So many writers and artists have had to leave their country for political reasons. In his wonderful, strange novel, Love and Garbage, the Czech writer, Ivan Klima (translated by Ewald Osers) articulates the problems of exile succinctly. He is at a party at a university in the United States:
“…they all turned out to be pleasant to me and full of smiles as Americans are, and with varying degrees of urgency they asked me to explain what on earth possessed me to want to leave their free and wealthy country to return home, to a poor and unfree country, where they’d probably lock me up or send me to Siberia. I tried to be equally pleasant. I conjured up some kind of patriotism, some kind of mission, until I hit on a convincing explanation. I said that back home people knew me. Even if I had to sweep up garbage in the streets I would be for them what I was, what I wanted to be to the exclusion of anything else, a writer, whereas here, even if I could drive around in my little Ford, I would always be just one of those immigrants on whom a great country had taken pity. These were my boastful words. In reality I wanted to return home, to the place where there were people I was fond of, where I was able to speak fluently, to listen to my native language.”
Continue reading “The immigrant writer” →
We are actually safely home, but I do have a few last thoughts on our trip, in no particular order
I loved the big car-free squares and pedestrian walkways of Prague and Krakow. I wish we did something similar here–it makes the city so much more inviting. Combined with excellent public transit, it goes a long way to creating space for people to interact in a leisurely way. In Krakow, they even have an elegant pedestrian bridge across the Vistula, as well as walk and bikeways along the edges.
Continue reading “Final trip post” →
We met up with friends here for a few days, and have been wandering a bit together. One of them at lunch said that he was the “master of the ordinary,” because of his appreciation of street life. I know what he means–a certain delight in the everyday just because it’s a little different than the everyday at home. So here are a few more street scenes from Prague, starting with yet another sidewalk sweeper, and a bike outside a shop.
Continue reading “Master of the ordinary” →
Because he is the most internationally famous Czech writer (although he wrote in German), Prague has made the most of Kafka. There’s a (very bad) cafe on the ground floor of the house where he was born, a Kafka map of Prague, and a fairly large exhibit of photos and manuscripts at the Kafka Museum. The museum itself is odd, as if they tried to embody alienation in the setting of the exhibits which are all upstairs in a long, dark gallery.
The overpowering sense is blackness. There’s disturbing background music, some strange, floating tables with projected images, a walk-through scrim with a projected photo, quotes, letters, etc.
There’s a section on the women in Kafka’s life, his affairs and engagement, with projected photos of the women appearing and fading. Continue reading “A cage went in search of a bird” →
At the Kampa Museum there was a retrospective of the Czech artist, Richard Fremund. You’ve never heard of him? Either had we. He was born in 1928, and died in a car wreck in 1969.
We liked what we saw. Here’s a sample, in roughly chronological order.
Continue reading “Richard Fremund” →
As always, it’s interesting to see street life in a new city. This sign for example, from the door of the post office–better leave that gun at home, along with your dog. And if you feel like roast pork, how about a whole piglet on a spit?
Maybe you’d prefer to listen to a one-man band play “House of the Rising Sun.”
The Czechs are big on public sculpture, a lot of which is ironic or campy. There is the line of yellow penguins along the Vltava river outside the Kampa Museum. They light up at night, visible for a long way.
Also this sculpture by David Černý that depicts two men facing each other, pissing. Their bodies and parts move appropriately and the pool is in the shape of the Czech Republic. Perhaps they’re meant to be Stalin and Hitler? In any case they reflect a certain dark sensibility.
More to come, I’m sure.
We had a glitch in our day getting to Prague. When we got to the airport, our scheduled flight on Czech Airlines was not on the board, and there was no representative at the Czech Airlines office. Apparently, the flight no longer existed. Fortunately, our travel agent was able to rebook us through Moscow, but it was a long slog and Moscow was the dirtiest and rudest airport I’ve ever been in–I’m sure there are worse, but this was a low for us. We got to Prague after midnight, tired and cranky.
Prague itself is a wonderful city, definitely more upbeat than Russia! Sadly, it’s horribly clogged with other tourists, mostly in huge groups. Our first days here were weekend days. I’m hoping it will be a little better during the week. Even so, as soon as you leave the main streets, things get back to normal. And early in the morning, even the main streets are clear. This was about 9 am.
A visit to the Jewish Museum put our small travel problems in perspective–a harrowing series of exhibits of the fate of the large, integrated Czech Jewish population after the Nazis invaded in 1941. Many were shipped to Teresienstadt, then to Auschwitz. Only a tiny fraction survived. The entire Pinkas Synagog is covered with carefully calligraphed names of those who died–like the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, only infinitely more so. Continue reading “Bad travel day” →