Our last morning in Prague was my first time in the snow. In 21 years I’d seen snow—you know, by the side of the road in the mountains above LA, and I’d even attempted to scrape together some ice at my grandparents’ house once in the fifth grade to build a snowman—but never had I been in the snow.
The first snowflakes were falling as we walked out of our hotel to go to breakfast; by the time we were wheeling our suitcases behind us to the metro, they were falling fast, getting stuck in our hair, and like a toddler, I couldn’t stop giggling. Jason, my boyfriend, clearly beside himself at the sight of my mirth, suggested that we stop in Old Town Square on our way to the airport so he could see me in the snow one last time before we had to be inside for the rest of the day.
The square, the Christmas market stands were covered in snow, and we set out catching snowflakes. Jason taught me how: you have to keep your eye on one as it’s falling and go for it, tilting back your head, sticking out your tongue, and throwing your self-conscience to the wind. I caught two on my tongue, then one in my hand, a little cluster of them, in fact. The snowflakes looked just as they do in pictures, with six arms and tiny little crystals all over! This should not have come as a surprise to me, but my only prior experience with snow having been with what was already on the ground and with baby snow at Grandma and Grandma’s house, playing in this snow, the powdery kind that sticks, was exhilarating. It was so delicate and fluffy, and totally silent as it fell.
It’s beautiful, the silence of snow. In a foreign country, one learns to listen, and so sound suddenly becomes indomitably apparent: it is everywhere. People constantly move and talk, whether in French or British English or some other language—in France it’s mainly French of course—but you have all of these people, these humans, moving together and talking together and as you hear all of this you become distinctly aware of a universe of sound that thrives around you, of which you are in the middle without really being there at all, or perhaps this makes you only more there, watching and listening and absorbing. As I listened to the gentle falling of the snow, which is to say to nothing at all, it was as if I could hear a pause, a heartbeat, a butterfly batting its wings, unpredictably and irrevocably changing the world.
It was also cold. Prague was too cold, partly because I was unprepared for it; I’d imagine that with winter boots lined with fuzzies, suede gloves, and a down-filled parka, none of which I had, it wouldn’t have been so bad. A more significant part of the problem, however, I attribute to my growing up in California, where my conception of “cold” was a chilly ocean breeze when the sky was dark, or temperatures in which one couldn’t go out in simply a light sweater. Looking at average monthly temperatures for Lille before I left, I was slightly concerned but not too; I knew I’d live, and if anything, living in the north of France merely revised my idea of “cold” to the morning frost that hurt my fingers. Visiting Prague in the winter redefined it altogether, as temperatures that suppress sensation in one’s toes.
For the snow, though, the cold was worth it. Who knows? Maybe it’s toughened up this California girl a little, and when I go back to California I’ll never be cold. Maybe I’ll even move to a place where it snows.