Category Archives: Walking

Seven Falls

Seven Falls, oasis in the desert.

IMG_0088You can see a person in the picture for scale if you look hard enough. There were a lot of people on the trail sadly, probably walking off immense dinners like us.

We escaped to Sabino Canyon all the time when I was little, a long drive and then a short enough walk you could (well, my mum and dad could) carry an ice chest, we’d bring food to barbecue and swim in the stream. We knew all the deepest holes, the best places to slide down rocks. I don’t think we made it up Bear Canyon until I was older, high school maybe. Plenty of hiking to do around our own house, though no waterfalls.

Still, it’s one of those places I have layers of memories for. Some aren’t even mine, like my brother’s friend getting airlifted out after casually reaching for a football they’d been throwing around in one of the pools and getting caught in the undertow and sucked over one of the falls.

My own fiercest memory is of hiking it after getting bitten on the thigh by something I never saw (never be lazy and leave your jeans on the floor, never, I know this). I hiked up here about three days after, when my leg was aching and the bruised area around the bite still expanding. With my flesh turning black and liquifying, it was definitely a spider. Not as bad as many I’ve seen, so I was lucky.  Still, I have memories of that ache, remembered a stretch or two where I had been sure I wouldn’t make it. I made it. I was a lot prouder and stupider in those days.

My favourite memory is walking along the banks beneath the mesquites, the air full of the smell of sage, my mum and dad hand in hand somewhere behind me.

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This last trip was just beautiful, though so cold — snow on the Rincons, and ice on the puddles. The water was higher than I ever remember it, and I forgot just how many times the trail crosses it (seven), balanced precariously on stones. There was a bit of jumping. I loved it, loved seeing the desert so lush and knowing the wildflowers will be probably be absolutely gorgeous this spring, though I won’t be there to see them.

My partner had a hard time calling this desert.

There was a sliver of silver moon above us the whole afternoon, and my camera mostly loved the contrasts between light and shadow. But for the falls themselves it made the pictures less than what I was hoping for…
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Gissing’s Camberwell

Having just read In the Year of the Jubilee (there is some repetition here between posts, apologies), I thought it might be fun to wander over from Brixton to Camberwell and to see just how much was as Gissing described, how much had changed. Brixton these days smells much more of fried chicken or curry than fried onions — for someone like myself who gave up the fried chicken I love to avoid industrially raised chickens, rancid oil and a growing waistline, this is fairly tortuous it must be said. I don’t know where Beatrice lived when she moved off on her own, sadly for me, but I do love Coldharbour Lane, and I think it still has much the same feel of picturesque, somewhat industrial decay as it long ago did due to absentee landlords (now cashing in of course):

Before his admission to a partnership in Mr. Lord’s business, Samuel Barmby lived with his father and two sisters in Coldharbour Lane. Their house was small, old and crumbling for lack of repair; the landlord, his ground-lease having but a year or two to run, looked on with equanimity whilst the building decayed.

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Arriving in Camberwell I am always happy to see this:

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and then we arrived at this particular corner, which is worth a smile:

Gissing's Camberwell

And finally back to Gissing, as we came to De Crespigny Park, one side of which is still full of homes ‘unattached, double-fronted, with half sunk basement and a flight of steps to the stucco pillars at the entrance’. I also now have proof that those regularly-seen tall arched spaces that are almost always bricked up were actually once windows.

Gissing's Camberwell

Gissing writes:

De Crespigny Park, a thoroughfare connecting Grove Lane, Camberwell, with Denmark Hill, presents a double row of similar dwellings; its clean breadth, with foliage of trees and shrubs in front gardens, makes it pleasant to the eye that finds pleasure in suburban London. In point of respectability, it has claims only to be appreciated by the ambitious middle-class of Camberwell. Each house seems to remind its neighbour, with all the complacence expressible in buff brick, that in this locality lodgings are not to let (loc 56).

