Showing posts with label Prague kavarnas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Prague kavarnas. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Celebrating 90 Years of Artist Zenděk Sýkora

On a tip from a sophisticated, handsome young Czech at the opening of the Pod Ball: Malí Urvi II exhibit now showing at DOX Contemporary Art Museum in Prague, I went to visit an art show at the Municipal Library Gallery in Prague to discover an artist new to me.

My friend said, "Zenděk Sýkora is probably the most important Czech painter alive right now, go see his show!" So off I went. Mr. Sýkora is 90 years old and the works assembled represented a retrospective of his life's work. When someone is 90 years old and this productive and vital, it gets my respect automatically, even before I saw his work. Then I also imagined what it's like being an artist during regimes when being an artist was suspect.

Mr. Sýkora was deeply inspired by nature as an artist.  One of the most intriguing first paintings in the exhibition is a very geometric gray work of art that is his representation of still, shimmering water.  It made me think about my own visual image of still, shimmering water.  I loved the idea of someone focusing that deeply on beauty we all know and producing something that challenges one§s own images.

His work from the 1960s and 1970s seems emblematic of those decades.  I can't put my finger on why, but it does.  It's very structured and geometric.  Throughout his career, Mr. Sýkora used mathematics and geometry to express the systems and randomness of nature. If you are at all drawn to those two things, I know you'd love his work.

From those structured works, he moved onto lineal paintings. He was among the first in the world to use a computer to help him develop the random numbers necessary for much of his work. The program notes (printed in English, thank you) said, "he was captured by the expressional power of a line rising on a boundary of the connection of two original elements." I didn't relate to the mathematical components of his work, yet I still found that all of his work uplifted my spirit.

Then I came across work of his that I already know and love.  My friend Pavel had introduced me to the beauty of these murals at the Cafe Emporio (now called the Cafe Elite) last year.  I love this tile mosaic!  Apparently, it was installed in a metro station at this spot on Jindřišská Street.  Now it is a cafe.  Why there is no longer a metro station there, I don't know. But the gorgeous tile mosaics remain.  Sýkora's art looks sublime on such a large scale!  In the show there was also two other pieces I would love to see in place: a linear installation at the air traffic control facility in Prague and geometric structured pieces covering Letná ventilation shafts.

The exhibit space is magnificent, and as a librarian, I envy the Municipal Library's space.  It's fantastic and world class.  Libraries in America usually don't have that amount of square footage available to mount shows of this scope.  It not only says something about the Library, it says something about the Czech people of the 1920s for their willing investment in their own art and culture.  One small suggestion I have for future shows is to include English subtitles on the video where the artist discusses his work.  Then the whole world can discover him! For beautiful photographs of the rooms filled with art, click on my title.

So... after looking at that gorgeous art do you need a little refreshment?  If so, then come with me! I'm heading over to the Grand Orient Cafe housed in the famous House of the Black Madonna designed by the master of Czech cubist architecture.  I want to enjoy the outdoor balcony.  Spring is bursting out of every windowbox.

My friend Pavel, a former demi-soloist for the National Ballet introduced me to this cafe too.

Fresh mint tea and the wonderful, totally-worth-the-calories Czech pastry věneček.  Ooh-la-la! Did you know you could make mint tea with just the leaves of fresh mint? I didn't know it was that simple.  Now I know.  My waiter is so divine it's like a joint celebration of the city, the view, the cuppa, and the pastry. It also helps that we are united in the knowledge that on this exact day we are both in the momentary center of the known universe: Prague, where the President of the United States of America and the President of Russia are meeting. My waiter most definitely could serve the King of England, cause that's what waiters, at least fictional waiters, do in the Czech Republic.

Hope you enjoyed the break.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Yea! I'm Back in Prague

I'm glad to see this guy
is still going strong
in Prague's Old Town Square.
He produces endless smiles,
joy, and singing in those passing by.

I started this blog to move me forward to some very specific goals:

1) graduate youngest from high school.
2) sell my house.
3) move to Prague and take a TEFL class.
4) live in Prague teaching business English.

