Tuesday, August 28, 2007

First Lessons

I expected to learn a lot about Eastern Europe. And I did. I'm chagrinned to admit the first thing I learned -- and should have known. Where was my attention the last ten or twelve years? There is no such thing as "Czechoslovankia" [even if I CAN spell it] For some time the two have been separate, the Czech Republic and Solvenia. And Vaslav Havel has been President of each and of the combination - thus President of three different countries. Not bad for a playwright/essayist, huh? Our Czech guide, Tomas was very proud of his origins and so was the assistant, Suzanne who was Slovanian - both were smart and delightful, great representatives of their countries. So was Jaroslav, our van driver. At dinner someone always asked "what is Jaroslav ordering?" [more about food and beer another post]
Lesson two: there are a variety of mountains in the area and wonderful landscapes filled with towns that seem to be increasingly propserous, new houses going up all over but not the awful developments we have, no cookie cutter houses. Meanwhile the countryside is dotted with an enormous variety of castles and so are the larger towns. Plus there is a great variety of architecture. Here is the front of an ornate house [baroque? - I did not LEARN the niceties of styles] Also an old archway in Krakow, maybe 1500s, and below newer structures at a ski/hiking resort which is in a style called folk/art nouveau by one of the area's locally very famous architect from the turn of the 20th century. All are wonderful in their own ways. And the picture is not to show my bad hair day but the big castle on the hill, and, yes, we walked up to it [after a 5 kilometer approach to the spot I'm standing]
The big surprise: Krakow was the exciting, happening, beautiful city I expected Prague to be. I understand what people like about Prague, but compared in the summer as I just did, I found Prague's stone, often dark surfaced buildings felt heavy and crowded around their narrow streets. Whereas Krakow's old city center was open, the buildings light colored and graceful, and it was a happening place. We were there for a weekend open air craft market, the central square is really three plazas separated by medieval buildings, a cloth merchant's hall and a beautiful [especially inside] cathedral. The almost continuous sidewalk cafes were full, the streets were alive with people of all ages, there were street musicians and performers, carriages pulled by beautifully groomed horses, no auto traffic, and a grin inspiring performance of folk dances by a Slovenian troop in grand costumes. I watched them dance for nearly an hour in near ecstasy - okay, so I'm not so sophisticated, folk music and dancing makes me as happy as a pig in a mud puddle.

This is only first notes, More will be forth coming. Right now I have a lot of other things to catch up on, you know, the gnats of everyday life, bills and laundry, and jet lag that has be almost ready for bed at 4:00 in the afternoon. [which is 10 pm in Poland]

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