Or “the buildings what I saw on my holidays”.
My darling Darling Vicarage and I actually arrived back in London well over a month ago, after a dismal coalition of Lastminute.com, Easy Jet, Prague International Airport, UK Immigration Control and Southern Railways conspired to rile and delay us. DV had been to Prague before, in 2001, but the city has changed so much that she began to doubt whether she had been at all
. The Czech Republic’s entry into Europe has been bought at a high price.
Prague is a city of many aspects. I spotted three of them. The area around Wenceslas Square is awash with strip-bars and puking Englanders; apart from admiring the Radio Free Europe building from the safety of public transport, we avoided it altogether.
Off the beaten-track is Zizkov, a working-class neighbourhood named after the old Czech warrior Jan Zizka, who fought against the doctrines of orthodox Catholicism in the reign of good King Wenceslaus. On the hill where the Hussites defeated the Crusaders in 1420, there is an enormous statue of Zizka sitting on a horse whose veins pop out of its skin. Behind Zizka and his horse is a rather grim National Monument, erected in 1927, and later used to house the Czech Communist leader Klement Gottwald, who died of syphilis and alcoholism five days after attending Stalin’s funeral.
Much more fun, though not much less Stalinist, is the Zizkov TV tower. The guidebooks tell you that the tower exemplifies Communist megalomania. Well, maybe. I can’t imagine that anybody took the design and construction of a building that so closely resembles a space rocket entirely seriously. It reminds me of an article Ballard wrote for Vogue in 1977 about the rise and fall of the space age.
Looking back, we can see that far from extending forever into the future, the space age lasted for scarcely 15 years: from Sputnik 1 and Gagarin’s first flight in 1961 to the last Skylab mission in 1974 – and the first splashdown, significantly, not to be shown on television. After a casual glance at the sky, people turned around and went indoors.