But now the south side is part of the massive complex making up King’s hospital — and some buildings to the north as well, breaking up the solidly respectable line of homes that once stood there. This lead to Grove Lane, where Nancy lives and of which Gissing says:

Grove Lane is a long acclivity, which starts from Camberwell suburban dwellings. The houses vary considerably in size and Green, and, after passing a few mean shops, becomes a road of aspect, also in date,–with the result of a certain picturesqueness, enhanced by the growth of fine trees on either side. Architectural grace can nowhere be discovered, but the contract-builder of today has not yet been permitted to work his will; age and irregularity, even though the edifices be but so many illustrations of the ungainly, the insipid, and the frankly hideous, have a pleasanter effect than that of new streets built to one pattern by the mile. There are small cottages overgrown with creepers, relics of Camberwell’s rusticity; rows of tall and of squat dwellings that lie behind grassy plots, railed from the road; larger houses that stand in their own gardens, hidden by walls.

It was difficult, no, impossible, to take decent pictures, I’m afraid. Some of what was there when it was described this way is, I think, gone, but it has retained that piecemeal feeling of Gissing’s Camberwell which is fairly charming.

Gissing's Camberwell

We walked up Grove Lane to the top of Champion Hill: ‘From the top of the Lane, where Champion Hill enjoys an aristocratic seclusion, is obtainable a glimpse of open fields and of a wooded horizon southward.’

No longer I’m afraid, but it is a lovely view:

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And Champion Hill remains fairly ‘aristocratic’. We started back down the LaGissing's Camberwellne’s ‘more formal neighbour Camberwell Grove’, finding fairly terrible decorative statues and much larger homes. While some sections had clearly been built by a single builder here, there was still  a great deal of difference — no real jerry builders were allowed up here. Perhaps the nicest thing to find on this road was council housing — Lettsome Estate for example. The dream of neighbourhoods containing people of all income levels living side by side and enjoying the amenities of beauty and elegance is one of my favourite post-war efforts to make a reality.

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We followed Camberwell Grove back down to Camberwell’s centre, where we sought out the new abode of the Barmby’s:

Samuel’s good fortune enabled them to take a house in Dagmar Road, not far from Grove Lane; a new and most respectable house, with bay windows rising from the half-sunk basement to the second storey. Samuel, notwithstanding his breadth of mind, privately admitted the charm of such an address as ‘Dagmar Road,’ which looks well at the head of note-paper, and falls with sonority from the lips (loc 2596).

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A  nice street. Writing this I’ve realised there must be an immense respectability that comes with half-sunk basements as Gissing never leaves that out of his descriptions. Best of all to see, though, was the new vibrance and color infused into what can only be described as a once stifling middle class area (because my god the Barmby’s, horrible people):
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And that was the end. It was very cold and so we did not linger. It was probably the cleaning-out-the-canal work I did a couple of days later that has bequeathed the terrible cold I am currently suffering (this one is already at two-tissue-box strength), but I might still blame it on Gissing because he’s rather a miserable bastard after all. Still, I enjoyed this walk a great deal.

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Liberec

Almost done sharing thoughts and pictures from the Czech Republic, alllllllmost done! With a host like Sandor Klapscik from the Technical University of Liberec, we could not go wrong (he invited Mark to work with students and give this awesome lecture: It’s About Time: Cinema, Science Fiction, Source Code). Far to the North of Prague, it is also beautiful. Only 60 years ago it was German speaking rather than Czech, which I found fascinating and yearned to speak either language so I could see how they had shifted and changed, or not. Being bilingual and from the Mexico/US border I love how I think differently in each language, the words that work in one that don’t exist in the other, the crazy mixing of the two that revels in wordplay and invention. Another thing that fascinates me about Kafka and I keep meaning to find out more (writing in German while living in Prague and speaking and surrounded by Czech also). Sadly, while I tried to learn some phrases, Czech is harder even than Russian I think, and the one person I practiced my greetings on turned out to be Hungarian and spoke neither Czech nor English. Language was definitely a barrier here in a way it wasn’t in Prague, and I was torn between frustration that there wasn’t more of a lingua franca and ability to communicate, and embarrassment that I was hoping such a language should be the imperial English that I lucked out on by speaking natively.

