I’m not a big fan of ballet. I can never quite get over all the little separate dances which tend to stall the story somewhat. I mean while the entire premise for Swan Lake is a bit odd, at least it has a fair bit of drama in it…if you ignore the dancey bits, of course.
The reason I’m talking about ballet is because we booked tickets for the Prague State Opera ballet company production of Swan Lake and this afternoon we went. Actually I was very surprised when we checked into the hotel and our tickets had arrived and were waiting for us. Genius.
Which leads me nicely to praise for the Prague Experience website. We used it for lots of stuff before arriving and it has been brilliant. Highly recommended.
Actually, all of Prague has been excellent (ignoring the scammer) and we are in love with it. But, as usual, there’s way more to see than there is time to see it. Especially the groups of things, like the castle and the Jewish Town. Unless you’re on one of those tour groups who try and squeeze everything into about five hours.
Like the tour groups we did battle with today. One of the big things to see in Prague is the Jewish Town. There’s synagogues and the famous cemetery and the whole area to see, including the ever present souvenir shops.
Prague has an awful lot of them too. I reckon there’s more souvenir shops than there is residents of the city. And only one where I could buy the type of hat I’ve been searching for. A guy who lived in Liverpool (New South Wales, not Merseyside) sold me the perfect hat today. Somehow he knew we were Australian after very few words. He reckoned because he lived there for a while.
But I was talking about the Jewish Town. It’s a small area of Prague which is more accurately called Josefov after emperor Josef II whose reforms helped ease the Jewish living conditions in the city. A few famous people have become synonymous with the Jewish Town. Franz Kafka (who I mentioned a couple of days ago) and Rabbi Low or, more accurately, the Golem as created by Rabbi Low.
The Golem is a creature made of clay and one of the most famous was one attributed to Rabbi Low in the 16th century. You can read more about the Golem here but you may remember the one in The Simpsons. It was around long before Dr Frankenstein and just as awful. In Prague, it even has its own restaurant.
And Rabbi Low is buried in the Jewish Cemetery, where we wrestled with the hordes of ‘follow the umbrella’ tourist groups today. It’s quite an extraordinary place. There’s been over 12,000 people buried in quite a small space. They know it’s over 12,000 because that’s how many gravestones there are.
People have been buried there since the first half of the 15th century (the earliest tombstone dates from 1439) and continued until 1787. When it filled up, they just put another layer of earth over the top and started again. They kept repeating this, building up quite a collection of tombstones as they went. Now it looks like a gravestone graveyard.
The whole place could be quite atmospheric if there was about 3,000 fewer living people there. The same with the synagogues we visited. But I guess it’s the tourists who keep these places operating, particularly the big groups, but I can’t help hating them!
The Old New Synagogue was somewhere I really enjoyed. This is rather odd because it’s not very big and is quite plain. However, it is very old (a lot of it dates from the 13th century) and is still used for regular worship by Orthodox Jews. It was interesting comparing the parts of this synagogue with the more modern one we saw in New York.
The men in a synagogue have to have the hair covered (Mirinda reckons this is so the bald guys can feel better about themselves) so each visitor is asked to either wear a hat or put on a kippah (they have loaners by the door at all the ‘attractions’).
I have two things to say about this. Firstly, while I am a pure, dyed in the wool atheist, I still respect other people’s beliefs systems to the extent that if I’m visiting one of their holy places I will observe most of their rituals. Wearing something on your head is a small thing to do. There is, however, an awful lot of incredibly rude people who just don’t. I felt like smacking them across the back of the head.
Secondly, I have to wonder what happened between the old and the new testaments. In the old, men had to cover their heads, in the new, this all changed to the opposite. If I walk into an Anglican or Catholic church, the hat instantly comes off (so well I recall that priest in Canterbury though it was many years ago). Put me in a synagogue and the hat goes on. I don’t remember Jesus saying anything about hat wearing in church.
So we enjoyed wandering around the synagogues, the cemetery and, in particular, the exhibition in the Klausen Synagogue, on the Burial Society. This was a bunch of people who took care of the dead. There was an awful lot of stuff that had to be done and these guys did it. They even had a uniform. I reckon it was the job to have in the middle ages. Though Mirinda contends it would have given me the zoobies. She’s probably right.
But our time in the Jewish Town was short today for we had to work our way back up to the opera house to sit through some Russian music with some toe tapping included. Actually, we did one more thing in the Jewish Town…we bought a little glass ornament of a young boy reading from the Talmud to sit on our mantelpiece next to the fish dripping from the tap we bought in Murano and the glass pig with the 5p in it, that Nigel bought me.
The Opera House is just to the left at the top of Wenceslas Square. A lovely building with an absolutely gorgeous interior. It was first opened in 1888 and I’m pretty sure it hasn’t changed much. It’s the sort of place that really requires it’s visitors to be rather well dressed. Sadly we weren’t. However, we had a box so no-one really saw us very much.
Yes, a lovely, closed off, opera box all to ourselves. Heaven. It meant we could throw our shoes off and lounge about. It meant I could doze off during the long, drawn out, dancey bits. At least I COULD have dozed off if Mirinda didn’t keep hitting me.
Actually the ballet was very good and I (almost) enjoyed all of it. I rather enjoyed having seats in an opera box slightly more than the ballet. I’m pretty sure Mirinda enjoyed it and I know someone who is going to be dead jealous.