Monday, May 4, 2015

An Update

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Prague: Remembrance

Today we toured Prague's Jewish Quarter neighborhood, which has a very interesting collection of Jewish sights all crammed together (for obvious reasons) and easy to explore. 
 We got these special "all inclusive tickets" that were scanned at each place.
 Not wasting any time, we jumped right into the first sight, Pinkas Synagogue. This 1535 synagogue has become a memorial for the 77, 297 Czech Jews who were sent from here to the gas chambers at Auschwitz and other camps. There names, organized by home town and last names, are written over every single wall. You can see where whole families died together. A cantor sings names, which echoes around unadorned white stone walls.

In an upstairs gallery, where photos were forbidden, one of the most devastatingly poignant experiences of my life. A little art gallery of children's drawings and paintings done at Terezín, a concentration camp about an hour outside of Prague. Terezín was used by the Nazis for propaganda, as a "model" community that they could show the rest of the world to hide what was going on in other places. One of the prisoners was Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, a leader in the Bauhaus art movement, who found purpose at Terezín by teaching the children held there to express their emotions about their situation through art. I can't describe the difference of learning about the Holocaust through the eyes of children, in these small and incredibly expressive drawings. Dicker-Brandeis died at Auschwitz in 1944.

 Of the 15,000 children who passed through Terezín from 1942 to 1944, fewer than 100 survived.

I stepped out of the gallery into a hall. Snow had begun to fall outside a glass window, with iron bars across, protecting the precious contents, the memories, the records. Not to be forgotten.

 Outside, the Old Jewish Cemetery, crammed with 12,000 tombstones (and 100,000 tombs). From 1439 to 1787, this was the only place Jews could bury their dead, so tombs are layered 7 to 8 deep.

 There were many other interesting synagogues on the tour, but I'll just include one other, the Old-New Synagogue, which has been the most important synagogue in Prague's Jewish Quarter for over 700 years. This synagogue survived the Nazis because it was intended to be part of their "Museum of the Extinct Jewish Race."
 On to happier times, with this Czech goulash soup (which I enjoyed more than the Hungarian original) that came with a pretzel!
 Children on stage at the Christmas Market doing their best to remember their choreography...
 For laughs (and sheer terror, as those who know me know I do not enjoy mannequins) I popped into the Prague House of Wax. That's Jan Hus there.  And don't worry Madame Tussaud, you're definitely the master of the craft...
 Communist all stars!
 They stuck Hitler in a glass box and made him look like this!
 Tell me why they put Einstein in a swing and hung him from the ceiling...
 Princess Diana, with a head as large as a beach ball.
 Bill Clinton and Ivana Trump are besties.
 Arnold managed to lose a hand...
 Tina Turner took a turn for the worst...
 This one's for Marquita!
 Back on the square, another band has taken the stage!

 I took an elevator up the Old Clock Tower!

 You can see some of the mechanisms for the clock.
A late night snack of fried cheese and jam! Too bad I dropped half of it...or is that a good thing? :-)

Afterwards, Mike and I went and saw the new movie Anna Karenina at a cinema near our hotel. It was wonderful, and I also enjoyed the Czech subtitles, especially when I recognized a word!

Tomorrow is our last day in Prague, so we're going to make it a full one! Off to bed with great gratitude for my comfortable, blessed life.

Prague: Angels and Demons and Santa Claus

Today is St. Nicholas Day, or Mikulas! More on this fun festival later. 

This morning we headed over to Charles Bridge to have a nice stroll and to checkout the Little Quarter. 
 This is picture is for Manny. (oooooh, tumahs!)
 The Bridge Tower, a gothic gate that marks the Old Town side of the Charles Bridge.
 A statue of Charles IV, the 14th century Holy Roman Emperor who got fed up with having to repair the old bridge, so had a new one built, which was the only bridge across the Vltava for 400 years. It's also got some mysterious numerology. The foundation stone for the bridge was laid down on the 9th of July at 5:31 in the morning in 1357...making a numerical palindrome.... 135797531

 This cross was the first thing decorating the bridge in the 17th century, and the gilded Hebrew reads "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts." Apparently, the inscription was paid for by a fine imposed on a Prague Jew as a punishment for mocking the cross.

There were a few of these adorable bands playing. They were so good and so much fun to listen to!

This 2009 replica brass relief marks the spot where St. John of Nepomuk was tossed off the bridge into the river. St. John was a 14th century priest to whom the queen confessed all her secrets. According to legend, the king wanted to know these secrets, but of course Father John wouldn't tell! So he was tortured and then thrown off the bridge. When he hit the water, five stars appeared (which is why he usually has five stars floating around his head). 

Pilgrims believe that touching the relief of St. John will make a wish come true! So here I am, wishing away...

 Can you see the water wheel there? It's the last survivor of many mills that used to line this canal.

 Spouting forth knowledge to the masses, from the revered Book of Rick Steves.
 This is the Lennon Wall, who was much adored by the Czech people for his messages of hope. When Lennon was murdered, this wall became a spontaneous memorial, and although it was painted over many times, it has remained. The wall ended up being a gathering place for locals and travelers, freedom lovers and the like, who would meet here and contemplate Czech independence. Even though communism is gone, people still come here to imagine...

 I left my mark on the rim of John's glasses....Ars longa, vita brevis....
 Church of St. Nicholas (in the Little Quarter)
 Dripping with Baroque ornamentation on the inside. It's hard to tell where the building ends, the painting begins, and if the sky is real or not...

 Ahhhhh! Death!
 On the walk back across the bridge. People are rubbing the reliefs at the base of the statue of St. John or Nepomuk.

 There is a small "young art" museum near the bridge, with this piece hanging in the courtyard.
 Back in Old Town Square, vendors roast huge ham legs over open fires (pictured in the background.) When you ask for some, they carve off a chunk and weigh it. And then you eat it and are never the same again.
 We finally made it to the Astronomical clock on time! The show was brief, and cute, but it was fun to hang out in a throng of tourists, nibbling on a banana crepe, and stealing body heat from my neighbors.
 It's St. Nicholas Day! St. Nicholas, an angel and a demon wander around the square. Little children are on high alert, because if St. Nicholas asks them if they've been good children, they must answer honestly and then recite a little poem or sing a little song. Then they get treats! But is St. Nicholas suspects they've been naughty, well, then its black coal and hard potatoes for the little troublemakers!
 And if the little children have been REALLY bad....the demons will stuff them in their sacks and take them to hell!!!!!! Understandably, children are therefore quite terrified of the devil, which leads to bold performances of their songs and poem recitations in order to please St. Nicholas and prove that they are, in fact, good little children!

 This guy was playing water glasses outside of the Municipal House. We watched him tune the glasses (with a turkey baster) for about 15 minutes before he finally played something. I recorded in and will have to think of a way to put it on here.
 One of the glasses in the middle is filled with hot water for him to wet his fingers with.
I bought these wee-baby oil paintings of fruit of the Charles Bridge! I think they're so charming. :-)

Tomorrow is another adventure, although the temperature is dropping dramatically, with a high of 26 degrees...I might become the newest statue along the Charles Bridge...