Friday, July 13, 2007

All this useless beauty

Prague is not so much a city full of art as one expansive, living work. Cobbled streets wind through a thicket of old shops and homes with terra cotta roofs, and places of worship so ancient that they almost defy understanding- here a synagogue from the 12th century, there a basilica from the 10th. Tycho Brahe lies interred in one grand church, Wenceslas in another. Art has so long been the way of life in this city in Bohemia, that it becomes immediately obvious why the word "bohemian" has come to be affixed to creative types. It's hard to return from my week there without some remnant of that gothic and baroque drama.
A former student of astronomy and a former professional cartographer, I was most enamored of the Pražský Orloj, the Prague Astronomical Clock, in the Old Town plaza. This device measures time of day, the positions of the sun and moon, dawn and dusk, time of year, and other quantities useful to astronomy and astrology, all using clockwork and kindred technologies characteristic of the middle of the last millennium. It displays several pieces of moving sculpture that ring bells and deliver blessings on the hour. The clock embodies Pirsig's ideas of both classical and romantic beauty.
Praguers seem to appreciate all of this art and its (and their own) relationship with the natural world. So far north, the city enjoys and suffers the fickle economy of long summer days and unrelenting winter nights. Tucked so far from the sea and so close to mountains and hills, weather is even more protean. Owing to this physiography, Praguers seem to understand the value of every moment of sun and warm air; as soon as the clouds part, they are reading in public greens or having coffee or pilsner at sidewalk cafes. Conversely, clouds and rain mandate trips to museums and galleries and seem to tap the kegs that serve friends philosophizing in cellar pubs.
"What shall we do, what shall we do..."


Pat Jenkins said...

despite the technological advances we use and appreciate it is always powerful to grasp the "classic" in regard to anything. and the "old world" living and architecture is no better example. i hope you enjoyed your trip?

E. R. Dunhill said...

Indeed I did enjoy the trip. Prague is a city with a tremendous intellectual and artistic tradition. And, who can argue with the profound wisdom of 0.4 liter of pilsner for $1?

jez said...

Oh, that sounds like a lovely place. And pilsner and coffee outdoors - heaven...

E. R. Dunhill said...

An artist like you would love Prague. Everywhere are lugubrious gothic cathedrals, dandy baroque churches, icons of early 20th century art (oh, Alfons Mucha), and a vibrant contemporary art scene. The squares, bridges, and the approaches to the castle are full of jazz, Dvořák, and Mozart.
The whole sidewalk café experience there may have been the best part, which is saying a great deal. More than once I sat for coffee and croissants literally in the shadow of Týn Church. I didn’t ever manage to have beer with breakfast, but by my 10 o’clock cappuccino, plenty of Praguers were indulging in small glass.
As I wrote in this post, the (melo)drama seems to have followed me home.