Saturday, 28 March 2009

Nové Butovice --> Hůrka

I always get a kick out of seeing the restricted sections of the train stations. They make me think of what is behind the scenes on film set. It fits nicely into a fear I had as a kid that life was just a TV program. The fear lasted until I was about five and school brought a new batch of worries – I also realized this was one of those things you didn't admit to. Colored perforated metal fins run along the station's ceiling, which is made from metal tiles. It accentuates the imaginary nature of the place . It's as though it will all be pulled apart and packed away in a box at any moment.

People are queuing outside the station. I don't think I can stay too long before I attract attention. I circle round once. In the distance a barren fields walls in the area. I grab a pear from the fruit stand and head to the other side of the station. I assume there will not be much to see today.

The path leads to a square from which ventilation pipes poke. On them are graffitied the names 'killer', 'bloods' and 'many'. I assume the guy meant 'money'. (It's a common spelling mistake, which I know from teaching.) Unless the person responsible thinks of himself as some type of collective. There is a crown above the name, so perhaps he refers to himself in the royal we.

The quiet is unsettling. It gives you an impression of a ghost town. A few families pass by, but there are moments when the only sounds I hear are my footsteps and the murmuring of my trouser legs as they rub against each other. It doesn't seem possible. I can see cars and people in the distance. Behind the square is a construction site. But, the noise remains distant, as though muffled by the silence. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. It is 2:30pm in the afternoon.

I continue along the path. It leads to the next train station. Around me are The buildings are different styles of buildings, some old and cake shop beiges, browns and creams, some tall and licorice all-sort pastels, thers modern highest quality German steel grey. Across from here is a panelak, which looks like a faded and dirty work by Mondrian. I pass some high glass arches and through them see the train station Hůrka. Nové Butovice is still visible in the distance.

The name Hůrka, reminds me of a police officer, Sergent Hůrka. He would be overweight with floury white skin, and folds under his large long-suffering eyes. His rank doesn't mean much. He's happy not to have the responsibility or the compromise.

From Hůrka, the train tunnel appears out from the ground. A great metallic worm making a dash from one side to the other, but caught and pinned on the cement pylons. If I follow the worm I will be able get to the next station Lužiny.

The worm passes over a park with small lake. It's noisier here. Mostly kids' and dogs' names and the occasional siren. A Great Dane passes me. Its shoulder come up to my up waist. It ambles passed with the clumsy gait of all large dogs. Its head seems too large for it to control. The other dogs keep away.

The park becomes an open field on the other side of the worm. A dirt track has been worn through the grass. An old man and his grand daughter don't stick to it. This is the first time I've seen this here. People are usually careful not to walk on the grass. I can still hear sirens and a child releasing a gurgling cry. I kestrel screeches and I see it alight with tentative claws on a winter stripped branch. It expertly sheaths its wings while it surveys its hunting grounds from the perch.

Sgt. Hůrka wonders how the girl went missing. Not that there is anything to work out. He knows what happened. It's just he likes to punish himself by going over it.

The girl was bundled into a car. The people had grown used to ignoring screams – that was other people's business. Or it scattered them like pigeons. Someone claims they saw two Roma guys nearby. They could've been Roma the witness said after the second questioning. Everyone at the station knows they didn't do it. The description given were too generic. As soon as Hůrka heard them he imagined a sketch on the front of a newspaper. Plus the times didn't match. The witness said he saw them speaking to the girl at two when she was still at school. Funny the little details people don't think to check when making something up. A younger cop said that they should pin it on them any way. The station chief rubbed his lined head and said that they didn't even have the funds to scapegoat people. So, they would keep asking people questions, while the girl was already over two borders and somewhere where cops came even cheaper, along with guns and cameras and whatever else you needed.

After the first few days, when despite the training and experiences, cases like this still found the soft places under the armour, Hůrka after his second beer, and too tired to deny the truth, said that what they should do is get a list of every film studio, every film distributor and basically shut them down until they got some names. Hůrka was moved to another case the next day. He had only said this to one of the younger officers.

