Sunday, July 20, 2008

Greetings from: Hradčany, Malá Strana

Every time I reach this section if town—the location of the Prague Castle—I have the irresistible urge to call it “hard candy.” Perhaps it’s simply too much Madonna on my mind. After all, there’s not a single area of the city that’s not painted or carved or scalloped or crenellated or otherwise adorned with statuary (or, alternately, studded with anti-pigeon spikes), and much of the imagery has religious symbolism: here, a pietà; there, a saint.

But Prague is also a dream for public, secular art: odd sculptures and murals appear with regularity. So whether it serves as a memorial (disintegrating victims of Communism in Malá Strana) or serves a mysterious function (a pendulum of the oversized metronome) or serves up a slice of a surreal (mutant babies crawling up the television towers), art is everywhere, and you eyes can never rest in one place. A city of beautiful distractions. In front of the Kafka Museum (a multimedia extravaganza with some installations that remind me of bad student films), two fountains in which the water flowed out of the penises of the statues.

The painted buildings look like pieces of Wedgwood china, but when you have a city that bears its history on its walls, even the new buildings have been made to look old. Every church—at least in the tourist-frequented areas—sponsors a 5 p.m. concert with some form of Vivaldi or Mozart on the program. As you walk down the streets in the morning, you can also hear a conservatory student practicing her piano from an open second-story window: ascending and descending arpeggios, scales, runs.

And yet, the man-mullet is still in fashion here. Go figure.

The Prague Castle complex itself requires an exorbitant admission fee (about 350 kč for the deluxe package), but the heart of the area—St. Vitus Cathedral—has no fee whatsoever. So, even though we all know that the Cathedral is God’s home, He’s made Himself a wonderful conversation piece with the six stained glass windows that explode out of the dark recesses. Other parts of the Cathedral may seem excessive (a tomb made of solid silver?), but the windows illuminate the soul as much as the world.

But equally as entertaining is the changing of the guard in the Castle Courtyard. They’re accompanied by a 5-piece brass band: trombones, tuba, snare drum. But it’s much pomp without the attendant circumstance. The guards’ powder-blue uniforms, replete with epaulets and colorful ceremonial cords and guns with shiny bayonets, make them look like a particularly masculine majorette squad. For those who can still be impressed by formation marching, shouted Czech commands, and sabers being slid in and out of sheaths, it’s quite the spectacle. For those who can’t, it’s just fun to watch boys parading around in uniform.

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