Jewish Cemetery, Prague

Jewish Cemetery, Prague 

While in Prague we went for the full tour of the Jewish monuments in Josefov. Sadly in most of the synagogues and museums photography is prohibited so I don’t have much to show in this post. Some of them are quite beautiful and elaborate and well worth visiting.

In particular, the distinctly Moorish style and ornate interior decoration of the Spanish Synagogue stands out. Every surface is richly ornamented with geometric patterns in a palette of reds, blues and golds. It also contains an exhibit about the history and cultural contributions of Jews in the Czech Republic, documenting their continually changing relationship with the state and society, the rise of Zionism and the Czech Republic’s relationship with Israel. There was also a display of silver from synagogues all over the Czech Republic. I think if I was going to recommend one synagogue to visit, this would be the one.

The Old-New Synagogue is purported to be the final resting place of the legendary Golem of Prague. It contained a selection of beautiful old tapestries on display that were once used as Torah covers, fortunately/unfortunately they were dimly lit, probably for conservation reasons. Fortunately/unfortunately there was no photography allowed either, probably also for conservation reasons.

Jewish Cemetery, Prague

I did take a couple photos, however, in the Jewish Cemetery in Josefov. It’s an interesting place, raised high above the level of the street due to the sheer number of bodies buried inside. At some point in time they ran out of space so they began to lay graves on top of previous graves, gradually raising the level of the earth over time. Each time the existing headstones would be replaced at the highest level, until what remains is an overcrowded disarray of stones of various ages, in various states of repair, packed in haphazardly and fighting for view.

Given this history, I was tempted before my visit to think that it was a small place, but it turned out to be a lot larger than it looks from outside the gates. It’s an odd shape that fills the spaces between several buildings. Just about the time you think that you’ve found the end of it you turn a corner to find another courtyard jam-packed with stones, and it’s only then that you begin to understand just how numerous the bodies are that are interred there.

Visiting the cemetery, I felt much the same as I did at the Sedlec Ossuary, which is, I suppose, to say something about the calm realisation of the inevitability of death. It happens to everyone eventually, and gradually time strips the dead of their identities, and us of our memories of them. Though there are some conservation efforts in place to save and maintain some of the most culturally significant headstones, the majority of them are slowly decaying and becoming impossible to read.

Jewish Cemetery, Prague

Four hours at the Genius Bar

Early Saturday afternoon my computer froze and could not be revived. Many attempts to boot it in many different ways failed. It was suddenly seriously sick and none of the troubleshooting advice I found on the internet seemed to help.

Once I got through the requisite stages of panic and frustration there wasn’t much to do other than take a trip down to the local Apple store. The online reservation system wasn’t working so I headed over prepared to camp out for a long time.

Turns out it did take a long time. They were able to see me relatively quickly but unfortunately fixing my computer is a long and drawn out process.

It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to see a tech go through all the same steps I took and get the same results, which were that nothing is apparently very wrong with my computer at all, except for the fact that for no particular reason, it won’t start. The boot files are probably out of order so it gets confused part way through the process. All that needs doing is wiping the entire thing and starting over.

Seems like a rather draconian solution to me. It makes me wonder if one day we will look back upon these times as the dark ages of computer care, in much the same way we think about medical practices such as leeching or bleeding.

Wiping a computer doesn’t take a very long time. What does take a long time is trying to salvage all of your files before they’re wiped. I had about 220 gigs worth. And with my computer working at substantially less than it’s top speed, it took a long time to transfer. I hung out at the Genius Bar with a book for a period of about four hours.

Whenever I’m stuck waiting in a place for an unavoidably long time I make a game of it in my head. I convince myself that I’m doing ethnographic research and spend a lot of time people watching, collecting notes in my head.

I’m sure that there are people out there who have for whatever reason, received poor service at the Apple store but from my vantage point I saw a lot of Apple employees dealing very calmly with some difficult customers.

Like the person who arrived with a badly thrashed computer and was unhappy to be acquainted with the clause in her warranty that stated that the warranty really only covered hardware defects, not misuse by the owner. She went through a lot of employees before she left the store.

I watched a technician spend two hours with an elderly lady who didn’t know what her password was, didn’t speak English well and didn’t really understand what the issue was. Each time they attempted to retrieve or reset a password it would lead them to another email address for which she didn’t have the password. Resetting that password would lead to another impregnable email address and so on and so on until the whole process of non-retrieval circled ouroboros-like back upon itself. But despite not knowing her email password, she was convinced that she couldn’t access her email because her phone was broken. He tried over and over to explain that that was not the case. Halfway through her appointment she forgot the password for her phone and locked herself out of it, which only confirmed to her that the device didn’t work.

