A while back my friend Heather Rose Jones (whose Alpennia series of lesbian-located historical fantasies you should really read for every reason: also, on her blog, she is developing a tremendous resource called the Lesbian Historic Motif Project) introduced me to her friend Alison Thurman because Alison was researching background for a novel she’s working on about the sixteenth-century alchemist John Dee when he was living in Prague. She was about to go to Prague for on-site research, and Heather knew I had done an amount of historical research in Prague as well (though mine was focused more on the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) and she thought we might like to enthuse together. Which we did.
Alison has a blog of her own, and once when she was wondering about what to write about next, Heather and I both suggested “More about the Rudolfine Prague” (that is, Prague in the time of “Mad King” Rudolf II, the monarch John Dee and his felonious partner Edward Kelley were in Prague to get the sponsorship of). Then Alison asked me if I would like to guest blog something in that area. It so happened that I did, and in specific I wanted to write about multiculturalism in that time and place. So I did, and here it is!
Alert readers will wonder why the Roma are not mentioned in the piece. That’s because they arrived in Prague just after the time in question! I didn’t leave them out for any other reason. If I had extended the account to the present day, there would be even more to account for. Though the Roma people have lived in Prague since the late sixteenth century, they still face discrimination.
Prague is also home to a substantial Vietnamese population, many of whom have come there as a result of a special diplomatic relationship between Czechoslovakia and North Vietnam in the days of the Vietnam War: many have small exquisite produce stores and other work in the markets such as Pražská tržnice.
And though it is not large, there is also a very visible community of Nigerians, some of whom wear “naval uniforms”-striking because Czech Republic is landlocked except for a tiny bit of dockland, wholly unconnected to the country, given as a courtesy– and work for boat tour companies on the Vltava River. Others own “Irish” bars in town.
All of these communities living together–sometimes peacefully, sometimes not–bringing all their cultures to bear on the problems of life in this small and beautiful city, makes for a heady inspiration for a writer like me. Often Europe is presented as a place of deep, singular roots, where the same peopled have been living with the same culture and “blood” for hundreds if not thousands of years. It’s pretty clear to me that that is an erroneous and misleading view of the place. It’s in some ways a lot like California: the western end of a large continent, where migration constantly agitates the mix and the best things arise from cross-pollination (for this analogy to hold, we would have to recognize Prague as being rather like the Fresno of Europe-though it is much older and more beautiful!).