Every city should have a book just like Václav Cibula's Legends and tales of Prague.
We spent 3 days in Prague on a family vacation, and let me tell you, I have been to several cities around the globe, but never one that was so filled with stories and legends. And because I'm a storyteller I also know that this is not so because Prague is a unique place for tales to be born. I mean, I have been visiting Rome regularly for years now, and even there I never felt like this. Like I am surrounded by an invisible web of tales, connecting places to other places and people; like the air itself is buzzing with words whispered long ago, like I can hear the footsteps of shadows, like every corner I turn leads to the world of another legend or fairy tale. It's all in the details. And the stories. It's all in an old used book I found in an antique shop years ago, and never thought about it until we were on our way to the Czech Republic.
Now go ahead and tell me stories don't shape the world we see.
The hotel we stayed in belonged to the Church of St. John on the Rock. It was a nice old building, with friendly people and cozy rooms; also it was in the New Town, right in the middle of everything. And by 'everything', of course I mean the stories. I mean, come on!
Right next door there was the Faust House; we didn't realize it when we arrived, and when I opened The Book to search for local tales, I almost fell over with surprise. I expected there would be a lot of stories about the Castle, the Charles Bridge etc., but never thought there would be tales all around, right next door to our hotel...
So, once I realized we had Dr. Faust for a neighbour (his house now converted into a hospital and pharmacy - the irony of it...), I started browsing through the book's New Town chapter. Soon I found out that in the monastery just across the street the Devil used to be the cook in the good old days (and when we went in, no one knew why I was giggling at the "Catering" sign); that one street over from us the ghost of a young girl dances people to death; that we were a 2-minute walk away from Prague's most haunted street; that one of the houses close to us used to be the headquarters of a secret brotherhood for people who left their bodies and traveled through paintings; and that one night long ago someone had a nun buried alive in one of the neighboring buildings.
Not to mention the Vysehrad towering over us in all its beauty.
We couldn't take a single step without bumping into stories. Most of them I only had time to read after we came home; tales about old gods, cruel water spirits and their babies, cursed artists, the blinded clock-maker and ghosts, ghosts, and more ghosts.
And, of course, the Golem.
I've always loved the story of the Golem; now I had the chance to walk around in the old Jewish quarters and re-tell it to myself. Of course, in the Jewish quarters mostly everything is about the Golem. Not that I mind, not at all.
One evening, we took a "ghost tour" there. It was just me, my father and the tour guide; she told us that very few tourists are interested in Jewish tales and the place itself, which surprised me. A lot. Ever since I've been a storyteller (and before that a story-reader) Prague was always one with the Golem and Rabbi Löw for me. Apparently, not for most people. I don't get it.
(Did you know there are policemen walking around at night, guarding the Old-New Synagogue from people who might want to sneak in and find the Golem? :D How cool is that?)
Unfortunately, the Charles Bridge (am I the only one who feels silly writing Charles Bridge instead of Karluv most?...) was being renovated, so the famous Bruncvik-and-lion statue was nowhere to be seen. Bummer. I liked that story, even though I didn't quite approve of the slaying of the bride. She had snakes for legs, then what?...
All in all, we wandered in Prague for three days, and it was wonderful, unreal, and filled with stories I won't forget anytime soon. So, my point is, one book made a HUGE difference in how I experienced Prague itself; I bet that if I went with a local storyteller, it would have been even better. That's why I believe that every single city should have a book just like that. Or a storyteller for a tour guide. Yep. Every one of them.
Or at least the ones I'd like to visit.