Anyway, Liberec in the morning light:

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I thought it quite beautiful, and was so disappointed their castle was closed to the public:
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From Sandor’s office the view was amazing — I was rather jealous I’m afraid. These are looking down onto the Opera House and the Town Hall on a most beautiful fall day:
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The building needed a little renovation outside, but I loved this — Ještěd Tower I think?
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And speaking of unnecessary awesomeness, this is their staircase:
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A few more views of the city:
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Like Prague, the details were all beautiful and I was just as fascinated by doors and ornamentation here as there:
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Sadly, they also had a terror of cherubs, this must be one of the most frightening of all, because there’s no way holding its neck at that angle hasn’t killed it — if it wasn’t always dead:

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This almost made up for it:
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As well as the great street art:
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The awesome handbills showing counterculture alive and well (a punk band called Rosa Parks? I am so there):
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One of the loveliest street art installations I’ve seen about remembrance, focusing attention on the self and the soul in ending violence and accomplishing reconciliation (and that’s us there in the mirror!):
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The birds painted on all of the glass:
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The wonderful pub signs — and pubs. Their dumplings were most unexpected, but delicious. I also loved how often the most unpretentious strip-mall kind of exterior always contained a warm and unique recreation of a traditional village restaurant with wood paneling, old photos and flowers. I enjoyed every meal, particularly the soup.
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Liberec, in a word, was wonderful to wander around. Of course there’s also Ještěd Tower, and its beautiful countryside, and we didn’t partake of the tour of the city hall or get to any museums. We did enjoy the sunsets however, a good way to say goodbye to the city.

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Until I remembered the robot that greeted us our last morning as we grabbed a coffee before catching our bus back to Prague:
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Prague Walks: The Big Picture

So much focus on details and beautiful craftsmanship (doors! naked statues! the terror of cherubs!) along with Kafka (I’ve been reading and greatly enjoying Bohumil Hrabal and Karel Čapek, and Čapek is perhaps my favourite yet their words don’t map onto the city as much as Kafka — surprisingly). I’ve maybe missed the big picture, the feel of the streets and the city itself. So here it is. Starting with a bit of the town just outside the tourist quarter walking east, and then heading down to the river and along to reach some of the more well-known vistas:
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There are these beautiful streets in Mala Strana, NE of the Charles Bridge (packed with people and thus fairly horrible and we mostly avoided it entirely):

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Then you turn up through this beautiful arch, climb up towards the castle area, stare out over the city. One of my favourite things is the SF space station away in the distance (I know, I know it’s really something else):
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You come down the other side, towards the street where the Čapeks lived, where together they invented the word robot (I’m sure I have mentioned that already, it was most exciting)

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Their vista
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One of the most beautiful turnings in the world
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You continue down and cross the bridge again, we didn’t make it as far down as Vyšehrad, but there are beautiful modern buildings to be found here, This surprise glass walkway:
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Gehry’s Dancing House (1996):
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The wonderful Manes Gallery:
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There are some really interesting contrasts between the old and the new:IMG_9329

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Prague had some tagging going on, but wasn’t too full of street art. Still, we found this:
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And this wonderful trompe l’oeil:

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And then just vista after vista of the beautiful and the unexpected, the non-sanitised splendour as you wander:
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So that the tourist trail packed (and I mean packed, even in November) across the Charles bridge:IMG_9510
Down into the main square with its extraordinary clocks (which I loved despite the hordes):

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Even that square in the sunset: IMG_9596
was hardly the most beautiful place. I’m glad there is a centre and a focus for most tourists, I almost felt bad wandering the places many others didn’t seem to go, because I imagine Prague’s residents are even more protective of their city and their space. It is hard to imagine it as it was before the industry of travel, though on many of the more distant streets this seems possible. Still, I am so glad, feel so lucky, that I have had the opportunity to go.

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More beautiful things in the Czech Republic

We stayed a week in Liberec while my partner lectured at the
Technická univerzita v Liberci, getting the chance to visit Ještěd Tower, which I have already written about, but also see a bit of the countryside. The rolling hills of the north are simply beautiful, mist-filled, green. We rolled through them on our train on the way to Hodvokice, just as filled with beautiful craftsmanship as Prague really, and of the kind I like more as it not as cherubbed and otherwise statued. This house I fell in love with, it is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen I think — the day was a terrible one for taking pictures however, so apologies:

IMG_9161The most stunning windows, and the detailing exquisite. The town’s wealth seemed to come from this factory — textiles perhaps, as Liberec? I am unsure, but it is also beautiful from the outside. Strange to stare at a factory and have not the slightest context for what it is, who works (or worked) there, what that is like. IMG_9169
I am, of course, obsessed by details and found some more door knobs for my collection:

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There was also a wide use of tiles, as in much of Prague, and though some might have seen better days, they were still beautiful.

