Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Beach Life, Where You Might Least Expect It

Hanging out at the Beach
with Prague Castle in the background

Wow, a sandy beach in Smichov on the river Vltava? Who knew? I had no idea! The New York Times has a report all about it (click on my title to read it).

Has anyone been there? Would you feel comfortable swimming in the Vltava? Can't say that I would. But I'd love the incongruity of enjoying the beach with Prague Castle in the background.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Taste of Vietnam Emerges in Prague

The best Vietnamese food in Prague is at my friend Nhan's house. But the New York Times has a suggestion of where you might want to go if he's not cooking that night. Click on my title to read the review.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Futurista Builds Upon the Past

After falling in love with Josef Gocar's Rondo-Cubism architectural style at the LegioBank building, I was eager to learn more about the wonderful design history of Czechoslovakia. Very near to where I lived in Prague was an ultra-hip design shop that showcased the best of Czech decorative arts and design from mid-century in addition to the current generation. The shop is called Futurista and is near Old Town Square.

A Czech cubist tea set

Can't you picture it in a
Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers
elegant NY penthouse?

These cubist tea set designs were created by
Pavel Janek
who worked with Josef Gocar
to create Rondo-Cubism

I was delighted to learn that
one of his other well-known designs

is Palace Adria
a gorgeous building near Mustek
where you can go and sit on the balcony
and enjoy the promenade of Prague people below.

Vlatislav Hofman designed
the cubist vases
housed in this ultra-hip
cubist breakfront.

Hofmann also designed
over 300 sets theatre sets.

One way Futurista exceeded my expectations
was the well-founded patriotic pride
of the young staff in their decorative heritage.

Lucie knew her country's artists
and loved sharing the beauty they created.

A cubist chair

What flowers would you arrange
in these vases to do them justice?

For me, if it was autumn,
dried bittersweet and sumac.

How it must delight Czechs
to have a design movement
that is all theirs.

In addition to his own Czech design heritage,
Miracek was crazy about Delft design
in the Netherlands.

The building that houses Futurista
is ancient

and has undergone countless remodelings
through the centuries.

If you go,
enjoy the glass bottom in the first floor

looking down to the gothic basement
where all the furniture is kept.

See the bottom of the window well
in the picture above?

That used to be the door jamb
for the first floor

back in medieval times.

David loved talking about
the modernist furniture
for sale in the basement.

I didn't understand the point
of this cheesy Communist poster
but David said native Czechs love to buy it
because ugly baby
and Dad with excessive sideburns

are very familiar to them as a
humorous memory of those times.

Mod meets art deco

An art deco breakfront

A way-cool white leather
executive table
and chairs

More modernist office furniture

I love this modernist plant stand.
I just need a super cool modernist
Prague apartment to go with it.

David said this sort of plastic office desk
with side fold-out drawers is so familiar to Czechs
they hate it and never want to see it again.

To a foreigner like me,
it's just one more fabulously cool
modernist experiment.

Futurista has started a web page. So far it only has one page to it, and it's in Czech, so I've linked in my title to the only store in North America that is devoted to mid-century Czech furniture and design. It's in New York City, of course; it's called the Prague Kolektiv.

Gallery Crawling in Prague? Get Out the G.P.S.

Dox Museum of Contemporary Arts

There's a nice article in the New York Times today celebrating the growth of great art in Prague. It's a bit of work to find all of the good galleries since they are not all in one district. DOX, the brand new, very exciting contemporary art museum, was the first reason I had to go to Holesovice, a nice Prague neighborhood where lots of natives live. I would so love to see David Cerny's political artwork, Entropa, currently on display there.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

I needed some cash in my new neighborhood

When I first moved into my Prague neighborhood, I needed to run to an ATM to pay my security deposit. "No problem," said my flatmate, "my bank is nearby." Based on my experience of ATMs in America, I wasn't expecting much. I actually wasn't expecting anything at all.

Local bank branches in America are usually housed in small brick buildings of 5,000-15,000 square feet and are forgettable in appearance. Cities usually deplore them because these branches use up prime corners of real estate and don't bring in any sales tax. Plus, have you noticed how many corners they take up? It's a lot. It's a rare bank building in America that evokes any emotion upon entering.

