“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Aristotle
I have 3 things to share this week:
1) Happy news: Capitol Prague, a new restaurant and cafe in Washington D. C. / Georgetown, has bought use of of one of my photographs of Charles Bridge in Prague for use as a mural inside their cafe.
Isn’t it gorgeous? And, illy is my very favorite coffee, the one we drank at our home in Prague. Na zdravi! (Cheers!)Read More»
How lucky I am to have known someone who was so hard to say goodbye to.
Almost four years ago, I learned that my family and I would move across the ocean to a faraway city called Prague. My first question was, “Where is Prague?”
The opportunity to move there was for my husband’s job, and we thought the stay in Eastern Europe would be for 2 or 3 years. It was a dream for us, to get to live in a foreign country and to have the chance to travel Europe with our family. Though those 2 or 3 years turned into almost 4 years, it all really was a dream.
My husband and I moved to Prague with 3 young sons, not knowing how our time overseas would go or turn out. Everything was new; everything was different. From navigating narrow roads with no lines to learning to live in a smaller space with tiny appliances for a family of five, our first months abroad were a continual challenge of learning how to adapt and make the most of the experiences at the same time.Read More»
Over the past several weeks, my family and I have been wrapped up in the process of moving across the Atlantic. The details have been tremendous, but all have worked out so smoothly they’ve unfolded like stepping stones, one tiny step at a time. And while I’m wrapped up in transition and helping my kids to get settled and engaged in their new school in Ohio, I am taking time to think and understand the vast changes we’re going through. We already miss our friends in Prague, but are thrilled to be back home in the United States. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be blogging about the move. But for now, I’m posting part of a piece I’ve written for today at Great New Books, on one of my recent favorite books. I’m closing comments here, but I hope you’ll join us at Great New Books for the rest of the post and discussion. Thanks!
In the best book covers, a reader can sense the story held inside the pages even without opening the book at all. THE LOST WIFE by Alyson Richman is one novel I’ve recently read that I fell in love with, not only for the cover art (which shows a couple kissing on Prague’s famed Charles Bridge), but with the words, the story, and the pull I felt while reading to immerse myself in every word all the way to the end.
In the very first pages of The Lost Wife, in combination with the cover and the evocative title, the reader learns that a husband and wife have been passionately in love, but then tragically separated by war. The story begins in current day New York City at a wedding where one of the main characters, Josef, discovers someone he never even dreamed to meet again, who he recognizes by “the shadow of something dark blue beneath the transparent material of her sleeve that caused shivers to run through his old veins.” That woman is his wife, Lenka.
The rest of the book fills in the empty space of story, in fluid, alternating viewpoints from Josef to Lenka, of how they met and fell deeply in love, married, and were torn apart by the footsteps of Nazi soldiers marching through the cobblestone streets of Prague. In alternating timeframes of current day and 1940s Europe, the reader falls into an absorbing tale of enduring love and the incredible resilience of hope and the ability of memory to draw us through the hardest of times.
Over the past few years I have read several books set during the Holocaust and World War II Europe. Because of the subject matter, each has been challenging to read, emotionally and historically. But The Lost Wife, to me, reached much further than the atrocities the protagonist suffered, and to another subject altogether. The Lost Wife is a love story from beginning to end, and even more, it shines a bright light on art as a means to survive even the worst of circumstances.
Richman draws two vivid characters in Lenka and Josef. While reading, I could feel the weight of their love while they were in pre-Occupation Prague, and even more, sense that same love as it pulled and tugged through their circumstances after they were pulled apart. Not only did I see Lenka’s curls in decadent pre-War Prague, but could hear her rich voice and artist’s perspective in everything she said. An example (page 36): “I’ve often wondered if it is impossible to dress purely for your own indulgence and not in the hope of catching a man’s eye. Some women love the feel of silk in their own hand, the weight of velvet on their skin. I think my mother was like that. She always told us there were two types of women. Those who are lit from the outside and those who are lit from within. The first needs the shimmer of a diamond to make her sparkle, but for the other, her beauty is illuminated through the sheer light of her soul.”
As well as rich characters, Richman writes the settings so real it’s as if the reader is walking right beside the characters, or close enough to be in their actual shoes. I have walked the cobblestones of Prague for the past four years (living in Prague as an expat), and spent a day inside the Ghetto of Nazi concentration camp Terezin, and the novel reads just as the settings feel and smell and look if the reader were there in real life. For a walk through history-rich Prague and along its gentle Vltava River, to see the delicate Bohemian crystal and the idyllic land of Czechoslovakia before War and Communism seized it, and to experience the suffering of those who survived the Nazi camps, The Lost Wife is a must read.
