Saturday, 28 June 2014

Some Summertime Scrawl

Well, it has just gone summer solstice and the last entry here was at the vernal equinox… I’ve been busy with a few things, teaching and trying to climb the mountain of paperwork that piles up this time of year (“Let the teachers teach!”) and also editing the re-launch issue of questing beast’s Scrawl e-zine – I must say I think the quality of the content matches, or surpasses, previous issues!

I was privileged to talk to Jonathan Meades for the lead feature – a fascinating fellow. We resurrected and revised Laurie Dale’s earlier interview with Sir Christopher Lee – just in time for his 92nd birthday! Inspired by the Vikings exhibition at the British Museum, and a visit to the British Library, I wrote a new article about the Beowulf saga – or should we sympathise with Grendel? We also caught up with an old friend of Scrawl, Thomas E Sniegoski, who will not leave Vampirella alone – and who could blame him? I had the pleasure (a kind of fan-boy thrill) of interviewing Graham Masterton, one of my very favourite horror writers and Aaron Stainthorpe, singer-songwriter of one of my very favourite bands, 'My Dying Bride', and Liesel Schwarz was also brought to book by co-editor, Kim Vertue. Thanks to all involved!

You can read all this in the Summer Solstice issue of Scrawl...
Contents:

Jonathan Meades en catamini
The Horror… The Humour… of Graham Masterton
There’s No Stopping Thomas E Sniegoski
The Prince of Darkness Himself: Sir Christopher Lee!
Brought to Book: Liesel Schwarz and Aaron Stainthorpe
Beowulf versus Grendel – the Rematch!

…enough for you? You can expect more, this Yuletide, in the up-coming Winter Solstice issue of the questing beast Scrawl

Friday, 21 March 2014

'The Race Glass' by Remy Dean - now available

Good morning equinoxed world!

To celebrate its release today, a retrospective collection of three short stories, titled The Race Glass, is being offered as a free direct download via amazon Kindle. 

Check out the publisher's blog, Scrawl for this Special Launch Party Promotion and more info... (Please note that this promotion has ended and the e-book is now priced at £1.85 in the UK.)

The photograph used for the cover artwork on The Race Glass is currently being exhibited at Gwynedd Museum and Gallery, Bangor, until 19 April. It will then be exhibited at  Oriel Pendeitsh, Caernarfon, from 2 May until 22 June, and can be purchased from the venues.

I wrote this piece as the 'Author's Introduction':

The idea was to put together a retrospective collection of short stories. Initially, this was to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the novel, Scraps. I was asked to suggest a set of titles that spanned those two decades – as it ended up, the stories showcased here go back beyond that, the earliest being from the mid-1980s. I justified this by pointing out that although Scraps was not published until 1994 (two years after it had been completed) I had been writing it for some years before. Also, as is often the case with fiction, Scraps is a highly stylised form of autobiography - in the same way that dreams are - and some elements that remain in the finished version also date back more than three decades.

Memories can be strange and mercurial… for creatives in general and writers in particular. We are custodians of our own memories, and for the memories of characters we have created. Usually they are very different indeed. Sometimes they are the same. I selected the three stories here because they are linked by being strongly autobiographical. Some of the characters represent adolescent aspects of myself that have been jettisoned with age, though I still love them enough to allow them to live on in this form… and they remain part of me, and I am still part of them. The past remains present and never more so than in the human mind. Places, now changed beyond recognition remain untouched, people now dead are still alive in our memories of them.

Many of the key characters you will find in these pages are ‘lost’ or incomplete souls, obsessed with finding their individual purpose, or a path that leads back to the ‘self’. They are part of what I was or what I could have become though did not. Some of the people and places are real, and although the stories are entirely fictitious, they are all true. (I know this because I made them up myself!)

The Race Glass - three short stories
Snail Racing (1987): This was adapted from an original script written a year or so earlier and filmed in 1986. It was shot on splendid Super8 with a budget of fifty pounds. I held the camera most of the time and later did the editing on an old Elmo with razor-splicer and celluloid cement. In this naïve venture I was assisted by my two best friends at the time, Robin and Frank. Some young volunteers from the local amateur dramatics society bravely stepped in as the cast. Thanks to all involved, especially the snails who remained true to their nature despite being removed from their natural habitat. (‘No snail was harmed during the filming of this short motion picture.’)

I wanted the experience of doing a ‘proper film’ with real footage, and boom mikes, and cans, and processing, and cutting, and screening in a dark auditorium with a projector softly rattling in the background. We managed it all… sort of.

It all went as well as could be expected, except for the last reel which had to be shot at twilight. I miscalculated the exposure… There was no second chance of a reshoot or of reassembling the cast, so I faced a choice: leave in a final scene of Lynchian darkness with just the merest hint of movement in a grainy void – which probably would have been the better choice – or cut in some footage of roadside shrines I had filmed during a visit to Austria. I went for the latter. Well, at the time it made sense to me, though after the first few screenings I realise that it only made sense to me – that meant I must be a true auteur! 

The film never got shown beyond the front rooms of those involved and one college screening to an audience of five, including its auteur director – all sounds very Nick Zedd, but he should remain unconcerned about the competition!

I rescued the script from oblivion by adapting it into a short story, which is presented in this volume for the first time. Whereas the film-making process is filled with compromise and ‘team-working’, the writing process is unencumbered by any of these considerations and remains truer to the original creative concepts. (Auteur is French for author.)
Illustration for Guitar Hero
(appeared in Scrawl, 2000)
Guitar Hero (1999): “That’s me… That’s me!” I recall the scene in Todd Haynes 1998 masterpiece, Velvet Goldmine, when the central character, played by Christian Bale, points at Brian Slade / Maxwell Demon on the television screen, emphatically indicating that the glamorous, outrageous, rock star represents aspects of himself that others will not acknowledge. For many of my formative years, music was hugely important to me. ‘My bands’ were my bestest friends – they talked to me more than anyone else, and I spent most of my mid-teen free-time alone in my room with them.

At school there were two tribes: the sporty-types who talked football and kicked things around at break time, or the kids that were seriously into music, read the NME and decorated their exercise books with doodled logos of their favourite bands, preferring to stay in the Library over lunch time. I was certainly of the second species. To this day, music and song lyrics are hugely influential. Many of my very favourite writers work in song: Scott Walker, Gordon Lightfoot, Kate Bush, Nick Currie, Dave Graney, David McComb, Michael Gira, Nick Cave, Lydia Lunch, Claudio Sanchez, Serj Tankian, Dani Filth… the list could go on and on and on.

