20 SEC READING: Praha, 1981

Illustration by Ken Crane


Once, in the winter of 1981, I was walking with my wife through the streets of Prague when we came across a young man drawing the buildings around him.

Although I dread carrying things with me when I travel (and there was still more traveling ahead), I was taken by one of the drawings and decided to buy it.
When I handed him the money I noticed that he was not wearing gloves, despite the cold weather (it was 5 degrees below zero).

“Why aren’t you wearing gloves?” I asked.
“So I can hold the pencil.” And he began to tell me how he loved Prague in the winter, that was the best season to draw the city. He was so happy with his sale that he decided to do a portrait of my wife without charging anything.

While I was waiting for him to finish the drawing, I realized that something odd had happened: we had chatted for almost five minutes without being able to speak one another’s language.

We made ourselves understood only by gestures, laughter, facial expressions and the desire to share something.

The simple desire to share something had enabled us to enter into the world of language without words, where everything is always clear and there is not the slightest risk of being misunderstood.


  1. isadora says:

    power of humankind, if we let it flow…

  2. Eduardo says:

    Understanding the means of body language is deeply in the heart of everyone’s who’s feel better to a partner.

  3. Marie-Christine Grimard says:

    The body language is sometimes easy to decipher, even if it is intuitive for all of us, but based on cultural habits, it can be very different, and mislead us. The lyrics may be wrong, be vectors of lies, or of misinterpretation.
    Only the brightness of the gaze does not deceive, and is the holder of sincerity. If love lives in this regard, it is no longer possible to loose his path. It only have to let fly away souls …

    La langage du corps est parfois facile í  déchiffrer, míªme s’il est intuitif pour chacun de nous, mais en fonction des habitudes culturelles, il peut íªtre très différent, et nous induire en erreur. Les paroles peuvent tromper, íªtre vectrices de mensonges, ou encore d’erreur d’interprétation.
    Seul l’éclat du regard ne trompe pas, et est le support de la sincérité. Si l’amour habite ce regard, il n’est plus possible de s’égarer. Il n’y a qu’í  laisser les í¢mes s’envoler…

  4. Lars Berewinkel says:

    No capito! I´m born in 1981. Perhaps that´s why did not unterstand your story. I was once in Praha with my brother, it was in the beginning of the next century. My Ur-grandfather said: A glove-dude is a half-dude!

  5. karina says:

    Nao é tao simples decifrar a linguagem do coracao. É preciso ter sensibilidade e amor, suficientes, para assimilar o sentimento alheio e estar com o coracao desprendido e aberto para se comunicar com a alma…
    Parece inconsciente…

    1. youcef says:

      je suis tout í  fait d accord avec vous Karina et ces lí  que nos idées se rejoignent il ne faut pas cherché í  déchiffré ce que nous dicte notre coeur mais juste ce laisser porté par ses battements et sans dire un mot etre en totale harmonie avec l ame soeur et d une simple carresse laisser parlé son coeur,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

  6. antonio carlos says:

    As falas por expressíµes, gestos, mimicas, embora de poucas palavras sí£o de infinitos entendimentos, o quer dizer entí£o dos surdos-mudo, escutam por gestos e se expressí£o por palavras, ainda que ditas pelas mí£os.

  7. Mahend says:

    I believe this is what the ancient people called the LANGUAGE THAT STEMS FROM THE REGION OF HEART. It requires no words but only a spiritual basis to understand the essence of humanity and its secret. Where senses fail to experience, words fail to describe nor explain and mind in doldrums go flat, this LANGUAGE THAT STEMS FROM THE REGION OF HEART conquers the moment, and all we know we just seem to understand things much deeper and better. Senses are measuring tools but HEART does not measure, only experience, nothing but experience. Nice.

    1. DIVA says:

      I can feel the profoundness of your words . Trying to understand but brain is not responding to many of the things .I am not that good at my english . Am immersed in the Euphoria, senses totaly out of control .Be litil gentle to me try some simpler words .Was not good in english at school too.I only am able to understand that my lov has opened his heart to Gods Blessing Love and is enjoying the moment with me .

