Friday, 15 October 2010

Final Call

I'm going to use the train pun one last time. Yep, it's over. This project is finished. Thanks to everyone who stopped by to read but as Ferris says,

Or you can check out my new blog.

Hope to hear from you.

Thursday, 2 September 2010


Hard to believe but after almost two years, it's over. My adventures around Prague's metro stations has come to an end. I reflected on this more last week and don't wish to rehash the recent past, especially when this stop proves to be one of the most interesting I've visited.

I know Roztyly quite well. Until early this year I took the bus home from here. Then during the heavy snows I decided to change to the train. I figured it would take about the same time and trains are better - more comfortable, better views, more opportunities to drift off into dream worlds. I think if we were to strip down to the undercarriage of fantasy it would be steam powered.

Today was the first time I'd been here in a while. In all the time I had been coming here, I never once ventured to the woods behind the station. There was no better time than today. I figured the walk would take me to a lodge which I've often seen at the top of a small hill. In fact, the woods turn out to be quite large with a few kilometres of trails running through them.

According to a sign there were muflons present. I have seen muflons in the wild before. A few of you may already know my oft-repeated anecdote about the time G. and I were collecting mushrooms when we heard a thumping coming toward us. G. moved behind a tree whereas I just froze. From the undergrowth three animals burst forth. At first I thought they were dogs until I saw that they had horns. This didn't allay my fears. In fact, they appeared to be coming straight for me. Suddenly, about ten meters away, they stopped, did an about face, and disappeared as quickly as they had come.

Today there were no such encounters. There were people picking mushrooms and I even stopped to have a look seeing as I had a bag with me. No, I'm not such a compulsive mycologist that I always carry one with me. My book was wrapped in it to stop the corners becoming tattered. The forest was picked clean. Even inedible ones had been turned over.

This forest is certainly a place I would like to return to. It is perfect for an afternoon stroll, especially now that autumn is just starting and the whole place smelled damp and rich. Autumn has settled on us early and, like so many, I love this season. It's not just the colours changing - something else novel to an antipodean - or even the free fungi in the forests. It is that the world has retreated and doesn't bully us like summer.

I turned randomly trying to cover as much ground as I could without getting lost. It wouldn't be possible. The traffic was an unbroken grind in the distance. All those car and trucks stewed together and poured somewhere out of sight. The mind had to work harder to escape. I'm not ashamed to say that I spend the greater part of my time doing just that.

Through the branches I saw the smooth green top of an algae covered bond. It was a good a place as any stop. The footpath continued on, but I take a seat and watch the ducks sift through the algae, eating trails through the sludge. Couldn't they just get more ducks to clean up the rest of the lake?

Prague 2008 - 2010

Friday, 27 August 2010


It's humid. The clouds are under my shirt. I'm dressed for two months from now on account of giving a talk at a conference. Usually, I deride the ubiquity of supermarkets but today I go inside to get an ice cream. I opt for one of those high end brands with the embarrassing soft porn advertising.

While queuing a young kid of eight or nine, goes to grab my ice cream. His brother apologizes and explains that his brother is 'pitomý' stupid. I tell him 'v pohodě' - which roughly means 'It's cool', though it isn't. V pohodě has become my stock reply to a number of situations like people stepping on my feet, knocking me with elbows or being late with my order.

It has just occurred to me that, at least symbolically, nine is something of a nothing age. When assuming the age of someone, I would base it on not only physical development but beahviour. I can't think of anything which is typically nine. Eight year olds (at least when I was eight) were just that more socially aware than younger kids. Ten ears old are starting to show signs of teenager hood. Nines are in a DMZ of maturity, but I digress.

Outside, I eat the ice cream far less glamourously than in the commercials, hunched over to stop the chocolate falling onto my shirt. I think there is a Ben Elton routine about this. Anyway, slightly hunched and munching on my ice cream I start to look around the block. There's a library here but no obvious entrance. A security guard who has become curious about my toing and froing and is studying me from the window. I'm all prepared to tell him about what I'm doing. I'm even considering producing my journalist card for an added layer of teflon legitimacy. Perhaps, it's too humid for him to bother because he disappears.

