So… yes… amid my play’s numerous performances…. I left town and went to the Czech Republic.
I’m not at all an experienced traveler. I’d like to say, at the very least, I brushed up a little on the history of the region, but that never happened. Instead, I launched no-nothing-head forward into a culture I didn’t understand with a history I was mostly ignorant about.
It turns out the Czech Republic is beautiful, has a rich history, and is filled with patriotic people who are very proud of that rich history. Some of my fondest memories are the few opportunities I had to chat with locals about their experiences, or the things they found most fascinating about their region’s history. I was also delighted at one point to meet a fellow who perked up when I mentioned I was from Oregon – he had come to the west coast maybe ten years ago to road trip up Highway 1. I have done that drive myself, so that was kind of a neat connection to make with someone who’s otherwise lived a very different life from my own.
Anyway, here's an awkward video I made about my experience.
The things I will remember the most:
- The woman in Cesky Krumlov who told me about the old decommissioned photography studio she used to walk by with her kids when her kids were growing up. They made up stories about how the house was magic, and contained within it buried treasure. Years later, it was discovered that the house contained over one hundred thousand negatives of old photos that had been taken during the time the studio was functioning in the late 1800s/early 1900s. The house, now a photography museum, is an absolutely incredible historical document, made even more wonderful by this woman’s story about her children and their long-held belief that the house was magic.
- The Mask Hall in the castle at Cesky Krumlov. Particularly the painting of costumes hanging on hooks right above the backstage areas for the actors. And most particularly the painting of the masquerade ball attendee wearing a costume that portrayed them half as a woman and half as a man. As someone who’s gender-neutral play was currently running back home in America, and who is extremely captivated by non-binary portrayals of gender, this was super exciting for me to see. I want to know everything about this painting and so far have found unfortunately little.
- Basically I have to go back to Cesky Krumlov a few years from now, whenever the theater is restored to the point where they are doing actual productions there and whenever their authentic period costumes are available for me to go gawk at them.
- The incredibly gilded cathedral that sits essentially right on top of a silver mine in Kutna Hora, where people risked their lives every day in the name of finding more shiny things for the king and for the church. The paintings on the walls within that cathedral made me feel a strange, deep sadness. The terror of being a human for most of history, a life dictated by superstition and classism, all the things I can’t understand about the people who came before me.
- The inscription "K+M+B” and a date is written in chalk on many of the front doors of houses and businesses in Kutna Hora. This refers to the three wise men ("Kašpar, Melichar a Baltazar" in Czech) and is given to those who donate money on the 12th day of Christmas and receive a blessing from the church.
- The Rosenburgs were obsessed with bears. The Schwarzenbergs have a creepy coat-of-arms where a bird is eating a mans eye. The Sedlec Ossuary has a creepy recreation of this coat-of-arms made out of human bones.
- The waiter who pretended to take our order and then leaped on stage at the opera house and -- turns out -- is an amazing opera singer!
- The young woman living in Prague who told me about the spiritual experience she had volunteering in Zambia with the Catholic Church. She was struck by how bizarre it was to see televisions inside tin shacks. She was struck too by how much kinship she felt with the spirituality of Africans. Perhaps that they didn’t need something new. She was concerned about the women who wanted to move to Europe in pursuit of a better life. They have more opportunities in Africa, she said. They can be the best in their field and they can make the country better.
- The man who was born in Prague who promised me we were totally eating somewhere locals eat. And his friend that corrected him, “except when we eat out we would never eat Czech food – I can make that at home. When I eat out I eat Thai food.” Duh, me too.
- Unsweetened whip cream on savory food is a thing.
- My boyfriend likes fried cheese …a LOT.