Friday, 31 October 2008


People file out brisk but orderly from the train station and head straight to the office building across the square. It's as if the revolving door is an extractor fan, gently sucking all the people to their desks. The whole building resembles a machine, not something sooty, Victorian and cruel, rather a stylish over-blown polished gadget with silver grills, wood paneling and gleaming balustrades for handles. It looks so fresh and ultramodern that despite its size it would be discarded within a year.

The commuters don't suit their stride. They're not worker ants encased in black suits. One of them has a suede cowboy hat and matching vest; others are in puffy bundas in preparation for the weekend or just because its cold and these jackets are comfortable; some are dressed for Friday night drinks. A couple of them have suitcases on wheels. One guy strays from the line as he reads a book. Only a skater rolls against the flow. He merely adds a long invisible score beneath their movement.

Yes, it's morning. A deviation from one of the rules, but an excusable and even inevitable one. The days are getting shorter and the thought of being alone at an unfmailiar metro station in the dark is not appealing. Plus a different time will bring a change of focus, though at the moment it seems are more interesting in the evening when there is that great collective release.

Anything of interest has given the station a wide berth. I can understand why. In the five years I've lived here, I have never been to Radlická. If it weren't for the blog, I imagine many more years would pass before I would visit. Apart from the office block and a small gilt statue, which I assume isn't real gold, there's not much.

Across from the office block is a passage way. On its walls tags and graffiti compete for space. Through the intersecting curves is the ubiquitous 'Fuck Off'. How much longer before it loses all meaning? In the future it will be an everyday expression. We'll send it to each other on greeting cards. Why not? It's on t-shirts. I just hope we will be able to emote future swear words so well.

Some bold soul has also professed his love for a girl called Šarka (Miliju tě, Šarko). I wonder if Šarka will be able to find this declaration of love among the tangle of characters.

I went through the passage earlier. It seemed the least popular route and remembering my Frost I decided to go that way before heading back to write. At Radlická neither path was worth taking. Beyond the passage is another modern building with fixed shutters, which are no doubt fixed at the optimal angle to reduce the sun's rays in summer, but which deny the tenants the opportunity to throw them open. It is a rigid shell, something to occupy not live in.

Around the corner from this building, I found a dead cat. Its fur was matted with melted frost. I am perhaps too inquisitive by nature and stopped to have a look. On hikes, I often stop to point out some carcass to G., who is far down the path, determined not looking back. The cat has no visible signs of injury. This was when I felt horrified. It couldn't have been a car. The only question was who? It was that feeling that I had when I came to sit here and start today's record.

This is the furthest I've been in the direction of Zličín along the yellow line, which I should refer to as Line B, but never do and so confuse most people when I discuss the metro with them. Everyone knows it by the letters. I can only remember the colours.

I wonder if being here only highlights the artifice of this blog. Other people write about the things they really experience. I place myself in an unnatural situation. Most Fridays before this I would be at home or today, I would have slept in – or read, rather than leave the house to come here. I'm not a part of this. I'm watching from a distance, a distance I don't know yet how to bridge.

I want to achieve this end without stepping out of the conditions I've set myself. To bastardize a saying, it is the frame that makes the picture and frames tend to be precisely measured and suited to some purpose. My frames are the stations, for the moment any way. They liberate me because they bring me to places I wouldn't ordinarily come to. The dilemma is if I should be part of the drama I see unfold and certainly in a way that doesn't involve some act of bad faith – no interviews, no spectacle.

A group of pre-school aged children pass holding hands and wearing bright pastel winter jackets. They also go via the passage way. I wonder how their teacher will explain the cat to them.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Line Work

There are now links in the posts to topics or people mentioned, which I felt required an explanation far better than I could manage.

Thanks to Sam at for showing me how.

See. I've become quite adept at it now.

Until Friday...

Friday, 24 October 2008


An immense cement and stone shopping centre. A facade of glass looking onto the car park. Bright lines and brighter shop signs inside. A great slab of prosperity and consumerism on the outskirts of Prague. It's so big it straddles a motorway. A perspex covered walkway joins the two halves. The train station which leads to it couldn't be more different. Light brown half-cylinder tiles decorate the walls. Rows of broken rain pipes come to mind.