My youngest graduated from high school and is now in her junior year of college.  I moved to Prague, took my TEFL course and started to have the time of my life.  Six months into it, I had to go back to the States because my school waited 2.5 months before applying for my visa and it wasn't ever issued.  I tried to reapply for a visa from the States. I was told I was denied a second time (although I never actually received a letter saying so).

My daughters and I

I spent a very lovely 10 months in Madison, Wisconsin.  Madison is a city frequently chosen by magazines as the #1 most fabulous place to live in all of the United States.  I can heartily agree! Madison was a physically beautiful, intellectually-stimulating, healthy, wonderful place to live.  I may end up there some day, who knows. While I was back in the States, I finally got my house sold and watched my oldest daughter graduate from the University of Wisconsin (she did it in 3.5 years while working 20 hours a week and serving as president of one of her student organizations. Yea, Daughter #1! Somebody hire her please, she's amazing.).

But living in Madison was not what I wanted to do with this portion of my life here on Earth, so having accomplished all of the goals I set out to do, I'm ready to start Part II of Empty Nest Expat.  This part will be more spontaneous.  My goal is to write a very specific book about the Czech Republic.  I can visualize the entire thing in my mind.

I have come back to Prague to see if I can get a residence visa from the Czech Republic to live here while I write. I've applied for what is called the živnostenský list which is essentially a business trade license so that I can earn a living while I'm here writing. I am absolutely horrible at bureaucratic paperwork like visas and the like and am actually pretty proud just to have figured out (with the help of friends) how to do the živnostenský list without an agency's help. Having applied for this business trade license, and been approved, I will then have to move back out of the Czech Republic to apply for a residence visa (don't bother asking, I don't understand it either). Still with me, or have your eyes glazed over?  If they've glazed over, welcome to my world.

House of Týn Church

When I got back to Prague and first saw the spires of the House of Týn Church, I cried.  They were so damn beautiful!  And then I cried when I was on Revoluční, and realized I was going to have my first chlebičky in 10 months at my favorite kavárna (coffee shop). Oh, the joy of familiar Czech pleasures!

I hope I'm successful living here.  That's why I say Phase II of Empty Nest Expat may have to be more spontaneous.  I'm not yet ready to give up my Czech dream, but if I have to do so, I'll read up on how to develop Buddhist non-attachment to what I want and then find a country that welcomes me.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

In Prague, you can enjoy reading the "Cafe Europa" at the Cafe Europa

Slavenka Drakulić continues her look at life after communism in the book "Cafe Europa" her sequel to “How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed.” It's a great read and an honest read that rings true still 14-18 years after she wrote it.

If you think regular consumers in the West sometimes have trouble recognizing that TV advertisements and media showcase a fantasy, unobtainable lifestyle, imagine how hard it was for people exiting 40 years of communism to know what’s real and what isn’t.

Croatian novelist and essayist Slavenka Drakulić says that every Eastern and Central European formerly-communist capital expresses their longing for the perfect Europe of their imagination with a Cafe Europa.  There's one in all the major capitals; indeed, the one in Prague is spectacular.

One of the most powerful parts of her book discusses the complicity that citizens of fascist/communist countries feel having worked to sustain a system that is now on the dustheap of history. As countries like Croatia tossed aside old street names, square names, and place names to reflect the change in power from communism to democracy, citizens saw their own personal history erased at the same time as everyone glossed over how they participated. She discovers that nations as a whole, don’t look back with probing insight. When the author went to Isreal and was questioned by the citizens there about Croatia's role in the Holocaust, Ms. Drakulić realized with shock that people there were asking her questions about history that went unexamined back home. It’s hard to take responsibility, on a personal and a civic level if that isn’t part of the civic culture.

I enjoyed this book because the author beautifully explains that many of the emerging democracies infantilized under communism are actually stuck in feudal behavior as much as communist behavior. The political system may have changed for the better, but it will be years until citizens know how to work the system, rather than subvert the system (the old way of surviving) and also how to look to themselves as personally responsible.

