Monday, April 7, 2008

Prague, 28.6.03: At the Sign of King Charles

Sitting now on a terrace beside Loreto church, a beautiful site away from the Hradcany and cathedral tourists. Hordes at both places, making it all seem so pointless. We didn’t even go to the castle.

These official governmental buildings—and I include cathedrals in that category—do little for me. Every cathedral I’ve been in seems dead. The purpose for which they were built—awing the masses, sacralizing the rulers—is gone, in the post-medieval world.

Consequently, it’s as if we sweep in, a sea of humanity, as incoming tide, and flow back out, tidal ebb, unchanged by the experience. Rilke’s image….

Loreto looks interesting, and may have been worth seeing, but closed as we arrived. Church doors have a habit of doing that to me.

I remain dispirited. The heat of this day, high summer in Bohemia, doesn’t help. It must be over 90, sun beating down, a dry heat. Grass is parched. I wonder if it’s always so dry in this region or if this is unusual drought. If not, no wonder Bohemians liked our Midwest—wheat country.

Beautiful spot. It’s terraced, running from the street to the church, which is white with gold trim, a copper onion dome (oxidized, of course) surmounted by copper spire, a gold ball atop it all, with a star above that.

Down the hill is a long yellow (typical color) building with the usual red-tiled roof, set into the hillside. On the hill opposite the church, an imposing building that should be in our guidebooks, with lindens and conifers shrouding the walls in front of it. Pigeons fly there, and to the trees above us, which look almost like acacia, cooing softly.

The restaurant on whose terrace we sit is like an old inn for the church, gold on top with pretty moldings around the windows, white on bottom, curved and plastered, like something from a village. When we arrived, a table of boorish Germans discussing who owed what. Now, a French couple. He keeps dialing on his cell phone, trying, in English, to make a reservation at a restaurant for 9 P.M. No luck. We want to be by the river, unfortunately, I hear him say.

People switch here and there linguistically, with English as lingua franca.

En route here, I stepped in front of a man—Czech, I feel sure—headed to a pub. He said, “Excuse me.” In Josefov, as we passed an old and young woman with her baby, talking volubly in Czech, the young one switched to heavily accented English, perhaps to demonstrate her facility to us, total strangers.

At a cloister behind us, church bells are ringing “Immaculate Mary.” The pigeons (doves in German) coo contentedly; no relation to the church bells, I suspect.

Otakar Schindler: what I meant to say is how impressed I was by his use of little bits of this and that to transmute the world. Thaumaturgy, transmutation, alchemy, sleight of hand: it was enchanting. And perfectly appropriate for mock-ups of theater scenes, since that’s what theater does to ordinary life.
Now the bells are competing. Loreto church is ringing, real bells, you can tell, a hymn I don’t know, probably Czech. There’s a faery quality, tinselly and light as silver, in the song. I like it.

Night falling slowly now, 7:30 P.M. Western sun hits the top of the German embassy across the street. There’s an inviting patch of trees at its back, now becoming dark as light fades. The Slavs need their bit of forest primeval, even in the city, though I still wonder at the lack of green spaces in Prague.

Turns out from Baedecker that the Loreto Plaza, where we had wine (beer for Steve) is one of the most beautiful spots in Prague. The exterior of the church was designed by Christoph and Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer. The building down the hill is a Capuchin friary connecting to the church, and across (imposing building) is the Cernin Palace, to which we walked after the wine.

Dinner at Krale Karla, a hotel restaurant in Nerudova St. S. had venison stew with a fruit sauce and potato swirls. I went whole hog alt Böhmisch and had duck with sauerkraut, red cabbage, and two kinds of knödels. We had smoked trout and horseradish cream sauce as an appetizer, and, to add insult to injury, strudel, both apple and curd cheese, flavored with vanilla and lemon rind. With it, a bottle of a young white Moravian wine. A last meal in Prague, and hardly appropriate to the hot summer.

No comments: