I always imagined European winters to be very dramatic. I thought the river would freeze over, and markets would sell roasted chestnuts and ice skates for hire. I thought we would need to strap tennis rackets to our feet. But Christmas was quite sunny. It was only just cold enough to see your breath in the air.
I called my mum in the morning, and we talked about board games and cassowary transportation. Then we ate cake at an Art Nouveau cafe in the city concert hall.
I really loved Art Nouveau when I was younger. I liked how complete it was – you can’t half do Art Nouveau. It can be elegant. But now I find it too obvious that it’s only for the rich; everything hand made, everything lavish. The best parts of it; the graphic elements, the colours, are usually overwhelmed by superficial allegories and figuration. Even in Prague where whole streets are in the same style it’s not enough. You’d need to do a whole town, and it would look like a theme park. But it was a very perfect place to eat cake.
After we went to the National gallery, which was split between two palaces in the castle district. I was caught up by this sculpture with a (live) spider on its nose:
Transubstantiated into wood, stuck there, unable to blow it away or to scratch or to move. He looked so pained.
National collections seem to get caught up representing national artists, which is good sometimes but to an outsider the difference between Bohemian mediaeval sculpture and the international style is wholly academic.
At lunch I ate fried cheese and made the strange face I make when I know I am being photographed. I hadn’t shaved for about two weeks, which almost worked, but it’s not complete and doesn’t grow in the right places – I had an image in my head of Charles I and a rakish pointy beard, but in the evening I decided to shave partly because I looked up what Charles I actually looked like and thought better of it. Maybe Francis Drake would have been a better choice.
We had booked a dinner at the Intercontinental, with a view over the river. At the table behind us an American man who looked like Steve Mnuchin (but wasn’t) sanctimoniously tasted the wine. I dislike tasting wine in restaurants; the purpose was to tell if it was corked or turned, but now the bottles don’t have corks. It’s strange seeing a social custom be disembodied from the practicality that underlied it, and become etiquette. I always nod very enthusiastically. A lady played covers of pop songs on the harp. You could almost tell what they were, but it was just out of reach.
The main course was breaded carp, which is a Czech speciality. There were bins of live carp throughout the city at the Christmas markets during the day, for local Czechians to buy fresh and bake at home. It is strange eating a goldfish. They have a lot of bones.
After a day of fried cheese, pheasant mousse, pheasant soup, and breaded carp, I cancelled the lunch I had booked at the Zizkov tower for boxing day. I was sad to miss it, but we had no appetite left for rich food, and my sister had said before I could mention it that she wouldn’t be coming.