Friday, 19 June 2009


The stations are beginning to look the same. First an ascent up stairs that exist more for advertising than locomotion. There is a newsagent at the top. Maybe a cheese shop, maybe a bakery, today it's a florist and a dried fruit shop.

Outside is a pizza stand, two občerstvenís and a gyros van. Someone is selling punnets of strawberries. They're selling strawberries everywhere at the moment. Pale red with yellow tips, sure signs they've been picked too early and not left to ripen in the sun. But I can't begrudge people the need to make a living.

By the station is a large abandoned building. My first thought is that it's a monastery. The reason for this is that I assume most large abandoned buildings are monasteries. The garden is overrun with wild wheat and amongst them I see two mushrooms. They're early for this time of year. Then again, we have had a lot of rain. They already look a bit old and I'm not that keen on eating fungus that is growing about 20m from a main road.

Along the rear wall someone has spray-painted "Fuck off the government." I find it strange that when the Czech language contains as many profanities as English the person chose English. It's not as though they're writing to English speakers. Cynically, I assume that there political program amounts to appearing cool and it's much cooler to swear in English, or so I've been told.

Beyond the building is a market and this one seems more lively than most. It's mostly fruit and cheap clothing. Some guys are playing cards. Other are drinking. It certainly has colour, but the people are wary that I'm more interested in them than the produce so I continue on.

Outside the front of the building I see it's a school, and it isn't even abandoned. It's just neglected. There are stickers on the windows and inside I can make out furniture.

The underpass leads to a park. As I wander through I pass the same people and I realise that with my dishevelled hair and unshaven face I might look a little dodgy. It's one of the problems with observation. You yourself become visible.

Because of this feeling I hurry through. That and I want to avoid the humidity. On the way back to the station I notice a bumblebee working away in a flower. As fey as it sounds, it puts me in a good mood. I just like these insects. I watch it for a few minutes and then head back thinking what junk food I will purchase. I'm not in the mood for it but I haven't had lunch.

Suddenly, I recall the fruit stands and change direction for the market. The fruit seems ridiculously overpriced. My knowing this is either a sign of my domesticity or the length of time I've been here. Or both. But wait? I have an apple in my bag. I soft-ball sized red apple from a farmer whose produce we trust. I work it free from my bag and start to eat it on my to the station. By the time the train arrives, I've eaten it down to the stalk.


I feel I've been here before but I don't remember why. It couldn't be the shopping centre. I wouldn't come all this way, not when the identical stores are more conveniently located. It couldn't have been for the atmosphere. It's not even charmingly decrepit. People stand stiffly while trying to smoke casually. Everyone's reading everyone else. Then there's a sudden burst of moment. This time two guys hurry to the train platform. And it's back to the awkward stares.

Maybe, G. and I went on a trip somewhere. There is a bus station here. But I honestly can't recall where. I have this impression I've been here but no firm memory. It's not that it seems familiar. Quite the opposite. It seems mostly strange with a nagging sense that I've been here though until I arrived I thought I never had. Is this what they call presque vu?

This nagging feeling is irritating me the more I stand here, so I walk around the block. The first path leads to a traffic jam and the outskirts of a city ossified under billboards and consumerism. I double back and take a path heading through the long grass.

It is the type of grass we were warned away from as kids. "Dugites might be there." Any snake was a dugite. No snakes today. Only snails. Huge snails lugging their limestone like homes across the rain moistened path. Some smaller ones are dining on the unfortunate victim of a careless foot. All around is the pervading smell of an unwashed crisper.

We warned about other dangers in the grass and be so suddenly isolated, I can't help but given into those fears. "It would be my luck," I think but I reach a gate without incident and turn back.

While I approach the station I hear the distinctive rattle of a spray can. As a child I wanted my father to open up a can to show me the ball bearing inside. I asked no matter how many times he explained that the can would explode if he tried. Years later, I found an opened can in the bush. The ball bearing was still there just as I imagined. What else could it be? It was one of those distinctly disappointing moments.

The juvenile graffiti artists lower their voices and crouch behind the railing. Do they really think I care? Then I remember a game we played as kids. We would stand at the end of the drive way and wait for cars. At the last moment, we would duck for cover. The cars went on oblivious and our hearts pounded and our bodies wriggled with pleasure. Subterfuge of any kind is tantalising.

