CHRISTMAS IN PRAGUE
We came up out of Staroměstská metro station at the Kaprova exit. The air was clear and cold. A light snowfall had just started. Elijah and I are accosted on the sidewalk by three characters. The tallest one is dressed like a pope; tall red bishop’s hat, long white robe with a red silk stole to match. He’s carrying a crosier with a curved top like a question mark and ringing a bell. Saint Nicholas, obviously, the Greek bishop upon whom the Santa Claus legend is based. Another character is dressed all in white with a coat hanger halo, she is the Anděl (angel) I am told. She looks familiar, maybe one of the topless dancers at the place by the Charles Bridge, or a waitress at the Chapeau Rouge. Or maybe she just looks like one of those. The last character is the best - soot-covered face, hair sticking in all directions, limping along on one cloven hoof and one foot, wearing a brown fur jacket, dragging a chain and carrying a burlap sack. That is Čert or Krampus, a polymorphic figure, half-goat half-demon. The angel beamed, a bad girl hooking a sweet smile into us. I wondered if her blonde hair was a wig or not. I couldn’t tell. Krampus shouted in my face “Bububu!” and rattled his chain at me.
Mikuláš asked me a question in Czech. I told him I didn’t understand. Elijah translated, “He’s asking if you have been a good boy this year.” I put my hand on my chin and rolled my eyes heavenward. If I was not good, legend had it, Čert would take me in his sack and deliver me straight to hell. Krampus held his burlap sack open. He waved a piece of coal in my face. The angel in the push-up bra pushed forward, her hands folded together holding a basket of rock candy. A lace dress, sky blue eyeshadow and giant wings on her back. I reached out and took a piece of candy. Krampus rattled his chains in anger. They waited for me. I looked at Elijah. “You have to sing a song or recite a poem.” he said to me.
I said, “Kolo, rovno, hovno,” rolling the r in rovno as hard as my untrained tongue could. It’s a Czech rhyme that translates to “Bicycle, straight, shit.” Čert hopped up and down, one paw and one hoof, rattling his chains in glee. Mikuláš dismissed us with a wave of his holy hand. The angel took a long look at us before retreating.
“I don’t think they were impressed.” Elijah said. I unwrapped the hard candy and popped it in my mouth.
I should have said “Strč prst skrz krk”, a vowelless Czech tongue twister that translates to “Put your finger through your throat.” That would not have impressed either.
Rick Pryll is an award-winning author and poet. His book, "The Chimera of Prague" was selected as the winner of the 2018 New York Book Festival for Romance. A graduate of MIT, Rick wrote a novella as the thesis for his Mechanical Engineering degree. Having grown up in Western New York State, Rick and his wife, ArtPop Charlotte 2018 artist Holly Spruck, live in Charlotte. They have two children, two cats and a dog.