Coming to Skalka is something of a full circle for the blog. I first conceived of the idea when I used to teach here. Train stations are often inspiring. I've written a lot of poems and stories while sitting waiting for trains. Occasionally, missing them as a result. It was after one lesson I thought that visiting the stations would be a novel way to see Prague, and now that I've visited all but one of the stations I realize how much more of this city is left.

In the last year, my freelancing for one website has let me see more of the city, and though it was time consuming, the opportunity to have a good look beyond the obvious places was one of the rewards. As much as there is to still explore, the blog and my writing assignments have shown me much more of Prague than I thought I knew when I first arrived. In fact, when I first arrived I was a little disappointed. The reality didn't live up to the romance. My affection for Prague has grown as I've seen more of her grubby side. I prefer her as this confusing, at times dilapidated, at times meretricious, tightly wound burg rather than just a fairy tale backdrop. I love her for her musty second hand book stores with volumes I'll never read, her smoky old men pubs, her forgotten alleys, remnants of communism and for the fact that I don't live here and will always have her for a visit.

The blog hasn't made me an expert on the city. If anything it has made me see how transitory place is. You can stay, but the city keeps moving. It is the elephant and we're the blind.

Friday, 20 August 2010


I know it's been a wile, and I;m note sure how many of you are still bothering to read this. Anyway, I'm back. Expect the final two posts over the next fortnight. Thanks to those who have stuck along this far. I've never been one to keep faith in much. My bookshelf is testament to that.


I was here about five months ago, maybe six. In fact, this station derailed the whole project for a while. I couldn't get inspired. It was another crumbling shopping centre, more kiosks selling the same fast food drowned in oil. I sat at yet another pizzeria, ordered a coffee only so I had somewhere to sit and looked over the road to where I had been over a year ago when I came to Hůrka. The puzzle was locking in place, but I still felt as though I was forcing the piece.

I told myself I'd comeback when I was more in the mood. Then I had other things to write. 'Real' things, things that seemed much more professional than this blog. I had lost faith, interest, inspiration and it seemed better to leave, but at the back of my mind I couldn't. I knew I had to finish it off. There was no climax. Only closure. Even if the blog hadn't gone the way I wanted, I felt that I couldn't start anything else until this is done. This is the beginning of a start as much as an end.

The shops are still here, the same grease sodden food, the same sense of transience and torpor. The one difference is that the outskirts of Prague no longer recall the burbs of home. Perhaps, the comparison has been blunted by overuse. More so, these places have a distinct quiddity, which is in as much the architecture as the feeling. If you could erect a shrug it would look like this.

Yet there are things I didn't notice the first time - the statue of three birds, herons I think, with curving bodies and arrow heads, locked in a tumbling dance, twirling unnoticed above the people. Apples are growing along the footpaths. Back in April they had not yet fruited. Now there are several pink and green ones within reach. I grab the closest and take a bite. It's sour and hard, so I add it to the others which have been pilfered or simply fallen.

I also find splat berries. I don't know the real name and I'm not going to Google the info and pretend I do. The berries are white and about the size of a marble. I call the splat berries because people like to place them on the sidewalk and stomp on them to hear the satisfying pop as the berry bursts. Some people have done this and I do the same. It was a simple pleasure G. introduced me to when we started seeing one another.

There is also a second hand bookshop. I noticed it the first time I but didn't venture in. This time I feel more compelled to exhaust the station of its possibilities. From the faded popular hardcovers in the window I don't feel much confidence. It will probably be like the apple.

The inside is promising. Books are piled from the ground to waist height. More are stuffed into the bookshelves, sometimes two rows thick. The best find is a cabinet filled with these exquisitely small poetry volumes. Among them I found two collections from Nezval, one was a series of pastorals called Z domoviny (From the homeland). The other was a collections of shorter whimsical pieces featuring the suites Básně na pohlednice (Poems for postcards) and ABECEDA (ABCD) The latter were published much earlier during his more 'surreal' period. The former were more overtly socialist, which was not so uncommon amongst writers in the early days of the regime. Kundera wrote some utter bilge in praise of communism before he became well known for his 'scandalous' novels.

