We are actually safely home, but I do have a few last thoughts on our trip, in no particular order
I loved the big car-free squares and pedestrian walkways of Prague and Krakow. I wish we did something similar here–it makes the city so much more inviting. Combined with excellent public transit, it goes a long way to creating space for people to interact in a leisurely way. In Krakow, they even have an elegant pedestrian bridge across the Vistula, as well as walk and bikeways along the edges.
Over 500,000 people a year visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, really one big camp separated by two miles of road. It’s hard to say anything about this experience–it seems like science fiction, even though you are walking through it.
The question that occurs over and over is “How could it happen?” and “Could it happen again?” You think, inhuman, but only humans have this methodical malice. Continue reading
Today is our last morning in Eastern Europe, but I have several days worth of posts to continue. This one, our day in Kazimierz, the old Jewish section of Krakow. This area seems very lively and energized, with youth hostels competing with museums and ancient synagogues, There is a square with dozens of restaurants stretching between one old synagogue and another. Here are a few shots–one each from the synagogues:
We happened onto a lovely Klezmer band on the sunny afternoon in Kazimierz, and sat down in an outdoor cafe to listen. Continue reading
A hazy morning. We walked along the Vistula–aren’t all great cities by water?–past the old Jewish section of town, Kazimerz, to the museum that’s been created in the former location of the Schindler factory. The river was lovely, the walk pleasant. On the way, we saw a mural on an abandoned building. Continue reading
I’ve been reading through the luminous translations Mira Rosenthal has done of the work of Tomasz Różycki, a contemporary Polish poet. It’s a delight to read them here in Krakow, where they take on an additional resonance, although Różycki is from Opole, northeast of Krakow. This poem, dedicated to one of the most famous Polish poets, Czesław Miłosz, gives a sense of a land and a poetic spirit that has survived a tortured history.
The Rainy Season
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxFor Cz. M.
We drove through Wrocław, black sea of ruins,
which exiles later wanted to rebuild
to look at least a little like Lwów
so that it did not become a dream, a dream. Continue reading
The first thing we do in each new city is get a little tourist map from the hotel that gives a basic outline of the city and lists the main sights. I thought about this wandering around Krakow yesterday, so many of us with our little maps, exploring.
It made me think about what would be on a tourist map of San Francisco–the museums, Chinatown, Golden Gate Park, Fisherman’s Wharf, the ferries, Alcatraz… and how that wouldn’t be my idea of the city at all. I don’t think you can hope to get to know a city by seeing its sights or even shopping in its markets or going to its museums. Tourists can’t penetrate beyond the outer layer of a city. But still, it’s fun to see the great sights, and for me best of all, to wander the streets somewhat aimlessly.
Being a tourist by definition is being an outsider. And I know as an inhabitant you might never get around to seeing the things on the map. Just the history here is overwhelming–poor Poland, invaded over and over by Tartars, Swedes, Germans, Russians, burned, ravaged, partitioned… And yet, great things happened here.
The hotel we’re staying in was where Copernicus stayed when he visited the city 500 years ago, writing his tract on a heliocentric universe. The main square has been excavated to discover and display the layers of history going back to over a thousand years. The university is one of the oldest in Europe.
Not to mention one of the pleasures of travel–discovering a swimming pool and sauna in the basement of your hotel!
Of course, one of the real pleasures of travel is seeing the strange and unusual–in Prague, the Dancing House by Frank Ghery, and the views inside and out is a prime example:
Inside is an exhibit of glass sculpture, the Fred and Ginger restaurant with its titling chandelier, and great views.
Across the river, some public sculpture that I think of as the disappearing man:
Today, it’s good by to Prague’s whimsey, and on to Poland.
We met up with friends here for a few days, and have been wandering a bit together. One of them at lunch said that he was the “master of the ordinary,” because of his appreciation of street life. I know what he means–a certain delight in the everyday just because it’s a little different than the everyday at home. So here are a few more street scenes from Prague, starting with yet another sidewalk sweeper, and a bike outside a shop.
Because he is the most internationally famous Czech writer (although he wrote in German), Prague has made the most of Kafka. There’s a (very bad) cafe on the ground floor of the house where he was born, a Kafka map of Prague, and a fairly large exhibit of photos and manuscripts at the Kafka Museum. The museum itself is odd, as if they tried to embody alienation in the setting of the exhibits which are all upstairs in a long, dark gallery.
The overpowering sense is blackness. There’s disturbing background music, some strange, floating tables with projected images, a walk-through scrim with a projected photo, quotes, letters, etc.
There’s a section on the women in Kafka’s life, his affairs and engagement, with projected photos of the women appearing and fading. Continue reading
At the Kampa Museum there was a retrospective of the Czech artist, Richard Fremund. You’ve never heard of him? Either had we. He was born in 1928, and died in a car wreck in 1969.
We liked what we saw. Here’s a sample, in roughly chronological order.