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Prague: Day Three, Part One

Saturday. With the previous breakfast so pleasant we decided to go back to Bohemia but it being that day, we found that it opened later than usual and we had an hour to kill so we trundled down to Kampa Island. Not really an island but a strip along the river consisting of restaurants and a park. In the park, some people were walking their dogs and others cycling. There was an old water mill in a creek with fish. There were workmen laying down fresh cobblest0nes and we wondered how long they lasted. Surely they had to be better than the asphalt back home and definitely much more pleasing to the eye.

Then back to Bohemia, where we were the first in and then the same old gent with the dogs. Another languorous breakfast watching people through the window.

Eventually we made our way across the Charles Bridge to the other side. On the bridge were a few beggars. One was a young girl who wore bright white clothing and had also painted her face the same white, like a Japanese figure. In general the Czech tradition of begging seemed to consist of kneeling on the street, face to the ground and hands stretched in front out to their cap or cup.

We wanted to go through the Jewish Quarter and though we did, being the sabbath, the structures, and in particular the cemetery, were closed to visitors. What was unique about the cemetery was that it had grown high above the surrounding street because over the centuries the Jews had not been allowed to either leave a fairly small area nor bury their dead outside so the small plot necessitated burying the bodies (estimated at around 200,000) one upon each other, each receiving headstones so you had this jumble of markers like bad teeth looking like what you might imagine a cubist graveyard to look like. Think of 12,000 gravestones in an area little bigger than that take up by a typical house.


We stared through the bars at this and then wandered off to find St Agnes’ convent. This was supposed to be something special as a Gothic structure (13th century) and also for the collection of religious art of the time. Of course, we got lost again but it wasn’t for lack of brains but for the surfeit of churches and piss poor signage. More than once we would be standing beside some relatively amazing structure with no indication of what it was. anywhere. At one point we thought we had found it and across the street was a bar called Confessions which caused much merriment and we thought of the drinks to be had in such a place: Cardinal Sin, an Indiscretion, Rosary Beers, a Limbo (kind of like a Zombie but if you keep saying “I’m sorry” as you drink it the next day you won’t have as much to atone for), a Jesuit Press, and of course the ever popular Papal Smear.

But eventally, and after our first run ins with Czech manifestations of Soviet architecture (and here that was a real crime), we found the monastery (also with no signage). The sour nuns had us pegged for the heathens we were but allowed us to give them money. And then followed the visual arts version of Purgatory for me. The first sign that something was amiss was that I thought the two guards thought that bathing was some sort of foreign affectation but it was really the smell of the place. The art itself (though possibly moving to the heavenly inclined) was dreary. This collection was composed of works that bore the same relation to much art as Gregorian Chant bears to music. Not a fan of Gregorian since I think that harmony was a step in the right direction, I also welcome perspective. We were walking from painting to painting mentally encouraging the long dead artists to just put one figure in front of another, and if not that, just to work a little longer on figuring out how to draw hands and feet. It was a case of inspiration being treasured over execution.

Other visitors were quite reverent. It was hard to keep our voices low and impossible to entirely dampen the required sacrilegious comments when confronted with this tedious display of graphic piety. We left the building out into a hot day and practically ran screaming for a drink.

One comment on “Prague: Day Three, Part One

  1. […] few years ago I visited a gallery in Prague which showcased medieval paintings and I was struck by the poverty of the form due to its lack of […]

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