Thursday, March 31, 2011

Prague Pints pt. 1: Playthings & Shadow Paintings

Days Remaining to Next Beer: 350

One day Lindz and I set out from our hotel determined to reach the Prague Castle up on the mountain. The route we chose eventually lead us onto a bridge flanked by huge statues under renovation to clean the surfaces weathered blank by pollution and harsh rain, a slow and delicate process that seemed to time lapse before our eyes as we passed statues not yet touched, then ones roped off and in progress, followed by ones given a fresh lease on life. Musicians and artisans practiced their arts and sold their wares along the sides of the burly bridge. 

There were moments as I looked at the stones beneath my feet, the statues to either side, the waters churning in from the channel to pass by beneath us, hearing the multilingual chatter of passerby, smell foodstuffs and candle wax, hear gypsy fiddle mingling in the air with Germanic horns and Czech percussive prowess. Look up to the highest point in the city and see the spires of the castle pricking the heavens like something out of Army of Darkness. The roofs of rows of buildings knit the foreground, layered pottery tiles like dragon scales or Spanish missions snaking terraces up the slope, folding into self as riddles sometimes do.

We reached the end of the bridge and saw the steep slope leading to the gates of the castle grounds. We heard the lions roar from our stomachs and looked off to the right for signs of lunches to be had, and found a place with plates of sauced perogies fit for king’s horsemen and pilsner pints fair enough to roll down the throats of handmaidens.
Sated and quenched, we leaned towards the ground and strode up the steep slope with purpose. Near the castle gate we discovered a marionette shop that could have easily cost us our life savings had we had one so spend. Such beautiful craftsmanship, no Made in China stickers on the bottoms of the Devil feet we found there. We bid sad farewell to many magical marionette that day, however we didn’t leave empty handed. Our shelves at home warranted long overdue upgrades and we’d little intention of giving one little red wooden devil his suitcase transit due.

Passing through the gates with a paper sack full of devil we head first to the massive chapel where Prague royalty come for weddings, funerals, baptisms, any old excuse for a family get together.  Scaffold wrapped up one side of the structure, more restoration work, acid rain perhaps, or charcoal smoke, or Chernobyl, or the lengthy Russian occupation during U.S.S.R.’s tenure, so much surface to scrub, and there will always be residue in the cracks and seams. 

After a respectful hatless stop inside the cathedral, we wandered on to explore the grounds, the reflecting pools, topiary, statuary, look out points for stealing lover’s kisses by the cupped hand bushel while looking out over a city that reflects various tenants, a long history of different ruling bodies while the city remained standing, evolving, growing, never destroyed by war, never bombed into oblivion or sub-prime unsecured loaned into bankruptcy and foreclosure. Prague viewed from such heights is essentially the opposite of the Detroit downtown skyline for more reasons than simply age or an unusual affinity for stone as an architectural construction material. The city is majestic and somewhat timeless, yet motley and mutated as different cultures have added their spin, their stamp of influence, tacked on neighborhoods and erected their own sideshows of splendor to the landscape.
As we neared the back wall of the compound and began to speak of turning back one of us noticed an odd sign with a picture of a very American style Barbie doll. Curiosity piqued, closer scrutiny revealed that in this back corner bastion of the complex sat the royal toy museum, a place MOMA representatives should visit and take lessons from, as the next two hours of our lives flowed through multiple floors documenting all the highlights of industrial design as tied to entertaining children, be it a massive tin mountain laden with a lit village, clockwork train, and artificial flowing river from the royal children’s collection circa 1880 to a massive celebration of the respective histories of Barbie, Action Man, and GI Joe for the children of the world. 

Stuffed animals, lead figurines, metal race cars riding the slots towards acrylic checkerboard finish lines, pewter, plastics, velvet, wood pulp, wire and straw, rubber tree extract, cast Bakelite, glass marbles, ivory knee board dancers, plush, animatronic, electronic, the most robust and comprehensive anthology of toys through the past century plus, whether hand crafted or mass produced, simply amazing, all the more because the museum, this exquisite manifestation of patience, effort and passion, just sat there waiting to be discovered like a shop of needful things. I left there wondering if another couple round the corner they would discover a building filled to the brim with something their hearts would appreciate, perhaps a wax museum or livestock or talk show hosts or throw pillows or the history of Warner Brothers cartoon music. I didn’t look back to see, why ruin the mystery?

After we made our way back down the hill from the castle we were once again hearing animals grown and bray from our bellies, and after again crossing the bridge and seeing the statues devolve from spic and span clean to under restoration to simply filthy soot black we wandered into an adjacent neighborhood clutching our bellies to quell the wolves growling, licking lips with sandpaper tongues, our throats so dry, parched as Mason parchment, our primal need our Illuminati eye guiding us along this avenue and that lane until we saw a stencil on a wall that stopped us cold, and with eyes uncomprehending the exact meaning, we knew all the same that this mark was as sure as the wooden devils in our pockets where we needed to be.
And so it was that fateful October day we found a place with a view of a stairwell winding up a hill where a smattering of metal people stood here and there along the length posed mid-stride as though waiting for someone to tell them all the light had again gone green. We found the place, and entered full well knowing that we were welcome and had found our haven to recoup from our travels of the day and quell wherever the wild things were inside of us. An artist friendly place with wonderful paintings though out on the walls, floors, ceilings.
We had found the Shadow Cafe, and had ourselves a lounge on low padded benches leaning on short coffee tables with thick wooden tops and square, blocky legs. The engaging energy of Emir Kusturica and the No Smoking Orchestra’s 2005 CD Live Is A Miracle In Buenos Aires serenade us from box speakers and lead to a subsequent CD store excursion the following day for an album that had become must have.
And the pint that I slurped back as I sat caddy corner to my newly wedded wife had all the intonations of an intricately crafted draft pilsner piped into my glass from the very golden, pulsing heart of Prague itself, as though I’d tapped a vein or siphoned an safe sample of arterial backwash. We discussed the art of the place, snapped pictures, and I grew increasingly interested in creating, drawing, writing, something, the place seemed to called it forth from within all present. The Tank Girl sister tending bar, the pair of beat poets sharing a bench at the far end of the room we were in, or the couple of street artists that came in as we were readying to depart once our cosmic batteries had recharged, snacked consumed, pints politely burp huff wheezed contently after.

The style of art in the place remind me of the bubbly headed work of Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, collages that spread from various corners of the room against strong Russian red background hues, strong and iconic yet playful and lively, sometimes obnoxious and crass, other times safe and soothing as baby smiles. Speaking of Takashi Murakami, check out this comprehensive gallery of his work over on Artsy.

The next day we followed our roused muses to a comic book convention, and I’ll recount some anecdotes about that experience later in this series. 


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