Heat wave bringing people together in the city

30-07-2006

It is difficult to stay away from the weather in my Letter from Prague this week as the unusually long heat wave seems to be dominating everybody's life right now. It is not fun travelling on public transport, or just moving from one place to another in the capital. There is over 30 degrees Celsius in the office and at home it is not much better, not even during the night.

But it seems to me that at least here in Prague, the heat has had one positive effect: people seem to have started socialising more. In the evenings, all the restaurant gardens are full of people cooling down under large umbrellas and sipping their chilled drinks. And again, as I often do in my Letters from Prague, I cannot refrain from comparing this to what it used to be like some 17 years ago.

In the spring of 1989, just a few months before communism collapsed, I visited Paris for just three days with a group of other Czechs. Going out for a walk after sundown, we were amazed to see so many people and cars in the streets, the restaurants and shops open, lights and sounds everywhere. It was such a strange sight for us as in those days in Czechoslovakia, everything fell into total darkness after 7 pm, everybody had rushed home to their cooked dinner and TV set.

Then things started changing, very slowly at the beginning. Only in recent years, when the choice of places to go to eat and drink has widened considerably, has it become apparent just how many people have come out of the privacy of their homes and started spending their free time in other ways than in front of their TV sets. Eating out under communism was seen either as extravagant or a sign of an unsatisfactory family life. Also, it was relatively more expensive, so restaurant dinners were reserved for special occasions. The cheaper pubs were so dirty and ugly that they really weren't for ladies.

A few days ago, I was invited to a friend's birthday party in a park beside a large beer garden. It was a weekday evening but the beer garden was totally packed and the lawns in the park taken up by picnickers playing games, chatting and laughing as the sun was setting over Prague. Something absolutely unimaginable 20 years ago when, with a bit of exaggeration, three people standing together were considered an illegal demonstration.

Seeing people enjoying themselves outside is a happy and cheerful sight, and it seems to me that this heat wave has brought people together in the city even more.

30-07-2006