Sunday, 25 October 2009

Kratochvile Chateau

Yesterday I visited the lovely Renaissance chateau of Kratochvile between Prachatice and Ceske Budejovice. It was quite unlike anything I had visited in the Czech Republic, a sort of Czech palace crossed with an Italian villa. Which is not altogether surprising as the palace was designed by an Italian architect Baldassar Maggi of Arogno for Vilem of Rozmberk.

It is a palace built for pleasure and reflection, something that is to be seen in the design of the rooms, with downstairs featuring incredible hunting scenes on the ceilings, including much to my delight a picture of a fox with feathers sticking out of its mouth, and then upstairs we have more celestial images, of the classical myths and biblical motifs. Downstairs the decoration are in strong bold pictures with bright colours, upstairs the decoration is incredible stucco work of a clarity and style that I have never seen before.

It is hard to imagine that this wonderful building was built on marshland and its unstable foundations have caused problems for its owners and now restorers over the years. Somehow it seemed appropriate to me, as if the palace was a mirage, a building not of this material world.

I read the back of the ticket and smiled. It read "It (the palace) calls on the visitor to find peace and regenerate one‘s spiritual forces. Let us obey this call and reflect about the past tales of passion, and if we understand them, we shall be able to understand ourselves." Trust those Czechs to put something like that on a ticket.

If you want to know more visit the palace website

Friday, 16 October 2009

Ants in the Wood

Just look at the size of this wood ants nest - my friend is nearly hidden by it! I gather that these large ones can contain as many as 300,000 ants and can be several years old. To them run trails up to 30 metres long along which come a constant stream of worker ants carrying food and nest materials. It is fascinating to watch the ants carrying huge and heavy objects, sometimes much bigger than themselves.

There is one downside though, don't stand on the trail or you will have them running up your leg. And, boy, can those guys bite! They also can spray venom from their abdomens. My worst experiences tend to happen when I'm looking for mushrooms. I've noticed the best mushrooms often grow on an ant trail and my greed sometimes gets the better of my good sense. So if you see a strange British woman hopping around in a Czech forest flapping at her legs you will know it's me.

Friday, 9 October 2009


Forestry is a major industry in the Czech Republic and timber a major export. If you are sitting on a train waiting, the chances are you are waiting for a freight train loaded with wood to pass. Worse, you could be driving along a road in the Sumava National Park when you meet a huge lorry, laden with logs, coming in the opposite direction at a speed totally unsuited to the width of the road.

In the old days the logs were transported by water for example by the Schwarzenberg Canal At an exhibition in the history of the Sumava that I visited at the South Bohemian Museum in Ceske Budejovice I saw a wonderful film on work of the woodsmen. The film showed all stages in the journey from forest to sawmill, including its transportation first on wooden sledges and then by river. On the last stage the woodsmen used iron hooks to bind the logs into rafts, that they then rode down to the sawmill. The photo above comes from a site about these timber rafts, you will find it here.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Jiri Trnka - Filmmaker

In my previous post I talked about Jiri Trnka's wonderful book illustrations, but he is probably (rightly) better known as a maker of stop-frame animated films. One of my favourites is shown above - The Hand, (click on the arrow to watch the video). Trnka is perhaps better known for his adapatation of A Midsummer's Night's Dream or the Hans Christian Anderson story The Emperor's Nightingale, but this, his last film, shows the power of puppets and animation in the hands of a master to speak of important things. The film is a powerful allegory on totalitarianism and the artist, it is sad but amusing. Perhaps the best indication of its power is the fact that it was banned by the then Communist government.

When we first visited Prague, my husband, son and I went to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in the Trade Fair Palace. This is a gallery that is often missed by tourists. It is slightly off the visitors' beaten path and I don't think people from the western part of Europe and the US really appreciate the importance of the contribution made by Czech artists to modern art, we certainly didn't before we went through the doors of the Trade Fair Palace. One of the great things about the museum is that it mixes applied and high arts, hence there is a section devoted to Trnka, including a set from one of his films. It was one of the highlights of the museum for us, especially for our son. Now years later our son is in his final year at film school and over the summer vacation a set was built on our dining room table. Jiri Trnka was partly responsible for that.


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