My plan was to sit inside at a bar called Potrefená Husa and watch people come in. A snap portrait of each. I didn't consider this place because I'm endorsing the establishment. It's a characterless chain pub and it serves one of my least favourite beers. However, it's the very first place you can sit as you enter, which would mean that I don't have to go further inside. We all know what shopping centres are about.

Another reason I was going to sit there was because of the name. A few months ago a student asked me to help with the translation. The name literally means 'struck goose'. Suffice to say this meant nothing to me. He went on to explain that the term was used when someone creates alarm over nothing. “Henny Penny,” I suggested. They are both poultry after all.

Two days later G. came to me with the same request. Astounded at the coincidence and pleased that I was informed I told her I knew what it meant. She said I was completely wrong. The name came from the saying 'Potrefená husa se ovzala.” meaning “The struck goose cried out.”. It is used when a topic comes up and someone present starts to defend him/herself. For example, imagine you're talking about the environment and apropos of nothing one of your friends starts to tell everyone how much they recycle and how they don't use private transport. He or she might be accused of being a 'potrefená husa'. The best I could come up with was 'one doth protest too much,' though I realise this is more limited in use.

I'm probably a potrefená husa for explaining why I'm not at this pub.

Instead I'm by a run-down fast food stand which is part of an older shopping centre. It's the ugly cousin of the Chodov centre, Růže – Rose. Faded obviously.

Across from the bench I'm sitting at is a footbridge. Initially I thought it promised more than an afternoon at a shopping centre. I took the underground tunnels eagerly hoping to find a park, tracks and maybe deserted alleys. Before I reached it I saw a bronze coloured statue of an archetypal worker. Crimson run from his eyes. At first I thought he was weeping rust but then saw it the dry streams coming from the helmet. Someone had chosen the wrong colour to vandalise this guy. It made hims seem more heroic. They were not tears but sweat.

On the bridge three young guys were leaning over the barrier and pointing at the outbound traffic. One of them excitedly called his friends over to the side where the incoming traffic was. Here they go I thought. They're going to spit. Very clever guys. Then I saw one of them remove a camera and felt a little ashamed for making another snap judgment. They were only doing their own bit of recording.

The bridge lead to the top of a cul-de-sac. I couldn't go any further. There wasn't even a path leading along the banks of the main road. As I headed back the one who called to his friends spat on to a bus. A friend had the camera ready to capture his feat.

The bench is also opposite a bus stop. The people are mostly heading inside. It would be unfair to say they are pouring inside. Despite the cold air, they are taking their time. Once the bus pulls away, the stand is deserted. It stays this way for a few minutes. People start to queue one by one. It's a few more minutes before one of the guys frustratingly shouts in the direction of a non-existent bus. He sees me writing and falls silent. I may as well be standing here with a camera.

A woman comes with a pizza box jutting square and straight from her side. I can smell the contents.

This is soon covered by the cigarette smoke of a second woman. She's just far enough away so the smell is more alluring than repulsive. Five years ago, I would've been sitting here either patting myself down to find my lighter or brushing the ash from my shirt-front.

The smoking woman notice me writing too. She's smirking and looking askance. Je divnej, she's thinking.

Behind me at the tables near the food stand, tables I was too slow to get, old blokes are unwinding with small plastic cups of spirits. 'Blokes' is too Australian, but they resemble the 'blokes' I knew as a child, friends of my fathers I regarded with equal repulsion and admiration. It also depended on distance.

I suppose at this moment I've joined them. Like me they're recording the last moments of this day, imagining some other life, seeing lost opportunities in every fresh face to come down the path.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Jiřího z Poděbrad

I take the exit past reliefs of the Bohemian coat of arms and what appears to be Prague castle. It's hard to tell because each piece is rendered in a lazy municipal council version of cubism, which means the reliefs merely look half-finished. There's a park at the top of the stairs. I was about to write another park in reference to last week's entry, but it sounded as though I was fed up with green spaces when in fact I'm delighted to be here.

A deluge of leaves lie on the ground. A stream of them runs down the stairs into the station. I am reminded of the book World with us, which imagines how many of our largest structures would collapse through the action of the smallest agents: seeds, sands, droplets of water, guano and leaves. I fantasize the Prague metro filling with rotten leaves creating a great vein of black humus coursing under the city, crawling with worms, beetles and moles.

