Prague (Days 62, 63)

7.20.2014

"The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever." — Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five

I chewed the mushrooms, swallowed them all in one gulp. Mmm. They were delicious.

I waited. Sky misty, ground cold, wet. Fifteen minutes ebbed by. Thirty. Forty-five. I had a chocolate bar. Back in Amsterdam, the smartshop owner told me dark chocolate would heighten the experience. My stomach rumbled. I ate the whole thing.

More waiting, an hour now. Scarf drenched, back soggy, all cold everywhere. I stood to leave.

Up on my feet, it hit. I knew the feeling; it was the same feeling I'd get right before salvia would take over my senses for five, ten glorious minutes. This one was for longer, of course. Less dramatic, too. Not as visual. Sure, things weeble-wobbled, but they didn't fall down. Mountains didn't talk, trees didn't turn into mischievous little children. No, this was all more cerebral. I felt all of my consciousness creep up into my skull, my body no longer me, just a clunky vehicle driving my head to and fro. I saw things through distant eyes, and I felt removed from what I saw, like maybe I wasn't really there, like maybe I was just watching it all from far, far away.

I was separate from it, but I loved it all. I found everything beautiful. The trees, their branches ... such angles! such colors! The people! The Prague below me transformed into the most fantastic landscape I'd ever seen. Those dark clouds above were no longer ugly, ominous; they were a gorgeous grey.

I played musicmelodies never sounded so amazingthrough my earbuds. I walked. I wandered through ramparts and walled couryards, gardens, wide lawns high up in that park. Time drifted away from me. The ship of the future and the ship of the past set sail, and I was left on the tiny island of the present. I couldn't conceive of tomorrow; it made little sense to me. I'll be in Berlin tomorrow, I thought; what does that mean? I discovered days for myself, reasoned that tomorrow meant one sun-up later, that yesterday was one sun-up before and the past was just a whole lot of laps the sun ran and nothing more, that if we didn't spin in our little worldly twirl then yesterday and tomorrow would cease to exist.

There was nothing but the present, and there would never be anything but the present. The future would never arrive and the past would never come back. Every moment that would ever be, they all resided on the very same tiny little island on which I now stood. Oh, what a lovely thought.

I felt perfectly capable of walking into town. I walked into town. I got an email from Peter; he said there was a kaleidoscopic theater and mirror maze in the old town and he imagined it'd be quite a trip while tripping. I headed to the kaleidoscopic theater and mirror maze. I was a walking, rolling cliche.

I passed people nearby, and they were close and distant and I knew them and I never could know them. I looked into their eyes and felt I could read their souls, their fears and their sins and their good bits too. Over there, avarice. Here, vanity. Her, dazed. Him, confused. Some of them frightened me. Anger. Power. Ambition. Others saddened. Loneliness. Loss. And others, love. Kindness, compassion, sacrifice, so much love. It spilled from the eyes of the best of us.

I hadn't opened my mouth since swallowing the truffles, and I worried if I'd be able to carry out enough of a conversation to get a ticket to the theater and maze. Ah, perfectly simple. My mouth worked, my voice worked; I reached in my pockets for a few dollars and handed them to the woman behind the counter. She gave me a stub, gloves so as not to smudge up the mirrors. I thanked her, using my words and everything. She was one of the beautiful people.

I, the Great Cliche, entered the mirror maze as psilocybin played silly games with my mind. Those mirrors did, too. I turned a corner and I was in the way. Sorry, I said to myself. Oh, pardon me. There were dozens of me, all fumbling awkwardly in the maze, all knocking into each other and apologizing and turning and doing it right over again. They stopped, wondered if our little clan shouldn't just give up on reaching the other side. What was the point? It was so very pleasant inside there, and what was on the other side anyway? Maybe we just stuck around; maybe we became the Mirror People.

Eventually, voices from behind echoed through the maze; soon we'd be in the way. We'd ruin all the fun for the little boy or girl headed in our direction. We turned all at once and some of us disappeared, another few turns and more of us got lost in the cracks between the mirrors, and then a pivot here and a pivot there and I was all alone, deserted by my own clan.

No matter. I, the Great Cliche, continued on toward the kaleidoscopic theater. A small door brought me into a dark colosseum, hundreds seated in a circle, dozens of mezzanines from floor to ceiling. A giant orb floated in the middle, a diameter of fifty, seventy, maybe a hundred feet. It glowed like the sun in deep space and all along its surface moving images furled and unfurled upon each other. Bees crawled through honeycombs and snowflakes melted on glass slides and lava oozed from blackened holes in the ground, and each would start somewhere on the wide surface of the orb and within a moment be everywhere, and then just as soon it'd be gone, the honeycomb freezing into a snowflake and the snowflake melting into hot lava and the hot lava hardening into the next thing: a mountain peak or a marble or, hey, the sun itself.

I have no idea how long I stayed in the kaleidoscopic theater. It may have been five minutes, or it may have been fifty. I don't remember the images ever looping, but it was hard to keep track. In time, I began to notice that many of the audience members would get up to leave at the same moment, that others had stuck around just as long as I had. That every time I adjusted in my seat, they did so too, every fourth or fifth individual on every row mimicking my every move. Ah, the Mirror People had returned.

In retrospect, I realized that the theater was maybe two rows of four seats each, eight seats total, and that the giant orb was just one rectangular screen cleverly reflected over and over. I wondered how apparent this was to the theater's sober visitors; I wondered why someone would go to the theater sober, anyway.

A minute later or an hour later or a day later, I emerged into the bright sunlightthe rain was letting upand walked some more. I wondered if I was done rolling. I forgot what it felt like to not be rolling. Is this what I always felt like? I couldn't remember. Eventually, I remembered. Eventually I returned to a more lucid state, and things became a bit less vibrant, and I realized I could no longer see people's souls. The trip had come to an end.

***

It wasn't the psilocybin experience LSD virgins make it out to be. It didn't change my life, that truffle trip. Truffles are a little more subdued, I've heard. Maybe that was it. I don't know. I think I understood the great realization I was supposed to come to. I think I couldn't feel it because I had already felt it and you only get it once, already lived the words many use to describe their first time on shrooms, already had been blessed with that experience a year ago, as I scootered my way out of Joshua Tree, suddenly sobbing, after a month on the open road. That beautiful, crushing sense that something incredible is happening, that the landscape is whispering the secret to everything in your ear in a language you understand but can't translate ... I'd been there, and I was so grateful for it. Everything after that was just extra, I had said.

Just for fun.

***

I met up with Peter and we got dinner. I checked into a third hostel for my final night in Prague and met a few great bunkmates: a Swede, a Norwegian, an American named Abby! We headed out to an underground jazz bar in a building that probably predated the Magna Carta. We sang along, we drank, we stayed up late and walked home drunk. We were the citizens of the present.

The next morning, a little zephyr rowed up from the sea of the future to my bunk of the present. Let's go to Berlin!, it said.

Okay, I said. Let's go to Berlin.

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