It didn't even happen in this park. But it was similar. Coming here won't bring him any closer to the answers. It just reminds Hůrka that he is no stronger than any other person. He looks up when the sirens whines past and like everyone else he wonders what could've happened.

I return to the worm and follow it up the embankment. The ground is soft and almost sucks the shoes from my feet. There's a cement path at the top which leads to the courtyard of a grey panelak. All around are old faded signs. I find it comforting, somehow more comforting because it's real. Up from the panelak I see the entrance to Lužiny. Unfortunately a road blocks my path. The entrance is only 150m away.

I return along the worm. When I reach the lake again I realise that I'm going around the lake clock-wise. I went around the lake clockwise earlier too. Two kids run past. One stops suddenly and calls out to the other that she's feeling sick. I assume she's got a stitch because she starts to wretch. Stitches are something I associate with childhood too.

Lt. Hůrka goes around in an anticlockwise direction. He's right-handed and he's never thought about which direction he heads. Right now he's thinking about his own daughter, and as soon as he thinks of her he thinks of all the things he disapproves of, her boyfriend, her studies, her music.

I cross the square down from Hůrka train station to another square. It is connected to the first square by a bridge and there is a small doorway at the entrance. I assume that the square had once been a church and this was from the original structure – or they wanted to suggest the original structure. It's like walking through an unfinished sketch. In the centre is a gazebo which resembles a basilica. Inside are painted ceramic reliefs. The images are all non-religious. A fox, a lamb, a crown, a tulip.

I cross the bridge back to the original square, where there is sea blue building which suitably resembles a submarine tower. There's a bell and intersecting pipes at the top. Only when I read the sign that I realise it's a church, Kostel sv. Prokopa. The intersecting pipes are a cross. Perhaps, the resemblance to a submarine was intentional as though they felt religion was a resurfacing.

Before heading up to Hůrka train station, I scan the are one last time. Lt. Hůrka is heading home to one of those perfect identical squares. He's opening a beer and waiting for his wife to come home so they can watch Star Dance.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Guy with the Pig Returns

I was pleased to see the guy with the pig outside my office today in Budějovická. The pig isn't some domesticated variety but a tame wild boar, though smaller. The pig was relieving itself in among the hedges by the road side, so I didn't take a picture.

Thursday, 19 March 2009


I have the song "Living End" by the Jesus and Mary Chain in my head as I circle the hospital. At some point, it becomes their song from the Crow soundtrack, and I step in a puddle of icy water. Surprisingly, it snowed this morning. Most of it has melted by now. My shoes are water-proof, but they are low-cut, so while the water doesn't soak into the leather, it does dribble inside.

I return to the front of the hospital where I hope to see the guy with the pig. I saw him a few months ago on my way from work - I work near the station. A colleague said that there were quite a few clips of the guy with the pig on You Tube. He's not here today, though.

The guy with the pig is as you've guessed a guy who owns a pig, which he's known to walk in the vicinity of Budějovická. The one time I saw him, he seemed to be having some difficulty controlling the creature. To get it to go in the direction he wanted - or rather just to prevent it from going where he didn't want it to - he would stand, legs tight together, to block the pig's path. The pig would then scamper in another direction and he would run to ensure it didn't continue to far in the wrong way or worse, run out onto the street.

He's not going to appear any time soon, so I head underground. As I do, the guy who sells honey everyday at the top of escalator, says something to me which I don't catch. He seems to be speaking to me. It could be that he recognises me since I'm here twice a week.

To me, Budějovická feels like a city in a city - a collection of glass steel hives, with tunnels connecting them, and the almost endless flow of people. The main square is a depression, which only adds to the insularity. I often wonder if this was intentional or if they couldn't be bothered filling in the hole.

I'm looking down into it but then notice a phone shop and since I need to get a new one, I head inside. There a young people outside dressed as doctors handing out flyers. I tell them I'm going inside anyway. A woman inside, also in doctor get-up, offers me a gift. It's a badge advertising some service of theirs. How generous of them!

Though I know nothing about phones, I stoop over each one, deep in thought. This is to prevent any unwanted attention from the woman in the medical coat. When I get to the end of the line of products, I take a brochure, and also make a play of studying it. No one bothers me. They must be the most apathetic bunch of sales assistants I've encountered. Thank goodness!

