Thursday, July 30, 2009
Prague, July 25-26, 2009
Prague, Czech Republic
Saturday/Sunday, July 25-26, 2009
When we were planning this trip I kept assuming that we would find an expert in Czech children’s lit in Prague. In the end we did not, but the information Nadezda Sieglova gave us about nonsense in Czech was fresh on our minds, and so as we entered the old capital we immediately ducked into a few bookshops hoping to find a few old classics in the genre. But the publishing situation we found in Brno was the same in Prague. In both places there were only new works available—no reprints of older classics of children’s lit. Truthfully I don’t think we know enough yet to really make the claim that there is a problem in republishing older material in Czech, but we did bat zero trying to find any reprints of several of the best regarded works of nonsense published in the 1960s.
This is not to say, however, that we weren’t lucky in Prague. Indeed, we were. Somewhere, as we ambled through the medieval maze that is Old Town Prague, I stopped Michael and showed him a listing in my guidebook that talked about an unusual theatre production company. The Divaldo Fantiska (or Black Light Theatre) is the brainchild of Jiri Srnec, who uses a variety of special effects, such as black lights, puppetry and shadows in his productions. I just thought it sounded interesting. Several aimless turns left and right later found us completely by accident staring at the outside of this very theatre. And what was playing there? “Aspects of Alice,” a production that uses Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland as a jumping off point for an exploration of coming-of-age stories and, simultaneously, the history of Prague. Kind of a wild idea really. As we looked at the poster that advertised the show we learned one other thing. The next show started in ten minutes. No, they did not take credit cards, but after a few minutes we’d found an ATM and were sitting in our seats, just two minutes before the curtain raised.
Although the story was intentionally a bit surreal, one did yet get the impression that the narrative was intended to be more clear. As a professor of nonsense I consider these things with care. Is it just sloppy, or is there an intentional, skillful, push and pull from reality at work in the writing? Czech art and literature is known for its commitment to surrealism, so our hopes were high for this production. In the end, however, I don’t think the play was intentionally very surreal, and I can safely say that there was not much nonsense at all. The connection to Lewis Carroll and his characters/stories was very slight. The visuals were stunning, however, from the black lit images of Prague steeples swimming through the night sky, to the creative use of playful candle flames that seemed to have minds of their own. It really was a memorable thing to watch and if they hadn’t warned us not to in four languages we probably would shot a clip for the blog.
That play will linger in my mind for some while, but, truthfully, like most tourists of Prague, it was the Old Town area that left the deepest impression. As others may have told you, or as you may have seen in your own travels, Prague’s Old Town is just simply beautiful and impressive. At one point we climbed the tower that looks over the Charles Bridge. We took a few photos from there of the Charles Bridge and of Old Town. At the top of the tower there is graffiti on the wall that dates back at least a couple hundred years. I read one carving that was clearly dated 1830. This apparently immortal version of ‘tagging’ immediately brings the present into the past and the past into the present. This graffiti feels strangely modern. As with nonsense, the reader of such a tag is pushed into a continuum, if not an indeterminate space and time. For just like graffiti today--whether it be under a bridge, or on building by a railroad track—such tagging is inspired by the need to leave behind a silent mark that proves you were there, a mark that stays there, and lives there long after you’ve left there. The ritual seems to suggest that existing in our own time and space is simply not enough.