Friday, August 04, 2006

the city and its citizens

I am now wondering what the reason may be for the special liking I developed towards Prague, after my short visit. It is not an issue of monuments only, or the charm of some unexpected findings in its museums (for example, the mineral collection in their National Museum, or Mucha’s original posters at the specialized small but informed gallery, or the unbelievable Museum of Miniatures, an epic of useless patience in Siberia, or, finally, the extraordinary amount of pieces of modern art at the Gallery of Modern Art, in Veletrzni Palace- much bigger I believe than Tate’s Gallery). Above all, the nicest feature of the city is the presence of its citizens, people who live it out, exploit its beauty and integrate it into their daily routine. The parks, gardens, cafes are not occupied by tourists only; they are extensively used by the inhabitants. Many of them, young couples, cyclists, unfold their towels on the grass and sunbathe. The river boats and cycles are a favorite leisure activity for the locals. We went to Podoli Baths, a big complex of pools and grass, to find that the citizens of Prague would gladly pay the expensive entrance fee in order to enjoy with their friends a day of water sports.
The city has got 1,6 million inhabitants but it gives the impression of a much bigger entity, because people are present, in the metro, by the tram stops, at the squares, till late evening. At night it is quiet, less frequented compared to the cities of the Mediterranean south. I admired in general their good physical condition, people of sports, people who combine leisure with sports, even at the metro, running to change from one of the three lines (A,B,C) to the other. I noticed that they have in general defined muscles and when I saw them rowing or swimming, I had a convincing explanation. I hope that the new economical model which they experience since the early 90s won’t rinse off their beautiful shape. And by making use of their city, I thought that they guarantee themselves a high quality of life. Amman is a city of a similar size, but the citizens never claim it, never make a pleasurable use out of it in large numbers. In its case, each one dreams of private Paradise-s. Hence, it has another grace, the grace of sleepwalkers. Thessaloniki, again of the same size, stands somewhere in the middle: Between conscious use and hypnosis.

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