I continue to study the brochure over lunch, which is filling but not great. The main reason I'm taking this seriously is that I'm considering getting the Internet with my phone. It will be quite useful for work. My current habit of buying second hand phones maybe a false economy.

Once I've finished lunch I go back to see if I can see the guy with the pig. He still hasn't made an appearance. Only the spring sky from yesterday has returned. I enjoy it for a moment then head off to get a coffee.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009


This doesn't feel like Prague. Maybe it's the display of bongs in the shop window as I step out onto the small square. This feeling stays with me as I walk away. It could be the preponderance of Italian themed establishments. But none of it looks like Italy. Not even a little Italy.

A few doors down from these renovated places is an empty shell of a place. The floor boards have been ripped up to reveal the capacious cellar and pitch black tunnels underneath. Wouldn't that just be the perfect place to explore? But there are bars on the windows and no way in, so I peer inside one last time and continue.

It could be the light that lends the place this different character. I started this blog in autumn, so the days were shortening. My most recent trips have been mostly in darkness. Today, the remnants of a clear spring day linger above, suffusing the streets with crisp light. Friends have said to me that Prague makes more sense in the winter - and I certainly have that association. I guess we're all guilty of that Europe = cold generalisation. Then again I prefer Sydney in the winter too. I feel more secure under clouds.

At the corner of the first block there is quite a large cathedral. The entrance reminds me a little of Notre Dame with the three smooth arches and statues lining the top. Or is my memory playing tricks on me. I don't stay to ponder this for too long. I guy gives me a look as if to say, 'tourist'. I don't know the implications. It's enough to make me move on.

Around the corner there is a second hand store. In fact there are a few on this block. All most all second hand stores in the Czech Republic display the union jack, and most claim to stock English fashion. I was confused by this as first as I wasn't sure there existed any major English fashion labels. A student explained it to me that these stores buy the second hand clothes in Britain then sell them on here. So in fact it is second hand British clothing. Don't ask me what Czechs do with their old clothes? Stockpile them in their cottages perhaps.

There is also a second hand book store. It's in a courtyard in fact that's its name Antikvariát ve dvoře = Second hand book store in the Court Yard. It's near closing here. I go over to a stature of man on a bed, on which books are piled and take a picture.

I wonder if it's the boulevards which make this place feel so different. Prague isn't short of wide streets, but I do have a strong association with claustrophobia - yes, yes, too much Kafka. There's something about the place.

As is often the case when I do this, I buy something to eat. It's not that I'm a glutton, not much, it's just that the time coincides with dinner. I need a snack and so go to the bakery back at the station. One thing I've noticed is that most metro stops here have one.

I order two doughnuts but stop as I catch myself about to say "Dvakrát koblihy" (twice doughnuts) when the correct way should be "Dvakrát koblihu" (twice doughnut. I manage "dvakrát", stammer and the woman adds "kobliha" then stops speaking to me entirely. She doesn't even tell me the price. When I say goodbye she carries on speaking with the next customer. This is even rude by Prague standards.

It is around the second block that I realise I'm going in a clock-wise direction. There was no reason for this. There was no obstruction which forced me to do so. At the exit I could go either way. I mentally retrace my steps back to the metro and realise that I headed to my right. I only realise this because though I'm following the block I suddenly feel lost. For some reason, I'm sure I should cross the road, but apart from the rule that says I shouldn't, there's no logical need. As certain as I am that I must cross I continue. Once again retracing the journey in my head.

And I still can't work out why this place feels so different. Back at the square I spend sometime looking at the small goods shop. Partly it's from my love of salami. Partly,it's because the rows of salamis and the racks of wine are close to how I imagined Prague to be when in fact the small goods stores can sometimes appear quite surgical. Perhaps that's the source of the feeling - finding a place that has conformed more closely to my former expectations.

