Saturday, August 22, 2009

Art for art's sake

I don’t know much about art, but I know what I’m supposed to like.

Wednesday started out just like any other day: up early, shower, straight to breakfast, and then off to the lobby to meet up for the trip to Terazin Concentration Camp, which was a pretty sobering experience. But then something strange happened. I saw a painting (well technically a print) in the hotel lobby under a giant ‘for sale’ sign which really took me. I stood staring at the painting and then noticed the price tag. After doing the maths and realizing that I couldn’t really justify it, I started to walk away.

But then I looked at the painting again, and suddenly the painting didn’t seem so expensive. I decided it could wait, and that perhaps I’d be able to make a better decision after visiting a concentration camp. Don’t ask me why I thought this, I don’t know either.


Tens of thousands of prisoners were processed through Terazin on their way to other camps, usually for extermination. While Terazin was only a labour camp, it was still pretty brutal. The sign in this photo reads: “work makes you free”.

I’m not going to go into any more detail here, as it is difficult to portray exactly what it’s like without actually being there.

After Terazin I went back to the hotel lobby, and decided that I didn’t want to buy the painting after all (though it was pretty cool), as I couldn’t really justify spending any money on something when I don’t even know if I’ll have a place to live when I get home, and so I took the metro into town. In town I went to the markets and promptly examined all of the art stalls to see if they had anything I liked, for a more reasonable price. They didn’t, and so I re-decided that perhaps I should buy the painting. I never buy myself anything nice, and so maybe I should treat myself. I suddenly found myself excited to get back to the hotel and buy it, but in the meantime I did a little more sightseeing.

I checked out the Jewish Cemetery by peeking at it through a hole in the fence:

– hundreds of graves piled on top of each other as a remnant of the holocaust. Hitler had planned a museum to “the extinct race of the Jewish people”, and had set it up to be in this area of Prague.

After a little more shopping (I bought a new pair of shoes – sand coloured walking shoes, if you’re wondering), I took the metro back to the hotel and asked the concierge to take the print out so I could look at it. I decided that I still wasn’t ready to buy it yet, and so I went back upstairs to prepare for dinner at the caveman restaurant.

The caveman dinner was fun – we entered the restaurant through a cave door, and all the staff were dressed as cavemen (cavepeople?) and only spoke in a series of grunts.

You also had to eat everything with your hands. The food was delicious and the night was a lot of fun. They even ‘sacrificed’ one of the girls in our group as a virgin as part of the entertainment. Even more entertaining was that they mistakenly brought five shots of whiskey to our table, which I happily drank.

After dinner a few of us went to “Central Europe’s biggest nightclub”. That was okay, but given that it was eleven o’clock on a Wednesday night, the place was rather empty. That didn’t stop us from getting our groove on though, and we danced the night away until midnight, when we realized we had 25 minutes to catch the last train back to the hotel.

We made it to the train station just in time to see the last train pull away, and to hear the announcement that the station was now closed, and that armed guards would now be patrolling the station and would shoot on sight. At least that’s what I think it said. It was in Czech.

So we had to take a taxi home, and resigned ourselves to paying the 40 euro fare (each taxi) to make it back to the hotel. Somehow we managed to find a sympathetic taxi driver who agreed to take us back for only 12 euro though (as long as we didn’t mind driving at 140kph – we didn’t), and so we arrived back at the hotel where I sank into a deep sleep. Thoughts of art far from my mind.

I woke up at 3am with a start. Well, not so much a start as much as a sudden feeling of nausea. It was one of those moments that you knew you were going to be sick, but you wanted to do everything you could to avoid it because it’s so unpleasant. I couldn’t understand why I was feeling so ill, and so I did a rethink of all the alcohol I had had that night, which when added to the surprise whiskey delivered to our table was, while not enough to make me drunk at all, was apparently enough to make me feel ill. Suddenly my body reminded me what I was doing awake at 3am in the first place, and so I threw up for the first time since university.

During this I decided to buy the painting. So I did.

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