Today the leaves are yellow and green. Some fresh ones have followed the autumn fashion and also dropped to the ground. Though I've lived here for five years I can't resist the urge to kick a few into the air. If someone were with me, he or she would get a handful of leaves thrown at him/her. I leaf fight would ensue. But it's just me so I kick some more leaves across the path. The air has a burnishing chill. My cheeks must be red and glowing. It's probably the healthiest I've looked for a while.

Candy apple cheeks as an old friend described them – a friend I'm not in contact with any more. It would be strange, artificial even, to use his or her name. It would imply a connection which dissolved a long time ago. Who'd think such a pleasant image could make me so maudlin?

The park is mostly empty. A woman is smoking on a bench. A young guy cuts over the grass while carrying shopping bags. At the end of the park, roses are unexpectedly blooming. They are intense points of red in this green and yellow. The few that have opened fully look burnt around the edges. On my way back there's a guy with torn jeans, carrying brass guttering. Something about his tough appearance makes me think that there's a sinister motive behind those long pieces of metal, which glisten like ruddy blades in the late afternoon sun, which seem sharp enough to slice off fingers with a single blow. The poor guy is probably just renovating his flat. I'm ashamed to be so easily threatened by a stranger.

I'm in a morbid mood today and I'm ruining this park, so I go to find a coffee.

On the next block, there's a cukrárna. I decide to explore the area a little more. I find some shops, a trendy restaurant. The facades across the street are more interesting. Not as tarted up as in other places. My steps are so slow and small, I become aware of walking in a way I'm usually not. Walking that feels part of the footpath and not just getting from one point to another. Up there live the other 'mes'. The glamourous urbane tangents of possible lives. Those high ceilings and wooden floorboards would make everything come together. Well, that was what I used to think I needed. I turn the corner and say farewell to these lives not lived. My pace quickens. I really want that coffee.

Something I've never understood is why do so many Czech cukrárnas resemble bathrooms: tiles, mirrors, plastic plants and pastels. It gives the entirely wrong impression of the cakes and coffee. I would prefer something antique, but that's no surpise. Apart from an espresso I order a piece sacher, piled high with cream. I take a bite of the cake swallow it down with the coffee and take out my journal.

The crowd are a mix of people. Two university students, an old man and his middle-aged daughter, two council workers, an old woman on my right and a man on my left, who looks like he has been hiking. As much as I dislike the décor, I love the atmosphere. It's sedate and civilised. No music for my thoughts to battle with, no hyperdextrous brewster, no stylish floor staff. An old-world reserves pervades the place despite the newer trappings. The people are engaged in the quiet conversations and the simple indulgence of a cake and coffee. Kaffeeklatsch, I think the Germans call it. But I think there's a more negative connotation, implying gossip or at least idle chatter. However I like the precision of the word, and the alliteration sounds like indistinguishible background chatter. I don't know if there's a Czech equivalent.


Jiřiho z Poděbrad. When I first arrived, most of my English speaking colleagues refered to this place as the unpronounceable station. I mangled its name pretty badly myself at first. I think I have a better grasp of the sounds now. Or that's what I tell myself.

Most of my friends who have come to visit me have come to Jiřiho z Poděbrad. One reason is that a favourite pub of mine is here. It's unpretentious and relaxed, if smoky. In fact I'm going there later tonight hence the reason I'm writing about this station. I know. I'm cheating again.

When my father first came here I took him to that pub. It was a sweltering August day. We were sitting at the outside benches having a beer. Behind us some old guy was muttering in what sounded like English. I think he was parroting us. I went to a newsagent to get some water for the bus ride home. When I returned dad had befriended this old guy. In conversation with Dad he was lot more lucid. Dad even gave him a cigarette.

The other reason I often come here is that it's the location of one of my favourite buildings: the Church of the Greatest Heart of the Lord (Nejsvětějšího Srdce Páně). It was known by most of my early colleagues as the cubist church, though the inspiration was apparently early Christain architecture. This term was used instead of the train station. “Let's meet at the station by the cubist church,” we would say. Despite knowing this is incorrect, I continue to use this term as it was how we knew it.

The most striking feature is of course the clock. It has two faces both made of glass and at the right time of year, and the right point of the day, the sun can be seen through it. I'm here too late today and have to be content with its more ordinary splendour.