Friday, January 29, 2010

What Flavor Do You Associate with the Czech Republic?

Quick.  What flavor or spice do you associate with India? The clock is ticking...oh you didn't need any extra time, did you? Most people answer "curry." What's flavor do you associate with Japan? The clock is ticking...everyone may not answer this one the same way. I would say "wasabi."

What flavor would you associate with the Czech and Slovak Republics? Before arriving in Prague, I would have drawn a blank.  Today I would say: "honey."

Do you like honey? Let me tell you about two fabulous Czech specialties that are delicious!

The first product is an alcoholic beverage.  It's mead! How can an American learning about other cultures resist a beverage with such a long and storied European history and medieval name.  It sounds like something one should be served at a Renaissance Fair along with a big fat turkey leg.  Mead is wine made out of three ingredients: honey, water, and yeast. If you want to call it by it's Czech and Slovak name, it's marketed as 'medovina.'

I discovered the joys of medovina one night when I had arrived at a friend's flat, cold and shivering, and my friend offered me a cup of warm medovina to take the chill off. I sat down with a deliciously warm, yummy glass of medovina and fell in love with the taste.

I wish I had noticed the brand name at the time (it came in a clear bottle) because ever since then, I've been tasting different brands of medovina to try and reproduce that exact memory of deliciousness. It's easy to find medovina that is sickly sweet and needs to be watered down.  This wine tasted like a gently sweet, low-viscosity form of honey. Try it. If the first brand is too sweet, give another brand a try.  Mulled mead (doesn't that sound medieval?) is available at Christmas time.  It has additional spices and fruit flavors added.

Are you more of a show-stopping dessert type? I'm not as much.  But I remember one of my fellow teacher's reaction to Medovnik, an exquisite honey cake served everywhere in Prague for dessert.  She was in utter rhapsody! She loved it so much she tried to make it at home.  "Don't bother," she reported after her attempt. "It's not for amateurs.  It's w-a-y-y-y too much work." So I guess she's back to turning heads in cafes with those moans of ecstasy as she consumes her medovnik.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Pavel's Prague, Part III: Tonino Lamborghini

Pavel entering Tonino Lamborghini,
his favorite cafe

Pavel Pisan, an accomplished ballet dancer with the Prague National Ballet, has been taking us, that's you and me gentle blog reader, to his three favorite cafes in Prague, saving the best for last. We had first visited Cafe Emporio, and then the Grand Orient Cafe. Did you enjoy them?

Tonino Lamborghini is Pavel's very favorite cafe. I was surprised the first time I went with him because it didn't seem very Czech to me with it's ultramodern vibe and sleek styling - more Italian, like it's name. The exotic appeals to people all over the world, doesn't it?

The cafe has originally been called Pasta Caffe, and changed it's name to Tonino Lamborghini, when it became part of the very successful Ambiente restaurant group.

Pavel loves coming here because "of the excellent service. The first time I came in here, I felt it was the right place. The staff helped me. They knew when to talk to me, and when to leave me alone. Besides, it has the best espresso in town, simply THE BEST. In eight years of coming here, I've had bad service only once. I think that's a good record." He also appreciated the excellent venilation, "even the smoking section air seems healthy."

Pavel's two favorite entrees here are "al pesto di basilico and con pollo e limone all Ambiente." And don't forget dessert. The "tiramisu is great!"

Tonino Lamborghini
is known for it's pasta

The cafe doesn't hurry you.
You're free to enjoy your time here
with reading material already supplied.

That porch is also the smoking section.

Pavel Pisan,
always with a smile of pure sunshine

I didn't take as many pictures here because I was too busy enjoying Pavel. He told me about the legendary beauty of his mother and his favorite opera stars. Our conversation was over the tiniest cups of esspresso accompanied by the tiniest little yummy cookies that came with it. I loved the "just right" serving sizing for walking away guilt free.