For more about my experience at Terezin, click here. To see more posts about Prague, click here. And for more and to engage with us in comments and discussion, click here for our book recommendation site at Great New Books … Thanks! -Jennifer
“The color of springtime is in the flowers; the color of winter is in the imagination.” – Terri Guillemets
The first time I saw Prague’s Charles Bridge, the weather was hot and the bridge was crowded. It had been the height of summer tourist season (August) and construction crews worked on replacing the cobblestones on over half of the width of the legendary bridge spanning the Vltava River in Prague. I remember thinking about taking a photograph, but with three children in tow and other tourists pressing in on all sides of us, there was no opportunity other than simply to make it across. Despite the heat and the crowds, my first time across Charles Bridge was a memorable experience.
Every time I’ve seen the bridge and had the opportunity to meander across it in the four years since then, I’ve walked across in wide-eyed wonder. There is so much to see: the saint statues and the river, the spires on each side of the river, the autumn changing leaves, and the soaring swans and water birds, the organ-grinder man collecting change in an old hat, the artists and vendors and jazz ensembles adding flavor to the air. The Charles Bridge is Prague’s most enchanting place.
In January, an unexpected snow fell overnight before I was to meet a friend at the Castle in Prague. When I woke, I saw this view and decided to venture straight downtown, to write near the bridge on that day, and take a few moments to capture the beauty I might find there.
And beauty blew me away.
I have never been the only person on the Charles Bridge. On that frigid, snowy morning, I was.
It was an experience that will linger for a long time to come …
For other photographs I’ve taken of Prague’s Charles Bridge, you can find them by clicking here.
For you: Have you traveled to Prague? What is your favorite place / time of year to come?
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary. -W.C.Dix
v1 What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
v3 So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
-What Child is This? lyrics by William Chatterton Dix, 1865
Merry Christmas, everyone! See you next week on January 1, 2013!
Love and peace to you and your families,
“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” -Pablo Picasso
If there were ever a time we need to wash the dust of life off, it is now.
I am so saddened by what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday. A tragedy of that magnitude makes us all around the world consider how we should move forward, carry on, and still honor the vibrant lives and spirits that were cut short on that morning. Surely the answer is in helping the world heal and find peace, especially from the inside. Or as Miss Rumphius, one of my favorite children’s book characters, says: we need to help make the world a more beautiful place, soften the edges, and send out love.
One way to take part in hope is through art.
“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
In Prague, where I currently live, art is all around, in the architecture, in the jazz rifts echoing along the city streets, in the sculptures and performances and rich cultural history. Czech Republic is a country whose heritage is art.Read More»
“Through the window, the night air appeared dense, each snowflake slowed in its long, tumbling fall through the black. It was the kind of snow that brought children running out their doors, made them turn their faces skyward, and spin in circles with their arms outstretched.” -Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child
Isn’t that what happens when the first snow falls? We watch in amazement as the muddy autumn world turns a crisp winter white. It’s as if the lacy flakes dance and twirl and mimic our hearts during the first snowfall — we feel lighter, more joyful. Snow turns us all into children again, if we let it.
This past weekend, in Prague, we had our first gorgeous snowfall. Yes, we suffered through an October snow that snapped tree limbs and piled atop colored leaves still on the trees. But this snow was different. It was the kind I classify as pure magic.
My family and our dear friends’ family met at the National Theater for an afternoon Advent Concert. It was beautiful (next week, I’ve decided I have to blog about the Theater, which I LOVE). When we exited the Theater, a shimmering of pixie dust glittered in the air, stirring the Castle and the Vltava and the vintage trams rumbling by the legendary Cafe Slavia into a magical land.Read More»
”History teaches everything including the future.” -Lamartine
When I stand in Prague along the Vltava River and see this view, I can hardly imagine the hundreds of years of stories and history tucked into the walls and crevices of the buildings:
- Prague Castle (the long, horizontal building that stretches across much of this photograph) was founded around the year 880 and is made up of Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque architectural styles. The Castle has hosted the region’s ruling powers through countless wars, the Nazi occupation, the Soviet Communist rule, and the post-Velvet Revolution government — for over one thousand years.
- St Vitus Cathedral, with its high Baroque and Gothic spires inside the Prague Castle walls, was founded on the 21st of November, 1344, during the reign of King Charles IV. The beauty inside is astounding, especially considering the cathedral is approaching 700 years old.