I had realised my boyhood ambition to become a film director… sort of. Next was the being-in-a-band thing. So, I formed ‘BrainDeath’, which was really more of a solo effort that a true ‘band’ – I wrote the ‘songs’ and ‘played’ most of the ‘instruments’ – guitar, synthesiser, sequencers, shaver, with some help from friends and family – my Dad provided the drills and other power tools. A 'live' show would have been me on guitar and microphone and the rest played back on tapes. At the time, I had access to the sound studios in the audio-visual department of the college so we recorded, and mixed a few tracks and put out a cassette single, No Way, with an instrumental ‘sound sculpture’ on the B-side.

I shared a house with a good bunch of young chaps, one of them was in a much more successful band and had been signed to a record label and did tours and everything… ‘BrainDeath’ was short-lived but did all that an indie band should: recorded and put out a DIY single, performed in student houses and made a proper pretentious promo video (this was a must in the 1980s). Written with hindsight, Guitar Hero was based on a delirious mismatch of thoughts, feelings and memories seeded at this time and deals with that life-stage when adolescents venture out from the environment of their up-bringing and begin to take fuller control of their own destiny. It concerns the concerns of growing up – transitioning from childhood, finding yourself amongst others, the angst often concealed, within, under the surface… because we, as adults, sometimes chose to forget that the ‘folly of youth’ is often a brave front.
Homunculus title page illustration
(from the SUTEKH's GIFT anthology,
  The Fearsome Dark, 2004)
Homunculus (2002): Our desire for unity is countered by our inherent duality, or even multiplicities. We are unable to become one within the self, whilst maintaining our humanity and identity, so ironically we attempt unity with others, as a ‘couple’ or part of a ‘cult’. The drive is strong, as it stems from a biological urge, but in order to unify with others, we have to embrace their differences! By doing this, we run the risk of suppressing valuable aspects of ourselves, or we can learn how to better unify our selves within… and this has been the focus of Magick and Alchemy for millennia and is now expressed in every aspect of ‘social media’ where we increasingly exist as digital versions of ourselves. It also forms a thread that runs through the stories presented here.

There are other threads, and there are codes and metaphors but these stories are sometimes simply what they appear to be. Which is which? That is for you to decide. The writing of a text is part of a process that continues with the reading of it, and the reader is in charge of that part…

So from here on in, dear reader, look to thy self!

Friday, 7 February 2014

A Day To Remember

The photography of Chino Otsuka, Jonathan Meades and Tom Wood

In the artist’s statement for the exhibition, Processed Memory, I made the observation that the photograph has become synonymous with memory. Adverts often use photographs and the visual language of the photo album to imply personal histories and tales of recollection. Lately, our memories have become increasingly digitised. Ferb (of Phineas and Ferb) made the point that, “Fame is fleeting, but the internet is forever”. Increasingly, digital pictures are the way that we remember and store our memories of people and places.

Recently, a very good friend of mine e-mailed me some pictures from our college days that he was about to upload to his facebook page. I saw them and the memories came flooding back, my mind’s eye could rerun some of the events depicted in crystal clarity including details of dialogue and gesture, but also there were a few people and places that I had no response to… Who? Where? Not a clue. (Perhaps if one can fully remember their student times, then they were not doing it properly! A bit like the 60s.) The point I am getting at, here and now, is that our culture is increasingly remembering more and more through stored images, or more exactly we are experiencing digitally and then storing digitally – occasionally sharing digitally – and perhaps our individual, organic engagements with these events are less deep and the memories less fixed in our actual substance – the ‘eye’ bypasses the ‘I’ and feeds directly into the ‘i-’. Are we becoming careless with our memories? (Was that a Duran Duran song?)

In the olden days, the photograph was a valuable thing. A film could hold 24 or 36 exposures before you had to take it to the chemist for processing, or – if you were an audio-visual student, professional photographer or hobbyist – unravel the spool in total darkness and work alchemy to develop the ribbon of film itself and then make prints from it. Each frame actually cost money, and the effort and organisation involved in retrieving those images added to their value. Because of these constraints, the taking of each photograph was a deliberate choice. The act of considering, deciding and taking the photo had already fixed the people and places in memory. The shared experience of shuffling through the pack of processed pictures with friends, or laying out a photo album to show to others, taking time to select the best and discard the boring… this was all part of a ritual of remembering. It made photographs more meaningful.

Now, we upload vast amounts of photos to ‘streams’ and ‘buckets’, fill gigabytes of hard-drive with stored images, we ‘tweet’, we ‘instagram’… teenagers, and ‘agers' in general, 'selfie' all day long and lean close to friends to pout at a tiny lens and… well, that’s that. Our culture is storing huge amounts of pictures in the form of visual data, pictures taken ‘in passing’ snapped almost at random then stored and at best glanced at once or twice… the majority of these pictures are never looked at again. Ever.

Who has the time to sift through thousands of pictures accrued over the last few years and do anything meaningful with them? When will we get round to selecting the best and discarding the boring? Sharing? “I just uploaded a picture onto facebook”, “check out my tumblr photostream”, “I just tweeted an instagram” – really? Well done. In the days of ‘proper’ photographs this would be the equivalent of pinning a picture to a tree in a forest – someone may even find it and slip it into their wallet to use later, just like some random stranger may download your most flattering ‘selfie’ to enjoy in their own particular way… is this now the measure of the value we place on our memories, and on ourselves?

Marshall McLuhan said that all media are extensions of some organic, human faculty and that photography is certainly an extension of the eye and the memory. New media is extending those faculties further still: this keyboard I am tapping on is an extension of my hands and my voice, this blog is a projection of my mind, the screen you are looking at is an extension of your eyes, the internet systems joining these faculties are extensions of the human brain. Or is that balance beginning to tip the other way?

These thoughts have been sparked off by seeing the work of three photographers who have really maintained the integrity and value of the medium. As creatives, their approaches are quite different – only really linked because they are important photographers and because I recently saw their work on the same day.