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Just like the town itself.

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Perhaps even more than in Prague — where beauty could possibly be seen as a project of Empire — I was so impressed by all that was functional yet exquisite:

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Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised by the way that this craftsmanship seems to also fill the countryside — the antithesis of the hamlets of the Southwestern U.S. I know so well, which are always interesting but rarely beautiful and often creepy. But everything was well cared for and this kind of work very common:

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We came to this beautiful old place as well, now tragically falling down.

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We were walking up to Sychrov Castle, bought (as one of several) after the French Revolution by some aristocrats who had managed to keep most of their money. Their connections to the Bourbons fill the place through its decorations and carvings — and the carvings are exquisite. I didn’t take pictures inside, but here is a view of some of the details I did capture.

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IMG_9228And a view of the castle as a whole — again, far removed from what an English castle looks like:
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From the castle we walked down to another small village to catch the train back — you can wander over the tracks at will and the ‘industrial’ area alongside was very cool.IMG_9278
I know I have used the word beautiful far too much, but that is what the country is.

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Kafka: The Castle

An amazing book, and how lucky I got to read it in the Czech Republic! I had it for kindle, translated by John Williams I think, so I may have to read the alternative translations. A little fan-girl of me perhaps, but to be reading it as we explored Prague’s castle and the Kafka Museum (which I wrote about here) was brilliant really. Though also existentially terrifying, as I find all of Kafka.

The book opens with a concrete description of the castle, a clear vision of its place and structure as well as the clarity available to those living at that height, but one that becomes more and more complicated as he gets closer to it:

Now, he could see the Castle above him clearly defined in the glittering air, its outline made still more definite by the moulding of snow covering it in a thin layer. There seemed to be much less snow up there on the hill than down in the village, where K. found progress as laborious as on the main road the previous day. Here the heavy snowdrifts reached right up to the cottage windows and began again on the low roofs, but up on the hill everything soared light and free into the air, or at least so it appeared from down below.

On the whole this distant prospect of the Castle satisfied K.’s expectations. It was neither an old stronghold nor a new mansion, but a rambling pile consisting of innumerable small buildings closely packed together and of one or two storeys; if K. had not known that it was a castle he might have taken it for a little town.

This shifts into a more mundane reality of village homes, churches, streets. But always the Castle itself remains something always seen yet always out of reach, an impossible distance to cover. K. walks and walks, yet overcome by strange weariness and drifts of snow, he turns aside. Day by day the castle becomes ever more distant, unreal yet at the same time ever more powerful in its oppression of his spirit and his circumstances.

The castle is home to rarefied beings, almost supernatural in their powers over those in the village and their effect on them. Controlling K.’s fate is Klamm, yet he is as out of reach as the castle, and K.’s attempts to contact him are the stuff of daily nightmares. K. crosses boundaries and suffers the consequences — for example here, in a hidden courtyard he waits for Klamm to enter his waiting sleigh. Instead the coachman eventually leaves K. alone in the darkness, turning off the lights as Klamm cannot, will not face K.  This transgression of space is unforgivable and brings with it a Pyrrhic sense of defeat in victory:

…it seemed to K. as if all contact with him had been broken off, as if he were now freer than ever, as if he could wait here in this otherwise forbidden place as long as he wished; as if he had fought for this freedom as few others could have done, as if no one could touch him or drive him away, or even speak to him, and yet at the same time — and this conviction was at least as strong–as if there were nothing more senseless, more desolate than this freedom, this waiting, this invulnerability (loc 1792).

Above all remains the split between Castle and village, rulers and ruled at varying degrees of distance. There is a visual refinement in the faces of those who have been there, particularly the women singled out for gentlemen’s pleasures. Government is designed to preserve and enhance this split. The landlady tells K.