  8. DIVA says:

    As Powerful as this language of gestures there is another still equally strong and equally ancient language- the language of heart . Is capable of conveying messages from thousands of miles without even any conversations between each other . I was not in touch with the person i love for say last six months . Was totally distressed as he didnt talk to me these days . But i know he himself was not at peace during this period . This is the language i was talking about
    whether it be Gestures or Heart , These languages are connected with the souls of universe can not be changed or can never be destroyed . Though he may not read this comment of mine but He often speaks to me in this language of Hearts … God you gave me everything i wanted …its my sincere wish God give him and his family members all the Happiness Love and Peace in life . I am willing for everything . If he feels he wants to go back he can . I will cherish the Treasure i collected in these few days throughout my life . M the happiest person on this earth. This is the type of message i was talking about . This i have wished with my Heart and am confident shall reach its Destiny .

    1. youcef says:

      certes le language du Coeur est le plus beau et le plus honnorable mais il reste enfoui a l intérieur de nous et pour pouvoir laisser son Coeur s exprimer rien de tel qu un contact des mains suivis d une gestuelle accompagnant les battements de son Coeur et un regard profond remplit d émotions ou de passions ne dit on pas avoir la larme í  l oeil et le Coeur qui saigne ou bien lorsque vous rencontrez l Amour le véritable Amour n est ce pas vos yeux qui envoient un signal a votre Coeur qui vous dit ce sera celle ou celui lí  et personne d autre!!!!!!!!! donc éffectivement il n y a plus besoin de mots pour exprimer ce que l on ressent et lí  c est un langage UNIVERSEL…………………………..

  9. Larissa says:

    The only language of absolute understanding is the language of heart. You use your heart as a mirror where reflect all your feelings, wishes, dreams…And you don’t need words anymore

  10. anil bhave says:

    just experience the moment, no boundaries, no words.
    thanks Paulo, once again.

  11. Monty the changed one says:

    Languages were derived out of gestures only . If you go long back that is before discovery of language this was the only omni present language which lasts till date and shall remain for ever . Chck for wat u hav done in blog . By evening . This time xclusively 4 u. Feel the difference . Tender sprouts have come up in my dried up farms …

  12. Monty the changed one says:

    You are as Beautiful as your Expressions . You and your writing fascinates me .. Makes me crazy like any thing. You are a Great writer and a very Good Human Being an Artist with purest of the souls . M fortunate to have you in my life . Admire each and every of your works …. Nothing exaggarated ….sometimes I feel stunned… I have no words to describe what you have done in my life …. Thanks for everything … Love you …

  13. Yilmaz says:

    Bodies might have different languages, but hearts speak only one.

    With love.

  14. salam says:

    Everything that is made with love needs no language,it finds its way directly to the heart and creates such moments.

  15. Olga says:

    Compartir es una de las cosas más importante para mí­ si no la más importante, no lo he pensado mucho pero es un sentimiento… aunque la palabra no tiene un sonido tan bonito. La idea de compartir es impresionante para mí­. Creo que es la parte más importante de todo, empezando desde la economí­a, la quí­mica, hasta todo lo que es arte.

  16. Amit Bhedase says:

    May god make me to make myself able to understand such language…!

    1. Molu says:

      Its charlie chaplins movies ? Or mr Bean (my favourite)… Thats the language being used .

  17. Viviana Antuna says:

    Prague in Winter is a lovely city!! But it’s beautiful either any day of the year, you can see the awesome colors of autumn, the beautiful spring whit a lot of flowers anywhere!!! I love these city.

  18. Aurélie says:

    A nice moment of life, so well described… It is so a source of joy when you can experience it, even in a short moment!
    I had this chance in Praha too about 20 years ago. A short trip by tramway, my eyes met a woman’s one, we share a smile and just before she left the tramway, she looked quickly in her big bag and gave me two small medals: one of the city and one of the virgin. So I tried to react as fast as possible to give something back, I really wanted to materialise this exchange too… The only thong I quicly found was a pencil, but by her smile I unsertsood that she accepted it like a teasure; I still have the medals in my own “treasure’s box”.
    I was then a teenager but I will always remeber these very few minutes. It was in february 1990, some weeks after the Berlin wall was felt down… A sign of freedom, and of the pleasure to be all together and sharing!.. ;-)

    Have a nice day!

  19. Marie-Christine says:

    I was quite intrigued by the clock so I checked out some of the history on Wikepedia.
    ‘The Orloj ‘is a medieval architectural clock built in the 1410 by Mikulas of Kadan and Jan Sindel .
    It is the 3rd oldest in the world and the oldest still working. Amongst other things,
    It has an astronomical dial representing Sun and Moon.
    a calendar dial representing the months
    a Zodiac signs
    a 24 hour clock
    The personages on the left and right of the clock are interesting.
    the first one vanity (admiring himself in the mirror)
    the miser representing greed
    on the right of the picture
    death (representing by the skeleton) striking the clock
    Turk (pleasure and entertaining)

    I also read that the city will suffer if the clock is neglected.