I head back to the platform disappointed I can't get more from this place. Partly, I feel ashamed, as though I'm letting the station down by not finding something more. Of course, this is a home to someone. Someone else had their first smoke or drink or god knows what here. The graffiti artists will perhaps think back to this place as one of their first hits. To me though, it's just a suburb that smells like day old salad.

And I still don't know why I came here the first time.

Monday, 8 June 2009


I had my notes already to transcribe as I usually do, but I decided to scrap them and go with what I remember.

At first, I thought this was going to be easy. I was sure there was nothing to this station, so I was just going to describe the Tom Waits concert I went to last year in the Congress Centre, where the seat were designed so that none obscured the ones behind. All had a view of the podium and the speaker could see all. Perfect for a performance.

There were actually a lot of places to walk - but it didn't take me anywhere. I could see the little garden hidden by train line, the twin spires of St. Peter and Paul and the defensive wall from where the mysterious house with the radars is visible as well as the whole historical collage of Prague. But I couldn't get close to it without breaking the rules.

I was at least able to cross the Nusle bridge, which has a Golden Gate reputation amongst Praguers as a bridge of last resort. From there I could see the hidden garden in more detail. Further on, a much larger park I never knew about was visible. Traffic sped like a motorised wall. I imagined what it would be like if they shut it off, if someone staged a reclaim the streets type action. IT would be one hell of a party. The most daring I know of were some Greenpeace activists abseiled from the bridge. They most have been quite fit to get over the 2m high fence with its arched top.

Incidentally, the Czech for banner is 'transparent'. Make of that what you will.

Monday, 1 June 2009


I'm in the Chinese restaurant in the arcade beside the Palác Knih book store. I have a novel open as I wait for my lunch. Someone has written "Don't read this if you are already feeling depressed!". I wonder how grim the story can be. Not gr4im enough to hold my attention. I put it back in my bag and watch the people passing through the arcade.

Chinese restaurants remind me of home. They are a quintessential component of the suburbs. Sweet and sour pork, fried rice, chicken and black bean - these are the true staples of home. Not meat pies. Not vegemite. The mock lanterns, faux-jade and water paint images of our view of China transport me home more than those kangaroo road signs. Incidentally, there is something of a crave for them here. I've seen a few suctioned to the rear windows of cars. The nearest kangaroo locked up in Prague zoo. I guess what we associate ourselves with has little to do with where we are.

My duck arrives. It's not a prohibitively expensive type of poultry here, so I can enjoy it more often. However, the sauce is a little salty, something my beer on exacerbates. Thankfully there's plenty of rice to cut the flavour. I plonk each thin slice into my mouth and survey the restaurant before going back to looking outside.

A group of twenty somethings have gathered at the theatre opposite. Two women engage in one of the most elaborate social kisses I've seen. The keep about 50 cm from each other and crane in gingerly, as though the other is smeared in something noxious. They pucker their lips into a broad duck's bill and then as quickly as possible dispense with the perfunctory greeting. Is this something they have to practice? Do they occasionally judge and head butt their friends? Being half Italian I'm used to the full lipped variety of kiss. Even form uncles which would be planted wet, bristled and slightly sour smelling on the cheek.

With the greetings over, they stand around like a group of strangers. Their occasional glances suggest they're waiting for someone. The waitress eyes me warily as she takes my empty beer glass. Writing has a way of making people feel uneasy. I guess they're worried I'm writing about them and in this case I am, but maybe I wouldn't have even said anything if it wasn't for the look. I leave some of my duck and about half the rice pay up and go. It was too much, which is a lot given my appetite.

I follow the arcade which I've been through many times before. There's the back entrance to Palác Knih, the glass booths with new pieces of art or photos, the lingerie store where the scantiest under wear is paired with the most structurally elaborate boots, the stair well which I've never been down, the guitar store where I always think of buying something, the cafe which could rent itself out as a smoke machine and the exchange bureau.

Most times I turn right and head to Hlavní Nádraží. Today, I swing left to do the block tour. There's a slight drizzle but I can't be bothered getting my umbrella out. It's only when I see that I'm passing the main head quarters for the Communist Party that I realise I've never been down here before. I had assumed it was some other street. A little further on and I'm behind the GPO. A single postal van glides through the back. It symbolises just how laid back the city is. I'm sure if I were behind the Sydney GPO, I'd have to be dodging traffic. I'm glad I'm here.

My shoelace has come undone, so I stop in the vestibule of the GPO to do it up. I was here with a friend a few months ago. She wanted to take a picture of the ceiling. A guard moved faster than his age suggested and wagged a finger at her. For the same reason, I haven't supplied one this time. But I never do.

