Saturday, January 14, 2006

Blogging from Prague

Dear Dears:

I know you've been waiting for your big fat enchilada to say something, after what was it, three days of respite from my garrulousness? And so here I am, in Prague, trying to muster the neurons necessary to regale you with amazing tales of my travels. Just don't expect too much. One, because it's freezing and I get all numb, brain included, from the cold. Two, because so far the food sucks and that makes your big, hopefully less fat enchilada quite ornery. I haven't seen a real orange in three days and I have no doubt they are somewhere in the vicinity, just not in the juice. My first breakfast consisted of liver goulash and weird white bread without a crust. But that was my fault: it was lunchtime in Prague, but in Enchiladaland it was still 8 in the morning.
So Prague. What is it like? Weird. It is medieval, gothic, baroque, nouveau, stalinistic, neoclassical, romanesque and all of this happens in one block. It's plenty overstimulation for the architecturally inclined. I like that.
Yesterday I went to see what is left of the Jews. This may also be the reason why I'm not in the best mood. I won't go into the entire history of the Jews of Prague, but they had been here since year 900. Endured the requisite pogroms, expulsions, etc, and always stayed, came back, thrived. In the middle of last century, they were almost all wiped out. So what is left are four empty shells of synagogues that now serve as museums (actually, I believe two of them are in use), a most sad and amazing cemetery with graves dating to the 14th century and people trying to sell you souvenirs about the Jews that are not there anymore. One of the synagogues, dating to the 1500's, has the names of 80,000 Czech Jews that were murdered by the Nazis. The names take up almost all the walls of the synagogue. They are inscribed packed once next to the other, in red and black paint, straight on the stones, with their places of provenance, dates of birth and death. Many, many names of people. In the meantime, every time you turn a corner in the Jewish museums, there seems to be a collection box because apparently the 12 dollar ticket is not enough. I understand museums also live from contributions but it seems to me in pretty bad taste to be squeezing you for money every time you blow your nose into your kleenex. It can be done in a more dignified way is all I'm saying. I missed the actual big Jewish museum, where I understand there is an amazing collection of manuscripts and things that survived because the Nazis were so perverse they wanted to keep a record of an exctinct inferior people for posterity. So between my recent trip to Berlin and now, I just keep thinking: what were the neighbors doing while the Jews were first humiliated, branded, ghettoized and then taken away?
Just curious. I am also curious about what would I be doing if my neighbors were suddenly in danger... it's none of my business is probably the answer. And I'm not happy about that.
Prague is cold and foggy and gloomy, which suits it well. I wouldn't call it beautiful, because it is more than that. It is a little sinister, with a huge eerie castle looming on the other side of the river. Its inhabitants are curtly polite and seem to me a bit morose. Well, between the food and the weather, I don't blame them.
I went to the Franz Kafka cafe, which is a lovely old place with inscriptions of the man's writings in German on the walls and pictures of the old Jewish ghetto and as background music none other than Celine Dion's Greatest Hits, including, if that isn't enough, a bloodcurling duet with Andrea Bocelli. Poor Kafka must be spinning in his grave. And now you know another reason why I'm ornery.

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