    Thank you for sharing the story Paulo and Ken for the beautiful illustration,
    With love

    1. toñi says:

      Hola Marie Cristine!
      Me quedé mirando la imagen del reloj con curiosidad, pero no pensé en buscarla. Gracias por compartir la información, tení­a interés en saber lo que significaban las imágenes.

    2. This is one of my favorite story,
      Having had a similar experience I can relate so much to it.
      with thanks and gratitude

    3. Marie-Christine says:

      Muchas gracias Toni,
      Me interessaba mucho tambien, y estoy aprendiendo siempre
      Me alegro si te ha ayudado
      Con amor

  20. mona says:

    I am just speechless .I have only one question from God How can some 1 b so good ?

    1. divya says:

      Yes since last few days m also in the same deli-ma ?

  21. Luciangela Hudek says:

    I’m always have this kind of experience in Prague, I though that was just because I love this City.

  22. Hattie(Tea) says:

    Such a special essay you have written about no boundaries where there is giving and sharing. Gracias. I could the pictures of you, your wife and the artist in my mind. Wonderful. Gracias again. What’s the next word I can learn in Spanish? Always wanted to learn Spanish.

    1. Mandira Rastogi says:

      I too understand …. Silence itself is language ….. para sirvile… I also learnt one word … For you only….thanchu …. Thanchu …. Blush blush …..

    2. Patricia says:

      Polo you book eleven minute eskilant buuk …..Echo four lines thru life no boundry understan…. polo book , i real mean it to you . M not a good at englis or spain also as yo are . I only no onlee one languaj the last line of the four line languaj of lov. Promis next life you husbun of me n you my wyfe . Polo a big writing good book Alchemist . Pat english also shame to shame but a veri guud person you now. All the eror are no evil . Ana evil . Polo i read Pourtgese tri to tel yo mi inner filing deep insid ful hartly lov yo var kat…..al mi life thank yo ….. Forgiv my puur englis ..but i lov var kat soo guud … I m lurn englis tri baist frm mi frind pat frm pourtgal…

    3. Manjulatha wani rao says:

      Read it with eyes of your heart you will find everything already lies over there . And you will rejoice everything of it . Its Language used by people who are in love …..language of silence & Let something remain unread too. That essay is for Hilals treasure of sweet memories and i will keep the all stones one for my treasure of sweet memories… rest forget all others those were used as rituals performed for a purpose had soul in them when we traversed through that journey Aleph are of no importance now are mere jaragon of words ….. Ti aamo ti aamo …..
      a few lines in hindi for you though not written by me .

      Andheri raat mein apni ungliyon sei meri hatheli par unhone likh diya ” mujhe pyaar hai tumhi se “…
      Na jaane kaisee shyaahi thee wo na mit tee hai na dikhtee hai …..

      Thats what you have done it to me …. God Bless ….

  23. Hyder Ali Bhayo says:

    Same way u can communicate with nature. When nature speaks to you it open the secrets of lif.

  24. Varah Katims says:

    Language and communication are two very different things. A single movement of your muscles can speak many words. Sometimes there are moments you should not talk & let silence do the talking…

  25. Elena says:

    How wonderful!
    It’s at the same time strange and natural, extraordinary and simple!

    With Love


  26. Sanjana says:

    I have read this story before.
    Its one of the chapter in your book ”Like the flowing river”

  27. Sara Kraljevic says:

    I’m working with people who have autism…language without words….besos from Croatia

  28. Madhulika Bali says:

    We are misunderstood more when we communicate through language. A person’s eyes say more than what he speaks.

  29. Empié says:

    ” A veces me desdoblo, y me digo al oí­do,
    que bueno respirar sentirte vivo,
    que bueno que te cruces por mi camino,
    rodeado de un espejo circular,
    soy feliz con esta esquizofrenia tan particular.

