Wonderful world

In his film monologue Swimming to Cambodia, Spaulding Grey talks about the idea of the “perfect moment” in travel. It’s that moment when you say yes, here it is, that singular instant of frozen time, the moment when I’ve finally achieved that precious mental souvenir that I’ll carry with me forever.

Perfect moments can’t be constructed. Sometimes they come and sometimes they don’t. I had one in Nepal and one in the UK. I didn’t have one in Brazil, Bali, or my first trips to Germany or the Netherlands. It doesn’t mean those were bad trips, it just means that the world didn’t stop into a moment of clarity.

But I had one this trip. The story is kind of silly, but what the hell, I’m in the mood for sharing.

It was my last day in Prague. I was at the Kafka museum in the late afternoon, wandering through all the displays and learning about his life and the things that drove him as a writer. As sometimes happens in museums, I began to notice that I and another girl were keeping the same pace. She had a weird way of taking pictures of the oddest things, such as a plaque, or a seemingly insignificant old photo. At one point she turned to me and asked if I would take her picture next to something. It was then, with that eye contact, that I noticed how stunningly, staggeringly beautiful she was.

I said yes and took her picture, then we moved on. About five minutes later she asked again. I said sure, and took another picture. The third time she apologized for asking yet again and I smiled and said it’s no problem. I suggested getting a little creative this time, with an arty sort of angle and no flash. We played around with the camera settings and got something pretty cool.

I took still one more of her later. At this point it’s like we’re moving through the museum together, occasionally commenting on things. Her accent was odd, and I couldn’t place it. Later, toward the end, I paused at some length on something and when I looked up, she had disappeared.

I finished the museum and was glad to see her standing outside. At this point the sun had already set. I asked her name and she told me, but it was a very strange name and it quickly left me. We talked for a little while. She told me she was from Kazakhstan and was in Prague for a conference. We talked about Kafka a bit and then there was a little pause. She held out her camera and said “I’m sorry…” I interrupted her and insisted it’s no problem and moved to take the camera from her. She said “No, I wanted to ask if we could have our picture taken together.” After some hesitant moves, she finally found someone to do it. The guy took one picture and then smiled and said “Stand closer together.” So we did and he took another.

I asked her if she wouldn’t mind sending me a copy. She said yes and she put my email address into her cell phone. Then I did something that I never do, something that paralyzing shyness absolutely prohibits me from ever doing with someone I don’t know. I asked her out.

“So, what are you doing now? Would you like to go to a café and get a coffee?”
She smiled. “You know, I would really love to do that. It’s something I haven’t had a chance to do yet, sit in a café and drink a coffee. But I have to meet my friend at the astronomical clock at 6, and I know if we started talking, the time would disappear.”
“Oh, okay. Well, see you.”
“Bye.”

Even though she turned me down, I suddenly felt completely alive. I huddled up deeper into my jacket and made my way for the Charles Bridge, Prague’s famous walkway across the Vltava River. As I walked, my surroundings gradually disappeared until I’d lost all sense of place and time. Here I am in one of the most picturesque areas in all of Europe and I’m noticing nothing. I’m gone, completely in my own head, thinking about this sweet, shy, beautiful girl, and how cool that brief conversation was.

What broke me out of it was a song I recognized. I slowly became aware that a small group of jazz musicians on the far end of the bridge were playing “What A Wonderful World.” Then everything fell back into place. I heard the music and saw the players. I spun back around and looked at the statues lining the bridge and saw the city lights all around me. I felt the cold night air, and realized fully where I was. I stopped for a minute, breathed it in, and then moved on.

And that was it. That song, that brief snap from the world in my head to the world as it was, that was my perfect moment.

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2 Responses to “Wonderful world”

  1. I would love to hear her story now.

  2. […] pictures. They want to exist in the moment as much as possible. (Incidentally, this is also why “perfect moments” are such profound things; that’s the point when you’ve let all that […]

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