Thursday, July 13, 2017

High Above it All in Cesky Krumlov

The streets are thronged with tourists bused in from Prague, posing with selfies, and eating ice-cream cones until 5 PM when It becomes ours, belonging to the few Czech’s who live in the Old Town and to those of us who spend the night. During my three day stay I’ve grown to consider it “mine.” After all, I’ve laid down roots at Hostel 99. At least I’ve claimed my bed near the open window with the melodious stream underneath. I know how NOT to use the toilet. (Apparently it's an Asian custom to stand on the toilet seat and a Bulgarian custom to place the used toilet paper in the bin.) 

And I’ve made friends for one day with Werner – an East German—who is riding his bicycle the length of the river from Dresden and back. He is the only hosteller I’ve met over 50! And in the hostel kitchen he shares his healthy pre-ride breakfast.

Under the city is a little spooky. A museum shows Miroslav Patel whose sculptures both grotesquely portrays the emotional life of Czechs under communism and the selfishness that intrudes with capitalism. And he accuses them of incessary deaths by the violent out-casting of Germans from the Sudetenland after WWll.  The dark underside of history upon which we casually tread...

But high above it all everything is different. Quiet, peaceful, clean. The winding medieval lanes make sense from this perspective as simply the form of organic growth. The high strategic placement of the castle makes sense too as does the choice by this serpentine river.

But is it real or is it fluff? Beauty or illusion?

Walking though the Cesky Krumlov Castle provokes such questions. Apparently in the Renaissance style which stresses symmetry, false windows were painted to balance a real one. Walls were painted 3D to resemble building blocks. In the Castle even fake marble was installed. All to impress? Viewed back from the future the pomp looks a bit silly.

This town itself was designed with grand ambition. (Bears were installed in the dry moat to claim a false but impressive relationship with the Orsino family.) The ambition was too grand it turned out as the town had to be sold when loans were called in. Political intrigue, lack of heirs, curses and ghosts, the plague that consumed 70% of the population, a military hospital in World War I and acquisition by the Nazis … all wind their way through history. (One bear still roams his prison below.)

Symbols of power dominate the Castle Museum. A coat of arms of two ravens pecking  severed Turkish heads, armor, vestments of the church, bones of St Someone and a copy of the mummified hand of St. Ann. Beauty, power, truth or fluff?

But high above it all, providing stalwart inspiration, rises this wedding cake of a castle tower. Seen as I kayaked into town, I felt, “Yes, I have arrived, I am safe!”

Climbing the tower taxes these post-surgical knees.An architecture student from China agrees that it is well-constructed, albeit from wood. There is no steel here but a fire would take it all down. A photo shows wood, plaster and tile, fragile but apparently long-lasting.

The view provides perspective and peace. A moment of grandeur, as if whoever stands here owns all he can see. And the perspective that perhaps we are all just characters in a Comedie of Art. These are the figures painted in the Baroque theater in the Castle. This is an Italian art form of acting with certain stock characters who then improvise within their allotted personalities. Is this who we are? Are we fooling ourselves to think we have more than limited freedom?

As I descend the steep unsafe steps (I can hear my kids yelling, “Be careful, Mom!”) the truth outs. I may be ambitiously trying to play the part of a youngish fit intrepid world adventurer but my compromised gait betrays me and the part I’ve been allotted. “Old knees,” comments a knowing passerby.

Yep! Truth not fluff. But the place is story-book beautiful, never the less.

And it is home for a few days, real and cozy enough. We  are tucked into our beds in a room appropriately named “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” And Werner sings us to sleeps as he did his children  – now his children for a night—American, Rumanian, Korean and Chinese.

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