After he’d finally got her sorted, he disappeared into the back for a long time. I wonder if the Apple store has a screaming closet in the back. I think I would need it if I worked there.

Because I was so close to the door for the back room I got to watch the staff disappear and then magically reappear as normal people through some sort of invisible process. There seemed to be a hand sanitizing station right behind the door because though I couldn’t see it I could see the staff gathering in groups of communal hand wringing and commiseration after touching particularly grotty iPhones.

Staff began to comment on how awesome my desktop image was (nerds!). I was on the receiving end of some playful ribbing about bringing a book along to my appointment. One of the managers stopped by to chat a little. I got a lot of reading done, though in retrospect The Rings of Saturn is a little too dense for Apple store reading, as there’s a little too much distraction for me to concentrate adequately on what I’m reading.

After four hours my blood sugar was dropping so I headed home. I was able to complete the remainder of what needed to be done at home, so now my computer is thankfully working again. I’ve lost some things, but hopefully nothing major.

Kutna Hora

Silver Mine at Kutna Hora

Richard was very insistent that we see the Czech Museum of Silver while we were in Kutna Hora. I’m glad he did because I really enjoyed my visit.

The area around Kutna Hora has long been a rich source of silver, and during the Middle Ages it was the site of the royal mint. Underneath the town there is a large network of who knows how many mine shafts dug by medieval silver miners. At the museum you get the opportunity to tour through a portion of the mines to understand some of the harrowing conditions under which people worked.

As part of the tour, you suit up in hard hats and white canvas coats similar to what would have been worn by Medieval Czech miners. The coats have pointy hoods so they’re kind of a mix between dressing gown and KKK. You learn soon after entering the mine shaft that people were smaller in Medieval times than they are now. Unlike, say, the Củ Chi tunnels in Vietnam, no attempt has been made to widen the tunnels for tourists, so for many people on the tour it can be a tight squeeze to get through. Good thing we wore hard hats because I whacked my head a few times.

Kutna Hora Mine

Abandoned for 400 years, the tunnels are mostly flooded with water, and everywhere you look there are heavy sediments of calcite and other minerals gradually accumulating and filling the tunnels back in again. Give it another several hundred years and some of them might close up completely. Makes me wonder what a post-Anthropocene practice of geology would look like, if humans manage to last that long.

St. Barbara

St. Barbara

Our next stop was St. Barbara, a fantastic example of High Gothic architecture, with a beautiful set of Art Nouveau windows. St. Barbara is the patron saint of miners, so it was fitting that there would be a church in her name in Kutna Hora. Inside there was a fresco dedicated to the miners and minters of coins. We arrived shortly after a wedding so the organist was still there, messing around and sounding very dramatic. I took a lot of pictures, some of which are on Flickr.

train tracks

There is a small train line that runs along Kutna Hora, with a cute little single car train that goes back and forth, eventually connecting with the main line. We saw this train waiting at Kutna Hora Mesto, and for reasons that defy all logic, did not run for it. It left without us, seemingly the last train of the night.

So we walked the tracks toward the main line, along a rather scenic drainage ditch. I had my very first and hopefully last experience of stinging nettles. When we finally made it to the main station we had to wait a good hour for the next train, which like what seemed to be most trains in the Czech Republic, was fashionably late.

Kutna Hora Train Station at night

Sedlec Ossuary

Sedlec Ossuary 

Sedlec Ossuary

While we were in the Czech Republic Vicki suggested that we should visit the church of bones, so we spent Saturday in Kutna Hora, about seventy-five kilometres outside of Prague.

The Sedlec Ossuary contains the bones of at least 40,000 people who died during the Middle Ages. For quite some time the parish was a very fashionable place to be buried, and people would travel long distances in order to bring their relatives there, as it had been sprinkled with earth from the Holy Land in the 1200s. I could have sworn that I read somewhere, though I’ve been unable to back this up with online research, that it was said that the soil had magical properties, and bodies of anyone who was interred there would decompose quickly without putrefying.

Sedlec Ossuary

Sedlec Ossuary

But over time the cemetery became very overcrowded. Eventually many of the bodies were dug up and placed inside the chapel in artfully Baroque ways.