‘Herr Momus is Klamm’s secretary like any of his other secretaries, but his office and, if I am not mistaken, his official duties too…’ Momus, still writing, shook his head vigorously, and the landlady corrected herself: ‘Well, only his office is confined to the village, but not his official duties. Herr Momus deals with the written work relating to the Village…That’s the way it is; all the gentlemen from the Castle have their village secretaries.’ (loc 1841)

Absolute power reflected in the weakness and uselessness of petty officials. K. only seeks to be informed of his work, his purpose. Instead he is told by letter:

To the surveyor of Bruckenhof. The surveys you have made so far meet with my approval. The work done by the assistants is also commendable… (loc 1953)

He has done no work. He has been given no direction. The assistants are mad. Sill, it is the interview with Olga, sister to the messenger Barnabas, that I found the key to it all in my own mind. I was completely surprised by what was essentially an attempted rape at the centre…a letter demanding a village girl come to a Castle gentleman, her refusal at the heart of the entire family’s destruction. K.’s involvement in it all by extension. It is an extraordinary thing I thought, to find in this bewildering maze of rural geography and bureaucracy and madness. Something so much more real than in The Trial or the Metamorphasis, just as K. is better defined and more sure of himself. Yet K.’s initial outrage changes, shifts, softens to accommodate itself to Olga’s views, the villagers’ beliefs, and it all falls back into the nightmare as Olga continues to describe their desperation and scheming. After the museum, though, I was particularly focused on the geography, and these descriptions of barriers formal and informal, physical and mental, visible and invisible are so fascinating, they almost make me want to study the geographies of bureaucracy–or paranoia:

…it gives us doubts about everything. Is it really Castle work that he is doing, we ask; he goes to the offices, certainly, but are the offices actually part of the Castle? And even if there are offices that are part of the Castle, are those the offices he is allowed into? He’s admitted into some offices, but only some of them, then there are barriers, and behind these are more offices. He’s not actually forbidden to go any further, but he can’t go any further once he’s seen his superiors and they have dealt with him and sent him away. What’s more, you’re watched all the time up there, at least that’s what we believe. And even if he did go further on, what good would it do him if he had no official business there; he would just be an intruder. And you mustn’t imagine these barriers as a hard and fast divide, Barnabas is always reminding me of that. There are also barriers in the offices he visits, so there are some barriers he goes through, and they look no different from the ones he has not yet gone through, and so it can’t be assumed that the offices behind these barriers are any different from the ones Barnabas has been in (loc 2775).

It isn’t just the geography of bureaucracy that is opaque, confused, unreadable. Barnabas works for Klamm, he thinks, yet no one can ever be sure even just of Klamm’s appearance, so at times he is not even sure of that:

…all these differences are due to magic, they are quite understandable because they depend on the present mood, the level of excitement, the countless degrees of hope or despair on the part of the observer, who is in any case only able to catch a momentary glimpse of Klamm (loc 2809).

And so we come to the greatest fear of all perhaps, the method of governance instilling the idea that if one were only stronger, more connected, wiser, everything would be all right. That it is all your own fault:

What I mean by all this is that something is there, Barnabas is being offered something, at least something, and it’s his own fault if all he can get out of it is doubt, fear and hopelessness (loc 2923).

And all of it an exercise in collective (mis)understanding, world building:

Olga’s story was revealing such a vast, almost unbelievable world to him that he could not resist intruding on it with his own little adventure, in order to convince himself of the existence of her world as well as that of his own experience (loc 3402).

I loved most of all that amazing nighttime meeting in the bureaucrat’s hotel wing, which is itself an incredible description of physical space that is as much mental space, constricting, suffocating, claustrophobic:

Here everything was small but elegantly constructed, and space was used to the best advantage. The corridor was just high enough for them to walk upright. Along the sides was a series of doors almost next to each other. The side walls did not reach right up to the ceiling, no doubt to provide ventilation, for the tiny rooms along this deep cellar-like corridor probably had no windows. The disadvantage of these walls that were open at the top was that the noise in the corridor must have been heard in the rooms too (loc 3790).

