More lessons learned

Continuing with my Top 10 Lessons Learned during my sabbatical in Prague…

8. The Maytag Man doesn’t make foreign house calls. We’re spoiled in the U.S. — or maybe it’s just me. If the washer doesn’t work, I call the repairman, and he arrives pretty quickly. If my iPhone takes a dive, I go to the Genius Bar and let Apple Care supply a new one. Even Time Warner has an instant hot line. In other words, I’ve developed methods to avoid inconvenience. My mechanical world comes with fairly speedy and effective support.

Not always so in a foreign city.

The washer was dead when I moved into the apartment, but a new one arrived in less that a week. Although it was tiny — two pair of my jeans max in a load — it worked pretty well at first.

But increasingly it developed a Satanic Spin Cycle. The last six minutes it whirred and rattled itself across the bathroom floor. I was certain if I didn’t hold it in place, bracing my feet against the adjacent bidet and leaning all my weight on it, it would clatter across the floor until the hose disconnected from the wall and sprayed the  whole room.

WasherBy the time by son Skip came to visit and did a load of clothes (which might or might not have contained three or four pair of HIS jeans, several pair of socks, maybe three t-shirts), even HE couldn’t stop its forward movement. So he turned it off, mid-cycle, and then we saw the bolts in the back, one completely broken off and five others working their way out.

No Maytag man, but I called the AirBnB’s caretaker, a cheerful little guy barely taller than me. Ruslan spoke good English but with a sort of Bahasa-Indonesian-Czech accent that I couldn’t always follow. I wasn’t quite sure what he was going to do, though his tone when I told him was apologetic and comforting, so we dried Skip’s jeans without the spin cycle, and I tried to avoid anything messy for a while.

Ruslan appeared about three days later with another man — obviously a Czech repairman — accompanying him, loaded down with a tool belt and a hefty dented orange tool box. He couldn’t understand Ruslan very well either, but I didn’t need a translator when he looked at the back of the washer. Eye rolls work in any language.

I don’t think Ruslan admitted he had installed the washer himself, and thus he was the one who had omitted the white plastic caps that were to go over the head of each bolt. Apparently, when snapped in place, which the repairman then did, they stabilized the washer and prevented the unscrewing of the screws — or something like that.

All I knew was from then on, the machine simply purred and didn’t move even a half an inch across the floor.

7. Crowds are not necessarily everywhere. It may have seemed so at first. My “convenient” location meant I was two blocks from Charles Bridge and about five blocks from Old Town or Wenceslas Square, every one of those places elbow to elbow with tourists, squinting up at buildings and clutching their maps.

Sure, there was plenty to see in those places — historic buildings, the Astronomical Clock, Prague Castle, its courtyard packed with tourists craning their necks to check out the Spires of St. Vitas.


But what if you hop the A line metro and go out by the Žižkov Television Tower to see a concert by Bassekou Koyate & Ngoni Ba? This Mali musical family shared mesmerizing songs with ngoni, ancient traditional lutes, and an array of percussion instruments that throbbed with the passion of their music. 

Bassekou Koyate & Ngoni BaThat venue — the early 20th century Palac Akropolis, has wood floors worn from the feet of almost 100 years of concert-goers, moving to beats as varied as the multinational and generally young artists who play there.

Or what if you turn down a side street away from the crowds? Behind Prague Castle is the less visited Summer Palace with its gardens and former moat. While Prague Castle’s courtyard may have literally hundreds of tour groups, less than three blocks away are empty cobblestone streets, a little further the Loreto Praha with its hourly carillon chimes and Rococo chapel with ornate cherubs, Restaurace U Zlaté Hrušky where soup of the day might be pear with delicate spices for 65 ($2.60) and candles on the tables make even a light lunch a relaxing event.

There’s a lesson to learn here: The fewer selfie sticks and fanny packs, the more you’ve found an authentic Prague.


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