I discovered the work of Chino Otsuka via a tweet (look who’s talking, now!) and I quickly glanced at a selection of her images on-line… then I looked again, and again, each time for longer and longer. There was something truly poignant and poetic about her images that deliberately explored personal memory. The images were ‘haunting’. Though the places and events depicted were unlike anything from my own past, there was something that touched me deeply. It is difficult to put into words, as all successful art is… it was if I had just experienced her memories. The imagery struck a chord in me that resonated with my own experiences.
Chino Otsuka: Photo Album
From the 'Tokyo 4-3-4-506' series, a photograph of a silhouetted child behind a curtain, backlit by a sunny day – the shadow, the way the light gleamed on some wood, the patterning of plaster on a wall – the details were all meaningful to Otsuka, and I knew of very similar things, all be it a different window, the light of another day in another place… a different interior entirely. What’s more, this effect was not isolated in this single image, picture after picture resonated deeply yet softly. I think I was feeling hiraeth – a Welsh word that is difficult to translate – Wikipedia describes it as, “a mix of longing, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness, or an earnest desire for … the past,” which is close to how the photographs affected me, although they showed images from, and reconstructions of, another person’s past.

I immediately amazon-primed her book, Photo Album. By coincidence, Pidgin Snaps, a Boxette  - 100 postcards by Jonathan Meades (which I had ordered a couple of months earlier but which had been ‘lost in the post’, returned to depot, cancelled, re-ordered, designated out-of-stock, eventually re-sourced and despatched) arrived the same morning…
100 postcards from Pidgin Snaps by Jonathan Meades
The format harks back to a time before we posted pictures to the internet – back then, we sent picture post cards to particular people, often with a personal message on the reverse. Perhaps with some irony, Meades (who has been known to use irony on occasions) has published this set of quirky images so that a multitude of individuals, not personally acquainted with the artist, can experience his ‘expo-in-a-box’ of un-sent postcards in the gallery of their own homes. We must also remember here that ‘those times’ are not ‘long gone’ – there is nothing to stop you from posting these cards to your friends, with the addition of your own personal message on the back, except that they are so beautiful/intriguing/educational/weird/wonderful that you will want to keep them to peruse time and time again…

I have not yet had sufficient time to absorb the collection in any depth, but a few really stand out on the first shuffle through. I appreciate the aesthetics of reflections that transform the surroundings into vibrant abstracts, distilling the essence of a place into colourful compositions. The ‘straight’ landscape photographs are also impressive, many with broody lighting that transform the familiar into dramatic, cinematic scenes.

One image shows a fence dividing a rugged hillside, something we may refer to as ‘countryside’. On one side of the fence the country is brown and rocky, on the other it is green and mossy. The land has become a record, a memory, of centuries of land management by two different owners. The weather, the soil, the climate, the longitude and latitude… none of these things have had a greater effect on the land than the actions of humans. It is a beautiful image with a profound subtext about our effect on the environment and reminds us that nearly all of the British countryside is artificial.

There is more about Pidgin Snaps here at the publisher's website. 

Jonathan Meades has built a career out of seeing things differently – finding the extraordinary in the everyday and sharing his childlike wonder and keen intellect with us so we may also pause and look around us to find for ourselves the fascinating stories hidden in a local colloquialism or in the pattern of brickwork on a shop front façade… he is a polysemic-semantic-Romantic and an expert archaeologist of etymology… (!)

You can read my extensive Scrawl interview with Jonathan Meades here...

On the morning that these wonderful photographic memoires arrived, via our cheery rural postperson, we had to satisfy ourselves with a very brief ‘scan’ of their content before heading off to attend an arts workshop hosted by Tim Pugh and then take in the Tom Wood exhibition at Oriel Mostyn Gallery in Llandudno…

The work of Tom Wood is deceptively simple: seemingly straightforward photographs of people and places. He is prolific, and has been so for decades, diligently photographing his surroundings and the people he meets. The people in these fixed images have changed, or gone, yet here they are, as they were. Insignificant moments fixed as monuments to their humanity, with all its terrible faults, heroic failings and trifling triumphs. These people may have a starring role in their own life, but are not celebrities – they are individuals made significant by being singled out from the masses. We see their faces and feel we may have known them, somehow our own memories of friends, neighbours and relatives surface and intertwine with these strangers, yet all we are shown is their surface, on the surface of a print.
Tom Wood is 'Photie Man' - an overview of his earlier works
Photographic exhibitions often tend toward the technical, almost clinical appreciation of composition and process – “ooh, the richness of the print”, “look how immaculate the window mount is”, “the exposure must have been such-and-such with a f-stop of thingy and I bet there was a lens”… Here it is the personal response of the viewer, and their own memories associated with each image, that lends these pictures their depth. There are subtle signifiers that spark off our own reminiscences – “my mum had an apron like that”, “my cousin used to have those shoes”, “I can imagine how she felt”, “remember that wallpaper”, “her hair looks so 1980s”, “y’know that picture of nan”… and that is how many of the viewers in the gallery were engaging with the work – as fellow humans. Talking to each other, entering into a dialogue with the people, places, past and present.

I once likened Tom Wood’s approach to that of a wildlife photographer: capturing naturalistic, un-posed pictures of the human animal in their habitats. Though he strongly resented those remarks, maintaining that he respects his subjects and often builds relationships with them that have spanned decades, I still had that (to me, positive) impression at the Mostyn’s current exhibition titled, Tom Wood: Landscapes. Tom is a ‘people person’ so we see quite a few townscapes and farmscapes – most of which are inhabited.

The photographs of abandoned interiors are amongst my personal favourites. The people were long gone, but we saw the space where they had lived. We were looking into what had once been personal spaces, reading an implied narrative of families growing and declining, times changing for better or worse… Those crumbling, cluttered rooms had borne witness to comings and goings, births and deaths. They were relics of lives lived with their measures of happiness… perhaps some deep sadness. Now they were preserved in the museum of the photographic image and their stories, real or imagined, could touch our own.

Otsuka, Meades and Wood all manage to make the mundane magical: Otsuka takes moments remembered from her own childhood and makes them resonate with our private memories – the minutiae become mythic; Meades transforms the familiar into wonderland stage sets – things we may walk past everyday become arresting and intriguing documents of our past; Wood allows us to take a longer look at things we may otherwise simply glance at, introduces people we would dismiss as ‘ordinary’ – he curates a museum of memories that catalogues people and places who could easily be forgotten… stories, theirs and ours, may have more in common than we first suspect.

Look longer at the moment, for the past remains present.

Friday, 13 December 2013

A Friday in Prague...

