Monday, April 15, 2013

The "Other" Castle

If there is one thing the Czech Republic has in spades it's castles. You can hardly swing a dead cat without hitting one. They aren't just in Prague, they dot the countryside with staggering regularity. In fact there are only two castles in Prague. So, basically a city with the same geographic size as Rio Rancho, NM has the same number of castles as the entire state of California. I'm going on the castle at Disneyland and the Hurst Castle, I'm not even sure those really count. Both the castles in Prague are nearly 1000 years older than California, as a state, let alone Disneyland. You'll find a lot less fat people at the castles in Prague too.
Anyway, while the Prague Castle is beautiful and a great place to hang out it does get crowded from time to time. Now that spring is upon us like an overnight-success boy band many of the royal gardens at the Prague Castle are open to the public again. I have future plans to visit them, it is still a bit early for them to be in full bloom. The beer gardens on the other hand are blooming quite nicely.
So, for a nice wander around I've taken to visiting Vyšehrad. It was the first castle built in Prague and is on the other side of the river from the Prague Castle.
Think of Vyšehrad, that's pronounced Vish e hrad, as a large park on a hill perched atop ten-meter thick walls. On any given day there are a few dozen people wandering about the walls and taking in the view. It seems it is mainly Czech people walking their dogs, taking in the view and indulging in a teen-aged cheap date. There is a nice church in the middle of the castle, seems like a recurring trend, and it has a pretty amazing cemetery full of notable professors, writers and composers and such. Antonin Dvorak is buried there. I think there is some sort of gallery and a permanent museum exhibit of medieval stuff. I'm not sure, I've only ever walked around I haven't gone in anywhere.
Vyšehrad isn't exactly high on the tourist list of stuff to do. It's not that difficult to get to, but you do have to walk a bit to find it. It isn't like you could hop off the metro and follow a throng of people and end up there. The metro is the easiest way to get to the castle, but I'd recommend taking a tram to the Albertov stop and walking through the neighborhood, ironically called Vyšehrad, up the hill to the castle.
The view of the river is much better than the Prague Castle and so is the view of the Prague Castle.

See, the view of the river really is better. I really had no idea Czechs were so into rowing sports. There were dozens of rowers out on the water training with some sort of club or team. Strangely enough, even though I just mentioned the better view of the Prague Castle from Vyšehrad I haven't taken a single photo of it from that vantage point. I mostly wandered around the park and cemetery. I do good work in cemeteries. The first time I visited I took my camera, the second time I stuck with my phone and Hipstamatic app. It shouldn't be difficult to tell which is which.

This is pretty close to where I took the photo of the rowers. There is a nice little spot through the door where you can look out over the river and take in the view.

I wonder how long this building has been around this pump. I don't know if it is the oldest pump house in the city, but I imagine it's a pretty old well site. There are some older well sites around the castle as well. There is also some rotunda from the 11th century on the castle grounds. And a beer garden, did I mention there is a beer garden there? It's not a shock, there is a beer garder pretty much everywhere. If you count a table on a sidewalk that is too small to support foot traffic as a garden, which they do here, gardens are everywhere.

Like I said, I spent most of the time wandering though the cemetery. This is the lock on the gate, evidently they lock it. I have been there an hour or so after the posted closing time twice and it's still been open.

You don't need to lock everything in a cemetery with steel. A simple shoelace was enough to make sure the graves of the monks buried there are not disturbed. There are also a lot of nuns buried there. I suppose if you dedicate your life to God and wear a wedding ring because you are married to the Lord you at least deserve a good final resting place. I can support that.

I really like that the few cemeteries I've been to here have a DIY maintenance vibe. Of course I think that is for small things like grave decoration. I think the larger responsibilities like mowing, hedge and ivy trimming and making sure damaged graves are repaired falls on no one. The light on these watering cans was great the first time I visited and again the second time. 

These watering cans were across the alcove from the group of the others in the first photo. At least people return them to the same general area when they are done using them. There is even a spigot nearby. How helpful.
It seems that on a lot of the graves I've seen it is common to build a cross out of rocks, or buckeyes as I've also seen. I tell myself this comes from the Jewish tradition of putting a rock on someone's grave, but I really don't know much about Jewish tradition so I might just be saying nothing. The light was really nice when I saw this grave and its rock cross. I couldn't not photograph it and it is one of my favorites.