When I go to pay I have to find a break in the books behind which the seller has barricaded himself. He is a young anxious man, worn thin by his nerves. It is hard to follow if he is speaking to himself or me.

This trip to the bookstore has renewed my confidence in this blog and what this city has to offer. I had become too complacent. I had made the mistake of thinking that something was simply what it is and no tried to look closer. I had failed to live in the moment, which this blog is somewhat about. As far living in the moment, Nezval was able to put it more succinctly.

Každodenní básně
Gramofon pod okny hraje
toto jsou básně na pohlednice
zahřejí tě jak šálek čáje
když ti je smutno u srdce

Everyday Poems
The gramophone plays under the window
these are the poems for postcards
they warm you like a cup of tea
when you have sorrow in your heart

Friday, 2 April 2010


[N.B. This was written on 23rd March but I didn't have time to post until now.]

As a break with standard practice, I'm going to start as we pass through Střížkov, which is two stops before Letňany. The newness of this station along with the next two makes me feel like I'm leaving the real world and entering a life-size model. It makes it hard to separate the stations from each other.

We pass through Prosek and two kids across the aisle from me are reciting a rhyme used to help children learn how to pronounce ř. The rhyme goes like this:

Tři sta třicet tři
stříbrných stříkaček
Stříká přes
Tři sta třicet tři
Stříbrných střech

And in English:

Three hundred and thirty three
Silver fire hoses
Spray across
Three hundred and thirty three
Silver roofs.

Amusing how a phonological constraint will produce. Equally amusing is that the kids reciting it are a little too old. Nostalgia isn't dead. They stop reciting the poem for the fourth time to comment on passengers they are sure are members of the mafia because of their appearance. Prejudice is alive and well too.

At Letňany only a bus stop can be reached without crossing a road. I know I've broken this self-imposed rule before but as with that nursery rhyme the challenge to creativity is what you can do within constraints. Besides, it's just a factory outlet.

Behind the bus station is a flat open field. I wonder if it is an air strip. This thought gets me wondering whether the name Letňany derives from this since 'let' means flight in Czech. When G. calls a few minutes later I ask her. She says she doesn't know. Winter is putting up a final bitter fight, so I tell G. I'll meet her at her grandmother's which is not far away in Kobylisy.

On the train back there are some kids playing a game, a different group of kids than before. The object of the game is to run as far as they can from the train then turn and try to make it back to the train before it leaves. I watch them noisily disrupt the crowds of commuters at every stop. When I get to Kobylisy, one of them clears a bench and just manages to squeeze between the doors before the train takes off.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010


Though I've been curious about this station since I first saw it many years ago, I never succumbed enough to check it out over the years. The name has been the main reason. The names of most other stations are self-evident. This one is more impenetrable.

When I leave the station, I feel the icy wind on my face. A few days ago I was fooled into thinking spring would soon be here. The air was warm and fuzzy. A few buds had sprouted on the trees. I was feeling energetic. Now the air is steely.

The Czechs call this type of cold "kosa", which means scythe. Today, it's obvious to see why. The wind is slicing me to the bone. It's also going to trim today's post. I'm not sure how long I can stand to be outside.

On the first block I follow a street called Pod Turnovskou tratí. It's one of the features of Prague toponyms that they reflect some of the geographical or historical features of the area. Of course, the city is not short of streets named in honour of historical figures and famous places - or streets renamed when certain historical figures were no longer in vogue. In other instances, the street names simply describe the street. In this instance the street is under Turnovský's tracks.

Across from me is a basketball court with two large gates, one at each goal end. The gates resemble bared teeth for a post-apocalyptic play set. Moreover, they are completely useless, as the surrounding fence is quite low and would be easily crossed by your typical basketball player.

