Monday, March 20, 2006

Pre-Communist Brunch

It could not be claimed that this weekend was dull. Au contraire, it was most agreeable (true, it did lack skiing, but it did not lack strenuous exercise--more on that later).
Last weekend, Jesse and Megan fomented the plan that the three of us would hold a dinner party at my place. This idea rapidly had to be scrapped when we found that other members of the Prague contingent also had interesting plans for this weekend and had publicized them first. It was okay with me—I like to host dinner parties, but I am just as content to go to other people’s events. I was still going to get to have Jesse and Megan stay with me.
Saturday afternoon, therefore, I was meeting up with Alex and her roommate at the I.P. Pavlova tram stop to locate a big enough table at Radost for brunch. Brunch is not exactly a Czech specialty, so I was surprised Alex had come up with a restaurant that featured it, but Radost is not your standard restaurant. I gather that in the evening it is a club and in the day it provides food. The décor is very entertaining.
Since brunch is not really a Czech sort of thing, there was no line out the door (unlike the sort of scene I encounter when I venture to Nový Smíchov early on a Sunday morning to stock up on groceries and have to wait forever to pay for my goods). We were able to find three small tables by the window and shove them together to make room for a final contingent that included Nathan, Kelly, and Jesse. In some ways the service was rather American: we got free refills on coffee and the waitress spoke English part of the time. It was more Czech in that she did not insist that our entire party arrive before we could be seated. As there were some difficulties with the buses from Brno, we were glad to be able to drink coffee for a good long time and order our food while waiting for Jesse to show up. The food itself was based on American brunch items, but was not exactly typical of what one would find on an American plate. As far as I know, we all thought the food was excellent. Mine certainly was.
The weather was surprisingly warm, so after our meal we ventured forth to visit a bazar (junk shop) that Kelly had found. Of course, it was not open, so we looked in the window and also at the window of another one. Not much is open on Saturday afternoons outside the tourist zones except places to eat and drink...

…And museums. We played around with the museum idea. There are some exhibitions I’ve been meaning to see, but on the whole they seemed wrong for our mood. It then turned out that nobody except perhaps Alex had been to the Museum of Communism.
We proceeded thataway.
The Museum of Communism is a private museum, thus expensive to visit. We were a little afraid it would be a mere tourist trap, perhaps only a step up from the Sex Machines Museum.
Actually, the Museum of Communism is quite recommendable. (Well, so was the Sex Machines Museum in its own peculiar way.) It has rooms with text in several languages explaining the rise, existence, and fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia, accompanied by lots of items from the Communist period. There were statues of Marx and Lenin, children’s books, canned goods, posters, and various thematic displays.
While in subsequent discussion, Jesse, Nathan, and I critiqued the museum in detail, I’m not sure that the museum’s weaknesses detracted seriously. I did feel that the wall text was a bit simplistically anti-Communist rather than giving a real analysis of how Communism took hold and turned into a monster, but this was hardly a surprise. We also thought that the objects should have been given somewhat more context and explanation rather than serving as mere interesting visual accompaniments to the wall text. Unless a person knew the history reasonably well, most of the objects would just seem quaint or kitschy, or in certain cases creepy. Still, I have seen plenty of small museums whose wall text (if any) really did much less to illuminate the items on display.
Toward the end of the route, we came upon a screening room where a film about the 1968 invasion and the 1988-89 demonstrations was playing.
While in retrospect I could complain that the film didn’t really provide much context for visitors who knew little about Czechoslovakia—it didn’t really tell what the Prague Spring was or give any real sense of why Communism finally fell—we found the film extremely powerful. It had a lot of strong footage of the 1988-89 demonstrations, and while I didn’t experience any of those first-hand, I know people who did. In fact, in 1989 I just missed being on hand for the demonstration commemorating the death of Jan Palach. The riot police were gathering on Václavské náměstí the day my train left. Watching the footage brought back a lot of complicated memories.
After all that, we had to do something a little more light-hearted, so we went to the Lucerna kavárna and took silly photos of one another. I figured that as, according to Nezval, Toyen often went to the Lucerna (although I don’t know whether to the kavárna or to some other part of the Lucerna), I could view our antics as a surrealist research expedition of sorts.

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Blogger morskyjezek said...

Yes, Radost was great. (And I was glad the name was meant literally, not sarcastically, which meant that it was quite a 'joyful' brunch even though I was exhausted from the search for transportation from Brno.) But I digress. I enjoyed my food, but (to say a bit more about Czech-Mex food) both Nathan and I remarked that the refried bean aspect of "Huevos rancheros" was novel and I thought the potatoes could have been integrated into the dish itself rather than served on the side.

Speaking of small museums (and a lack of comlementary wall texts), how about the "ethnographic" museum in Velké Bílovice?

March 20, 2006 1:52 PM  
Blogger Kristen said...

Oh my god I LOVE the evil matryoshka! I bet they don't have that one in the matryoshka museum here! (I have yet to get there, but it is on the list.)

March 20, 2006 10:10 PM  
Blogger Karla said...

The ethnographic museum definitely lacked informative wall text. On the other hand, the mannequins were particularly fine and I'm glad Megan finally did something with her photos of them (will have to link to these).

As for the beans, where was it mentioned (email?) about black versus pinto? I always associated black beans with Asian cooking and pinto beans with Mexican, although I do enjoy black beans in Mexican.

There are matryoshky for sale in Prague, but I don't think any of them look like the one on the museum signs.

March 20, 2006 11:45 PM  
Blogger Kristen said...

Regarding Mexican... I'm not an expert on the subject, but cookbooks I have read that claim to be based on authentic Mexican cuisine often use black beans. Also, their recipes for Huevos rancheros always used refried beans. Though who knows at this point what is "authentic"?

I'm sure that the matroshka on the sign is a photoshop creation. Hence my attempt at humor regarding its absence from the museum. Oh well.

March 21, 2006 1:12 PM  
Blogger morskyjezek said...

Well I can't claim an extensive knowledge of Mexican food, so it doesn't bother me that much. Perhaps I was just used to eggs in huevos rancheros having more body - I think Radost's were like the kind that come from a can. Or maybe I'm just used to New Mexican huevos rancheros.

March 21, 2006 5:11 PM  
Blogger Karla said...

Eggs that come from a can? Where on earth have you eaten those? Beans from a can, certainly.

Photoshopped or not, I'd like a matryoshka with fangs. Perhaps there's one in the Russian vampire movie.

March 22, 2006 9:03 AM  

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