Itinerary: Old Town Hall and City Gallery, Museum of Communism, Mucha Museum
See also A Tuesday in Prague + A Wednesday in Prague + A Thursday in Prague
The Pavements of Prague...
Just off the Old Town Square, a ‘fake’ wedding is being photographed by an array of very well equipped photographers. The bride and groom are intermittently primped and pampered and arranged in relation to a stretch limo decorated with white ribbons. The bridesmaid models are brought on and off for the shoot and the happy couple repeat their kisses… We suppose it is a publicity shoot for a car-hire company, or a wedding package company as the gallery we are here to visit shares its entrance with a visitor centre and the town hall - often used for grand weddings…

There is some irony here as the City Gallery is currently hosting the 2013 Press Photo Exhibition. Two floors of professional reportage photography from around the world, showing almost every aspect of human life (and a bit of death, too), natural and artificial disasters, extreme moments in sport, candid peeks into subcultures and cults… all very impressive and a few truly affecting. I appreciated the human visual stories, but enjoyed the land and wildlife sections more (see my personal favourite below). Any visitor who could look away from the wide variety of powerful, glossy pictures, would see some of the building’s original C14th and Renaissance features, including wooden beams, painted with twining vines.
A cute what? It is a new parrot hatchling at Zoo Praha
by Thomas Adamec (photograph, 2013, Prague)
Then an interlude for shopping and for me to help Sparky seek out his old friends, Abby and Cynthia. On our way to their last known address I manage to track down a bottle of the most potent absinthe on the market, a measurable 34 grams per kilo of 'active wormwood' (or so the label claims), and at seventy-two percent alcohol this could be classed as a fuel. Maybe there is a reason why it is in what looks like a big aftershave bottle.

The shop where Sparky’s friends used to reside has been replaced by one that exclusively sells glass souvenirs. It looks like our mission to reunite him with his little soft friends of old is destined to fail. Then we spot another shop further down the same street that specialises in traditional wooden marionettes and we decide to give it a try. Amongst the puppet cast of what must be every well-known fairy tale or nursery rhyme, who should we see, put aside on a table of reduced ‘surplus stock’? 
L - R: Abby, Sparky, Cynthia - the happy-ending hat-trick!
Abby and Cynthia! They had waited four long ears (sic) for Sparky’s return. Finally they were free and were looking forward to a special screening of Harvey on our return to the UK… Mission accomplished! (There’s a bigger back story here: on my last visit to Prague I had run out of money and failed to purchase Abby and Cynthia, settling for Sparky instead, who was an instant hit and family favourite back home… but what kind of cuddly could possibly follow the distinctive little dog? Perhaps his little magical friends from the city of magick could do the trick…)
'Tesla girls - electric chairs and dynamos...'
Prague's Museum of Communism is worth a visit regardless of your political stance. The three rooms are cluttered with a wealth of retro chic, Constructivist graphics, propaganda and works of Socialist Realism. On show you will also see chilling remnants of the cold war, chemical warfare environment suits, grainy black and white photos of research establishments that look like something from Quatermass or a Kate Bush video, gulags and prison cells. There is also a cinema showing informative and visually interesting films from, and about, the (not-so-long-gone) Czech communist era. The whole gallery strives to give 'both sides of the story' all be it from a post-communist Czech context. This museum of living history reminds visitors that a great many of the people you meet in Prague will remember this period all too well, some will have been part of the Communist Coup in 1948, and many would have played their part in the 1989 Velvet Revolution.

Fittingly, we round off the art tour with the Mucha Museum. Though a small museum, this is a must for any visitor interested in the cultural heritage of Prague, or in the life and work of this important artist. The collection here is small, but well-selected with a cross section of his print work and some fantastic glimpses of sketchbook pages. The life-studies are simply amazing, and his life is inspiring. It is worth sitting through the short film biography that loops in the little viewing area - informative and ultimately very moving. 

The film briefly explains his colour theories: he stated that, “Black is the colour of bondage. Blue is the past. Yellow, the joyous present. Orange, the glorious future.” With knowledge of this code, we can re-evaluate the stained glass window in St Vitus Cathedral and the wonderful Slav Epic. Mucha is far more than an illustrator of history; he is a mediator and master story-teller… an important influence on the development of the narrative image through to modern advertising, comic books and cinema.

Prague has proved to be a most pleasing city. This 'art tour' has been full of contrast and satisfying surprises and I will now look to the glorious future and enjoy an orange on the flight home.
Homeward bound - Sparky enjoys his crisps.
...Another successful arts tour! The visit went without a hitch, thanks to the help and support of Travelbound.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

A Thursday in Prague...

Itinerary: Dvorac Sec Gallery, Riverside Walk, Veletrzni Palac, DOX Arts Centre
'Signifier' by Remy Dean (photograph, 2013, Prague)
We are sitting underground, in the C14th cellar now occupied by the AghaRTA. The tall glasses of beer are chilled and the soundtrack is way-cool. Prague is probably the most ‘happening’ city in Europe for jazz, and the jazz that is happening here is smooth and moody and just on the right side of cheesy. It is perfect to round off an intensely busy day with a crammed itinerary. If a director wanted to set a scene in an intimate jazz club – this set-up would fit the bill in every respect. The band are spot on:  the twenty-something drummer has a sense of time that glues the music together and there are intervals of pure percussion where he lays down some real solid beats, daddio… the thirty-something keyboard player is Ondrej Kabrna, and this is his trio, his style ranges from smooth to showy… and the forty-something double-bass player mediates between keys and skins with deep rhythmic flourishes and subtle interludes…