Pavel adores American opera diva Jesse Norman, " a goddess!" He waxed rhapsodic about Czech mezzo soprano Yvona Skarova. "99% of the time she was singing, I was in the audience. The first time she sent me a stage present with her calling card I screamed." He also enthused about Jiri Solzenko, an operatic bass singer with "perfect technique and amazing acting. He's perfect in both comedies and tragedies." What a compliment it must be to hear the appreciation of a fellow artist who has these same acting gifts. When I saw Pavel dance, he played Paris in Romeo and Juliet. You wouldn't believe how evil he could make his face look!

"It doesn't matter where you are in Prague," Pavel said, "Prague makes you happy." He continued, "I'm not a big fan of walking. I don't need it. But when I walk across the bridge by the National Theatre or across the Charles Bridge, the views are just gorgeous."

Thank you Pavel for sharing your favorite spots in Prague. Prague makes me happy too!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Pavel's Prague, Part II: Grand Cafe Orient

Recently I asked my friend, ballet dancer Pavel Pisan, to show me his three extraordinary cafes in Prague. I knew that Pavel would know some really divine places and he did not disappoint. It's such a pleasure, I think, to show off and get to share your own culture. Do you know what you would show off where you live, gentle blog reader? What would you want a visitor to go away raving about?

We started our cafe tour at Cafe Emporio on Jindrisska. The second place Pavel took me to was so architecturally interesting. The cafe is housed in the House of the Black Madonna. Could a building name be more mysterious? More alluring? The House of the Black Madonna was designed by Josef Gocar, the Czech cubist architect whose work I fell in love with at Legio Bank.

Josef Gocar's House of the Black Madonna,
in Old Town Prague
at the corner of Celetna and Ovocny Trh

It was the first example
of Cubist architecture in Prague.

While Josef Gocar is appreciated today,
the authorities were worried back in 1911
that he would design something
that didn't fit into the neighborhood.

He incorporated this Black Madonna
from the baroque buildings that were on this site
into his design, honoring rather than
repudiating, what came before.

The Czechs know how to take any functional object
and increase the pleasure it gives
just by the way it's presented.

Here is a scrollwork detail
from the outside lamp.

The House of the Black Madonna
houses not only the cafe that was our destination,
but the Museum of Czech Cubism
and a display of Czech cubist art
curated by the Czech Museum of Fine Arts.
Alas, I haven't seen those two parts yet.
I simply must come back.

We had come to see the Grand Cafe Orient,
the only surviving Cubist interior in the world.

Won't you join us inside?

The view out the cafe windows
of the surrounding art deco and baroque
buildings along the old coronation route
that is Celetna Street.

Notice there are no supporting pillars in the room,
Gocar's innovation was building with
a reinforced concrete skeleton
eliminating the need for ceiling supports.

The renovation of this space
was all based on photographs of the
original cafe.

Czechs consider Gocar
their greatest architect
from the 20th century.

Me too.

If you saw Prague,
you'd know that what
an incredible accomplishment that is.
The competition was steep.

Everywhere else in the world,
Cubism was expressed in painting and sculpture
(think Picasso).

It was only in Czechoslovakia,
where artists of the period
expressed Cubism in other mediums too:
architecture, furniture, and decorative arts.

Cotton bolls decorate

this cubist vase.

Unfortunately, we couldn't stay to have
a cup of coffee here because the secondhand smoke
was so overpowering it felt toxic just to be in the room.

Czechs smoke like factory chimneys.
Candles aren't enough.

After Cafe Emporio,
the feeling from the cafe inhabitants here
was low energy.

Pavel was disappointed that a site
of such national significance
could be so indifferent to the customer experience
and sort of take it for granted.

He said,
"maybe it's best to come in the summertime,
it's fun to sit out on the balcony
and watch the people below."
I was grateful to just have seen it!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Pavel's Prague, Part I: Cafe Emporio

The number of inspiring cafes in Prague is literally overwhelming. I would love to see them all because they are as different in personality as people are. Some you come back to again and again because slipping into the booth is like being embraced with a familiar hug by someone who cares for you.