In all this time, I've never been inside. All day I wondered if I would go in. I couldn't come here to write about this church and not venture inside. At the front of the church I have second thoughts. I'm not religious but these people have a right to worship in private. As I'm reconsidering an old woman is holding the door open for me. Since there is no facial expression to convey “I'm just here observing stuff for my blog, and since I'm not a Christian I'm not sure if I really should go in,” - I go in.

The ceiling is incredible. Imagine a series of squares, about a metre and half by a metre and a half, with gradually smaller square inside, so that each portion resembles an impression left by a miniature Mayan pyramid. At the front are proud brass looking Christ figures, not as delicate or sickly, nor eternally benign, as the stautes I remember from childhood. There is a stern nobility in the face worthy of worship. From the ceiling hang 34 metallic spheres. Just below the ceiling are stained glass mirrors each with a representation of a heart along with fish and crosses.

It's been five years since I was in a church that is still being used. The last time was at Christmas in Scotland. It's been about seventeen years since I've been in one as a member of the faithful. I can't justify going and sitting a pew, so for once loitering back with the small tourist group is the better option.

People are going to confessional. It's been a long time since I did that too. In one of the four ornate booths, I see a young boy reading from a note book. There's no screen to provide him with any privacy. I wonder how can a young boy fill a note book with his sins. When I went to confession I would just repeat my two standard misdemeanours, “I took biscuits when I shouldn't and I was mean to my sister.” I've made up for it since then.

The boy's younger sister is also taking advantage of the lack of screen and is going into say hello before her mum whisks her away. She doesn't return to see her brother. She's found something better, the entrance to the priest's side. Her mother just manages to grab her before she disappears all the way in. The mother tries to occupy her with the statue of Christ after the crucifixion, when he's slumped in Mary's arms. An image I know better than those aristocratic versions at the front. The little girl is determined to see what's inside this booth.

Her behaviour makes me think how unnatural religion is. All the girl's most human features – her curiousity, her delight in life, her playfulness are inappropriate here.When she's old enough she'll be filling in an exercise book with her wrong doings and no longer smiling so freely.

Suddenly a voice comes through those spheres. I can only make out the word 'otce', which is the fourth case of 'otec', the Czech for father. I assume at first that they are announcing the arrival of the priest. The church has changed a lot in two decades.

Then I realize the woman is reciting the Lord's Prayer followed by the Hail Mary. The people in the pews recite the prayer back in barely audible voices. It's as private as they can be in a crowd. I stay to listen to the woman's voice. I like the sound of Czech, when it is annuciated as softly as this. It's a language which can carry a lot of tenderness and sincerity, though I'm only enjoying the soothing burr of her voice and ignoring the message.

The pleasure doesn't last long. I suddenly become uncomfortable with this whole scene of a prayer broadcast over speakers and the people repeating it back. Even after I stopped believing I would often defend people's religion for the comfort it brought them. The church was guilty of enumerable crimes, but faith at least provided succour even inspiration. At this I only see the drone mentality it engenders. I think of how I used to take part in this. I have to go.


The closest Czech translation I could find for Kaffeeklatsch was 'klevety', but the use seems to be closer to the English word gossip.

Friday, 10 October 2008


After half a bottle of decent Argentinian wine and a glass of just palatable modrý portugal, I'm in Prosek. Until now I've only known it from the metro map. I shouldn't be here though. I intended to start this blog a year ago, when there were only 52 stations, one for each week, and so give the blog a temporal as well as spacial completeness. Procrastination interceded, so now there are three new stations. Prosek is one of them.

The train glides to a stop. I think it's the bold primary coloured freshness that has made me choose that word. I doubt the trains operate any differently here as any other station, though it is easy to imagine that, like the rare occasions when I enter an upmarket bar, this machine is affecting some grace.

Before I look around I head to the newsagent to buy a copy of Reflex and some gum. I noticed on the ride here, that the latest Hana and Hana is in English. For the uninitiated Hana and Hana are two ever youthful high school students who ruminate on the world from an apparently Czech, teenage, female perspective. Sometimes they come across as Socratic fools, expressing great wisdom in their senseless remarks. Sometimes it's just deliciously cruel. I'm curious to see how it works in English. The gum is for my post-wine breath.

