Friday, February 25, 2011

Prague Pictures 3

It's been a while since the last installment of this series. I seem to return to it whenever my sense of the futility of existence grows too strong to bear the implications of any longer. I am starting to wonder whether I really am the nihilist everybody always said I was; sometimes in novels the nihilist characters are dangerous or even sexy, but I don't think that was the kind of nihilist people had in mind when they were applying the word to me. But as I was saying, whenever my sense of futility grows especially powerful, it is my tendency to console myself by trying to recall some former state of mind in which I experienced any slight degree of pleasure and optimism both with existence and the prospect of my own future, however objectively naive or false these may have been. I will say that whatever it is I perceive as reality now, I do not perceive it with any great clarity. Nor does pessimism, for what it is worth, seem to me a state of mind any closer to truth than the excitable impressions that youth and a few neophyte brushes with grand cultural and historical artifacts previously generated.

This group of pictures are not actually of Prague, but of the unusally well-preserved 17th century town of Cesky Krumlov, which is a couple of hours by train to the south of the capital, near the Austrian border. This place was being promoted fairly by the tourism industry even then--doubtless it is now much more economically sophisticated as well as organized to serve the foreign customer as seamlessly as possible; but you can see in some of the pictures that it was still decidedly low-key in the mid '90s.

1. View of the Town Across the Vltava. The river is the same that passes through Prague. 2. View of the Castle. I forget who exactly lived here. This town is of course so pretty that very clever people likely find it banal, but when you are me the experience of such a setting, the beauty, the mental pace and rhythm of thought which it demands of you, are such as have a great effect on your whole life, and stay with you forever. I know trains are an expensive, inefficient 19th century technology, but an day's outing on one, especially to a place where cars are relatively rare, highways primitive, and the local geography condensed, is surely one of the best things in the world. The stations, especially if they are old, which they frequently are even in this country, despite the frenzy of railway station destruction that we embarked upon in the middle of the last century, are poignant and dusty, the walk to the town a chance both to clear one's head and receive interesting impressions at the same time, which are of a very different nature than what one experiences in driving, the layout of any kind of older city, provided it still functions at all, being far more congenial to experience and contemplation than I have found any modern setup to be. Certain places in modern life obviously inspire marvels of vision, innovation and other wondrous feats of the mind. But these have evidently not yet been sufficently revealed or interpreted broadly enough to have made any effect on me.

3. House Decoration. This is kind of festive, don't you think?

Due to various of my circumstances, I have to try not to succumb entirely to pessimism with regard to the political, economic and social trends of the day that often appear so dark, the details of which imminent darkness so many active minds are pleased to lay out in an extravagant manner. Mass impoverishment, a severe police state, gulags, virtual enslavement/serflike working arrangements, denial to everyone belong the very highest wealth/IQ threshholds of even minimal education, exposure to culture, etc, and such other scenarios as are frequently depicted as the moneyed classes' fondest dream for the former middle class are undoubtedly unpleasant prospects, but certainly a great deal of this apprehension and sense of powerlessness/inability to exert forceful influence on the circumstances of one's own life originates in the essential barrenness of our minds and spirits, which is ultimately a greater problem that needs to be faced up to than the viciousness of the overclass. These latter have at the moment no worthy opposition, from the aggrieved middle and working classes anyway, that is capable of commanding even so much as a moment's respect or wariness in them, which is why they have been able to trample upon them with increasing impunity over the last 15 years especially.

4. Town Seen Through Opening in the Castle Ramparts. My wife is fond of this kind of framed, concentrated shot.

5. Another Part of the Castle. A pile of old stones, but. like the picture above, suggestive of certain ideas that are no less futile than any other ones but are more generally pleasing: hunts, music lessons, games of chess in sunlit rooms, dusty cellars full of wines and casks of ale, matins, the ringing of bells, lowing cows, hay-sheaving. Yes, I know all of these time-honored pursuits have their own dark sides and cruelties and social unpleasantnesses and frustrations. I have entered my fantasy writer-artist-free spirit mode, where I seek beauty and a sense of the unities formed across epochs of time, which particular vision of truth and civilization I have long bought into, even though the trends have been against it now for more than 100 years at least.

6. We ate at this Restaurant. I remember vaguely that the theme here was that the food was extra-archaic/traditional, which kind of thing was unusual in the Czech Republic at that time. I may have had duck or something. I have a weakness for these kinds of places. There is a restaurant in Quebec City where they serve 1670 style meat pies and that kind of thing that I am rather fond of.

7. View Across the Main Square From Hotel Window. As you can see the late afternoon scene is pretty tranquil. This hotel situated right on the main square, which is ideally where you would almost always stay in a small, well-preserved historic European town, was somewhere around $8-12 a night in 1996.

8. More Castle/Hill Interaction. I find some interest in the architecture of citadels and hilltop fortifications generally.

9. Close-up of the Main Tower. Another picture that evokes pleasant feelings in me, and not empty ones, either, for I do have no small experience with sensations of emptiness. The scale and arrangement of everything in this picture seems to me to be in harmony not merely with each other, but with what humans, in the sense that European civilization conceives of them, grasp of existence and their place in it when they are perceiving especially finely. The development/application of this sensibility is an area which in my opinion American civilization has not so much struggled with but too often ignored. My impression is that other of the great ancient civilizations, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Arabs, the Persians, the Russians, the myriad peoples of India, have also in their own various terms come to some satisfying understanding of the aesthetic relation between civilized, thinking man and his natural environment, in such ways as have only sporadically found expression in the United States, especially in the modern era.

10. Final View of the Town From the Castle Hill. The same kind of view plays out in similar towns all over Europe, right down to the river rushing in the foreground at the foot of the hill: Verona, Salzburg, Budapest, Florence, Prague itself. The form is not unique but it is classical, iconic, and perhaps each successful variation is unique in a way, as one doubtless feels about beautiful women he sees, many of whom may resemble each other in some general way, but still strike the eye in such a manner that the impression is welcome and feels novel.

I'm going to have a fried chicken TV dinner now, washed down with either a Dogfish IPA or some $11 a bottle Michelangelo Chianti.

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