Sunday, 11 July 2010

Baroque: bling and blinger

Yesterday a walk over the Charles Bridge into the Mala Strana, about which I had read years before in Jan Neruda's Prague Tales, though that was back in the days when it was published by Quartet (for whom, as well as for Corvina, I translated Dezső Kosztolányi's Anna Édes (that's my cover drawing on the front, and the whole, or much of it is readable online at Google, including the introduction).

It feels like a very long, very hot walk across the bridge in the blazing sun of 10:00 am Prague and as we are walking up the Mostecka or Bridge Street, there is a cafe in the arcade selling iced coffee. Because C's knee hurts - she had twisted it on the second day here probably because of the undulating, unpredictable road surfaces - we sit down. The other arcade tables are taken mostly by young people in their twenties or so, Czechs, one of them particularly loud. There are as many girls as men, and the girls wear bling, quite a lot of it. They are sexy young things in the full flower of their sexiness. One beautiful dark haired girl sits separately, a little sulkily, at the table next to ours with a handsome young man. Her gold chain hangs almost down to bottom of ribcage level. Since no-one comes out I go in and order the coffees, which are served with a smile. A red Ferrari is attempting what looks like a complex maneouvre in the street, possibly an incompetent three-point turn. In the end it parks in a bay next to another expensive car. We drink the coffees. The conversation among the young goes on. One blonde, looking rather like Paris Hilton, is wearing more bling. Cheap tartiness, I think. Central Europe's own inimitable vulgarity. Nouveaux and nouvelles riches.

Yes, but how rich? As we finish and rise we see a whole line of Porsches and Ferraris and BMWs parked next to them. Nouveaux and nouvelles ultra-riches? Something about the look of the porn-rich, I think, and then it strikes me that it is probably precisely that. The bling isn't cheap. It's proper gold. And those cheap looking dresses are probably very expensive cheap-looking dresses. The gloss of the girls is porn gloss, the hearty self-confident laughter of the men is Let's give the suckers what they want, the full bling laughter.


Right across the street is the grand church of St Nicholas, Chrám Sv. Mikuláše na Malé Stranê, which is, as the pamphlet guide has it, 'one of the most sought after Prague churches'. Well, we have sought it and found it. Outside it is just grand, but inside, to quote the pamphlet again, the grandeur is emphasised 'with the aid of illusive frescos and sophisticated games played by light and its shadows', in language so delicately lovely I wouldn't dare invent it.

The details are in the link so I won't rehash. The word plasticity occurs in the pamphlet, appropriately enough. It is like being inside God's body, the curved walls everywhere are resilient and elastic: they bulge and flex like a series of muscles. The ceiling fresco in the nave vault is a fine piece of illusionistic painting - the terms quadratura and quadri riportato fly back to me from over the years of teaching A Level History of Art and Architecture. Plenty of quadratura, no sign of quadri riportato.

No shortage of saints though - there is St Ignatius Loyola mercifully spearing a heretic with a double lightning forked prong. A nearby archbishop has already beheaded and speared another hapless recalcitrant. Bodies wreathe and writhe. A more benign set of allegorical virtues supports the dome over the crossing. This is the church on its back foot being militant against the Protestant hordes. And one mustn't forget the bling of course, the gilding that is as immaculate as the conception, the gold that is the glory of God on earth. All this inside that pulsing, heaving body declaring its allegiance to the most muscular, most theatrical and, to be frank, most cinematic of Gods. Any moment now Charlton Heston will burst through the altar dragging Cecil B De Mille behind him, with girls in expensive bling, a clutch of Mary Magdalens, repentantly swaying alongside.

The church transcends this somehow. I do not say it transcends this benignly. The cardinals are waiting outside in their Porsches and Ferraris, but there is a real muscle-bound God inside. Unlike Elvis, he hasn't yet left the building.

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