Thursday, 5 June 2014

Czech-land (2): Prague

Kafka’s grave in Prague on the morning of last Tuesday, the 90th anniversary of his death, and the overgrown Jewish cemetery where it is. While I was away I read his America for the first time: an affectionate, comic novel in which our hero stumbles into a series of messes and then has to get out of them. Kafka-esque doesn’t have to mean nightmarish. By chance, I also re-read Peter Handke’s Short Letter, Long Farewell, which is another German-speaking writer’s take on the land of America and which I liked even better than I remembered. And on my last night in Prague I heard Ales Machacek and Jane Kirwan read from their book Second Exile (Rockingham Press, 2010), which is a book CBe would have lunged for: memoir of silent cinema, reading, arrest and re-arrest, prison, odd-job jobs, no Velvet Revolution panacea, told bluntly and with a gorgeous turn of phrase, punctuated by Jane's slanting-off poems and a goose-woman, plus photographs.

An empty yellow house I could live happily in:

My hotel was near a park on a hill, and here late last Sunday afternoon, early evening, are people sitting around on the west-facing slope of that hill: talking, meeting, drinking beer, with dogs and small children and guitars, watching the sun set over their city. The Italian tradition of the passegiata - the evening stroll, dressed up, ambling, pausing for iced drinks - I find stifling. This, by comparison, was Langland's 'fair field full of folk', by accident of geography and weather and size of city, and to say I'm glad to have been there is the least of it.

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