Friday, August 24, 2007

Ruminations on Prague

I have come full circle in my sleep pattern and would like to use these early AM hours to discuss some of what I think of Prague.

I am disappointed.

Perhaps it is a result of inflated expectations--the allure of modern Czech history, with its brands of politics/communism (Benes, Dubcek), popular revolts (Prague Spring, Jan Palach, Velvet Revolution) and the peaceful separation from the Slovaks; the cultural richness of its folk art (music, costume, tales, puppets); the literary pedigree of the city (Kafka, Kundera), the prospects for good Pivo and hearty local food, the enchanting architecture with pastel facades (no detail spared), squares ripe for political happenings, and the castle and lesser quarter which overlooks it all.

However, it could also be the fact that I learned about most of this history from a TimeOUT guide and a communism museum owned by an American ex-pat bagel entreprenuer with space leased from McDonalds in a Casino and most of the exhibits having been procured from local shops (which as far as I can tell no longer exist, or certainly now only sell mass produced plastic version of these wares);

-or that the only folkart I encountered comprised a stage set up in the main square for seas of tourists to observe some folk music and costumes (being much more refined tourists, we observed from our outdoor table with its Pilsner Urquell labeled umbrella, and two pound translated-in-all-languages menu (with tabs for each language) informing us on the cover that prices inside the restaurant were 55% cheaper), some cheap marionettes observed in the windows of souvenir shops and perhaps, maybe, the unappetizing pictures of food adorning so many restaurant windows (this is the only reason I can imagine anyone restaurant-owner would display such hideous things);

-or that the more I read Kafka and Kundera, the more I felt the culture and muse of a city was being bastardized by the euro/dollar

-the fact that all restaurants only served the one beer that had given it free logo'd umbrellas or glassware (or market consolidation gives them limited options) or that the restaurants all looked the same or the ones that had some uniqueness were dreadful incarnations aimed at designer wearing (with logos and other text adorning all parts of the fabric) europeans giving one another air kisses and drinking coffee drinks (any guesses on which country most of them were from?). I'm talking leopard skin chairs and purple flourescent lights here. However, I will say that Pilsner Urquell and Budvar are quite good beers and the Czech food we had was also good (although I think I may have salt poisoning if such a thing exists). We seemed to find one legitimate place hidden away in a basement where we tried rumpsteak and a pork dish and you can see the post below for our other Czech food experience. Also we had some good fried camembert and veggies at one place, but the decor was so lacking I won't discuss it further.

-and last the architecture, what I imagine must be a sad reality for a poor nascent democratic government and actually almost makes me too upset to write, but it appears the cost of maintaining ancient buildings and squares which were for forty+ years neglected by Moscow is to have tourist stores (kitsch) and restaurants filling the ground floors of those in the old quarter and to turn the area around Wenceslas Square into a poor man's champs elysee filled only with lower level international brands (G Star Raw was the closest thing I saw to a boutique) and fast food chains. To turn churches into nightclubs, the Charles bridge into an outdoor shopping mall with Times Square-like crowds, to fill the lesser quarter with the same touristy type places on the road to the Castle. This rant has really brought down my mood so I will not go on, but you get the idea. I'm sure at one point this place was enchanting, but it has yielded to throngs of tourists and kitschy places to serve them, all which preclude any standing back and getting a real feel for things. And while there were a few off the beaten track places that we found in some corners of the city, they were still surrounded by other touristy type places.

I believe that Prague has done itself a long term disservice with its get rich quick service of tourism in all its forms so much so that I mad a bet that there will be less tourists (total number) in 2012 than in 2007.


RWB said...

So, South Jersey isn't so bad? RWB

Jenna said...

Great blog! I hope you have a great trip!

I wasn't a huge fan of Prague either - it also could have been that I went in january and found the air to be extremely polluted with diesel still running through their engines there...