The day started with a walk through the chilled sunshine streets around the Old Town and a visit to the classy, private gallery, Dvorac Sec, showing the new Uber Ego collection from Prague’s very own ‘bad-boy’ of contemporary art, David Cerny. I think he would have had a laugh with Jake and Dinos Chapman and he had even appropriated an image of one of their skinless charred Gestapo grinners... very current! The first room of the exhibition was ‘ruled’ by a little red London bus that groaned loudly with the strain of exertion as it went through a repeated routine of press-ups and panting respites. The endless cycle of labour and effort as it strove to carry others on a daily basis…. It was funny, with a political punch-line, like much of Cerny’s post-punk-modernist oeuvre.
Sparky thinks the Cerny-bus wants to play...
The rest of the show was dominated by conglomerations of various bright objects cast in clear resin – a bit like those novelty toilet seats with starfish set into them… There was a big erection that threw colour-dappled shadows in the shape of butterfly wings to each side. On closer inspection, some of the profiles created using this technique upped the cool factor when I recognised who they were ‘portraits’ of… To set the tone, Alfred Hitchcock (no mistaking his famous profile) looks in the opposite direction to Quentin Tarantino, and across the gallery David Lynch looks at everything from a different angle… and is that Jim Jarmusch? These ‘behind-the-camera’ Pop icons look on as a chrome Titanic sinks into the floor and a larger-than-life, though emasculated, muscle-man with a military-copter-head approaches to… well, either effect a rescue, or finish the job, I suppose.
David Cerny's Hitchcock and Tarantino face-off
So, after that kick-start to our planned day of Modern and Post-Modern, we take a leisurely stroll across the river and along its elevated north bank, heading for the huge Veletrzni Palac – the Museum of Modern Art and Design, housed in the suitably Modern, trade palace building.
'Primary' play park
On the way we enjoy hazy views across the city and pass a play area populated by cheery ceramic creatures in primary colours that could easily be mistaken for Pop Art… perhaps vice versa?
Sparky charms this bronze lady
The Veletrzni Palac is great – in size and in quality. An extensive collection of ground-breaking, Czechocentric works spanning the C2Oth century and delving further back into history to put the Modern into context. It is too big to take in during a single visit. Seven or more floors of varied and stimulating stuff… industrial design, rubbing shoulders with nouveau fashion, set-designs next to theatrically expressionistic sculptures, the Minimal conversing with the Romantic, photography and video art across the hall from decorative ceramics and abstract glass… it’s all here and much of it is a refreshing surprise to anyone used to the other big galleries found in European capitals and their ‘usual suspects’. The collection showcases some world-class, highly influential creatives, whose names may well be unfamiliar to you! Perhaps, the initial reaction is to dismiss some of the works as ‘derivative’… but not after you have read the date on the label. Some of the Czech artists who appear to be, ‘a bit like the Paris Cubists,’ or, ‘similar to the Italian Futurists,’ were producing this work at the same time, or even earlier, than their more famous colleagues…
Kurt Gebauer's 'Dwarf - Dog' dwarfs Sparky... it's all relative.
In their own, semi-permanent gallery, the vast canvases of Alphonse Mucha’s Slav Epic are beautifully displayed. This is the highlight of the entire trip – and that is certainly not a claim made lightly, because some of the other lights of the trip have also been very high indeed. The Slav Epic was Mucha’s masterwork, a series of 20 linked paintings that tell the story of the Slav people and their heroic, noble struggle through historical trials and tribulations. These paintings, produced over the last two decades of his life, represent a spectacular achievement for any solo artist and easily matches the grandeur of Renaissance masters. Perhaps I speak in hyperbole to draw a comparison to Michelangelo’s work on the Sistine Chapel - both are fine examples of the graphic novel on  a grand scale. Well, go see the Slav Epic and judge for yourself… it is really difficult to overstate how beautiful, moving and technically accomplished Mucha’s final (and partly unfinished) masterpiece is. Mucha is a real hero of art, certainly recognised as such in the Czech Republic, and it was to those people he bequeathed this truly epic labour of love.

Semi-permanent? There are plans to tour these huge canvasses internationally, New York, London, Paris, Tokyo… so if you possibly can, see them here in Prague where they belong. No scan or print can convey their monumental power, they have to be experienced first-hand. We had the entire gallery to ourselves, which was a luxury and a lovely opportunity to really engage at a deeper level often denied in our more popular galleries… where timed entry tickets allow us to shuffle, shoulder to shoulder, from exhibit to exhibit as if on a conveyor belt… These deeply poetic and moving works deserve more respect than that. And so do you.

After this Czech C20th saturation, we pushed on, through some urban sprawl, to a newly converted building in the middle of a huge housing estate to have a look at what is happening right now. This is the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art.

Regardless of the art on show, this is a great space, with very welcoming and well-informed staff and a relaxed atmosphere. On the second floor, there is a freely accessible research library (mainly, though not exclusively in Czech) that you are encouraged to browse.

The majority of the ground floor gallery space was given over to the exhibition titled, ‘Where is my Home?’, including a good variety of photography and graphic works. A video installation about the life of a ‘tramp’ was the one that captivated me the most - oddly moving and filled with sound philosophical propositions. After watching the short film, there was a second chamber with some portraits of those he met ‘on the road’. There was great humour and humanity.
Volker Marz figurines (L - R: Donkey, Che, Marilyn, Joseph)
Volker Marz had populated the upstairs gallery with hundreds of tiny, painted clay figures. The overall effect was disturbing in the same way as grotesque illustrations for children can be disturbing. There was some overt ugliness, some restrained weirdness, some Freudian-pseudo-psycho-sexual-innuendo, and some other attempts at humour. Sparky quite liked the red-eared donkey, but was not sure at all about the rest… and I was feeling a little illified too, until the Joseph Beuys figurines cheered me up a bit, particularly the set of three where he slept next to Che Guevara and Marilyn Monroe… So, then I needed a good coffee in the old-meets-modern cafeteria, with its seductive cakes, angle lamp ‘chandeliers’, mismatched tables and chairs. The doors opened onto a roof terrace with patio furniture and views of some large scale sculptures, including a Christ made from lost trainers and a huge crimson skull in orbit around the ‘little tower’.

The night breeze was refreshingly cool and the tram took us on a ‘fairground ride’ of blurred suburban streetlamps back to the golden lights of the Old Town centre… Before 'all that jazz' gets under way, there is just enough time for a meal of rustic cabbage soup followed by slow-roasted pork knuckle - served on a wooden 'sled-plate' with freshly made coleslaw, pickled vegetables, green-beans, mustard, horseradish... probably the best meal of the trip, thoroughly enjoyed in the relaxed and tasteful (literally) U Dvou Sester (Two Sisters) restaurant - when in Prague...

Then a short walk to the inconspicuous AghaRTA club …that’s jazz!



Ondrej Kabrna Trio - same venue, different bass-player.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

A Wednesday in Prague...

