A Sideshow in Prague

This is an unexpected turn of events: I have a favorite boat.

It’s called Lod’ Tajemství—which means ‘Mystery Boat’ in Czech—and it’s usually moored on the náplavka along the river, just two blocks from our flat. Before we knew it’s real name, my husband David and I called it the Circus Boat because of its striped awnings and illustrations on its side that mimic advertisements for an old-time sideshow.

We weren’t too far off: you can enjoy cocktails on the deck of Lod’ Tajemství on tables hand-painted with cartoony ocean scenes, and the stage inside is used for theater productions, live music shows, and swing dance extravaganzas.

Our plan last night was to find comfy chairs on the deck to watch the sunset and play tabletop games while enjoyed the last of the warm evenings in Prague, now that most of the tourists have departed.

But fate intervened, and this story is not about that boat. This story is about a boat farther along the náplavka.

To us, it’s the Flea Market Boat because on Saturdays, during the farmers market, it hosts vendors with vintage clothing, old Soviet medals, fragile lace tableclothes, Czech glass, and dusty LPs. It has a rusty metal hull dotted with wooden tables and chairs—and when Lod’ Tajemství was, mysteriously (and, therefore, appropriately) not in its berth, we took our seats at a table on the Flea Market Boat where circus music played just loud enough to hear.

A few minutes later, we saw the woman in velvet.

She strode by our table to join a group of people near the bow of the boat: a man with glasses in a purple three-piece suit, a little person in a wheel chair with a rabbit mask on his head and a ukulele in his hands, and a pale dude in black shorts, tank, and hoodie with tufts of bleached blonde hair standing on end.

The music continued: galloping side show music, Romani songs, and a sinister calliope. As the moon rose, bats circled and dipped overhead. It was perfect Prague magic. We rolled dice, enjoyed our drinks, and wondered what might happen next.

When the spotlight came on in the bow, the man in the purple suit introduced the little person—his name was the Velvet Crayon—then he rolled his wheelchair to center stage and sang Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My” followed by “The Rainbow Connection” made famous by Kermit the Frog—all accompanied by jangly ukulele. Slightly out of tune, somewhat devoid of rhythm.

Then the man in the purple suit requested a volunteer from the audience. I pulled my sweater sleeves down over my hands—lest I accidentally raise my hand—and stared intently at the table. Eventually, a woman across the way jumped to her feet. She was tasked with hammering a long, thick nail through a red clown nose and into the face of the man in the purple suit. I covered my eyes with my hands until it was over. When I was brave enough to peek again, the man in the purple suit had stuffed a miniature light-up light saber into his nasal cavity and was making visits to each table to show off his feat. I re-covered my eyes.

Next up:  the blonde tufted dude in black. He started with a silly jig, then stretched a rubber glove until it fit over his head. It exploded almost immediately. “Don’t worry,” said the man in the purple suit. “We’re professionals. He has another glove.” So the blonde in black went through the whole schlimel again: jig, glove, stretching. This time, the glove stayed in place and he puffed air through his nose—dancing all the while—until the glove finally expanded like a rooster’s comb and… exploded. Ta-da!

As his dance music came to an end, he  explained that the Velvet Crayon would be making his way through the audience with a bucket for donations, then he asked us to direct our attention to the náplavka where the last act would take place, as it was “too dangerous to perform here on board the boat.”

The mysterious and beautiful woman in velvet stood in the shadows of the stone walls of the náplavka as belly dancing music replaced the sounds of the circus. With a loud *woof* she lit a torch on the end of a chain, twirling and dancing with the flames in the semi-dark… then she dropped her torch and kinda wobbled on the cobblestones a bit as a cyclist rode by on the bike path. The ball of flame was reduced to an orb of sparks that she twirled in the shadows of the stone walls, blending into the dark.

And then: It was over.

I wish I could say it was a magical and transformative experience. Mostly, it made us wonder if we were having some kind of shared hallucination.But that’s the thrill of Prague: sometimes you get the magic, and sometimes you just get the weird.

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Comments

  • Rick Singel says:

    Hi Melissa. David’s Dad’s friend.
    What a marvelous narrative today regarding the “Circus Boat”.
    Really enjoyed it-both the description of the event and the way you lit up the page with your words!

  • Carolyn says:

    Thanks for setting the mood for my first visit to Prague. (in early November). I’ll remember to stay open to the weird and the magical.
    Carolyn from Canada

    • That’s such a fun time to visit—appropriately moody, spooky weather! I used to always get lost whenever I went out walking, and I liked to pretend it was because the trolls that live under the city moved things while I looked for them 🙂