Prague was no disappointment when I visited two years ago at the end of summer, but Prague before Christmas is a place of enchantment at its best. I wish I could have gathered all my family and friends in Old Town Square last Saturday, where huge evergreens twinkle with thousands of lights, aromas of fresh bread and sausage waft on the crisp (understatement) air, Christmas stalls overflow with glass ornaments and gingerbread men, horse-drawn carriages wait in a line, and a choir sings Advent carols from a nearby stage. Tyn Church looms over the square with its dark towers, glowing with yellow light from inside. We went to a 9 pm mass there last Sunday; cold enough to see our breath but mesmerizing with the candles burning in the dark against the black and gold altar. It's been the perfect place for us to end our trip; not a ton to see in the way of museums and churches, too cold to be out for very long,but no end of cafes and restaurants with hot goulash and dumplings where we can observe the outside in comfort.
I keep staring at the people here, trying to see if they all look like they could be my relatives. Some do, but I think the Krestyn family must take more after the Moravian strain of Czech - more gypsy, maybe? It's a strange thing to be in this country where I have many relatives whose names I don't even know. But we're going to try to see some of them before we leave, if possible.
And now for some last words to finish off my part of this three-month blog. It's always a shot in the dark to throw out my thoughts and impressions when I have no idea if they will sound like English to anyone else, but hopefully I still remember enough English to make a little sense.
Here's what come to mind.
Early on in our trip, back in the Franciscan friary in Chester, England, where we went to mass one Sunday, I read something out of a booklet of Benedict XVI's writing that's stuck with me throughout this trip. Writing about beauty, he said that it is the essential form of the world, though now clouded and distorted by sin. Each person, he said, has a part to play to restore to the world its original beauty. These remarks were well-timed for me, as I've had ample time to think about them as I roam the vast and varied scenes of these countries.
I know that beauty can be found everywhere, but sometimes one needs to be awakened to it by the freshness of new landscapes - particularly ones which proclaim the history of humanity in a dramatic way, in the way that the places of Europe do - often merely by being the cites of critical events, but also through art, buildings, and churches. It's a slow sinking-in for me, a gradually deepening awareness of just how all this must be relevant for me and the people around me now. Because if it's not relevant, then it's all fun and games and I can come home and forget about it, or just make art, history, or travel a hobby. But if I can come home with a new interest in continuing to understand how all this matters, this trip will have been well worth the while (and all the cold showers and flights of stairs).
My wiser acquaintances will be happy to know that I'm thoroughly convinced that problems abound everywhere, even nine thousand miles from home. There are most definitely "tears in things"- but they cry out for the restoration of that essential form, beauty. We see enough of this beauty breaking forth from mangled forms to yearn for more, and hopefully this yearning spurs us to action. Maybe it's this motivation to "play our part" that Dostoevsky was talking about when he said that "beauty will save the world."
Out of all the impressions and thoughts crammed into the past months, these are some that rise to the forefront as I think of how to wrap up my share of the blog. To all who have followed us up stairs, through freezing wind and rain, and on and off jammed metro cars, my warmest thanks. I wish for each of you to see these sights for yourselves, instead of relying on insufficient descriptions, but it's been a great favor for us to have an audience and a connection to home through our loyal readers. Notwithstanding the weather and transportation adventures, I hope you've all been encouraged to start planning your own three-month trips to Europe. Here's to the travels yet to be undertaken by each of you!