Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Roll the Bones is Not a Very Good Album" Magnolia Electric Co Tour Diary, Chapter 5: Prague, Day Four


Oh fuck. This hurts. A lot. And that fucking Black Eyed Peas song is in my head again. What time is it? 7:30? 8:00? Yeah, it’s 8:00. Now it’s 8:30. I gotta take a shower. First I’ll knock on Jim and Vivian’s door because, based on recent history, we’ll definitely stick to this 9:55 plan. No problem. Ok, they’re not answering, so I’ll just get in there and shower.

So I did; I took a shower. Europe is smart. Europe is efficient. Europe had front-loading washers years before the U.S. did. In fact, they’ve always had them. Europeans don’t have dryers because why do they need them? Let the clothes dry on their own. And Europe uses on-demand water heaters. Jim and Vivian referred to theirs as the Eye of Sauron or whatever bullshit Lord of the Rings shit that shit is. And it did look like it. Every time you opened the hot water you watched, through a tiny hole, all of the blue flame heat up that water, and rapidly. The Eye of Sauron, however, must have known that I sometimes call Tolkien shit “shit,” and, right as I was rinsing everything on my pained, poisoned body, it stopped working, and that was how I sobered up. At the very least, it drove the nausea out of me. I got out, dressed, and Jim was in a robe, smelling like liquor, reading the back of my Southgate House t-shirt and singing “Tommy Gun, Birthplace of the Tommy Gun” to the tune of my favorite Clash song. He informed me that we would take another train later and that we should go back to sleep. Black Eyed Peas in my head, I laid down and, a minute later, it was two hours later.

Vivian, despite having been ditched by us the night before, however “unintentionally,” made us fried eggs and biscuits and gravy and that soaked up the rest of the alcohol in my system. I watched Jim, though, struggle through the morning. Despite biscuits, gravy, eggs, more biscuits, and even some beet apple juice I bought, he looked gray. He found the train info, and we somehow procrastinated enough that we almost missed it. But we didn’t. In fact, we didn’t almost miss it, but the fear was there. We were on our way to Kutna Hora, where I was soon to discover the best tourist destination in the world; or, rather, the most creepy; or, perhaps, the most bizarre. Jim put it this way: “It borders on inappropriate.”

Jim bought some water at the station, as his gray had turned into a slight green. We found the train, got on and sat across from a pretty girl who looked a little disappointed that we had taken her space; doubly disappointed when Jim mentioned that he might throw up; then, flat out disgusted when he announced that “belching made him feel better.” But belch he did, and feel better he must have, because he never threw up on the girl, or me, or Vivian. And, on the train, I described the horrors of touring on a tour bus (as Magnolia had just done a month earlier). And then we got off of the train, headed to a destination about which I had only heard from a coworker, and I was excited.

On the way Vivian pointed out a meat-purveyor’s logo that is all over the Czech Republic that features a made-up man either inserting or withdrawing a foot-long sausage from his mouth. We saw some really dusty displays in the windows of electronics stores; lots of lavender and orange haired old women; a wedding happening in a beautiful old church; and, finally the graveyard surrounding the Kostnice Ossuary, also called the Bone Church. You can read a more "official" version here, but this is what I remember from the trip: This graveyard was sprinkled with some dirt from Golgotha back in the 13th Century, starting the rumor that, if buried there, your body would decompose in three days and all that would be left behind would be sanitary bones. Then, after the Black Plague, the graveyard became overcrowded, and the piled bodies decomposed to bones, and the bones were stacked outside of the church on the lip of the graveyard. Then some half-blind monk moved the bones to the basement of the church and began to pile them – 30,000 bodies worth of them. Then, in the 19th Century a crazy man took it one step further and made art, including chandeliers, garlands, and a coat-of-arms out of the bones. I didn’t know any of this going in, and had I known it I still would not have been able to believe what I was seeing.

There had been moments in Prague where it was hard for me to appreciate the beauty and gravity of what was around me – the Charles Bridge, the Prague skyline from the castle, the cathedral in the castle, the Old Town Square, and on and on – but this trumped them all. There was no reason to say anything else besides “unbelievable,” because, first of all, when else in history would such a collection of bones have been available? Wars spread them out over miles and miles. It would be grave robbery to just pull them out of caskets. But when there’s no place to put the thousands of bodies ravaged by the Black Plague, and you have a pile of bones, why not commemorate that terrible event in this unbelievable way?