The next time I went back someone else had done the same thing on a different grave. I told you it was common.

The execution maybe isn't as awesome as the first, but I'm pretty sure when it comes to stuff like this it really is just the thought that counts.

Many of the graves I seen in Bohemia have capstones, I'm pretty sure that is what they are called. A few of them even have huge bronze rings on them. I suppose they are about 25% so it's easier to lower the capstone in place and about 75% for decoration after the nice patina has set in. This one was green like an old cannon.

There were a lot of graves with busts on the headstones. Perhaps this makes it a "real" headstone since there is a head on it and all. In this cemetery it was more popular than the other few I've been to. It's kind of nice and a little creepy at the same time. Do you not feel well and call  your family and say, "I feel crappy. Get the priest for the Last Rites, the undertaker for the funeral arrangements and the bust maker to take an impression of me before I go." Or is it something your family decides to do after you're dead and so something like what we see here is the result of a casting of some sort. Sorry, but being called in to take a mold of some dead person's head must not exactly be a sculptor's dream assignment.

The more I consider when these busts were made the harder I try and figure out if the person was alive when a mold was taken. Do dead people have wrinkled brows? I don't know, I've never considered it. I don't go to a lot of open casket anything. Open bar, always. Open casket, not unless there is an open bar next to it. The first photo does look like a mold taken from a corpse, this second one I really don't know. I do like how the guy in the back right gets to look at a pretty killer mosaic of Jesus for the next eternity hundred years or so.

I told you the bust was popular. It was good enough for Jaroslav here and those other two dudes on the left. But now I'm more hung up on the process of making the bust and it is making it a bit difficult to appreciate how popular this process is.
As I go to take a few hours and figure out this bust conundrum I will leave you with a nice photo of that church I was telling you about in the castle. It's the Church of Saints Peter and Paul.

Monday, April 8, 2013


A few weeks ago I went to use my favorite 20mm f2.8 lens and noticed something didn't look right when I peered through the viewfinder. The edges of the photo were not in focus, but the center was. It looked a little bit like an aura. Something I was not familiar with until I started using anti-depressant medication a few years ago during some tough times. Needless to say the doctor who prescribed that medication told me to stop taking it immediately.
Anyway, I was disappointed that my favorite lens was broken. The center-focus issue made it unusable, I thought. So I looked around for a camera shop that can repair it. I found one. Then I decided to wait for a little while and see what I could do with this "broken" lens.
I'm not strapping it on every day, but I'm taking it out now every once and a while to see what I can do. My first trip was to an old city cemetery.
The place is called Olšany and I got lucky with really nice light the day I went with my broken lens. I think I wandered around for three or four hours contemplating my mortality and thinking about how the graveyards in the U.S. are so much different. I'm pretty happy with the results. It seem I do some pretty good work in cemeteries.
Anyway, there are a lot of photos for me to stick in here, so I'll stop with the copy. Remember, if you're not a person I know I own the copyright to these photos and don't authorize anyone to use them without permission.

This headstone is not here anymore. I went back a week or so later and it was gone.

 This one is pretty close to my favorite. The light is great and the soft edges really work.

There are a lot of benches near graves. Most of them are placed so people can sit at the end of a grave and rest. 

There are a lot of crypts built around the cemetery this one isn't in such great shape. The back wall is missing.

There is a ton of bent and broken iron around the place. I guess rust and the elements do a number after 150 years.

No stopping progress. Actually that's not true, in some countries the IMAX theater would be built on top of the graveyard. For all I know this one is built on top of at least a few graves that were placed outside the walls.

I wasn't sure if I like this one better in color or black and white. I did like the pauper's grave feel to it though.

See, black and white looks pretty good too.

Iron isn't the only broken this in this place. There are a lot of broken and overgrown headstones. And check out my cool Golden Mean composition.

People even leave flowers on graves for people who have been dead for 100 years or so. It's nice.

I'll end it with another bench. I think I like this one more than the other one up there. I have other photos I like too, but 15 is enough I think. I'm not that upset with my broken lens anymore. I'm still going to get it fixed through, just not this week.

I forgot to add this one I really liked. I like the clearly hand-made wooden cross in a bucket of flowers with a computer-printed headstone on it. To me this is was the best grave in the whole place. Simple and right next to a pretty large monument to someone else. I think it makes a good juxtaposition.