The afternoon's drinking has also made finding a loo a necessity. I flick through the magazine to find the comic while heading toward the WC sign. The comic seems to work. Some of the language seems a little unnatural, but the final comment raises a smile. At times I like a cheap laugh. And I see I've over shot the bathroom entrance.

From this little stop I head to the nearest exit. It opens out into what seems to be a business park. Around the corner I see it is called Prosek Point. I assume they mean point as in 'position' and not 'promontory'. Around me there are only paneláks. Some of the longest I've ever seen. They stretch about 100m and in a line appear to be sawing up through the ground. The three buildings in the park resemble, if you'll excuse the analogy, those big vehicles the jawas drive in “Star Wars”. Only these buildings have many more windows.

Beside the second exit is a poster of Octobriana, a Soviet comic book heroine, drawn by the Czech Bohumil Konečný. There's an exhibition of his work at the moment. I only know this because I read an article somewhere about Soviet comics a few months back. This entry does have a sort of geek feel...comics, jawas. That was all part of my history as much as an earnest pursuit of expression.

Above ground there's a shopping centre. I walk past it and head a little further on to a park. A huge park. It stretches for a couple of city blocks. This was not what I imagined when G. closed her eyes, spun around and pointed to Prosek on the metro map. The business park was more what I expected. Instead there 's this expanse of autumn colours, kids running and cycling, smaller ones waddling beside prams. Some older boys are trying to rap in one of the parks many nooks. There's a park with a flying fox (zip-line for Americans, aerial runway for the British). I'm going to try that if no-one's around later. Two younger children are damming an artificial stream with small stones. They seriously give each other instructions about where to place the rocks. The artificial stream leads to an artificial pond. There are benches around. I join a young couple laughing and wrestling and a policewoman stealing wistful glances at them.

Magpies skip around us under the trees. They're smaller than the Australian ones, and not at all vicious. Their tails stick out rigid and elegant like a clasped fan. For a long time I had no idea they were the namesake of our hairstealing, eye-gouging counterparts. I knew them only as straka, and the foreign word suited what I took to be a completely foreign bird.

The police officer gets up. There mustn't be much for her to do here. Ward stray children and dogs away from the water? Or perhaps this serenity is just an outsider's illusion. I'm going to enjoy it for today though. It's not just Friday and the wine. It feels like a while since it's just been me in a park with my thoughts, not matter how inaccurate. The young couple move off too. Perhaps they've had enough of me writing all of this down.

A trio of teens soon replace them. Two of them are clearly a couple, and unlike the first two, they seem more accustomed to each other. Arms just hang over shoulders. They're including their friend in the conversation. They're also sharing a joint. They must've waited for the police officer to leave, though it would be nice to think that she displayed some largesse and left to let them have this time. A little gift she could enjoy vicariously. But it's just too much to believe.

Mid-conversation they start saying, “I'm a stupid blond girl.” It's clearly directed toward the girl. For all the textbooks, course and efforts of their teachers, it dismaying to think that is the sentence they use. They repeat it so uniformly it sounds as if they're imitating it from a movie or TV show, which is even more dismaying. The language will one day be rendered down into these thick rubbery chunks, harmlessly hurled about a park for a laugh but meaning nothing.

The three of them get bored with this and go back to talking. Their natural conversation is much quieter than those practiced lines. Eventually they finish the joint and go, glancing at me as they do. I suppose this is one of the perils of doing this so publicly. People start to become a little suspicious. I could do this more surreptitiously and try to mentally capture everything, but I enjoy writing in the open like this. It frees me up. I'm likely to invent less – a little less. And since this is a blog, it only makes sense to take the exhibitionism a little further.


There are dog prints at the bottom of the artificial pond. The leaves are the colour of the evening's sunset. In the air is the chill I love. I can smell dirt. The playground is still full. The flying fox will have to wait for some other time.

The last block from the train station appears massive. Behind the blocks of flats, there is a long wall running unbroken over the small hill. There should be enough to make this a double entry. But the access roads to the flats run across the path and after last week's minor infraction I feel compelled to adhere to my rules a little more today. I could wander along some of the footpaths among the blocks, but they seem modern and uninspiring.