Itinterary: Old Jewish Cemetary, Rudolfinum, St Agnes Convent, House of the Stone Bell
'Good Morning, Mr Plasty!'
In the museum of the Old Jewish Cemetery, there is the Pinkas Synagogue where the pure white walls have been covered, floor to ceiling with lovingly hand-rendered text in black and red. Listed here are the 80,000 names of Jews from the Bohemian and Moravian regions (in and around Prague) who were murdered in the Nazi death camps and so denied any marked grave. Upstairs, there is a small gallery with an exhibition that I pray will be permanent. On display are drawings by some of those interred in the Terezin murder camp before final deportation to Auschwitz. Alongside each drawing are three dates: date of birth, date of arrival in the camp, date of death. Any parent will be deeply touched when looking at obviously naive, children’s drawings that show carts piled with corpses, long buildings with tall chimneys… or a picture with a title that translates as, ‘Mummy in the showers’…and then you do the maths and work out that many of these are by eight-to-twelve-year-olds, who were dead within the space of two years after being imprisoned. The drawing styles are chillingly similar to what our own children may produce, but the subject matter is very different. Engaging with the work and artifacts in these vitrines can move any right-minded human to tears, parent or not. Not a pleasurable experience, but a deeply profound one - and the children's art here is, by far, the most important treasure you will find in Prague... or anywhere else. 
Composition and its opposite...
The Old Jewish Cemetery is a moving experience of a different kind. The higgledy-piggledy ancient headstones just exude history and reflect the importance of the Jewish community in the history of Prague. Their surfaces are cracked and pitted and some are now blank, the names and dates weathered away by the centuries. I recall Maximilian Schell walking amongst these stones in the opening of the 1991 Czech film, Labyrinth, in which he plays a film director trying to piece together a biopic of Franz Kafka’s time in Prague, whilst charting his own personal responses to the Jewish experience and heritage. The Old Jewish Cemetery is unique, being so ancient in origin and surviving the Third Reich, which levelled all other similar sites.

On this crisp autumn morning, I seek out the big grave marker of the famous Rabbi Loew ben Bezalel - a very respected and learned man who was thought to be so holy that he could mimic the godly act of breathing life into clay, thereby creating the Golem. In the legend of the Golem, Rabbi Loew fashioned a life-size clay man and animated it through high magick. The Golem, given the name of Joseph, lived with the rabbi’s family and defended the Jewish quarter against any attack. The golem was inhumanly strong, completely faithful, followed orders without question, never tired at a task, could not be killed and had no fear in battle. In one version of the legend, Joseph was secretly laid to rest in the attic of a synagogue, wrapped in holy prayer shawls… and eventually forgotten about after the rabbi's death in 1609. According to this story, he lies there still, concealed by spells and magical seals waiting… waiting for a rabbi of similar ability to Loew to reanimate him, should the Jewish quarter need such protection again… This legend was the inspiration for 'The Golem' (1915ish), a very influential early gothick 'horror' film. It was thought to be lost, the last known full print destroyed by fire... but, all too briefly, a 'restored' full print has been seen on YouTube, swiftly withdrawn due to copyright infringement... well, whomsoever had their rights thus infringed, you are a 'tight-wad' if you do not make this print available! Please, release the material as it is of both historic importance and artistic merit...
The Golem, needs to be seen...
Continuing the Nazi-Death theme, the Rudolfinum had the Chapman Bros Show, where Regenerate Art laughed at the Degenerate Gestapo. Life-size mannequins of flayed gay black Nazis point and laugh at plywood dinosaurs while taxidermed crows decorate them with droppings... There was an informative video interview with the artists that shed some light on their methodology and ideology - some of the sense spoken was perfect, some less so, but I came away respecting them more as critics and art commentators, and less as artists. They appear to embrace the image of 'cultural charlatans' and use it as an all-encompassing excuse for any art that may fall short of the mark. To youngsters who have not yet sought out the original 'degenerate' and truly challenging art of the early C20th, this may appear fresh and original. I enjoy the punk humour, and when aligned with Pop Art, their perversion of cultural icons and stereotypes makes a little more sense - but is it supposed to? The Chapman hearts are in the right place and who knows, perhaps it was not meant for me - after all if I 'liked' it, was I missing the point? It was heartening to see the work of contemporary British artists in this prestigious venue that celebrates controversy. Jake and Dinos Chapman: The Blind Leading the Blind runs until 5 January 2014.

After enjoying a good coffee in the Rudolfinum’s very elegant Art Deco café, we enjoy the fresh air of a riverside walk to our next venue…
St Agnus Convent - icons, alpha to omega
In complete contrast (on so many levels), the St Agnes Convent is an oasis of calm, with icons effectively displayed under low light. I gravitated to the ones that clearly showed the ravages of age, the 'incorruptible' now oxidised, or worm-eaten, displayed next to a few choice golden artifacts as pristine as they ever were. Then again, the more I consider it, the more similarities I find between these old icons and the Chapman's modern ones... I half expect to see 'Mother Mary' holding a 'Trade-Mark Big Burger' instead...

The House of the Stone Bell is right on the Old Town Square, and is another example where the gallery building has the potential to outshine the work housed under its original Renaissance ceilings. Works by Stanislav Podhrázský were on show in a series of rooms set around a grand atrium courtyard, through which drifted the sounds of quality opera from the concert hall below. Podhrázský is an odd one - part of the post-war Czech surrealist movement - and I never quite made up my mind whilst in the exhibition. There were a few lovely life drawings, but there were many more appallingly ‘bad’ ones… so that implies that they were ‘bad’ on purpose (and well before the Chapman Bros). I found myself hugely impressed and seduced by sections of a few canvasses – beautiful water birds amongst illustrative riverbank foliage, sensitively rendered with delicate, controlled brushwork… yet sharing the same canvas was some depressingly ‘dodgy’ figure work in a more clumsy ‘outsider art’ style. His obsession with young breasts was clearly demonstrated here, though when compared to Klimt’s similar obsession with feminine curves, this looked more than a little ‘unhealthy’. The work was varied / inconsistent, but as I have said before, even ‘bad’ Czech art is interesting and this exhibition was no exception. Dodgy, perhaps, but not dull (…and I did warm to the green watch-pig). Stanislav Podhrázský: Restless Beauty is on show here until 23 February 2014.

Next: A Thursday in Prague

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

A Tuesday in Prague...

