10 NOVEMBER 1990, Page 56

High life

On the prowl in Prague


Prague I had heard about 'Prague the Golden', but wasn't prepared for its patina and dignity. The city is like a hauntingly beautiful woman whose looks by some 'Corncrake nothing! We've had an eagle too!' miracle have remained intact. At least under the soft lights of dusk. Upon closer inspection, Prague is shabby, a bit melan- choly, but as romantic as any place I've ever been to.

We were driven from Vienna by a cuddly Austrian chauffeur named Rudy, we being professor Ernest van den Haag — in his late seventies and interested only in sex when not deep in contemplation about law, psychology and the human condition and John Bastias, in his fifties, and in- terested only in sex when not busy pub- lishing scholarly and luxurious tomes back in the Olive Republic.

When communism collapsed late last year, the professor, John and I decided to see for ourselves whether the van den Haag law still held true. The law says that girls are never pretty under dictatorships. In Brno, where we stopped for lunch, it certainly held true. Brno is an industrial town, and the people looked depressed and sullen. But once in Prague, matters improved dramatically. It is a city of towers and turrets, pastel Renaissance façades and Baroque sculp- tures integrated into the architecture as nowhere else on earth. We attended Mass at the Gothic church of Marie Tynem. It was two in the afternoon and the church was packed. The Mass was in Czech and deeply moving. There were mostly oldies praying, but also many young parents with their children. The Catholic Church had sustained them throughout the hell of communism, and unlike us in the West, they remained faithful once freedom came, Looking at some of their faces I wondered why the Cockburns and Hitchenses of this world proselytised for such an evil system. And to think that primitive and unsophisti- cated people were right about communism all along, and the intellectuals so very very wrong. Perhaps it has something to do with the belief in God and the afterlife. When we left the service and crossed the Charles IV bridge to climb to Prague Castle, we saw the beautiful buildings man once made when he believed in the exultation of God. Now that he believes only in comfort and practicality, we have cities like Los Angeles, or worse, the Big Olive. It is enough to drive a man to drink, and there were some fine vintages in Prague. Czech wines are what Austrian wines were a hundred years ago, unknown and appreciated only by those lucky enough to discover them. We stayed at the Prague Palace, a converted residence of a grandee, and the only place to stay in town. There are many hotels, all fully booked and very shabby, if not downright dirty. The Palace, however, is expensive: $250 for a small single, $450 for a tiny suite. Well worth it. After a quiet first evening, the three geriatric musketeers went hunting through- out the next day and night. At the Palace bar we struck gold — three Czech ladies, one of whom was in her early twenties, the other two in their late twenties. Their names sounded like Czernin, Schoenburg and perhaps even Schwarzenberg, but like everything in Prague, nothing was for real or for sure. Feeling very proud of my seductive powers the next morning, I was surprised when very demurely the sweet girl asked me for $100. It's the tariff, she said. At breakfast with my mates I couldn't tell a lie, and that is when they too burst out laughing, having paid the same. Oh Well, perhaps next week in Budapest.