Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Infant of Prague

Prague is a city flooded with Saints old and new. The walk across Charles Bridge is a Saint lovers paradise. Old friends like St. Anthony (still carrying my gradebook) and St. Christopher (still recognizable after years on my dashboard) are there as are new ones like St. John of Nepomuk. Now there's an interesting story. Apparently St. John was confessor to the Queen and when the King (Wencelaus ... apparently not the "good" one ...) ordered St. John to tell him what the Queen had confessed, he refused and was tossed into the river to drown. There is a little relief underneath his statue in brass that shows him being heaved over the bridge, and everyone touches it for good luck as they pass by. But the real homecoming for me, was when I saw my first Infant of Prague in a store window. I was flooded with memories from my childhood of receiving my first statue as a girl for my birthday. Never had a Barbie. Didn't need one when I had my Infant of Prague to dress up in its vestments.

Seriously I had not thought about this Infant of Prague for 50 years. I had never actually put Prague the city together with Prague of the Infant. So I decided to read up on it. And that is when I found "Ask Sister Mary Martha" the blog. What a blessed oasis she is.

And you can imagine my surprise when I looked up the going price for a set of vestments for the infant. Check it out.

Some Panoramics

Old Town Square in Prague
Chesky Krumlov from the Castle
click to enlarge

The Dark Side of Velvet

This statue of Franz Kafka in a hidden corner of Prague's Stare Mesto always collects a few puzzled tourists. It is a reminder that the Central European mindset is much more comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. Life is not as it seems. Shifting ground ... not certainty ... is what we stand on. So as an American in Prague on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, I was happy to have the opportunity to have some oral histories made available to me to help me see below the surface of the current mood of celebrating the triumph of liberty over totalitarianism. The Memory of a Nation is an extensive collection of memories of individuals who lived through and were buffeted by the totalitarianism and fascism of the 20th century. Many of these stories have been mounted on huge poster boards throughout Prague. I found myself sucked into these narratives trying to understand better the complicated business of what it meant to be Czech in the 20th century. For example, the story of this man, A Jewish professor of history in Prague, who passed as a Gentile during the war, shows many layers of Czech life in the last century. He moved boldly among German soldiers during the war saying "It is always darkest just beneath the candle's flame," but was betrayed in the late days of the War and survived several concentration camps. In the post war years he supported the dissidents in 1968 and had his teaching job taken from him. He was reinstated to that post after 1989. Or the story of this man, Olbram Zoubek, the sculptor, who made the death mask of Jan Palach before he died in the hospital following his self immolation Wencheslas Square in 1969. This death mask was only put on display AFTER the 1989 Velvet Revolution. There were also stories of those on the other side ... the members of the Czech Army who enforced the Soviet takeover of their country. Often their stories began in the disputed regions of Czechoslovakia, Carpathian Ruthenia, that were given over to the Hungarians in the early days of WW II. Thinking that retreat in the USSR would allow them more safety, they migrated to Ukraine only to find themselves thrown into Soviet work camps. When they were offered freedom by joining the Czech Army on the Allied side in the middle of the war, they accepted and found themsleves part of the Soviet apparatus after the war.

And even with all of these stories laid out to read, there is no way as an outsider to know what the Czechs themselves carry within them of those conflicted times. Many of the MOST idealistic are now the most disheartened and disilluioned. Life is not what it seems.

As we walk across the Charles Bridge later in the week I see a sign "Kafka Museum Open" Perhaps it is closed.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


We arrived in the Hungarian Capital last Saturday morning. Our first stop was the Covered Market. I was struck by the diminutive size of their garlic and by the presence of tete de veau in the meat counters. But generally speaking food is food. I did pick up an important tip for cooking with paprika. The paprika must be melded with the oil you are cooking with ... you cannot add it as a simple seasoning at the end.

Pest is best seen from the hills of Buda and Buda best seen from the shores of Pest. The Parliament building is simply stunning especially at night. Most of our time in the city it rained, but the rain could not dampen the impression of this Baroque wonder of a city. After spending so much time in cities with medieval street patterns I was not prepared for the wide avenues and generous squares. I was particularly taken by the baroque interiors of the churches. This is the Church of St. Stephen the Hungarian king (St. Istvan) who brought the country to Christianity at the turn of the last millenium ... 1038 was it? The interior pictures I have are on my flip video unfortunately, so I will include them later. But I must say the thrill of finding a new saint was outdone by the thrill of encountering a new highpoint in Catholic reliquary.

Normally if a church is lucky enough to have a relic from a saint, it is the mere splinter of the saint's bone. Not so with St. Istvan. For him we have an ENTIRE RIGHT HAND. (The Holy Right as it is referred to) You think I'm kidding?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Seeing to remember

I am a little frustrated in these postings because the pictures are not as easy to post as they should be. So I will post pictures a little later when things are not so slow. For now let me just say a few words about my impressions. Each town we have stopped at has an almost iconic look to it. The round towers of the castle at Nurmberg ... the Old Stone Bridge spanning the Danube at Regensburg with the spires of St. Peter's in the background ...the onion hats on the steeples in Cesky Krumlov ... a cup of Viennese coffee. And as I had wanted to paint a watercolor of each of these stops, I have been looking carefully each day for that perfect sketch ... the one that says "This is Vienna !!!" "This is Regensberg !!!"

So the looking with an eye to remembering on paper has been an added dimension to this trip. And now that we are leaving the river Danube and moving into the cities of Budapest and then Prague, I think my eye will turn to smaller things to capture. It is hard to imagine that in the past if one wanted to remember where they had been, the paint set was all they had. I have watched many travelers ont his trip using video cameras ALL THE TIME and talking into them to name the things they are seeing.

It reminds me of the practice of a woman in a book I am reading, who sends herself postcards from places she has visited. Only on these postcards she writes about the feeling she is having in the excitement of the new place .... about the way the place renews her. I like that.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


90% destroyed by Allied forces in WWII, the old part of Nuremburg was faithfully restored to its medieval footprint in the years following the war. The town feels old even if it technically is not. We learned very early in our stay in Nurmeberg that these people, though technically Bavarian, consider themselves Franconian. Red and white Frankische colors, not the blue and white of Bavaria, dominate the landscape. We tasted some of the local cuisine … round potato dumplings and the walkaway wurst bun of three sausages.

The skyline is dominated by the spires of Saint Sebaldus church. Always in the market for a new Saint, I found it hard to get the straight skinny on St. Sebaldus. Some legends have him as a hermit in the nearby Reichswald, others as a student in Paris who married a French princess only to abandon her on their wedding night to make a pilgrimage to Rome. Moreover his DOB varies by centuries ... how can this be, I wonder.

I think this is a back shelf saint.

[note: it has been 2 days trying to post this while shipboard ... the pictures may have to wait for a broader band of internet.]

Soon to follow Regensberg ... Passau ... Chesky Krumlov ... Linz ... Melk and tonight Vienna.