Itinerary: Old Town Square, Astronomical Clock, Colloredo-Mansfeld Palace, Charles Bridge, Prague Castle Complex, Golden Lane, St Vitus Cathedral, Museum Kampa…
'Post-Praha' by Remy Dean (photograph, 2013, Prague)
Arriving at the Old Town Square just minutes before ten we get to see the famous, historically important Astronomical Clock strike the hour. First the reaper, whose name is death, rings a little bell (ask not), then two hatches above the gorgeous giant’s pocket-watch clock face open and a procession of the apostles trundle past, briefly pausing to bestow rickety blessings upon the modest crowd assembled below. How must that gathering have changed under their dull wooden gaze? An hour-by-hour time-lapse of five centuries… mediaeval penitents gradually transmorphing through their generations into today’s tourists with their faces hidden behind long lenses and camera-phones. Then the big bells sound across the city, meting out the time. That’s it for now… At other, more important hours, trumpeters appear at the very top of the tower and lay out a fanfare across the gothic rooftops of old Prague.

Then, just a short walk to our first destination. The ArtBanka Museum of Young Art announced its temporary closure earlier in the year, so we were not sure what to expect. The gallery has now re-opened under the grand name of Colloredo-Mansfeld Palace. The visit provided an experience far beyond any expectations – which is strange considering that most of the gallery was empty… the exhibition was the gallery itself. Not as ‘challenging’ and Post-Modern as it may sound when you realise that the gallery occupies a slightly dilapidated, yet spectacularly cinematic, Baroque Palace. The exterior had not really given any indication of the crumbling splendour within. The ascent up broad flights of creaking stairs takes you past little, lovely compositions created by the removal of paint and layers of thin plaster to reveal squares of original paintwork from various historic periods. They fascinated me before I realised this was the exhibition. The fantastic, filmic interiors are in the process of being restored by a team of painter-decorator archaeologists. The grandeur of the main hall with its two-storey mantelpiece and car-sized chandelier is beautifully counterpointed by the areas of floor marked out as not load-bearing, so you really have to watch your step whilst gazing up at the ceiling fresco… It felt a bit like we had stumbled across an abandoned mansion that just screamed out for a period play to be written for it, or perhaps to be a location for a some stylish, high gothic horror…
ArtBanka - the gallery is the exhibition...
So add to this delight the surprise of ascending to the top floors and finding an exhibition of ‘bang-up-to-date’ projected video art. Daniel Hanzlik's Sources of Signals is video art that actually makes use of its medium, not just performance art repeated on a video loop, but the way that video projectors flicker, split colours and cast shadows being used as formal elements within the installations. Even if that sort of thing is not your 'cup of tea', the situation and contrast with the lower floors is an inspiring experience in itself. This dramatic contrast set the tone for the entire visit.
Right outside the doors, the road leads across the famous ancient Charles Bridge, lined with statues of saints and imposing figures pointing the way along the slumping cobbles. The bridge presents ‘postcard’ views of the river Vltava, infested with swans and fronted by a romantic hotchpotch of gothic, baroque, rococo facades interrupted here and there with more modern buildings and bridges. Clearly visible, commanding the crest of the opposite bank, is the fairy-tale castle complex – our next destination.

The changing of the guards starts as we arrive at the main gates of the Prague castle. Smartly dressed soldiers parade through the ‘Ministry of Silly Walks’ catalogue, only they do it with impressive severity and focus, marching ceremonially to rousing bursts of brass and drumming that evoke expectations of ‘Thunderbirds’.  Their precision is admirable and at the exact moment that they eventually hand over their banner, a resonant bell strikes the hour.

Inside the Castle complex is vast and, as you might expect - complex, but you will find a helpful little map on the back of your ticket. Points of interest include the imposing St Vitus Cathedral (you don’t need any map to find that), the jousting hall, the gallery of paintings, the toy museum… and after getting some lunch in one of the castle cafes, which was a fantastic mushroom risotto, I head for Golden Lane – where once great alchemy was wrought.

Last time I had visited Prague, going on four years ago, this section of the Castle had been closed for restoration work and I had only glimpsed it from a small window in the back of the Toy Museum. That was the trip when I had befriended Sparky, my erstwhile guide for this tour – he had wanted to return to his home city for nostalgic reasons and to seek out Abby and Cynthia, two of his little friends that had shared some good times but since lost touch. So he knew his way about, and his point of view was always from a refreshingly different perspective to my own. Although he is a dog of very few words, his constant state of surprise and wonderment at the world is a lesson in itself.
L - R: tiny houses in Golden Lane, Sparky, Apothecary
The houses in Golden Lane are definitively quaint, tiny, pastel coloured, some with knee-high fenced enclosures, window boxes and small ornate windows set in the slopes of their low roofs. Some of the houses are craft shops and some are restored to a period in the castle’s history. I gravitated to a small courtyard at the one end and found the Apothecary, set up as it would have been around the Renaissance times, with bunches of aromatic drying herbs and tiny bottles of tinctures. A little further on was an un-marked, low-lintelled and unassuming doorway… Narrow, worn, red-brick stairways led steeply up and down. A few steps up and I was in the Alchemist’s chamber.

I was overcome with awe, excitement, perhaps longing. This was once the epicentre of the occult world. Back then, the Great Work stood in proud place of Medicine and Science. The corporeal and spiritual overlapped and interacted. Philosophy and Magick guided the search for Knowledge and Wisdom. There was apparatus set up on the table, a book open on the reading stand near to the small window, a grand canopied bed and an age-darkened chair pulled close to the small fireplace. I could picture Prague’s Alchemist Royal sitting there, in deep, world-changing discussion with Doctor John Dee, the visiting envoy of Elizabeth I, Queen of the far away British Empire… but in the chamber below, down the crooked stairs, greater wonder awaited…
Golden Lane - as above, so below - the Alchemist's chambres
The Alchemy Workshop. This could be the place. Not here and now, but here… and long ago! Where John Dee, after much preparation and procedure, was reported to have to have produced the Philosophers’ Stone before the eyes of Royal witnesses. The only time ever, in the lore of occult history, when such claims have been substantiated by independent witnesses… I have no doubt that something astonishing did happen, indeed great alchemy was wrought. A ‘transmutation of the stone’ was performed before the Royal Court of the ruling Habsburgs, and the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian II was so impressed that he made Dee a Marshal of Bohemia. John Dee, however, was never again able to replicate those results, for it required rare powders that he could not get hold of… Yes, even ‘serious’ historians agree that something profound happened that impressed the wise and educated of the day, and whatever that something was, may well have happened here in Golden Lane… But more of that in my up-coming ‘historical’ novel, VITRIOL