Through the second exit of the station I find the local branch of the municipal library. It seems a good way to avoid the scythe so I mount the caged stairwell. The library is in a seventies style cement shopping center with an optometrist and a supermarket. Kids' drawing are stuck to the window. Books are displayed invitingly. It's shut. The scythe's got me.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Muzeum Part 2

Now that the National Museum comprises of two buildings I thought it would be better to devote a second post and day to the new section which is housed in the former Federal Assembly. I also relished the chance to explore this building, which sits grim and remote at the top of Wenceslas Square.

When I first arrived in the Czech Republic the building was surrounded by concrete barriers and guarded by police because it was the headquarter of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Now, the headquarters have moved and the building has been acquired by the National Museum. There is a perverse symmetry because during the 1968 invasion, the Warsaw Pact troops allegedly thought the older National Museum was a radio station and fired on it. The bullet marks are still visible in the columns. Fittingly, the current exhibition, Za Svobodu, is on the struggle against the communist regime.

The exhibition is a survey of both repression and resistance from 1948 to 1989. The exhibition attempts to show life at different levels with examples of propaganda, dissident literature and even a replica of a typical living room in a panelák flat. This is one of those situations where I could reel off all the information I've gleaned form books, articles and conversations, yet it doesn't change the fact that I don't feel this exhibition as Czech people do. For me, these things are examples. For them, they are memories.

However, the disconnection perhaps invites other 'readings' about the place. The main one is how unreal some of this feels. I'm referring especially to the riot cop gear, which appears more like a the accessory to some ill-conceived live-sized action figure still in its blister pack of a display case. Compounding this feeling is the replica of the Berlin Wall toward the end of this exhibition, complete with a copy of the original graffiti. I wonder how many other examples of graffiti have been copied as though they were the work of an old master? Actually, given that it's been a few decades since Basquiat decorated New York with his work, there have probably been a few. There's probably also a forged Banksy around - probably done by Banksy himself.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the exhibition were the connections made with the the charter movement in the Baltic states and those here. I was surprised to read that one Latvian student Eliyahu Rips, attempted to set himself alight in protest against the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. This was only one example of other forms of protest to come from this region. It's a history I've heard little about since living here. Again, a visit to a museum resulted in me learning something.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Muzeum Part 1

Even if you've never been to Prague, you can probably guess that there is a museum located at this train station, the National Museum in fact, so I thought I would slip out of my tourist role and into that of a my tour guide.

The National Museum tends to get a bad rap as nothing more than a stuffy old building filled with bones and moth eaten stuffed animals. This description is partly true but it's also part of its appeal. Whereas many other museums try to go for interactivity, this museum recalls a time when knowledge was treated with some solemnity and a dash of amateurism. I realise there is little we can learn from an animal by skinning, mounting and placing it by another creature who's suffered the same fate, and I know that many collections are really glorified booty, but I enjoy the quiet, and these simple exhibitions can allow the mind to wander.

This was not exactly what I experienced at The Story of Planet Earth. (I've taken the liberty of removing the redundant article.) This current exhibition takes its cues from those more modern exhibitions with films and exhibits to make you better imagine an earthquake. As the name suggests, the exhibition tells the story of Earth from formation then splits into various sub-plots - geological, evolutionary and environmental. The perpetual ten year old in me, who was being glowered at by the perpetual fifty six year old in me (the perpetual eight nine year old had dozed off in the lobby) loved the dinosaur display best of all. Actually the regular thirty four year old enjoyed the dinosaurs and fossils too. One of my dream jobs would be a curator. I guess I can add it to the list.

Actually, I enjoyed the exhibition a lot more than I've led you to believe. I guess that fifty six year old has taken over. Even the hordes of kids didn't bother me. It was heartening to see them interested in something other than computer games. One little girl thought the dinosaur skeleton on display was for a dragon. Another kid was imploring his father to look at everything around him - I guess appealing to families isn't always so bad.

A lot of the fossils were from what is today the Czech Republic, thus creating a telescopic view of the regions history, at least in my imagination. Some surprising fossils included the head of an early species of shark.

Perhaps the most shocking display was of three photos of the Trift Glacier in Switzerland, showing its retreat. No less disturbing was this series of images showing the rate of deforestation in Borneo.