I love everything about the European coffee experience: from the strength of it's flavor and smell, the exquisitely foamed and expertly presented cappuccino, to the comfort of settling down with a friend in an interesting spot to enjoy caffeine and each other's company.

I have found wonderful places through friends. Among my favorites are the Cafe Imperial, the Cafe Louvre, Cafe Tobruk on St. Peter's Square, and 7th heaven around the corner from the Cafe Savoy (try the warm goat cheese toasts). I asked a friend with impeccable taste, Pavel Pisan, the ballet dancer, to show me his favorite cafe spots in Prague.

One of my very favorite things about Prague is that high culture is everywhere. I love high culture and believe that I know it fairly well. It's a whole higher level of appreciation and awareness though when you are a creator of it.

Pavel had previously shared with me tickets to see "Romeo and Juliet." I may know the story and the music. Pavel knows each of the characters, their moves, their presentation, how one should inhabit each personality. It's a level of knowledge I love listening too and learning from because it's beyond my aficionado status. I learn from Pavel every time I'm with him. And it's not just ballet. It's Czech culture, opera, and acting. I could go on and on.

Me and Pavel at Cafe Emporio that day

When my American girlfriends and I first met Pavel, we were a bit awestruck by his beauty. But then one of my cheeky friends nicknamed him 'David' reducing us to a fit of giggles and starting endless rounds of teasing this wonderful man who spreads sunshine wherever he goes. Pavel's smile is electric. His exuberance is part of his entrance. It grabs your attention and never lets go. Everyone looks up when Pavel enters a room because his joyful spirit emanates outward and lifts the mood of everyone present.

Pavel loves to use cafes for a moment of solitary relaxation - to enjoy the paper or a great meal. To think and people watch over a cup of espresso. He had three favorite cafes he thought I should see.

We decided to meet at Cafe Emporio
at Jindrisska 3 in Prague 1.

It's just off the intersection of
Vaclavska Namesti and Jindrisska.

Is there a better sight than a friends' big smile
through the window?

Behind the white leather banquette seating
was this intriguing wall of
chocolate color and eggshells

And an ultra-hip mural that predated the bar

Other cafe goers under the
metal strip chandelier
hanging from the second floor

Up on the second floor -
a view of the mod chair seating and wall.

Pavel says, "The eggshell wall has been refreshed. It used to have feathers amidst the eggshells. I was sensitive to the dust because I'm allergic. They redid the wall which is great because it keeps people excited to come."

A larger view of the mural
on the second floor

Pavel continued, "When I came here in 1995, this wasn't a cafe but the mosaic was here. They kept it. It's originally from the '60s." Does anyone know who the artist is? I would love to know more about it.

Later, I came back to this place when I was walking home with my flatmate from going to see a movie at Kino Svetozor. It's this wonderful art house cinema palace with movies from all over the world, a bar with tables to meet your friends before the movie, and a convenient location on Jindrisska just on the other side of Vaclavska Namesti from Cafe Emporio. I literally thought life can not get any more perfect than to go to an art cinema house in the middle of Prague, and walk on cobblestones four blocks to our apartment, with a contented nightcap at this magnificent spot on the way home. Life in Prague is so fabulous.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Five Environmental Ideas I Admire from the Czech Republic

Sometimes when you go abroad, it's the little things that bring delight. Here are five environmental ideas that probably exist in other countries but I saw them first in the Czech Republic. I find them admirable, how about you?

#1 In America, retail establishments sell aluminum foil, plastic trash bags, and cling wrap on a roll. Then that roll is put inside a long rectangular box as additional packaging.

Once you have the initial box, why is it necessary to keep buying it? Why not just put the next purchased roll in the first box so it doesn't have to be manufactured and paid for again? I saw these foil rolls sold "boxless" in the Czech Republic and thought this was a great idea.

