Dancing Bricks and Bones

Trip Start Jan 31, 2010
Trip End Jul 21, 2010

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Flag of Czech Republic  , Bohemia,
Thursday, May 27, 2010

I wake before the alarm, the traffic already present n the street below. The garbage trucks are on the move – they don't appear to have a set time or day for collecting, they decide when it’s dirty maybe they’ll clean it. Quickly I move out of the room, not liking the idea of waking people I cannot have conversations with. I wonder if the word sorry sounds like something abusive in another language. I give a HSFB and no one bats an eyelid, they must get that all the time.

I’m first in for breakfast, wanting to make a good start on the day, heading out to the bone church, which is a good hour by train. I stock up on some extra rolls, making sandwiches for lunch. With any luck I won’t actually buy food, but I’m sure that’s not the case.

Congratulations Jason, you’ve worked out some of the city. Walking the streets last night has helped my idea of the town between here and the train station, so navigation is easy, I don’t even have to think about where I’m going this time.

I’m waiting on the platform for a good half an hour, knowing this is where the train will depart. The times flash on the LED screen; my train is nowhere to be seen. Or it is, I just didn’t know it was. The platforms are secretly divided into three sections – A, B, and C for everyone playing at home – and each section has it’s own departure notice. These are not mentioned, and I notice many apparently non-locals dashing up the stairs behind me, speaking quickly to a station officer and sprinting for the end of the platform. It takes me a bit to realise there’s a train there, a small rusty green beast frog thing. And it turns out it’s mine. And it’s LEAVING.

The train ride is a long one a first, changing to a short one after. The scenery loses the houses and becomes industrial very quickly, walls of concrete and steel machinery on either side. It’s not long before the landscape really opens up to countryside – fields of yellow flowers, complete with tyre tracks of farmers thinking about mowing or harvesting then leaving it for a little while longer. The small change at Kopin has me on the same train with the striped top girl once again. There is a point when I’m sure this is the stop, I’m counting as unaware of how to pronounce the names. I get off and quickly realise this is not the case; it’s like a small concrete platform out in the middle of a paddock. I hope this is not he case. Back in the carriage striped girl lets me know that no, this is not the station for the Bone Palace. As I depart the train I come across a Japanese couple doing the same. When I direct to the next platform I’m sure we need to exit the station on they disappear. Oh well.

So the first church I come across from the train station I assume is the Bone Church, wouldn’t you? From the inside it is quite plain to see this is not the case. The building is full of light, with different brightly coloured trim to the high stain glass windows. This is the Sedlec cathedral, the oldest Cistercian cathedral in Bohemia, dating back to the middle of the 12th century. Included in the space are commissioned works by Jan Jakub Steinfels, Machael Willmann and Petr Brandl. The canvases of Machael Willmann are religious depictions in a very dark light visually. The eye is drawn ever faster to the focal point by the inclusion of a black sky. At least ten of these large canvases are present in the space, the black fill being rather overpowering as a whole and contrasting with the light in the room..

The lady behind the desk selling the tickets continues to switch from German to Czech to English and to Russian – the last of which I can only assume as she hands the tourists in front a book with said label on it, this may have had something to do with the Russian occupation mentioned by Huw, I don’t ask. Her voice echoes through the building as I walk around. I escape it by heading upstairs to the attic. Here you can see the outer shapes of the curved peaks – strange done shapes that fill the space with a board walk over the top. The Russians are up here too, their chatter echoing and scaring the pigeons. Those birds had better not shit on me.

It is a beautiful day outside, full of sunshine and blue skies. Perfect weather to visit a cemetery, albeit a cathedral decorated entirely of human bones. The tours busses out the front let me know that this is the place (for sure this time). Sunlight plays through the green trees that sit amongst the graves, dancing shadows over the polished marble and concrete. Many have a small bunch of flowers in a vase; others are in need of attention. One statue of what I can only assumer is Mother Mary is about to drown amongst the ivy.