    Que grato es encontrarme vaya a donde vaya,
    por más que me cuento mis chistes siempre me hacen gracia,
    si me voy, si me acuesto la vida se apaga,
    que potra saber que siempre me seré fiel,
    que suerte desde un principio caerme ta bien, y voy…

    Y voy y me levanto, cada mañana,
    feliz y seguro me hago el desayuno, me lo sirvo en la cama
    y allá voy, menudo soy, me dedico un arrechucho,
    sexo seguro, sin riesgos sin contemplaciones,
    dudo que na da me satisfaga mejor que un servidor,
    menudo soy para el amor,
    y que le voy a hacer si la gente, me condeno al olvido a ser autosuficiente,
    si con eso sobrevivo que no es poco,
    mejor loco que mal acompañado…”

    Buenos dí­as gente, parece que el chi kung da resultado, me he despertado con una sonrisa en la boca y con ganas de cachondeo, lo que pasa es que si pongo música ahora los vecinos me matan.

    La canción es de Ismael Serrano, se llama “Canción del amor propio”.

    Nos vemos¡¡¡¡

    1. toñi says:

      Hola Empié!
      Me has hecho sonreir, otra vez.
      Eres genial.

  30. Claudia Faria says:

    Pure energy, souls flowed into the big circle. It doesn’t happen all the time. When happen some even don’t notice. You did. You’re always taking attention for the next moving, even when a leaf drop in the floor. This is simple and it’s the beauty of your expression, fresh as the mornings.

    1. Shyaam says:

      Good one …. This reminds me of my lov …. Thanx God its more than enough for me that I love such a good person …. How can 1 ? Resemble so much ?

  31. Bea says:

    Good day!

    The same thing happened to me in Prague (coincidence?)

    I chatted with an elderly and she complained that the husband was late and making her anxious as their bus was leaving. It seemed that they had forgotten something and the wife was there to stall the driver. I don’t speak Czech and she, Bahasa Malaysia. Still, the conversation made perfect sense.

    I had great memories in Prague and the city is one of the most enchanting cities that I have ever been.

    Well that one of the things you learned by traveling :)

    Thank you for sharing, Paulo.

  32. Magokoro says:

    ” Language of our heart is the only language that everyone can understand ” Beyond cultures and customs, I believe we human have means of connecting to each other. We laugh, we smile, we cry etc. I myself speak 2 languages living speaking not-my-native language as I have been living outside my country for over 10 years and also as a part of my job, I relate to people who speak none of my languages that I speak fluently but we manage to communicate with each other somehow ! These means are by means of facial expressions, gestures etc. These moments are the moments that make me feel we are all connected. Each language which exists in this world reflects its culture and therefore language of our heart does, I believe, reflect the true foundation of what our fundamental emotions are. We are all connected and fundamental needs are the same.

    1. divya says:

      But sometimes it happens you dont know what to speak , you are speechless , your steps are not on ground, you are flying in the air , life gives you all the happiness of the entire life within a few days and you even dont know what to say ? how to say ? this is the Ecstasy of love , one goes mad . Sir help please Which language works at such times ? God only knows , oh God please bring me down on the ground i cant i cant … have been sleepless … have lost myself … where i am… who i am… only can see Zahir every where …. m dancing in the rain… my heart , body soul everything filled with joy … oh were we talking about some gestures .. or was it some language ? i have lost my expression power too… now what to do….oh Lord this time please help me its my turn I need your help !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  33. JOELLE says:

    J’ai enfin compris que la parolen’est pas si importante. Il y a cinq sens ,ainsi nous pouvonscommuniquer ensemble . Faire des croix, des dessins ,écrire , toucher,rire ,faire des grimaces ,montrer les choses , visiter et regarder les gens rirent et discuter avec son visage et ses mains et prier et embrasser,toucher des statues,aller í  l(aveugle . Aimer les gens sans les voir ,surtout communiquer avec les quatre autres sens . Il y abeaucoup de chosesí  découvrir ansouvrir la bouche mais embrasser les autres et danser , caresser les joues, dessiner des perspectives . Merci Paulo de ce joli passage í  lire sans ouvrir labouche mais le parcourir des yeux et ceuxci sont importants mais le goí»t des autres est facile í  découvrir ;

  34. mike horlor says:

    I have a deaf boarder/colleague. Neither of us know how to sign and we communicate fine through improvised gestures. It’s amazing what’s possible when you free your mind of what you can’t do because you think you don’t know how.

  35. Corinne says:

    The devil created language to prevent us from understanding each other <- <

  36. Gonzalo says:

    En mi caso, en el mundo del lenguaje sin palabras, no siempre es del todo claro y muchas veces mal interpreto las señales.

    1. Ben says:

      Well said…;)

  37. Nacarid Belisario says: