|Prague, Day 2. Feeling delicate. Museum visits.
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
We did not begin harmoniously. I woke with a desperate need for water. I was so thirsty I drank from the tap in the WC, which I expected would be disgusting but really it was fine. Becca and I showered and went in search of food and caffeine. We found watery tea, and also that it was pastry day. We each tried one. Mine had whipped cream – the real stuff – and a dollop of mystery preserve. Neither of the pastries was sweet. We met an annoying English kid who was clearly quite taken with his own capacity for conversation and an unshakeable faith in his good looks. So we went to cook eggs and stolen* cheese on the hot plate and woke up Fraoigh, who was still sound asleep.
* Except it wasn't really stolen since we later learned that it came from the communal food area, but I like to call it stolen anyway, since it makes me feel bad. So bad.
I don't think any of us felt quite right until late in the afternoon, but we gamely went to find the Museum of Communism. In order to enter it, you have to walk up the foyer of a casino with which it shares the buildings. I felt the visit to this museum was one of the best things I did in Prague, as you can probably tell from the large chunk of pictures in the Day 2 gallery. It was a bit cramped and I wanted to photograph absolutely everything in there. It is quite disturbing to see your country and its people repeatedly portrayed as The Enemy: liars, cheats, avaricious warmongers. When it comes to politics, "right" (as in correct) seems to be a matter of perspective entirely. Politics is the realm of moral relativism.
We were pleased to find that the curators had chosen the works of a woman artist to depict the bizarre state-sponsored art movement known as Socialist Realism. The paintings are pure propaganda, done in contemporary style. The artists held their subject matter to strict standards of political correctness. The results were fairly hideous. A striking model shop display showed how the stores, which were supposedly full of low-priced goods for the common people, actually contained just a few cans of tinned products. The most moving exhibit was a video, sporadically subtitled in English, which showed the events leading up to and including the Velvet Revolution in 1989, when the long Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia finally ended. I held back tears throughout most of it. My vision was quite blurry when a teenage boy was interviewed. He had come into the streets to watch the protests and had seen the police, plainclothes and uniformed, beating the demonstrators. He couldn't stop crying. The Velvet Revolution may have technically been a non-violent institution of governmental reform but it sure as hell didn't happen without bloodshed.
The small remaining portion of the displays, dedicated to Jan Palach and Vaclav Havel almost seemed anticlimactic after the video. Jan Palach was the student who set himself on fire in 1969 in protest at the Soviet occupation. His memorial in front of the National Museum appears in the Day 1 gallery. His suicide was later copied by other students, though he asked in his impassioned note that others not follow his example. However, you only have to read a little Czech writing to know that they can take quite a romantic perspective on suicide. For great passion, for love of their country, for, ironically, a love of life that has been lost – these are adequate justifications. It is so different from the perspective that I've heard invoked most strenuously, which is that suicide that is always selfish, pointless and sinful.
When we left, I think we all felt the need for something familiar, which may have been what led us to the tourist trap of an Irish pub where we ate our lunch. Our dreaded heads garnered more stares from the tables full of half-drunk Englishmen than we were getting from the Czechs. The anorexic waitresses, the high prices and the lack of authenticity (an Irish breakfast with no black or white pudding, what what?!) were forgotten when a large group of Scottish men in their family tartans paraded in. There's nothing like a man with good strong legs in a kilt, I have to say. We were all feeling too delicate for beer. Orange juice was drunk instead. We left quickly.
We attempted to find the red golem after our lunch, but while we located the Staronova (Old-New) synagogue, we could not locate the golem. Stupid Lonely Planet guide. We visited the Muzeum Miniatur (Miniature Museum). Rows of small wooden boxes with glas covers sat on tables around the walls of the museum. Inside them, viewable only with the aid of microscopes and magnifying glasses, were mounted the works of Anatoly Konyenko. In addition to the world's smallest book (by Chekov – Konyenko is Siberian), there were all sorts of clever works, like a caravan of tiny camels traipsing across the inside of a sewing needle and a flea wearing horseshoes and holding a pair of scissors, a lock and a key. I wish I could have taken pictures, but they would have been meaningless without a way to convey the scale of the work. I picked up a tiny, detailed ink and watercolor landscape of the Charles Bridge (not a litho, very high quality draftsmanship) from the museum for 15 Kc (~30p) as a memento.
Near the Old Town Square, we visited the Franz Kafka museum. I didn't feel it was worth the 40 Kc entry fee, as a good third of the large one-room space was devoted to the trinkets being sold and most of the information was poorly organized and failed to tell a coherent story. We spent at most twenty minutes there. We read every posted placard, photograph label and the tedious biography in that time.
Outside, we spent another five minutes looking at horrible repeating stalls of trinkets in the square and decided to leave. I went to buy film for the Lomo so we could go to the Charles Bridge and take photos as the sun was setting. The Lomo shredded the film, to my dismay. I seem to be fated not to photograph the bridge, as I'd run out of film and my digital camera battery died the previous day before arriving at the bridge. We simply walked slowly over it, watching the other tourists, and found a new restaurant to try in Mala Strana. Three glasses of hot wine and a Czech meal later, we were feeling human again, but too tired to do any more adventuring. Besides, Fraoigh had to pack for her early flight. We returned to the hostel. Becca and I hung out in the common room for a bit, talking to a nice Australian from Melbourne. He proved to be both sensitive and articulate, a welcome change from the average hostel denizen. I gulped down a liter of water and went to bed.