Pigeons and Such

Here’s “the hap”, some super duper moments, and a bit of those other things that I wouldn’t have guessed I would be writing about but am!

Last blog post I mentioned going to Kutna Hora and posted some pretty weird photos of piles of bones, coats of arms made of bones, chandeliers made of bones (you get the point). So here’s a quick recap of what that was all about:

Kutna Hora, the home to the “bone church” is a town about an hour’s bus ride away from Prague. It once rivaled Prague as the biggest, booming city in Bohemia (a region of current day Czech Republic). It ran on the silver mining business, and was a city of cathedrals and houses that looked like cathedrals. Unfortunately in the late 1400s silver production shifted to the newly discovered Americas and an unpleasant decline involving plague, violence, and death ensued. The beautiful St. Barbara Cathedral we visited (supposedly the Easternmost Cathedral with flying buttresses) is only a third of its planned size since the silver funding it ran dry. The slightly more morbid site we visited was the Sedlec Ossuary and Chapel—during the 13th century a monk returned from the holy land with earth taken from Golgotha, the site where Jesus was crucified and died. He sprinkled the earth on the Sedlec cemetery grounds, so naturally everyone wanted to be buried there in the transported earth of the Holy Land. Between the death tolls of the Black Death and the Hussite Wars, they had a heck of a lot of people to bury so the cemetery was jam-packed. In the 14th century, a Gothic cathedral was built in the middle of the cemetery, and naturally a large number of the graves had to be dug up for construction purposes. They took the excavated and arranged them in the ossuary. Artful, historical, existential—what more could you ask for? And yes, it was very, very odd walking through that space. It felt like a crush of souls all gathered in this space, with myself and my classmates as out of place intruders who had stumbled upon a culture and an idea of death entirely different than our own.

Lidice

Lidice

And now on to the “school” week.

I am simultaneously happy and sad to say that I finished my two week intensive Czech Language and Culture course. Despite the quick pace and rapid flow of information of those four hours, it was a treat to be part of Zdena’s class. If I ever teach one day, I dearly hope that I will have the patience and passion that she has with and for her students. Quite like the other teachers who have meant so much to me—Mrs. Basile, the Davies, Miss Mullin, Mrs. Pelley, Mr. Lisle, Miss Clendening, Ms. Feeny, Mrs. Yurkew, Megan Brown and many others—it is clear from day one that you’re one of the “lucky few” who get to be their student. On a very bright note, Zdena and I are now “Facebook friends” (applause).

Some “cultural activities” of the week included a solo trip to the village of Lidice and watching a Czech hockey game at a Czech restaurant with new Czech friends (SO much Czech happening right there). I don’t know if I could have picked two more contrasting events to pair together.

I had originally planned to go to Lidice on Friday as part of an excursion led by my university program, but the opportunity arose for my suitemates and I to travel to Cologne this weekend and our flight coincided precisely with the trip to Lidice. I decided to do the trip to Lidice solo on Tuesday morning before my 2 o’clock. Lidice is only 12 miles from Prague so I figured it was a safe inaugural Czech “one-woman trip” to take. The Czech online transportation information is not nearly as useful as the great transportation genius of the average Czech person (or so I hoped as I headed out the door at 7:45 am with only a vague idea of which bus I would be taking). So I went to the corner store, bought a danish (very un-Czech of me, sorry) and asked the lady in front of me in line where the bus to Lidice stops. She kindly pointed me in the right direction, I walked there confidently, then not so confidently read the bus timetables. Luckily a bus security worker took pity on me after appraising my very confused expression, and promptly came up beside me to inquire of my location. Unlike most of my interactions with Czech people, he didn’t fit the “shy” bill. Between his broken English and my butchered Czech he figured out where I needed to go and even handed over his printed timetable sheets so that I could figure out return times.

Lidice Children Memorial

Lidice Children Memorial

At this point, I’m flying high. It was one of those “pat yourself on the back” moments when you feel very grown up and cool. Then the bus driver calls out your stop and you hop off and find yourself in what looks like the middle of a cornfield. Luckily another woman had just gotten off the bus and she happened to work in the Lidice museum I was looking for. We both wanted to practice using each other’s respective language, but once again my Czech sounded like a toddler’s babbling compared to her English.

Until I came to the Czech Republic I’d never heard the name Lidice. So don’t worry you weren’t sleeping through that day in high school history class.

Today, Lidice is an empty valley where in 1942 a thriving Bohemian town of 500 people was standing. It was destroyed by the Nazis as an act of punishment for the assassination of a high ranking SS official carried out by Czechoslovak operatives based in the UK. I just wrapped up a research paper on Lidice so if you’re a)looking for more information on Lidice b) willing to put up with more of my writing then send me a note and I’ll e-mail it over. The following excerpts from the introduction and conclusion gives some of my thoughts and reactions to visiting Lidice:

When I stepped off the bus last Thursday morning, informed by the driver that this was the “Lidice” stop, I found myself wondering if I had, in fact, heard him correctly. I was standing at an intersection amidst open fields, unsure of which direction the town I had come in search of was located.