The place has four corners, and in each corner there are huge, tightly arranged, pyramids of every kind of bone, skulls being featured around the edge and in the middle. The centerpiece, literally and figuratively, is a chandelier made of bones, vertebrae making the arms, skulls with candles, femurs, finger bones, toe bones, jawbones, all of the bones – and the garland of skulls that criss-crosses the ceiling is beautifully arranged, chilling and amazing at the same time. Two of the four pillars below the chandelier, candle-stick like with ascending skulls, are topped with those evil cherubs, one with a skull on his knee and blowing a trumpet. A coat of arms, meticulously made, featuring an Ottoman Turk getting his eye eaten out by a raven, all made out of real, human bones. The obligatory crucifixion scene with a plaster Christ, surrounded by what look like guards made of bones, is flanked on both sides by the giant pyramids, and, if you look closely, you can see stores of more bones that, apparently, insane guy had no use for. Or maybe he died. Unbelievable. The most fantastic tourist spot I have ever seen. Maybe not the oldest, the most important, the most inspiring, or anything like that, but I would go out of the way to look at it again.

Some American woman who was clearly an academic and, probably, from the Midwest as her entire outfit of sort of dressy sports clothes matched, said, out loud: “I find it disturbing that someone would do this with human bones.” I say “fuck you” to this woman silently. Jim says “There’s really no reason to say that out loud.” But, come on folks – when our mind is gone there is no reason to hold on to the rest. If I were one of the thousands of victims of the Plague, and my family survived, I would hope that they would be happy that I had turned into eternal art and that my remains weren’t taking up precious space for the rest of the living. So, fuck you lady; I hope your grave is comfortable and lavish and that all of your relatives are dead when they make the rule that all graveyards need to be destroyed to make room for more housing because everybody is still having babies. I bet the Bone Church will still be around. But, then again, who knows. I could be wrong. Either way, she was obnoxious.

As I was buying postcards a man showed up wearing a shirt that said “Bone.”

We visited the upstairs of the church and found more hilariously utilitarian translations.

Then we got in the “tourist bus” and rode over to another huge, beautiful church that featured the most ornate organ I’ve ever seen.

St. Barbara's has been around since the 14th Century, yet it doesn't have that typical "1700 years of mold" smell.

It was generally relaxing and overwhelming, and behind the church Autumn had begun. We took some pictures of the beauty, a lot of them.

We then avoided droves of tourists and headed toward downtown Kutna Hora. It was completely dead. We saw nine people, maybe, and two dogs. Our destination was Dačický, a famous pub that would win a place in my heart shortly.

Having been around since the 16th Century, the staff of Dačický have a lot to live up to, and they do. Fried cheese started our dinner, as well as the Dačický beer.

I had the roasted root vegetable and garlic soup. I also had a weird pretzel thing that hangs in front of you, tempting you to eat it even though it’ll cost you the equivalent of $.50. I dipped it in the soup. It was worth it.

For dinner? Wild game meatloaf with gingerbread dumplings and a side of sautéed cabbage. All (except the cabbage) covered in the thickest, most delicious brown gravy I had had on the trip thus far. Dessert was a five-year-old slivovitza. Jim got a roast duck with cabbage and lard dumplings. Vivian got the wild boar goulash with gingerbread dumplings. All of this plus eight beers cost us $60.00. Unbelievable. It had been a day full of that world.

We took a really fast taxi to the train station, got back to Prague, and spent the rest of the night in the apartment drinking, talking, and lamenting that it was my last evening of the trip. I had not seen these people since 2006. Jim and I have been friends since high school. He turned me on to music that became some of the most inspiring in my life (Wire, Gang of Four, Replacements, Buzzcocks). And, despite all the time I’ve spent in Europe, I’ve never spent it simply as a tourist. Unbelievable.


  1. Where'd you get that lovely Venice pic?

  2. I wish I had gotten it from your pics of Venice, but I just took a shot in the dark and googled "european clothes line" and bam!

  3. Actually, Jason, you got me into Gang of Four. So thanks!

  4. Actually, Jim, you told me about them. Bam!