Doolin (May 5,6) and back to Dublin (May 7)

(By Nina – sent from Dublin Airport on May 8)

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In the open fields in Doolin

We had a fantastic time in Doolin, a small town in County Clare that is famous for traditional music.

 

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A broken down cemetery in Doolin
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MJ: PAtron Saint for Four-Legged Creastures
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Dan with a new look

As a result of a slight mixup regarding the date of our reservations, we spent the first night at a funky little place above a local pub. Very atmospheric. We managed, in two nights, to frequent all 4 pubs in Doolin. The first night we started off in the pub the guidebooks mentioned as the best, but the clientele was mostly American tourists and the music wasn’t as spirited as what we were used to, except for a wonderful vocalist who we loved — a fellow with one leg amputated who looked like he had had a colorful life, with a classic Irish baritone voice and wonderful delivery.

 

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The singer at Gus O’Connor’s Pub (Doolin)

The second pub featured a harpist, a banjo player (who turned out to be the uncle of our host the second night; it’s a VERY small town), and a boron (drum) player who also sang.

 

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May 6

The next day (May 6), our travel mojo was out in full force, as after a week of pretty cold, rainy weather, it was sunny and clear for our trip to the Cliffs of Moher, and actually warm for Ireland in May (around 60 degrees). It was glorious. The cliffs and rock formations are spectacular and it was not very crowded.

 

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Just one of the many glorious views of the Cliffs of Moher

At night, we hit the other two pubs in Doolin, where there were younger, local crowds and very lively musicians.

 

 

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Typical Irish character drinking in a pub
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Cutting a rug in Doolin (we danced in all four countries we visited)

Return to Dublin

Yesterday (May 7), on the way to Dublin, we went to Tipperary. (We had to call a halt mid-morning to all jokes about what a long way it was). Our cousin MJ discovered in Dublin that her great-grandparents name (Maher) originated in Tipperary, so we wanted to see her ancestral homeland. It was really just a lunch stop (at one of the surprising number of really excellent restaurants in Ireland), and a short walk around town, then back on the highway.

Dan has done an amazing job of driving on the left on roads with absolutely no shoulder and often big stone walls along the sides. A bit hair-raising at times, but we made it. He has now navigated the few miles to the airport this morning, and now we can let Air Lingus do the work.

Here’s the three of us at a final dinner at a restaurant near our last-night B&B near the airport.

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We feel so very lucky to have had this opportunity to explore some new parts of the world, revisit some places we love, make some new friends, and spend time with old friends and family. It’s been an incredible trip and we look forward to getting home. Thanks for coming along with us on this great adventure!

Kilmainham Gaol (Dublin, April 29); Cup o’ Tae Festival, Ardara (April 29 – May 1); and Galway (May 2 – 4)

(By Nina)

Kilmainham Gaol

Just before we left Dublin, we visited one of its iconic locations – Kilmainham Gaol (that’s “jail” for most of our readers). It was a site of British oppression and hangings for generations. The execution there of leaders of the failed 1916 Rising turned out to be a major British blunder, turning the rebels into national heroes, and ultimately leading to Irish independence.

Here’s a look down the hallway of the Gaol, and an element from the Gaol’s museum exhibit (a diary excerpt, though from a different prison):

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The Festival

Because we really loved the traditional music festival we attended in Ireland two years ago (the Feakle Festival in County Clare), we built our itinerary in Ireland around attending another Irish Music Festival, called the “Cup o’ Tae” (as in “tea”) Festival, which was in County Donegal, in the town of Ardara. When we told Irish people where we were going, they seemed to have not heard of the town, but we eventually discovered we were mispronouncing it. It is “Ar-dra” (with the accent on the second syllable). We had been using three syllables, accenting the middle one. The Irish language is impossible for non-speakers to pronounce from looking at the spelling. It is full of silent letters or letters that have a different sound than we are accustomed to. You have to get an Irish speaker to pronounce it for you.

The town was somewhat bigger than we expected, and our hotel was well situated right in the middle of town. We were delighted to discover that this hotel was one of the centers of the festival. The weather was really cold, rainy, and hailing the day we arrived, with bits of sunshine every 45 minutes or so, which is apparently pretty typical. The festival is named after a beloved local fiddler, John Gallagher. His ancestors, also fiddlers, made tea for local fairs many years ago, hence the name. The first night’s concert was dedicated to another fiddle player who had died recently, and the members of the organizing committee were introduced.

The more I learned, the more this festival reminded me of the festival I have worked on for the last 30 years – the Western Workers Labor Heritage Festival. It has a small volunteer organizing committee that had been working together for the 15 years that the festival has been in existence, and it seemed that many of the attendees came back every year.

There seemed to be between 100-150 people at the festival, with very, very few visitors from other countries. We met several people from Northern Ireland (Ardara is quite close to the border), a few from England, and all the rest from the Republic of Ireland, many with roots in the immediate area going back centuries. We became mini-celebrities as the people from San Francisco and Portland (our cousin MJ) and before long, as in Feakle, when we walked down the street, we received friendly greetings from many lovely folks. We even had a song dedicated to us at the final concert, by a musician who had had quite a bit of Guinness and for some reason thought we were from Minnesota, but remembered our names!

The photos interpersed with the text here don’t necessarily match the text, but are included to give a flavor of the overall event.