Everything is concealed, bewildering, yet at the same time there can be no privacy:

The servant climbed onto K.’s shoulders and looked over the gap above the wall into the room. ‘He’s lying on his bed’ (loc 3803)

K. is betrayed by his own weakness, his own tiredness, he cannot take advantage of the interviews he obtains. And then follows the most brilliant of all scenes: the men pushing the carts, distributing folders, the opening and slamming of doors, whispered negotiations, hands emerging from rooms, peeping through cracks and recriminations. K.’s very presence throwing everything into complete chaos as no one can bear to let themselves be seen, much less spoken to.

It ends in mid sentence — I didn’t know that when I started, so it was an almost vertiginous ending. Kafka couldn’t find his way to the ending, I know the feeling, and I’m not sure it could have ended. I found the beginning quite terrifying in its way, but that steadily dropped off, you can feel the tension unwinding somehow, even as it gets more interesting in other ways.

There is so much more here — as always — but being in Prague and reading this, I am thinking most about Kafka and space and remember I found this in the museum:

…Kafka carries out a more difficult operation: he turns Prague into an imaginary topography which transcends the fallacy of realism. Kafka’s phantasmal architecture has other ends. Rather than a particular house, school, office, church, prison or castle being important, it is what these constructions reveal when they act as topological metaphors or allegorical places. What surprises does this transfigured Prague hold in store? Just how far can the metamorphosis of a city take us?

I think they do act as metaphors and allegorical places…in some ways I think they are also ways of imagining the barriers and impassible places in our own minds and actions. But the castle of Prague itself makes some concrete sense of this as well perhaps, the relationship between writer and city a dialectical one. Prague’s castle is no one large building surrounded by defensible stone walls that I would imagine from living in England or Scotland. We looked for it and I’m not sure when we actually found it, entered it, reached the castle. You go through this splendid arch just off the Charles bridge

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And you wander up and always up past a whole lot of Baroque magnificence, becoming more magnificent the higher up the hill you get. You go up a whole lot of steps and suddenly you are there, and walking through stately home sort of buildings to get to the splendidly gothic St Vitus’s Cathedral, which is surrounded by this labyrinthine pomp and what seems like administrative space. Maybe. But there is palace after palace up there, making sense of homes for the many named and revered Castle gentlemen. It is not until you are walking along part of the backside that you really get a sense that this is in any way the defensible space I associate with the word Castle — or was once:

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and there the contrasts are more striking:
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There are some fake turreted kind of battlements at the top awash with tourists, but there you can also get a real feel of just how high above, how far removed this castle complex is from the rest of Prague:

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We went back down and I found more remnants of ‘castle’ the way that word sits in my imagination:
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But really, despite the wonderful drain covers, to me here was no sense of any one place you could call a castle

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Instead it seemed a collection of powers, a complicated administrative centre…and of course, for much of its history, an empty shell, a representation, with the real power always residing with the Hapsburg empire far away. A Kafkaesque castle in more than one respect. Also a beautiful place:

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Of course, there are other candidates for the inspiration for The Castle, but Kafka grew up beneath this one, and being here made the book a little less dreamlike and removed from reality — just a little less.

I searched for images of The Castle to see how others had imagined it — conventionally I am afraid, the bookcovers imagine it most conventionally. But I also found this, the most startling, built by architect Ricardo Bofill outside of Barcelona. A modern day construction for your viewing pleasure:

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read more here

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A Terror of Cherubs

The only collective noun possible. I hate cherubs, hate their fat little bodies that no wings could possibly get off the ground, hate the mawkish sentimentality that they represent in a period where poverty was so high and infant mortality even higher. So I did not take pictures of the ubiquitous things until I could no longer help myself due to their ridiculousness. It could well be the result of the concupiscence of adult statues that fills Prague
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These are quite hilarious, and in spite of myself possibly endearing, in their silly state on either side of a grandiose balcony:IMG_8640

IMG_8641Some more
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And even more
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An explosion of them in seemingly unconnected pieces from what seems like the very mouth of hell on the side of a church:
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The worst is that our excursion into the Savarin Palace to visit the Museum of Communism revealed there are as many inside these Baroque monstrosities as there are outside:
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And they didn’t stop with the Baroque, disturbingly enough:
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This is only a slight taste of the cherub flesh surrounding you at all times, but I’ll leave you with a couple of more tasteful pictures that give a glimpse of the city, as I haven’t yet done that!
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Prague’s Erogenous Zones