I'm startled away from the window by something large and black moving beside me. It's a man carrying a double bass on his back in a black case. He's dressed in black. He stopped for a moment to speak to someone but now waddles off like some great beetle.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Karlovo Náměstí

I was here on Friday by chance. Though I had decided not to do a post, I realised that I didn't have a ticket and got off here to get one. Since I was there, I considered having a walk around, but I was still suffering from the aforementioned commitments and decided to go straight home.

So I'm back. It might not be the best way to randomly chose a station - but the whole system has been random thus far, changing with each post. The first block I headed to was the one I was looking forward to the least. [It was only after that I realised I left the station in a counter-clockwise direction but continued in clockwise fashion once aboveground.] On the block is yet another shopping centre. All it offers is a little warmth. The arcade a couple of doors down is more my style: rounded shop windows, small tiles on the floor, a cukrána, sock shops and florists, among others - none of which are usurped by the architecture or lighting. I'd like to return.

On the other side of passage is a bakery crammed with food and people. I grab a couple of koblihas, Czech doughnuts, and head back outside. A rude blast of cold air bellows up the street. As soon as it's made its entrance, the sleet follows. Today, I cam prepared. We had sleet this morning, so I made sure to pack my umbrella.

You know what I miss most about home? The rain. It's not what people associate with Australia, least of all Perth. The picture postcard sunshine - the bone drying reality of the heat - but when it rains, it's rarely in half-measures. It isn't the spit of a disapproving crowd, which covers me now. It isn't sky sweat. It falls in ribbons; coils in pools; beats windows and roofs. That's if it rains.

The wind has all its teeth bared but I don§t mind and stop at the corner to look at the golden orbs atop the tower of the New Town Townhouse. They shine defiantly against the grey. People are running = partly for safety, but from the smiles on their faces, I'd also say to remember a younger time.

Icy flecks cling to my jacket like overlooked dandruff. I can't tell if that is a mother and daughter coming toward me - or two sisters. The younger of the two grips the older ones hand so trustingly. I come to the end of the path and turn around.

The rain and sleet clear when I get to the other side. I carry the umbrella like some drowned raven, which I feel compelled to bury. (I didn't drown it.) There is one thing I know here. It's the great mud grey tree near the centre, split in two to reveal its blackened middle. The tree is a historical landmark, literally a memorial tree (památný strom). I like that a tree can be part of the cultural landscape as much as the natural. Individual trees are at times mentioned on maps. They are monuments along with the chapels and castle ruins. Maybe, it goes against nature that we preserve those things.

I call G. to find out the significance of the tree. It's been a while since she's made an appearance in the blog. Not that she minds. I can't reach her. We've been playing phone tag all day. I flip my phone closed and continue to wonder what the significance of the tree is. Perhaps someone was crowned there - or killed. I head to other side of the square to see the orbs one more time.

While passing back through the station, I remember the layout above to determine which exit I need. It's then that I become aware of the road above. It seems to me that the plastic ceiling strips are all that support traffic. I wonder if they will hold and hurry out.

I've never been to the second side of the square before, so I've never appreciated its size. It's still hard to imagine that this is the biggest square in the Czech Republic. It's twice the size of Wencelas Square. Wencelas is noticeably longer, 172m longer in fact. But Karlovo Náměstí is over twice as wide, 130m versus 60m. The roads have diminished its scale. There are more dogs over here.

While walking around [Yes, in a counter-clockwise direction] I find some graffiti on a bench. When I get around to translating it it seems to be about a woman (in Czech it's possible to tell from the inflection of the past tense) who has had a shoe stolen. I won't bother transcribing it. Instead I head back to the arcade and to the cukrárna for a Turkish coffee. When I sit down, I madly search my bag for my pen. I think it's fallen through the hole in my bag until I realise it is wedged at the bottom of my pocket. Now I can start writing.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Apologies for the Inconvenience

Due to commitments professional and social, I won't be doing a regular post today. Please, try again Monday evening(GMT).

If you're a newcomer, feel free to check out the older posts. The invitation for others to submit their experiences of Prague metro stops still stands. Send anecdotes, stories, photos, sketches and or poems to I'll put up what I like.

In the meantime, please enjoy this new project I'm doing with my good friends Tim and Vanessa.