- St Nicholas of Mala Strana Church, constructed around 1750 (the spires on the left of the photograph), was a favorite Nazi spying outpost, from the top of its bell tower. Also, famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played the organ in the church.
- Charles Bridge, the historic bridge that crosses the Vltava River, was constructed in the 1350s by King Charles IV. Its presence across the river helped make Prague an important trade route between eastern and western Europe.
There is so much to see, feel, and experience just by standing in one small spot in a historic city like Prague.
What do you think about when you experience something so much bigger than you and your time?
“Under the thinning fog the surf curled and creamed, almost without sound, like a thought trying to form inself on the edge of consciousness.” – Raymond Chandler, from The Big Sleep
If there would be one scene that defines Prague for me, it is the serpentine Vltava River winding through the city. Bridges cross the river at regular intervals, artistic in their arches, their Gothic architecture, and their spacing. Vintage red trams cross several bridges, along with cars and trucks and buses. But one bridge in Prague is completely special: the Charles Bridge.Read More»
“The monumental Nelahozeves Castle, one of Bohemia’s finest Renaissance castles, is situated on a gentle slope overlooking the Vltava River in the village of Nelahozeves (birthplace of the great Czech composer Antonín Dvořák), approximately 35 km north of Prague.”
-from the website (Lobkowicz.cz) of the former Czech royal family, the Lobkowiczes
Music has always been an important part of my life. Not just rock music (which I love, and blogged about going to see U2 in Vienna and Coldplay in Prague), but classical music as well. This is the story …
I distinctly remember the day I chose what instrument I would play when I was a girl in the 5th grade. My family had recently moved from the South (Texas) to the cosmopolitan North (suburban Philadelphia), and I was an awkward 11 year old with a hard twang of an accent, dressed in prairie clothes my mother made and double braids my mother braided every day, and stood taller than my male 5th grade teacher. Yes, that was a tough time. Music was one of the things that saved me, I’m sure.
The cart the music teacher rolled into the school auditorium had been loaded with instruments — flutes, clarinets, trumpets, and a violin. Perhaps a few more. But I remember I only had eyes for the stringed instrument. When the teacher saw the size of my hands, she told me I needed to play something larger than a violin. A viola or cello, she said. I agreed. A viola sounded nice.
For the next many years, I played my viola. I toted it with me when we moved to another new state, and also when I ventured to college. I played the same viola when I became a mom and after, at friends’ events or at church. My viola still sits upstairs in a special boy-proof spot. The sheet music waiting inside the viola case still calls my name, though I don’t play it nearly as often as I like. Several of the pieces inside the case were written by Beethoven, and one was by Dvořák — all are favorites.
Fast forward to Czech Republic, where I currently live with my family. One day, when playing the music from my viola case, I recognized a name written at the top of the music, in German. Lobkowicz.
Soon, I discovered the 7th Prince Lobkowicz had been the prinicipal sponsor of Beethoven, including his 3rd, 5th, and 6th symphonies. Stunning!
And Dvořák grew up literally beside the Lobkowicz family castle called Nelahozeves Castle in Nelahozeves, Czech Republic (then Austrian empire). It was then, at these discoveries, that I began to dig in to see everything I could about the rich history in this enchanted region near Prague. Seeing all of the history, standing inches from the original Beethoven manuscripts, hearing the music played in castles and theaters near Prague — these all have left an imprint upon me and my life.
So, I must share them here as best I can with you — today, Nelahozeves Castle.
The Lobkowicz family has made an enormous mark on the world, through so many things, but also through music. Last week, I featured one of the Lobkowicz castles, Strekov Castle. I have talked about the Lobkowicz Palace inside the Prague Castle. And following, photos from one of my visits to the Lobkowiczs’ magnificent Nelahozeves Castle.
One of the most incredible parts of the Lobkowicz story happened when their properties and possessions — castles, music, palaces, and everything — were confiscated by the Nazis in 1939 and then by the Communists in 1948. In recent years, since the fall of Communism and the Soviet bloc, the Lobkowicz family has been working to restore all that had been taken from them, and put back on display for the public to see.
And since photography isn’t allowed inside the Lobkowicz properties, you must go and see the incredible exhibits for yourself. Priceless music, art, household items, armor — the Lobkowicz palace and castles are must-see places when you visit Prague. For more, visit their website at Lobkowicz.cz.
For you: What are your favorite classical musicians? Do you play an instrument? How does seeing such history and grandeur affect you?