Not so in Prague. Join me in the pleasure of discovering the beautiful architecture of the Legio Bank Building (now CSOB) at 24 Na Porici in Prague. Before the Internet and TV ad campaigns, formidable architecture probably equaled branding. Cities were more glorious for it! Now that brick-and-mortar banks have to compete with Internet banks, maybe they could go back to imposing architecture to differentiate themselves and give us some reason to go in there...but I digress. I came back to this bank again and again for the sheer pleasure of it.

LegioBank's version of Prague Paving,
the stone of choice for
Prague sidewalks,
was my first signal this would be
no ordinary branch.
It was no ordinary sidewalk.
Notice the repetition of circles
and half circles throughout the project.

The bank was designed by
Czech architect Josef Gocar in 1921-1923
in the style of Rondo (Round) Cubism
which expressed Czech nationalism
at the time.

It featured a frieze designed by Czech sculptor
Otto Guttfreund, depicting scenes from
Czechoslovak history unknown to present-day Americans,
when the Czech foreign legion fought in Siberia
during the First World War.

Later, Otto died before his time
by drowning in the Vltava River.

There is a pathos sometimes to Eastern European
political art unknown in American art.
Could you picture the soldier in the gas mask
on an American bank?
Me neither.
Regardless, I loved it because
it made me stop and contemplate the soldier's fate
each time I went there.

Stunning iron railing detail
again repeating the circle theme.

Oh, the pleasure of opening these
massive front doors!

Enjoy with me the superb detail
on the floors and the ceilings.

Funny, he didn't repeat the circle theme
on the floor, maybe circular tiles
didn't exist?

More exquisite woodworking
Internal doors.

The circular iron scrollwork guarding the elevator
is done in the colors of the Czech national flag:
red, blue and white.

Photos aren't allowed of the lobby
with it's pretty fountain and beautiful
architectural detail. It is a bank after all
and has to worry about security.

I will say it was several moments of just standing and
looking at it with my mouth agape before I could go ahead
and pursue my bank business.
It's that pretty.

You'll have to settle for the lobby foyer, above.
Down the hall is the vault and the trust department.
Even the vault has beautiful scrollwork!

Align Center
What do these shut gates leading upstairs
say to you? Open and explore?
Me too!
Let's go!

Oh, and in case you needed MORE BEAUTY
as you walked up the stairs
the architect provided it on the
stairwell ceiling.

And in marble on the walls.

Wow. I wonder what this room was used for.
The parquet floors are so beautiful.
I can imagine the Board of Directors meeting here.
Or an amazing cocktail party
Or the waiting room lobby for the bank execs.

This room and dome were on the second floor of
a building with about five or six floors.

Beautiful wall painting detail.

Imagine, this dome made it from the 1920s
without being ruined.
Small miracles.
Another beautiful design detail it would be hard
to imagine in America.
An American developer would want to rent
all the square footage
or let the atrium light benefit every floor
by removing the inner windows and walls.

Orco, a real estate company,
is developing the offices for rent.
You could hang out with the soldier.
That office window is available.

The Pope is Coming to See the Infant Jesus of Prague

The Pope is coming to see the Infant Jesus of Prague! If you want to see the Pope, the Czech Republic might be the place to do it. It's probably the most atheist country on the face of the Earth and the crowds might be underwhelming. Click on my title to see his schedule. Here's the link for my own visit to see the Infant Jesus of Prague.

Great primer on the overthrow of Czech communism

1989: Wenceslas Square

Here's a great primer on what it used to be like under communism in Czechoslovakia from the BBC. Thanks to Prague expat JHuitz for sharing it. Click on my title to access the article and the section that goes with it.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Update on Obama's Prague Speech

Happy Independence Day to my fellow Americans! 233 years of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. May it ever be so.

The New York Times did an update on Obama's step-by-step plans to create a nuclear-free world. He had detailed the steps he wanted to take to get there in his Prague speech. Click on my title to read the whole article.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Czech's Shadow Still Large in Slovakia

In America, we have a phrase "keeping up with the Joneses." It describes the phenomenon of all of a sudden needing a new car if the Jones' next door just bought one. This New York Times story amused me because it seems the whole concept can be applied to countries too.

Click on my title to read about Slovak ambivalence toward the Czechs and their excitement at adopting the Euro before the Czechs did. For once, the Slovaks are the Joneses! Take that, Czech Republic!
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