#2This toilet paper roll is from my neighborhood kavarna, or coffee shop. The user pulls out individual sheets of toilet paper much the way one pulls out an individual tissue from a Klennex box. When you pull an individual tissue out of a tissue box, do you say to yourself, "why am I being rationed?" No, you get just what you need. Same idea here. It has the additional benefit of not creating a bunch of torn scraps of paper all over the floor.

#3 This picture is from a restaurant on Wenceslas Square. All over the Czech Republic there are bright and shiny new bathrooms because there has been so much remodeling after 50 years of communism.

As you can see, the user has a choice to use more water or less depending on the need of the moment. I haven't seen a single toilet like this in America. Maybe I don't get out enough, you tell me.

#4 The most wonderful transportation system I have personally experienced is in Prague. It's an absolute marvel. For $22 a month, I could travel all over the city on trams, buses, and the metro. It's completely stress-free. In a city of 1.3 million, I could go home for lunch frequently. I rarely had to wait more than five minutes for a ride (maybe 10 minutes on a Sunday morning) I love it so much I want to devote much more blog space to it than what I am doing here.

Not only does a great public transport system save gas because people share a vehicle rather than drive individual ones, it also saves the air. Four-story buildings line a typical Prague street. Mobile pollution devices (otherwise known as cars) choke the air with exhaust that doesn't move on.

#5 This vehicle is called a "trike" and is manufactured in China. It's a perfect size for urban living. It seems safer than a motor scooter because there's more frame surrounding the driver. I don't know how much gas it saves, but I'm sure it's substantial.

What do you think are some of the best environmental ideas in Europe that America should copy? What have you seen design-wise that inspires you?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

My favorite tea in Prague

I just discovered that the wonderful tea that sustained me in every Czech restaurant and cafe is available for sale in the States. The delicious teas of Harney & Sons are served everywhere in Prague, however, I could never find them on the shelf for sale at a Prague grocery store so I could make great tea at home.

In the States, they are available at Barnes & Noble. I've probably walked by them a million times and never noticed. And of course, they are also available via the Internet but it never occurred to me to look until I wanted an image for this blog post. The tea names are slightly different in the States but I've already figured out which one is Bangkok green tea. Heavenly comfort is soon to be brewed in a teapot near me.

Friday, May 22, 2009

36 Hours in Prague

See this is why I need to go back to Prague. What is the very first thing the New York Times thinks it's readers need to see in Prague? St. Vitus Cathedral. Haven't been there, haven't done that. If you want to see what else they recommend, click on my title. What would you recommend?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Fantova Kavarna: Waiting Patiently for Its Closeup

For romantic expatriate culture, many have said that the most wonderful time to come to Prague was when it first opened up to the West. Everything was possible and nothing was certain. I much prefer coming later, when much of romantic Prague has been restored and is ready for us to enjoy.

In the Main Train Station in Prague, known as Hlavni Nadrazi, the government is upgrading the facilities. One glorious corner, currently very much out of the way, is patiently waiting its turn for a return to greatness. Come, let's enjoy it for a moment before the restoration teams come in...

In the Main Train Station in Prague
known as Hlavni Nadrazi,
there is a cafe known
as the Fantova Kavarna.

It must have been a
beautiful cafe in its day.
The stained glass window with city light pouring in

People hustle to their trains underneath the dome
while others relax for a moment
above them in the coffeeshop (Kavarna)

A table for two

October 28, 1918:
Independence Day from
the Austrian-Hungarian Empire
The architect who inspired the name of the Cafe

The rotunda of the Fantova Kavarna
had a separate window for each of the most
popular destinations - like Moscow
Each ceiling shield represents
one of the grand European destinations.

The ceiling is rotting while it waits for restoration
but you can see its former glories
and what it can become again.
Your train has arrived on time
A beautiful city awaits you
The hallway leading to where the
grand railway station restaurant
once bustled with travelers
This glorious old restaurant room
is now full of tables selling secondhand clothes.
What will it be when it's restored?
Your elegant entry to the train platforms
Beautiful fence detail
In some places you really have to
use your imagination to see what's possible

but I have no doubt beauty will return.

This is the Czech Republic
where beauty is created everywhere.
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