Being so far from the centre, there are hardly any people on the train. An empty carriage is a rare pleasure and the ideal place to finish these last few lines. It will only be like this for the next two stops.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Line Work

It is now possible to leave anonymous comments on the blog.

Friday, 3 October 2008


This morning G. said, “Why don't you go to Palmovka?”. It's not exactly random, but it isn't part of my route, so this seemed like sufficient reason. As with many of the stations on the yellow line, Palmovka is characterless. Instead of the daydream inducing paneling there is acrylic and brick. Next week, I'll pull a name out of hat.

Out of the train I can go left or right. I go left. The upper concourse, like many stations, is crammed with small shops. One difference is the coat of arms for Líbeň affixed to one of the walls. I seem to recall that Líbeň was an independent town before it was absorbed into Prague. I could later check this out and incorporate the facts into the post. Right now I'm not sure.

Of the four exits I take the closest. Aboveground is what could've once been a town. The terraces seem to be arranged around a former square. I follow the block behind this exit. At the very first corner a small sculpture sits on the awning. It resembles a word, but none I recognise. By chance I have the camera and go to take picture. Then I change my mind. A camera will establish a different, though not worse, relationship, a more detailed but compartmentalised one. I want to wander around here and absorb the broad and imprecise feel of the place.

Time has gone to work on the buildings, cracking bricks, ripping off plaster, punching out a few windows. Developers are starting to cash in on its efforts. Not as much as elsewhere thankfully. The area is as close to what I imagine Prague would be like all those years ago when I decided to come here.

The path around this block leads back to the supposed square. Prague metro is quite new and cars were not as numerous as they are now. This place could easily have been a place of business where farmers brought goods. Maybe people worked in what looks like the remains of a brewery. That wouldn't have employed too many. Maybe time had been more merciless with some of the other buildings.

I return to the station to go to the next block. A wall runs across the concourse, so I will have to return to the platform to get to the other side. The wall looks new. What made them decide to suddenly cut the two halves off from each other?

The next exit takes me to a bus station. It's a scene anyone at a bus station anywhere knows well - people queuing, a few guys sharing a drink. That's not a bad idea. Summer is pretty much a memory. Those benches aren't going to be so welcoming for the next few months.

Back to the concourse and another exit. I leave and immediately approach a bright red mural. It's a man breathing fire. In the long serrated flame are words. All I can make out is Laďa. That might not be right. I follow the black wrought characters, trying to make out more of them. On an adjacent wall I see 'B. Hrabal' carefully painted and above his name an excerpt. Above on the same wall as the mural is this:

Bohumil Hrabal, *28.3.1914 + 3.2.1997

one of the greatest Czech authors of the 20th century, lived in the years 1950-1973 in the street Na Hrázi in the house no. 326/24, which stood in this place. He considered his stay in this house to be the happiest time of his life. Here he wrote Diving for Pearls, Pábitele, Tales of Those about to Die, today now classic works. Closely Observed Trains and Dancing Lessons for Seniors and Advanced were composed here too. Even later he returned to this neighbourhood in his memoirs and set the plots of his books Tender Barbarian and A Home Wedding. Thanks to the translation of Hrabal's works into dozens of foreign languages this little street, which he called timeless Na Hrázi, has become renowned through the whole world.

Further down is mural with pastel images of the former inhabitants, Hrabal, books, shelves, cats, a frothy capped mug of beer, a giant typewriter. This must be where he lived with Boudník. Tender Barbarian was his memoir about the artist and Boudník died sometime around the time he was here. I could check all this, make it look like I know, but this blog isn't about that.

G. must've known though. No wonder she sent me. Hrabal and Boudník are two people we admire. The blog's name is a pun on one of Hrabal's books. Gifts don't come much better than this – a memory ready formed for me to collect.

So where are his old haunts? Where did he watch the poet philosopher Egon Bondy wring beer from his beard? In which of these pubs if any did he hear Boudník speak at length on sex and art? I don't know. I will know. But not now.

I get out the camera. I want some pictures for me. I want to show G. later. In my enthusiasm I realise I have stepped I am no longer on the footpath. A few more steps and I am on another block. Why not? It's a rule I'm imposing and it's only one more block. But where does it stop? Next week the entry could be anywhere.

But the camera's out. I head back to the first corner and take a picture of the sculpture.