Magic Prague by Angelo Maria Ripellino

Magic Prague by Angelo Maria Ripellino
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Definitely worth reading if you want to know another side, The real side, of Prague, and if you've been here long enough to know the difference.

Written by Angelo Maria Ripellino originally in Italian in 1973, this 1995 translation of Magic Prague goes straight to the soul in a round about way. Difficult to read at times, it's not exactly a sit down book good for one read through. Rather, it is a treasure, giving it's gifts up lightly, hauntingly, until you reach the madness that is the core, as it is for this city of the Vltava.

Littered with literary references both obscure and fascinating, its well-annoted bibliography will prove a path for the high-end reader to pursue the source of Ripenello's madness, and will clutter the mind of those cabbage-eating browsers of literature with enough cool references that people will understand you even less.

Here's a sample:

"And yet do you remember? In the course of our endless flânerie through the streets of the city we sought out the cafés of the Poetists, the Kaffeehäuser, as Kafka remarked, "in our time…the catacombs of the Jews", the hundred taverns patronized by Jaroslav Hašek, the cabarets of days gone by, at Na Pořičí, the traces of the old šantány and Tingeltangel. We entered, attracted by the "deep laughter of the pubs", and took part in the war of succession of mugs and glasses, the animated squabbles of the patrons, who bathed in a never ending flow of Pilsner, conversing according to the principle of "Já o koze, on o voze" ("I talk about the she-goat; he talks about the wagon" that is, at cross purposes), which also reflects the inconsistency of the Bohemian capital.

We entered the kavárny, large rooms heady with the aroma of mocha, where we were welcomed by waiters wearing black alpaca jackets and carrying bulging wallets, by the unrelenting prattle of the old women who meet there to gossip after sticking their noses in at all the churches, by the bawdy glances of plump prostitutes, who pester mature dandies pretending to hide behind newspapers in wooden holders, by the feeble minds of fools who stare vacantly for hours on end at the god in a glass of beer and, now and again, by orchestras of fat ladies with heavily made-up eyes and pearl necklaces over their low-cut dresses.

It all comes back at night to compound my insomnia. The arabesgued door-knockers in the Malá Strana pound mysteriously at night as their owners and tenants return late. The houses and palaces in this quarter have odd names that stimulate the imagination: The Green Crayfish, The Golden Crayfish, The Golden Angel, The White Turnip, The Golden Pike, The Red Lion, The Three Little Stars, The White Eagle, The Red Stag, The Black Eagle, The Golden Swan, The Golden Wheel, The Golden Grape, The Golden Horseshoe.

Although the castle faces Malá Strana, which lies directly in its lap, Malá Strana does not seem to face the Castle; nor does it face the river. Its buildings, embellished with covered roof terraces, studio flats, towers, mansards and chimney pots are enveloped in sleep, closed within themselves, as antisocial as safes, its lanes resembling hiding places, redoubts, mysterious corridors, all of which increases its aloofness from life in ferment, its cyclothemia, its solitude.

We left a part of ourselves in the průchody, the passageways that enable one to cross the center of Prague without coming out into the open, a dense network of small concealed streets hidden inside of blocks of centuries-old houses. In the Old Town we stumbled through this web of surreptitious passages and infernal alleys extending on all sides, infiltrating it completely: small rag-doll lanes intersected by entrance halls; circular paths hard to penetrate; narrow underground passageways still smelling of the Middle Ages; neglected, incredibly awkward bottle-necks that made me feel I was inside the neck of a bottle.

There are constricted points in the Old Town where the visitor loses his way in a hostility of walls. Oh, the walls of Prague, that obsessive Motif in Holan's works. The inconstant plexus of narrow medieval mews that suddenly expand or contract, withdraw or jut out in a broken line drives a pedestrian mad, obstructing free passage and making the whole mass of the medieval city seem to be coming down on one's head, almost adhering to one's body. I escaped the sinister narrowness of those lanes, the stranglehold of those baleful alleys, those prehensile, misshapen walls, and fled to the green islands, the efflorescent districts, the parks, belvederes and gardens that surround Prague on all sides."


- Photo by Sebastián, titled "I'm retiring now"
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