Dec 22, Gareth Lewis rated it really liked it Just wonderful. Inspired me to visit, which I did a couple of months ago. This passage on Czech cuisine rings comically true - Lunch. Perhaps this is the place to say a word about Czech cuisine; a word, and then on to more appetizing topics. My Czech friends, whom I value dearly and would Just wonderful.
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Dec 22, Gareth Lewis rated it really liked it Just wonderful. Inspired me to visit, which I did a couple of months ago. This passage on Czech cuisine rings comically true - Lunch. Perhaps this is the place to say a word about Czech cuisine; a word, and then on to more appetizing topics.
My Czech friends, whom I value dearly and would Just wonderful. My Czech friends, whom I value dearly and would not wish to offend, should skip smartly the next two paragraphs - you have been warned.
I have eaten badly in many parts of the world. At a hostelry in a pleasant little town not far from Budapest I have been confronted by a steaming platter of sliced goose, mashed potato, and sauerkraut, three shades of glistening grey. And what about the inoffensive-looking green salad which I ate without a second thought in a little lunch place off the tourist trail one glorious autumn afternoon in Oaxaca, which infiltrated into my digestive system a bacillus, busy as a Mexican jumping bean, which was to cling to the inner lining of my intestines for three long, queasy, and intermittently galvanized months?
I do not say that my culinary adventures in Prague were as awful as these. Indeed, I have had some fine meals there over the years. In general, however, it must be said, and I must say it, that the Czech cuisine is, well, no better than that of Bavaria, which statement is, as anyone who knows Bavaria well will confirm, a ringing denunciation.
Both the Czechs and the Bavarians, close neighbors that they are, have in common an inexplicable but almost universal enthusiasm for… dumplings. These delicacies can be anything from the size of a stout marble - what in my childhood we called a knuckler - to that of a worn-out, soggy tennis ball, with which they share something of the same texture, and possibly of their taste. It sits there on the plate, pale, tumorous, and hot, daring you to take your knife to it, and when you do, clinging to the steel with a kind of gummy amorousness, the wound making a sucking, smacking sound and closing on itself as soon as the blade has passed through.
But there would be other mealtimes, oh, there would, from which memory averts its gaze. The narrative is composed as a set of brief nonfiction stories and moves fluidly across time. I kept wondering as I read how it could be that someone who can write and think this well is wasting his time fooling around with mystery novels. The book is part of the Bloomsbury series "The Writer and the City," which features notable authors treating favorite places, among them Peter Carey on Sydney and Edmund White on Paris.
Then another friend found this book in the library. This friend grew up in Prague and she read the book in a single sitting. I now begin to understand why he enjoys such a high reputation. This is my kind of travel book: serious, personal, lots of information and very well written.
And yes, it does make me want to visit Prague.
John Banville: Using words to paint pictures of "magical" Prague
There is loveliness here, of course, but a loveliness that is excitingly tainted. In his book Magica Praha, that ecstatic paean of amor urbi, Angelo Maria Ripellino figures the city as a temptress, a wanton, a shee devil. She slyly works her way into the soul with spells and enigmas to which she alone holds the key. The latter novel about the pioneering German astronomer Johann Kepler is a literary tour de force, which vividly recreates the intellectual and social milieu of Rudolphine Prague where Kepler made his most famous discoveries.
All cities, to some extent, live mostly in our heads, but the Czech capital often seems entirely an imaginative construct. In his novel, Kepler of , Banville alchemised brilliantly the city of the seventeenth century out of scraps and fragments of research. For that book, he mentally wandered the ill-lit alleyways that were the labyrinthine dystopia of Rudolf II, the enlightened, insane Holy Roman Emperor who shut himself in the adamantine castle, Hradcany, that broods above the River Vltava, and surrounded himself with artists and artisans, chancers and necromancers. It was not until a couple of years later that Banville could inspect the veracity of his creation at first hand. At that time, Prague was still greatcoated in the Cold War. The author visited in winter and found that, despite the frigid greyness of Soviet-backed authority, the city of his imagining still could present itself glittering and intact.
Prague Pictures: A Portrait of the City