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  • Writer's pictureScott M Williamson

Prague Spring, 2023

The newly renovated Jerusalem Synagogue

Our 20+ students and their pair of world-winded professors just spent four nights in Prague. Here's an abridged photo journal of a few things we took in. Our first night started with a recital for organ, trumpet, and soprano at the St Francis church (below). Directly below is a view of Prague Castle from Charles Bridge just after the "top hits" program, at dusk.

Inside St Francis, 1702 organ which Mozart played

Auditorium, Estates Theatre, National Theatre, Prague

We saw Mozart's Don Giovanni in the theatre of its 1787 premiere. Many of our students had never been to an opera. I didn't know what to expect with a new production; our students loved it as much as their professors. I believe Mozart himself would have laughed at some of Alexander Mørk-Eidem's privileging humor in unexpected places. Likewise his use of witty referential gestures: using curtains as costumes, props, and set pieces all-in-one. The production's motivic blurring of lines between narrative and presentation was playfully ambivalent and dramatically compelling.

Our last day was capped by a traditional Czech meal at the central Municipal House. We started that day with a visit to the largest library in the Czech Republic, at the Strahov Monastery near Prague Castle.

If heaven is not just a metaphor, I hope I get to live in one of these rooms. Or at least have visiting privileges during celestial free-time.

View of the Castle from a neighborhood park

The previous day was highlighted with a visit to the Lobkowicz Palace on the Castle Grounds. Their family was one of Beethoven's three primary patrons. The museum houses a mind-blowing collection of manuscripts, first editions (like Schubert's Winterreise), letters, ledgers, and other primary-source materials. After I gaped at the contents in each of these galleries, and encountered the priceless Bruegel painting (below), it took considerable effort to maintain composure and not un-dam the river of emotion internally surging. It is my newest treasured experience, already a memory...

Reproduction of 18th c. opera design

Pieter Bruegel, the Elder: The Haymakers

Canaletto: View of London from the Thames, detail

Roman print from the Lobkowicz "Piranesi Room"

Prague is a city where old and new not only coexist, they are fused; they reflect one another. Like Borges argues in his beautifully enigmatic essay, "Kafka and His Precursors," the new helps us view the old anew. David Czerny's futuristic sculpture "K," features a nod to Prague's Astronomical Clock by rotating hourly; it is an "eternal return" of transformation, literally like clockwork...

The newly-renovated Jerusalem Synagogue was not open on my first visit to Prague. It was worth the wait. Stunning from every angle: Moorish interior and gothic design; Romanesque and Baroque details, like the Bima (Altar/Pulpit), and the organ (above).

Marked "This is a Sacred Space," the memorial below is to a medieval Jewish Cemetery (c.1245). When I came upon it, it was being used as a rest-area for a bicycle-riding deliverer, and another casually chatting on their phone. They both politely moved once it was obvious a visitor was paying their respects...

I also can't believe I missed the "Alchemist Museum" on that first visit, as Secret Prague was my go-to guidebook. I'm glad I stumbled upon this sui generis 2-part exhibition this time. The first floor showcases a hieroglyphic-filled "Faust's Room;" the second is a tour through John Dee's alchemical attic. Not only a precursor of Harry Potter's universe, Dee was a scientist and Elizabethan secret agent. His sign was OO7, meaning "for your eyes only..."

We started with Prague at Night. The picture below of the famous "Dancing Building" was too beautifully blue to believe. The structure exemplifies old and new juxtaposed together, paired like doppelgängers or twins...

"In the music of Bohemia, the horns are never about war; they are always for the dance! " Rafael Kubelik was said to have said. Which is how I started a poem during those incredible days in Prague last week.

Prague's famous "Dancing Building"

[Untitled] Sonnet

"I can't dance" she said as she

pliéd out the foyer like

a Zephyr in human limbs

Leaves rustle in the nightwind

green slippers barely brushing

the bluing sky turning black

Like the dream I had of his

ebony skin bruising me

into a whirling white Djinn

Warp factor five where no man's

dancing shoes turn red unless

Aura and Amun bless them

"I can't dance" she said and leapt

out of my life with a god.

Prague, May 2023

Vltava (Moldau) River, Prague Castle

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