I suppose some would find that creepy. I didn’t. If anything, I felt a solemn sense of calm, coupled with an awareness of the inevitability of death. I think it was probably a combination of the fact that the bones were well bleached and that they were arranged in ways that didn’t really suggest any sort of skeletal structure or personality that would identify them as particular people. They’re just assemblies of disembodied objects. In contrast, I’m always left feeling a little icky when I’m confronted by the mummified remains of saints in Catholic churches.

Cemetery at Sedlec

Cemetery at Sedlec

Outside the Ossuary there is a very cheery cemetery, bright with flowers and potted plants. I particularly liked the headstones. The majority of them were very simple, with fantastic 20’s and 30’s style typefaces, and here and there images of the deceased peered out from them.

I always find the practice of putting pictures of the deceased directly on the headstones a little strange and foreign, probably for the same reason as above. The person is identified, so you have to reckon with the fact that they had a life and a personality, something you can map memories and feelings onto.

You can see more pictures from my trip to the Czech Republic on Flickr here.

Must knit faster

Must knit faster - Quill by Jared Flood

I realised something in late September. It’s getting really nippy, especially in the evenings, and when it’s overcast.

I sent a link to my projects on Ravelry to a potential employer the other day (it seemed relevant at the time). Looking over them made me realise just how many of those projects are in Canada right now. It was summer when I moved to the UK, and I didn’t have very much space in my suitcase so I only packed for the season I was in. I left behind most of my warmest, bulkiest knits.

For many years I felt like I was always trying to catch up to the weather – like I couldn’t knit fast enough to get projects finished in time for me to be able to use them when I needed them most. I was always packing newly finished projects into plastic bags without wearing them. It was frustrating always starting projects only to have the seasons fly by without me having finished them.

I remember the fall a couple years ago where that changed. It was an amazing watershed moment where I’d finally reached the point of having knit enough things to be able to actually wear them during the season when I needed them. I realised one morning it as I was walking down the hill to the Skytrain on my way to work. It was cold out, but I was really comfortable.

I was comfortable because I was literally encased in wool garments that I had knit. And all that winter I was comfortable. It gave me so much satisfaction, knowing that I had finally accomplished that for myself.

But now winter is coming and I have no handknits. I guess I’ve got to start from scratch again.

Pictured above: Quill, by Jared Flood

Prague

Prague

I don’t generally plan much for trips but this was by far the least amount of planning and preparation I’d ever done. I figured I’d just book a plane ticket and a room for the weekend, tag along with Richard and Vicky and go wherever they did. It worked out, and I had a great time. It’s nice to be able to delegate the planning to other people sometimes.

Prague has an excellent, cheap transit system, though initially we found it confusing. We hopped on the bus from Vaclav Havel Airport expecting to be able to pay for tickets but were waved off repeatedly by the driver. We then assumed that we’d be able to buy tickets at the metro station, but the ticket-dispensing machines only take coins, and it was late at night, so there was nowhere to break our bills so we treated ourselves to a free trip that night. I’ve heard stories about how horrible the ticket inspectors can be to tourists. Thankfully we didn’t run into any.

Having enough change is a constant issue in Prague. As soon as you have it it evaporates from your wallet. So many purchases you make are in such small denominations that it makes sense to pay in coins. Shopkeepers always seem to ask for exact change and are reluctant to break bills into small coins, probably because like you, they also need to hoard them so they can use the toilet.

Prague

Prague

You can easily spend several days just wandering around in Prague, looking at the architecture. It’s home to some of the most fabulous examples of Art Nouveau, as well as many other lovely Baroque buildings. Since the weather was great we spent most of our time outside, sightseeing, rather than visiting the museums and attractions, and we tried to find as many ways as possible to get up really high so we could look over the city. It’s beautiful in pretty much every direction.

If I’m allowed to complain a little, I thought it was kind of a shame that the facades of so many magnificent churches were crowded so much by nearby buildings. In many cases it wasn’t possible to step back far enough to be able to appreciate them fully. You could only really imagine what they look like at the top.

At some point in time I’d love to go back and visit some of the museums. The national museum was closed for renovations while we were there, though there was apparently a classical music concert happening inside the evening we passed by. It seemed like lots of churches and historical buildings were advertising chamber music concerts all over the place. I don’t know if this happens all the time or if it was part of a festival – it wasn’t entirely clear. I’d love to take in some shows at some point. I’m sure some of the spaces would make great venues for live music.

I’ve posted more photos on Flickr. I’ll probably be uploading another batch later this week.