Monday, September 13, 2010


I really am in Europe. The row houses and solid walls of old buildings towering over cobblestone streets and sidewalks. Faces and other baroque accents adorn windows, eaves, and porches. Occasionally gargoyles hiss and cringe as I pass and look up to see them. Prague is a popular place for tourists of all persuasions, and I am one of many people wandering around, our necks straining to take it all in.

I have had a good stay at a hostel in a female dorm. The place is clean and a 10-minute tram from the historic old town. I visited the castle twice. First on a tour I wouldn't recommend, then on my own. The highlight of the castle complex is a huge cathedral dedicated to St. Vitus. I've never seen anything like it. The old section was begun in 1344, with work and a dramatic additions being done through the 1600s. How do those spans of stone arches hold up the ceiling without pillars? It is beyond my understanding.

I splurged on a ticket to hear Vivaldi's Four Seasons performed in a gorgeous art deco concert hall. The sound was crystal clear, even though I was in the cheaper seats. Nude white people from the 1930s frolicked in garden frescos on the ceiling. Marble women in sweeping gowns contorted to hold up the balconies. The detailed inlaid wood of the stage glowed deep brown in the lights as the small symphony whirled through the seasons. It is one of my favorite pieces of music and seemed a perfect thing to do in such a fine old European city.

I have been endeavoring to learn more about communism, as it has been a thread running through China, Mongolia, Russia, and here. With my capitalist biases, I read the information at the communist museum, including the propaganda posters against the evil West that Russia used after WWII. One shocking thing is that Marx’s principles are widely believed to be the cause of over 100 million deaths. The push for industrialization and increased production seem so far from what I understand to be the ideals of communism. Maybe I am confusing socialism and communism. I need to learn more about it.

In the Jewish part of town, there was a ghetto for many hundred years before WWII that limited the work and lives of the Jewish inhabitants. In 1389, a local priest accused the Jewish community of "host desecration," that they had attacked a monk carrying a wafer. All 3,000 Jews in the ghetto were killed. It took awhile for the community to rebuild, but in the 15th and 16th centuries it was a thriving city within Prague. When the Nazis came, rather than razing it, they planned to keep it as a museum of an extinct race. Because of this, some very old synagogues, graveyards, and historic buildings survived the war. Tragically, most of the Jews from that time died in concentration camps. It was good to understand more about the persecution the Jews faced in Europe throughout time. Hitler was extreme in his plans to exterminate, but came out of a long history of vilification.

Prague has seen many wars and conflicts related to religious tensions between the Catholics and the Protestants as well. This has left the current population rather disenchanted with religion. Over 60% of Czechs don't believe there is a God. Though the city is full of beautiful churches and cathedrals, most of them are now used as concert venues rather than places of worship.

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