, for even if the dog and its owner had disappeared, I was still a character in the couple’s movie, “Barbarians Are at Our Gates!” The couple shouted the story to the policemen, acting the parts of Vicious Dog and Invisible Hulk, while I tried to look forlorn and victimized despite my bountiful groceries and failure to hemorrhage. I was feeling, in fact, pretty good. I was alive and still vertical, I was in Prague and visiting with a friend I loved, these kind people were trying to help, birds sang amid the rags of plastic softly rustling overhead, and the only injuries I’d suffered had been to my mood, for a moment, and my pants.
If the dog had really wanted to wound me I’d be bleeding, which I wasn’t. He’d probably jumped at the four-foot leek in my fist, then pulled his punches — er, munches — when he realized it was a harmless vegetable. Maybe his fangs had snagged in my trousers accidentally, and all his snarling and yanking came from trying to break free. But I couldn’t say any of this in Czech. So the policemen, the outraged couple. and the murmuring onlookers took turns fingering the ragged edges of the hole in my pants leg while I waved my extremely healthy leek and repeated “Dekuji, iss OK, dekuji.” At last the crowd heaved a collective shrug and let me go.
Tomorrow I would wend my way across the beautiful Charles Bridge and through the narrow streets to Josefov, the Jewish Quarter. At lunch I’d practice serenity when the next Prague waiter would try to cheat me. And I’d let sleeping dogs lie unchallenged by giant vegetables.
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