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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Last day

I am in an internet cafe just down the street from our apt. in Prague. This is the last day of our trip, and I don't know how long I will have to write. I will do as much as I can until Loring and the kids come to get me. It is almost noon, and they are still having breakfast. Max and Carolina, that is. Loring has been up and out for hours, climbing hills in this hilly city.

We are staying on Nerudova street, the main way up to the castle from the famous bridge crossing the river from Old Town on the other side. Although a busy street, it is still charming, lots of wonderful architecture as everywhere here. If Nerudova sounds vaguely familiaar, as in Neruda, there is a reason. The famed Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, who was massacred along with many others in Chile in 1972, if I am remembering right, took the name from the famed (here, at least) Czech writer, Jan Neruda. About whom I know nothing, but will try to find some information when I get home. There is a plaque to Jan Neruda across the street from our house, I assume he lived there. There are plaques all over the city, most only in Czech of course. There were a fair number of them in Krakov, as well.

Prague has continued to be interesting, despite the crowds and overabundance of kitshy souveniers. (Ok, I did buy a pair of earrings, from the man that made them.). I am glad we came. The trip has continued to have a Jewish flavor. Not of my doing, really. It is just that some of the major sites, in both Prague and Krakov, are related to Jewish culture. After the castle here, which is massive, almost a village in itself, the Jewish quarter is the next biggest attraction.

Yesterday, after walking around for hours, first all together, then by myself, I had the curious sensation of being disassociated from myself, that my voice didn't sound like my own, that my brain wasn't centered in my body. Then I realized that I had just finished reading Kafka's Metamorhosis that morning, and that this feeling seemed strangely similar to what he experiences when he awakens changed into a cockroach! Hmmm! Actually, I think I was just tired!

Kafka was born and died here, of tuberculosis at only age 41. Several places he lived are here, and he, along with his parents, is buried in the New Jewish cemetery. (As opposed to the old Jewish ceremony, in the middle of the Old Town, which got too full in the late 1700's.) And had I mentioned the Old New Synagogue, the one still in used, which was new, obviously, when it was built, I believe in the 1500's. But they changed its name when later synagogues were built.

Seeing the number of synagogues that did exist in earlier times makes one realze just how large a part of the population the Jews were. On our tour of Czernowitz, by a history teacher who happens to be Jewish, he mentioned that the main street of what used to be the Jewish quarter was called synagogue street, and that there were once over 50 synagogues along it. How could that be? Apparently congregations were smaller then. And why would they all be on one street? Questions to answer at another time.

The last piece of information that I read at the archives in Czernowitz about my great grandmother was that she lived on Synagoguegasse. But I couldn't really understand the German, and wasn't sure if the street was in Czernowitz or in Sadagura. Might there be a Synagogue Street there as well? I am hoping to have more information when Nikola, from the city council there, has time to photograph and I can have someone tranlate.

I expect the family to come by any time, and so just want to mention that this will not be the last posting. I will definitely post some photos after we are home. And hopefully I will be able to go back and fill in some of the experiences that I didn't have time to include up until now.

The plan for today is to climb Petrin Hill, which we can do from our house. Up there, in addition to spectacular views (I have it firsthand, Loring has already climbed it once) are a couple of remnants of a fair in the late 1890's, a tower modelled after the Eiffel, though smaller, and a funhouse mirror kind of thing. After that, I hope to go to a folklore festival including dancers from many places. On the schedule for this afternoon are dancers from here, Prague, and also from Israel. This will actually be the second folklore festival we've come across in two weeks. The other was in Zacopane, where we went for two days from Krakov, renting a car. I don't believe I have even described Zacopane yet. This festival I knew about in advance, when we rented the apt. in Krakow and the owner also had a place in Zacopane. The town is a ski resort, but little did we know that it would be a summer destination as well, absolutely saturated with tourists, although they mostly seemed to be be Polish. We our place was actually about 6 miles outside the city, which was better than staying in town. It was in a little village. But even there, as in the town, there was development construction everywhere, although it seemed as though there was hardly anyplace more to build. As we were leaving town, the line up of traffic going in was at least a mile long, and it wasn't a weekend. It hadn't been that bad when we arrived. But there had been people, lots of them, holding signs saying "pojole" or something like that, which it took us a while to figure out. The word meant rooms. ie. to rent, and I wondered what percentage of the folks holding sings actually found takers.

Isn't there anyplace left that is scenic or of cultural interest that isn't overrun? Well, I guess Chernowitz would fit that category. Part of the reason is that it isn't all that accessible. There are few planes into the small airport there, and otherwise it's a matter of a long train ride or renting a car. I don't wish Czernowitz the amount of tourism that some of these other places have, but it could certainly do with a few more visitors. This October, when the city celebrates its 600th anniversary, would be an interesting time to be there.

I will stop here, for now. Please check back in a few days.

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