The exuberance of rococo nudity in Prague is stunning, in every sense of the term. Large well-endowed women stare down at you from facade after facade with only their stoney flesh to keep them warm:

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Not my favourite style, but it is carried out with such panache I could not help but be impressed, if only with its absurdity:

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I have never seen suggestively positioned, naked and possibly pregnant women used as supports for heavy masonry. The symbolism (or lack of it) fairly boggles the mind unlike the use of Atlas-type figures. They are wearing fish on their heads, however, so I suppose some symbolism is involved, as must also be the case for this guy with a chicken on his head (apologies he too is not nude, we’ll get to the men soon):

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Birds are almost as common as naked human beings, and sometimes they came together

IMG_8669With the rococo I simply shrug, though the scale and imagination was most impressive. Unsurprisingly you can only see so many naked women without ceasing to be aware of them or continue taking pictures. What was striking, however, was that this nudity continues on through the ages. There are some beautiful and extremely saucy art nouveau facades, different from anything I have seen before:

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And statues as well
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But the social realists have also gotten into the act — though a little more chastely:

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Modern sculpture is of course also represented:

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We also found a splendid sign, unique in everything but the nudity, which could equally well predate or postdate everything else pictured here:

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But it is not just the woman’s body that is celebrated, though the ladies far outnumber everyone else. This particular celebration has been painted so that it is camouflaged as much as possible, which is exactly what called my attention to it after such a surfeit of flaunting breasts over residential edifices:

IMG_9649I also loved this nonchalant (although well covered) pose on Prague’s famous Municipal House off of Namesti Republiky:

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Perhaps some of the most hilarious images are of men and their favourite bits — everyone’s favourite bits apparently:

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While at Ještěd Tower in Liberec there was a similar phenomenon, alien but very very male:

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More penii and grinning laughing tourists were to be found in front of the Kafka Museum:

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It was funny to later that same day run into this suspect statue up at the castle:

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Altogether there is one almighty celebration of the human body happening all over Prague. Next — the unfortunate result.

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Prague Entries (or, of knobs and knockers)

I’m often caught by small details, little things that I like to think almost no one else sees. Beautiful things, strange things, unlikely things. Those of us who see them are thus joined in this appreciation of the not-quite-hidden, the unique everyday, the unspectacular. Our lives contain more joy, or so I like to think. Maybe more of us than I think walk through the city awake and aware and reveling in these details. I myself do it surreptitiously when on the street alone, never able to rid myself of the ingrained dislike of making myself a target. Streets can be dangerous places.

Prague is the most dangerous of all, a city of details.

It is, of course, superficially and ridiculously gorgeous. But what I loved most about it is that this beauty goes all the way down to the minute; incredible craftsmanship abounds everywhere. Some of it was clearly put in service of evil — the ubiquitous cherub for example, to be explored in the next post — but damn. So much of it is of the beautiful and good. So this is a photo-essay of the beautiful doors of Prague. Because this is what they look like, even when we got onto the off-the-tourist-track streets walking down away past Florenc station. They’ve seen better days, but from the carved wood to the iron and grill work to the inlays and fixtures, they are so beautiful:

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They’ve made me think about doors. What they stand for as a statement about a building, about the people who made the building and live in the building. What it means to pass through them. I am used to beautiful doors on cathedrals, on monumental buildings, occasionally on government buildings. Doors you pass through only now and again. Or perhaps you never have enough status, or share the required beliefs, to pass through them. These are places where an entryway is meant to have greater meaning, a non every-day meaning. You walk through them and enter somewhere power sits, or God dwells. They separate outside from inside like any door, but this separation carries more weight than our front door, which most of us blast through without a thought, hurrying out into the world or back home. Of palaces and churches, differentiated spaces, Prague has a number. Their doors are finer than anything I’ve seen I think:

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IMG_9461Still, this rampant use of beauty on apartments? How lovely. Even our wealthy neighbourhoods are in no way comparable on the subject of doors, and my initial feeling is that this beauty stretches some class boundaries, if only due to decline.  Of course I confess, we did not stray all that far from the city center, and perhaps this gorgeous craftsmanship is not found quite everywhere, but in visiting Liberec and some of the small villages surrounding it was much the same — though like cherubs, I’ll have more to say on them later. Here, however, are some plainer doors.