I head down into the concourse of the station. It's like another mall down here. There's a supermarket, several newsagents, whose main purpose is to sell cheap DVDs, a small bistro, a bakery, health food store -which sells good juice and a pharmacy. Oh and one of the ubiquitous herna bars. Practically everything you need is here. If it weren't for the lack of accommodation you wouldn't have to go aboveground. Well, you wouldn't in my post-apocalyptic subterranean fantasies.

On the next block is a French deli I've been meaning to check out. I'm heading to Mladá Boleslav to visit V. and I want to take something. There isn't all that much which is French about the produce. It seems like any other deli I've been to here. But while I'm here I decide to explore the arcade a little more. Some wiry punks are playing with their dog in the centre. The arcade ends at a dilapidated and empty bar. I spin around. A hooded punk is roughing the jowls of the dog. The dogs tail is an ecstatic metronome ready to fly off at any moment.

The drizzle has become a deluge. I cower with other people for a moment under the awning of a hotel. I understand what the French mean when they say, "Il pleut des cordes." I wait for the strands of water to break up into more more manageable droplets.

My trousers are still soaked through though. I decide to cut through the shopping centre, Černá Růže. I had wanted to avoid this place because I have visited some many other shopping centres around the train station. At least there's an Arabic food store. I pick up some hummus and baba ghanoush. The shop keeper is chatty, so I here Czech with an Arabic accent. It must be just as novel to hear the language with an Australian one.

The rain has cleared almost as quickly as it started. A man raps to himself as I head out onto the mall. I have two options. I can check out this section of the station or head back up and complete the top. I decide on the latter. I wind through another arcade, through the Františkánská zahrada, which would usually be full of people slurping ice creams, but is now just another way from one soggy point to another.

I could still go to the bottom part of the station where the small bridge that gives Můstek its name is allegedly found. Instead, I head down Jungmannova. There's a deli there that specialises in game. At least I can get something for V. there. It does, however, require me to break the rules of the blog as I have to cross the street.

[Narrative interruption]

I'm back on the block with my pheasant pate, mouflon sausage and rabbit ham. V. should be satisfied with some of that. I follow Jungmannova back around to Wencelas Square. On the other side is Lucerna. Another place I know well. Since I'm here I think I may visit one of my favourite bars and get a coffee. Then I notice a sign for a store called Myšák. G. has mentioned this many times. She used to visit it with her grandmother. She has been talking about the place a lot since she heard they were reopening. I have to go and sample something.

One of the things I like about the Czech Republic is the simple yet broad range of the ice creams. You won't find chunky monkey for example, but you can get pear ice cream, which is what I order along with a scoop of peach and one of lime. The place is very first republic, flock wallpaper, curlicue wooden light fittings and waiting staff in white and black. The pear ice cream actually feels like pear, but I prefer the lime which is nice and sour. The peach is a little over powered by the other two.

Three scoops was a mistake. I feel a little bloated and would like to sit and rest, but I haven't the time. I have a bus to catch and I still have seen everything that is around the station. I do Lucerna quickly, heading back and forth across familiar stores. The upside down sculpture of Wencelas is there - check, the wine store - check, the tacky gift shop - check, the great little book store and cafe - check, the Belgian chocolatier - check.

I'm not as close to the bottom section as I had intended. I should've started at the top and worked my way down. I hurry through the crowds until I get to the bottom. I do another familiar block, where caters almost only for tourists. I cut through whta I assume is a supermarket but which turns out to be an old market place. The word tržnice is still visible above the automatic doors. So are some of the old fittings, though most are obscured by the insulation panelling. It is such a pity to waste this space on a generic food store. I know a market is just another place to buy food, but if we have to have capitalism I'd rather the bustle of a grower's market, the tactility of the produce, the noise and smells. However, given it's location, any market would become kitsch.

There's a book store around the corner I used to pass quite often but haven't been to in years. I used to stare into its curved windows and wonder if I would ever be able to understand anything inside.

At the next block, I'm even further into nostalgia. This is the very first pub where I came when I arrived. The bar tender spoke no English - one of the few in Prague -, so I at least could practice my phrasebook Czech. I had venison for the first time too. I met an English guy there one night. He spent most of the time complaining about Czech dumplings.

The final block connects to Národní třída. I could've done the two as one, but it seemed too much at the time. You know this area already, and I'm out of time and so head to the metro. I haven't found the bridge.