Feeling suitably transmutated, we strolled down the length of Golden Lane, absorbing the sense of history stretching back from now to then, popping in to the more interesting houses… The Vitalis Bookshop occupies number 22, the house once owned by the sister of Franz Kafka where he often stayed and wrote, and where I purchased a beautiful little book about the Prague Golem and other Stories from the Jewish Ghetto.
Matylda Prusova's kitchen cabinet and Madame de Thebes' writing desk
Number 14 lane has been restored to the early C20th, between the Wars, when the famous psychic, Madame de Thebes, lived there and received her clients. Matylda Prusova was known internationally and unfortunately attracted the attention of the Nazis, who were obsessed with many things epitomised by Prague – High Magick, Jewish Culture, Alechemy, Clairvoyance, Precognition… all things Occult. At a time when the ‘mighty’ Third Reich looked set to conquer all of Europe, she bravely predicted that they would fail and then fall. So, they tortured her, and because she would not change her predictions to please the elite, they murdered her.
Wonderfully cluttered with film regalia, the home of Joseph Kasda
Joseph Kasda, a very influential art historian, lived at Number 12 after the fall of the Third Reich. A film-maker himself, he was particularly interested in cinema and almost solely responsible for the preservation of early Czech films from before this period. He was the nucleus of the Arts Society immediately after the War and used to host daily talks and screenings, with soup provided by his wife.
The impressive Prague Castle Armoury 
In the battlements above Golden Lane you will find a huge collection of Renaissance armour and weaponry, with some earlier examples dating back to C6th. The workmanship is impressive, ingenious mechanisms of death crafted with the eye of a jeweller. Precision firing mechanisms mounted on the hilts of swords, crossbow-axe-muskets, engraved demons, steel feathers and suits of armour for children… There is a terrible beauty here, if you can divorce the objects from their function, but imagining yourself as one of the wearers and wielders is chilling, rather than thrilling.
St Vitus Cathedral and the Mucha window
This time, I cannot fit in a visit to the Toy Museum, which has a diverse collection bound to evoke nostalgia in most. It is well worth a look, but I still have strong memories from my previous visit - and some pictures...
In the Toy Museum, Prague Castle... those were the days...
So instead, as daylight fades, I enjoy the ambience of the castle streets and then a quick visit to Mucha’s stained glass window in the vast interior of St Vitas Cathedral. The colours and figures are beautiful, vibrant yet sensitive. The deep blues seem to dominate, but are cleverly countered by yellows and oranges, making it seem brighter than the light should allow. (Later, after a visit to the Mucha Museum, I will better understand the visual language and colour theories of this Master.) The rest of the Cathedral is as hugely impressive and gothic as I recall, with many chapel chambers and monstrances of darkened glass. There is an impressive pipe organ and tall columns rising to the hazy heights of the vaulted ceiling.

The castle complex is at our highest point and commands great panoramas of the city as we leave and head back downhill towards the river, where we visit the Museum Kampa. Situated near the Charles Bridge, you cannot miss it - it’s the one with the glowing yellow penguins filing along the jetty outside and David Cerny’s giant bronze babies in place of garden gnomes...
Sparky engages with some Czech art at the Kampa
The Kampa collections are a cleverly curated cross-section of Modern Czech art - a wide range of materials and styles concentrated in a modest sized arts centre. It is one of my favourite galleries, not because every piece of art is awe-inspiring, original and satisfying – they are not. I have problems engaging with some, whilst others ‘knock my socks off’. Something that stands out about modern and contemporary Czech art is that even if it is not ‘good art’, it is usually interesting and rewarding in some way. Perhaps there is a clever use of materials, an unusual treatment of form, an unexpected aesthetic fusion, something that appears derivative… until you check the date it was made (no pun intended here). There is no better place to observe and appreciate this, than the Kampa.
Don't worry, Sparky...
After the walking, you may want to ‘sit-a-spell’ in the courtyard and enjoy the fresh, cool autumnal air coming off the river, spend a moment considering the metal and stone sculptures and statuary, before entering the spacious and calming reception. Then up to the permanent collection galleries where a good range of responses are ensured. On the walls the work ranges from collages of wood, meticulously folded surfaces of paper, rusting metal reliefs, single-colour compositions and lively-lined studies of the human form. The sculptures are varied in every aspect. There are pure cubes of milky white light, clear discs and lenses of glass, mutant, faceless figures screaming out their red existential angst, a tall man walking into a canvas carrying his own coffin, pink bombs, headless beige figures lurking in a corner, awaiting some sort of purpose or direction – Sparky eyes them suspiciously and needs to be moved on before he starts barking…


Almost as an afterthought, we pop in to see the temporary exhibition of work by Zdena Fibichova, a Czech artist whose sculptures elevate the everyday into totemic forms, ephemera into ‘archaeological’ artefacts. The lines in her drawings crackle with bright, colourful energy. Powerfully simple abstracts, in cement and ceramic are pushed to the point where they may be about to become recognisable animal forms. A ripped out page from a spiral-bound notebook is immortalised in bronze-patina clay… and nearby has been remodelled in concrete. You get a few glimpses of the exhibition in the curator's intro video above.

Night had now fallen and the open air roof terraces of the Kampa afford views of the Charles Bridge and along the river where the reflected golden lights shimmer across the water. If you are feeling brave, then the top of the stairwell has a load-bearing glass floor as its roof where you can look directly down at the ‘mobile’ that hangs through several floors of the atrium. I only managed to set foot on it in order to rescue poor Sparky, who could neither move nor bring himself to look down…

The night crossing of the Charles Bridge was moody and Romantic and soon we were back in the Old Town Square, where I remembered a fine restaurant near the astronomical clock. It had been a long day of intense stimulation and we had been on our feet for most of it. Time for some hearty Prague food! At U Zlaté Konvice, down several flights of stairs, we dined in a vaulted cellar surrounded by stuffed bears, boars and badgers. A starter of carp fingers and smoked mackerel was followed by a big plate of smoked ham with Prague style potato pancakes, pickled cabbage and a chilli, all washed down by a hefty glass of local beer. It was a rich and satisfying meal, the ham was glossy and very smoky, the pancakes were dense and herby, the beer was strong, dark and handsome, the lively live music was a ‘cheesy’ accompaniment… the price very agreeable. Just what we needed to round off the day!
Mmm... Sparky hams it up!
Walking back to the hotel through the night streets of Old Prague, looking up at its spired and slumped roofline, sipping warm, red, spiced wine from a plastic cup, I thought that if I were an ancient vampire, this city would certainly suit me…
Olde Prague at night... Romantic, with a capital 'R'
Next: A Wednesday in Prague