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But after a while even I had almost a surfeit of doors, too many, too grand, too beautiful. Camera fatigue set in. I made an exception for the doors belonging to the house of the Capek brothers, where the amazing word ‘robot’ was coined in the writing of R.U.R.

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Heavy, wooden, carved. Beautiful. But with this surfeit of doors I started focusing on other things, like the grilles:

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The faces:

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The details of the decoration:

IMG_9651 IMG_9571 IMG_9351I had read that some fine examples of Art Nouveau was to be found here as well, but I was in no way prepared for the splendour of it:

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IMG_9377This, which I’m not sure which style it fits into, but is understated yet stunning:

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I wasn’t prepared for any of it. I love the brightly painted red and green and blue doors of Dublin, and sometimes here in London or Bristol. But these doors of Prague are a different level. My favourite details? The handles. There is a joy in seeing such beautiful, functional things — more beautiful up the castle way, but uniformly gorgeous:

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And for last? This sculpture door that we found opposite the cubist House of the Black Madonna, with no explanation but I rather liked it just like that:

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A little more from Prague…

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Ještěd Tower, Liberec

I love it. I love it, and yet there is so little about it. We saw it shining on the mountain while looking out over the city, and of course, we had to go.

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It’s so brilliantly SF, half spaceship half future cityscape. You take a tram from the city up to the mountain, a funicular up to the base. Look at this amazing television tower/restaurant/hotel up close:

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There is a long blurb on the architect from penccil – a rather fascinating site of modern art and design and fashion (it allows you to create your own page on the site to show your own portfolio, you could get drawn in there for a while…)

The unique Jested tower, designed by architect Karel Hubacek, is a modernist architectural landmark of the Czech Republic. Combining television transmission tower and mountain hotel, it is a 94 meters tall rotational hyperboloid built on top ofJested mountain near Liberec in the Czech Republic, built between 1966 and 1973. Liberec (then called Reichenberg) was until the end of WW1 in 1918 part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and a traditional Austrian mountain hotel was perched on top of Jested (then called Jeschken) mountain. Karel Hubacek (23 February 1924 – 25 November 2011) graduated in 1943 and was then sent to forced labor in Nazi Germany, where he worked for the Askania Werke precision instrument factory in Berlin, which after allied bombings moved underground into salt mines south of Helmstedt, Germany. Askania produced the flight control systems for the V1 and V2 rockets and movie cameras which had been used in shooting the famous movie “Der Blaue Engel” with Marlene Dietrich. In 1945, he returned to Prague. In 1951, he got a job at the (then communist) regional institute for city planning in Liberec, where he worked until 1968, when he became a co-founding member of SIAL (Association of Engineers and Architects in Liberec). From 1994-1997 he was head of the Department of Architecture at the Faculty of Arts and Architecture at the Technical University in Liberec.

There are some wonderful photos — far better than what I managed as it was heaving with people on a sunny November holiday, though bitterly windy and cold. Still, I got a few:

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There is a martian as well! A particularly well-endowed one

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And the sun started setting and the world was just beautiful, you can see the shadow of our space building fall across Liberec:

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The hotel website (I do wish we had stayed there, the furniture, the fittings, everything looks amazing, but we didn’t) talks about this as a symbol of Liberec, and how wonderful? How wonderful to create this amazing building so playful with our dreams of the future, that could have been a simple ubiquitous television tower but instead becomes this amazing place. This is in some ways what the dream of socialism should have been, brilliant design, care, and attention to innovative detail to make something so functional also serve city residents as an escape from the city, a place to step out of the ordinary, to look out over the city and the countryside and think about the world’s form and your place in it. A place for everyone, though I don’t know if that’s how it worked when it was first built. But it felt like that while we there, full of both Czechs and tourist families, couples, young folks. It was lovely, but god, it was cold.

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