I forget that trips to the museum are also meant to be educational.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010


I've got a letter to post. It's been sitting in my bag since before Christmas and it really should've been sent already. One of my colleagues said the nearest post office is near Pankrác and since I haven't done Pankrác I thought how convenient. Except I don't know where the post office is.

When I exit the station I head to a map by a bus stop. Unfortunately, the scale is too small to show specific buildings. I figure I could ask someone, but finding the post office gives me a good reason to explore, so I head off around the large shopping centre above the train station.

It's very new, dropped from the sky new, even the cobblestones of the footpath seem to shine. Attached to it are large colourful names like badges, already to be taken down when fashions and economic situations change. Quite a lot of English is spoken around here. Three Americans discuss pot as I walk past and then I see the post office. If only I had gone clock-wise.

The post office is off the block with the train station but I'm going to bend the rules since I don't think I've written about visiting a post office. I mentioned the GPO once before but I haven't written about using the post here.

When I enter I take a number and join the large but evenly distributed crowd who are also clutching their numbers and staring at the number display as though it will provide succour. One of the numbers is 666. I mention this not because I'm religious or into apocalyptic revelations. It's just a funny co-incidence because I was reading about the number last night. The reason I was reading about the number was because I was doing some research on phobias and was drawn to the spikiness of the word hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia, the fear of the number 666. Apparently, Nancy Reagan suffered from it. If I were the superstitious type, or Greg Araki, I might place more significance in this. My letter is posted without any fuss. Not that I expect any.

Leaving the post office I decide to continue stretching the rules and head to a block further on. I think a shopping centre is beyond my powers of imagination or observation to make it interesting. I do have one fond memory connected with the place. Last year, I took part in a photo story for the magazine I work for. By photo story, I mean one that resembles a comic but with still shots for the panels. I was one of the characters. Strange that they never asked me to do another.

The other reason is that I've spied a tower across the street and would like to investigate it close-up. Also across the street I see the older apartment blocks before the shopping centre crash-landed. They're painted birthday cake pastels apart from the side wall where a giant knife has sliced through to the brown grey underneath. Maybe, the impact of the shopping centre destroyed part of the building.

Getting to the tower is not as easy as I first thought. It seems to be behind a large DIY centre. I figure all I need to do is walk through the car park and I'm there. When I get the end, there's a barrier and only when I lean over do I see the side of the tower.

So I had the other way around. It's a long way round. Fortunately, the tower is just tall enough for me to keep it in sight. When I get around I see my final approach to the tower is blocked by a scrap yard, which is private property, and there are too many people around to simply walk in. I have to make with a photo taken by standing up on a cement wall.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Stylistic Decision

This was written before Christmas but I decided to keep it in the present so as not to break the style of the blog so far. Probably my first real stylistic decision about what I'm doing. The reason for the delay is that I was quite ill from the day after I wrote the original notes. No doubt it was a result of standing around in the snow. By the time I recovered it was Christmas and then and then. Please read on.


This station sounds like a good name for a dog not that I know any dogs here with the name. I think I've mentioned before that Czechs tend to give their dogs English names, so I won't pry open that old chestnut again.

Speaking of chestnuts, there don't seem to be any stall selling them here. Though this station is surrounded by shops, there are no Christmas markets. This means no bloody images of carp, no sweet trdelník (Did I mention that this cylindrical sugar coated pastry comes from the word trdlo - which means, among other words, bumpkin?), no tacky gifts for me to riff on about and no chestnuts. I guess I've exhausted my more Christmas friendly stations.

I'm not really in the mood to explore yet another supermarket. My sense of wonder can only go so far. Instead I try to see how far I can go along the block. Above the sky is cataract and the ground talcum white. The block doesn't stretch so far, so instead I try to work out which direction Stodůlky would be by following the ventilation towers. Unfortunately, I'm not exactly which direction it is. I see a church which for a moment I think is one I saw from Hůrka, but church designs tend to follow a common design, so it I can't be sure. My feet have become so cold that they feel wet and I have a Christmas party to be at. The last for the year.