The story goes that in 1278 Henry the Abbot of Sedlic, returned from the holy land with a handful of Earth from Golgotha, which he sprinkled over the cemetery of the Sedlic monastery. Because of this, the cemetery became the place to be for many rich people – or at least the place to stay. Rather quickly the place filled, requiring an expansion of the original space. Then the plague came, adding an extra 30,000 people to what was becoming quite the sardine can of graveyards, added to by the Hussite wars in early 15th century. So with everyone underground they thought the place needed renovating. So to the half blind Cistercian monk they give the noble task of digging up the graves. This, combined with the legend that a body would decompose within three days leaving on the skeletons soon had in piles along the sides of the building, only adding to the grandeur imposing and scary nature of the place.

After a Hussite Wars the chapel was badly damaged, so between 1708 and 1712 one Jan Blazej Santini-Aichl set about creating the monstrous very other kind of baroque look we have today.

Pyramids of skulls are found at the bottom of a staircase, each with a light inside and a crown on top. These sit behind cages, as people would once climb on these structures for photographs. Not to be too alarmed, every single bone was cleaned and whitewashed to prevent any sort of contamination. In the middle of the space is a chandelier shape made from every bone in the body, though largely consisting of the larger ones. Skulls share the space with cherubs and trumpets, and a crest made entirely of ones hangs on one wall.

Upstairs the rest of the church can only be described as boring. Well maintained as it is what it is, but people don’t come here for this. What I do find is an assortment of photos f that which no longer stands due to poor construction. This includes a confession booth adorned with skulls, each face point down a looking at you as you confess your deepest sins. I know I would stop talking if I had that many faces staring.

1870 is the date made from bones at the bottom of the inscription – apparently parts of this are more recent that others.

The streets of Kutna Hora are largely empty, only taken by congregating tourists around their busses and the cafes nearby. I noticed that the second train station wasn’t that far from here, so opt to walk that last bit instead. That’s right, Jason doesn’t learn from his inability to keep from getting lost.

The streets soon become dirt roads, letting me know this is not the way. After a few wrong turns and adventures in the sunshine I do find the desired train station, nearly devoid of people and the sound of a radio listening to Czech top forty blasting from over a fence somewhere. Horror movies start like this. But maybe not with this heat. I will be fine.

I’m back in Prague after an hour on the platform taking photos of train relics with much of the afternoon still ahead of me, so head off to find the dancing building I heard of in Art History. Fred and Ginger have appeared in every Architecture and Post Modernism book I have ever opened, and is one of the things I need to see in the city. Once again challenging the idea of my sense of direction I head out in the general direction of the place, taking side streets that look appealing and finding wicked graffiti along the way. I realise I’ve come too far when the roads begin to slope down again, and none of the cobblestone paths seem to head back to the river. This is why one must give themselves more time than necessary. There are no fellow tourists here and I’m sticking out like a sore thumb. I’m about to ask for directions, using the Czech language book I have carried but never used when I finally hit the water. Thank Christ for that one. The man I was about to approach looks at my smiling face and moves away quickly. Maybe I do need a shave.

The building is amazing. The heat has my face pointing down for a little so it’s quite unexpected to turn a corner and be met by the combination and stone and glass and implied movement. Built in 1996, Fred and Ginger is a Post Modern building combining the binary opposites of flowing solid, moving and stationary, office building and grace. The building appears to bend in the wind, most say the two are dancing. This is the kind of romance one could only find in the mind of Frank Gehry, and what better town to have it that the Bohemian Prague. I take more than enough photos of it, turning around every couple of steps as I move away.

After dropping bits I cross the river and head for the castle and church on the other side. The sun is out but a wind has picked up. It turns out my timing is perfect, as all the churches are closing while they hold mass for the locals. I spend a good fifteen minutes in one sneaking photos of the roof and people in front. I look over across from me and notice a middle-aged couple doing the same. The words of the priest are moving, even if I don’t know what is being said. It’s time to go. It seems everything is close to closing or very hard to find. The streets are not like I want them to be today. This side of the river is much steeper, and the straight line you believe you are taking slowly slopes away, either further up hill or down towards the water. Eventually I find myself I a large garden, which is beautiful but perhaps not what I was looking for. After walking for an hour or so through the interlacing parks I discover I’m back at the metronome from yesterday, dripping in sweat from the sticky heat that clings to the city.

Back in the hotel by the time it’s dark and I find the Norwegians about to embark on a night on the town. Gin, crazy more bananaesque beer and mad dancing ensue, with the sun about to come up as I crawl into bed.
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