That moment of confusion captures well one of the many ways that Lidice encapsulates the state of so many different cities and communities that have been brutally altered by World War II. Just as I was unaware of the complete and total destruction of the city that once occupied a now vacant valley, people walk daily through towns and streets ignorant of their tragic history. The emptiness of that valley that once was home to a thriving village and now stands as a place of reflection is in many ways a gift to the task of regenerating discussion and awareness of what happened in Lidice and countless other places. Here, the past is not buried under the unknowing façade of concrete structures. Looking out onto that valley, beholders are forced to confront the reality that however we try to mask it, the same elements that led to this bare space live today. By confronting those similarities, by staring out into that empty space, we attempt to mitigate that tragic fate of letting the worst passages in the annals of our history be rewritten in the fresh ink of our own era…As I overlooked the valley a few days ago, and had only the silence of a chilled morning to accompany me, I was able to receive from Lidice what could not be captured in a textbook or a speech or even a museum. Without the numbers or the facts or the “whole story” the emptiness pulled me in. The space was an invitation to be awakened to the proximity between the present moment and the past.  In the gallery only a ten minute walk down the road in the new Lidice village, the words from the artist Gerhard Richter on remembrance of past stood out: “What was doomed to oblivion often becomes more topical than ever before.” The phrase “Lidice Shall Live” is an echo of that quote; it is by human effort that we keep alive a place and an event that was “doomed to oblivion.” With open eyes, we see “Lidices” written throughout history both ancient and recent. By rereading and revisiting and not erasing them from the texts of our human history we become authors worthy of the pen we wield… (End excerpt)

Lidice

Lidice

In a shift from  that dark chapter of Czech history, I got to participate in a beloved Czech activity: watching hockey. A fellow classmate opened an invitation to join herself and a group of local Czechs to watch the Czech-US hockey game. A few hours later, we were cozied up in a thoroughly Czech restaurant, eating smazeny syr (basically mozzarella sticks but ten times better) and swapping stories and impressions with our new friends. The locals were very gracious about the US win. As we were getting ready to leave, a man stopped me and politely asked if I was American. I somewhat abashedly replied that I was (abashedly because we had just given the Czechs a thorough thrashing on the ice). He congratulated me and smiled saying he hoped that we would win the whole thing…too bad that didn’t happen…

Watching hockey--not sure if I'm giving a thumbs up out of general excitement of pointing to new Czech friend?

Watching hockey–not sure if I’m giving a thumbs up out of general excitement or pointing to new Czech friend?

And now, hold on, we’ve made it to the weekend! And this weekend was COLOGNE!

A short hour flight away via trusty Germanwings my suitemates Liz and Madeleine and myself landed in Germany. It was a trip of firsts: first time in Germany, first trip out of the country from Prague, first time in an Irish disco bar—I thoroughly recommend the last one. You’ll have to guess if that’s sarcasm.

Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral

Some memorable parts of our weekend:

  1. Standing in front of the massive Cologne Cathedral and going silent at the sight of it.

    Cologne Cathedral

    Cologne Cathedral

  2. Rocking up (showing up) to Dunkin’ Donuts and eating our way through a 12-er with new Ozzie friends Jacob and Nick. Still in a sugar coma here.

    More donuts

    More donuts

  3. Visiting the Ludwig museum and seeing the works of Picasso, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Duchampe, Magrite, and Jasper Johns. In other words, Art History de-ja-vu times ten.

    Picasso

    Picasso

  4. Dancing to American top forties in an Irish disco bar with Scottish men in kilts and Ozzies (not in kilts) all whilst in Cologne. I was just as confused as you are.

    The gang in front of Cologne Cathedral--photo fred to Madeleine

    The gang in front of Cologne Cathedral–photo cred to Madeleine

  5. Singing our way through the streets of Cologne—shout out to my trusty travel companions Liz and Madeleine. It was those donuts.

    Donut

    Donut

Last bit, I promise!

This morning I went to the Cologne Cathedral for mass. I’m walking up one of the many sets of stairs to the church and there are hordes of pigeons everywhere. Hordes I understand is not the ornothologically accurate term, but what else could you call this group of birds? They strut around doing that strange head bob and then in a moment the whole lot of them will kick up in a noisy flurry and fly (in whichever direction pleases them by golly whether you’re in their way or not). As I ascend the steps, they decide to perform this little ritual at the behest of a loud and frightening squawk. Naturally, I’m a little taken off guard and have a momentary rush of adrenaline (don’t worry no screaming or flailing of limbs took place). When the horde had reassembled on the ground I gathered myself and kept walking. In the entry-way to the church there’s a grinning man sitting on the ground with his blanket and cup. He’s laughing and smiling at me and naturally I start to do the same, realizing how frightened I must of looked. Then to my surprise he opens his mouth, squawks, and sets in motion the entire ritual again. He starts laughing again at my open mouth, and soon we’re both giggling fools.  We exchange “Guten Morgens” and I go into mass (said all in German but “Amen” sounds the same) and now I’m back in good ole Prague, awaiting my FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL IN THE CZECH REP.

Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral

‘Til next time

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