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The focus of the festival was on fiddle and we heard some amazing musicians. I admired an instrument that looked like a lute. When I inquired about it, the musician said it was an Irish bouzouki, which is an Arabic instrument (which has become a traditional Irish instrument as well) with 4 sets of double strings. He explained to me that the Arabic bouzoukis had a curved back like a lute, but because many Irish men had large bellies, they made the backs of the instruments flat so the musicians could reach the strings. I’m not sure if he was kidding or not.

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There was also a wonderful pipe band with about 5 sets of bagpipes, 3 drums, and a bunch of fiddles and banjos. It was made up primarily of multi-generations of members of 4 families and had been in existence for 44 years! The leader was the only woman piper I have ever seen. They played both in concert, and also in outdoor sessions on the street in the afternoon, when the weather cooperated.

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During the outdoor sessions, you could find up to 3 different groups jamming within a one block radius in the center of town. Although the music was mostly Irish, once in a while music that had drifted back across the pond from the US would be played, including two absolutely amazing versions of the Orange Blossom Special and a few country western songs. Dan and I did a couple of well-received songs in the pubs. We also became friendly with a family with three boys, who played fiddle, drum, and accordion, and also danced. The father appeared to play everything!

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The talent of the youth, many of whom were taking classes on their instruments at the festival, was just astounding. They were treated with so much affection and respect by the older musicians, it was lovely to see. At the final concert, several of the best young people, appearing to range in age from 10-14, performed.

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The fiddler who was receiving special recognition this year at the festival was supposed to appear at the final concert. But he is a sheep farmer and received a call that afternoon that his sheep had broken through the fence and were escaping, so he had to leave.

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Someone else who was supposed to perform also got sick, but the festival was so full of talented musicians that the organizers were quickly able to assemble an alternate line up. It all reminded me of the time at the Western Workers Festival that half of our performers got the flu the day of the final concert, and we were able to look around the room and go “you, you, you and you – you’re in the concert.” I had some really nice conversations with the Cup o’ Tae Festival organizers about the similar challenges we faced.

Note: Our blog doesn’t do videos, which is a real limitation in reporting on a music festival, but you can check out our Facebook pages to see short clips of the music (and other tidbits from our days in Ardara).

To Galway

The morning of May 2, we headed for Galway, passing, by chance, Yeats’s grave on the way.

20160502_151924     20160502_152055 (Some other of  our adventures along the way to Galway are included in the preceding blog entry, The Irish Art of Conversation.)

Galway is a beautiful city, with lots and lots of water. Our hotel looks out on the huge mouth of the Corrib River, which has wild swans swanning around. The river empties into Galway Bay, and we can see County Clare across the bay.

We are near a medieval structure called the Spanish Arch, which was part of the old city walls. We are a little overloaded with sightseeing towards the end of this long, wonderful trip, so have been enjoying mostly taking walks and nosing around town. This town is also foodie heaven and our favorite has been a beautiful little café in a medieval stone building recommended by my friend and colleague Conchita, who, along with her Irish in-laws, has provided us with some great travel tips.

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Tonight (May 4), we had a delightful dinner at the home of someone we connected with through Servas, the international friendship group we belong to, and tomorrow we head off on the last leg of our trip before returning to Dublin to catch the flight home – the famous music town of Doolin, near the Cliffs of Moher. The weather is pretty wild and we are wearing all of our layers, but it is supposed to get up to 60 on Friday, when we go to the Cliffs and hopefully we won’t blow off! Hard to believe that this amazing trip is coming to a close, but we will enjoy returning to the lovely Bay Area and our family and friends.

The Irish Art of Conversation

(From Dan)

There are perhaps three characteristics of the Irish that stand out for me, as we are halfway through our second visit to this country. One is their love of music, and the second is their patriotism and love of country.

The third, which I think is less often remarked upon, is their love of conversation.

A few examples may suffice: One was a conversation with a Dublin taxi driver, who, with minimal prompting (maybe something like, “Are you originally from Dublin?”), told us about his great-aunt Nurse Farrell – an important person in the 1916 Rising. (Keep in mind that we were in Dublin during the week of the 100th anniversary of the Rising, so it was on everyone’s front burner.) He also gave us a thorough lesson on the current efforts to form a coalition government among the various parties in the Dail (the Irish Parliament, pronounced “Doyle”). (We ended up quite confused.)

Another was in Ardara, during the festival there. I stepped outside our hotel one morning to see what the weather was like. A woman stood outside, smoking a cigarette, and I said something simple like, “What are we in for today?” And within two minutes, we had dispensed with the discussion of the chance of rain (or hail, or snow – all possible), and moved on to “The Troubles.” She was Catholic, but lived in Northern Ireland, and, with Nina joining us, we spent 20 minutes getting her perspective on the current situation, how it’s changing but still complex, and so on.

In other locale, we had a pair of conversations on the way from Ardara to Galway. On Nina’s whim, we stopped in a little town called Ballyshannon. I had a problem with the parking meter, and asked the local policeman, who proceeded not only to tell me that it wasn’t a problem, because he’d look after the car, and besides, it was a bank holiday, but to tell us a bit of the history of the town (the oldest town in all of Ireland, he said). And then, we noticed a museum (located on the upper floor of a department store – I’ve never before walked through the bedding department to get to a museum). The man at the desk was delighted to spend half an hour showing us around, discussing the history, archaeology, and changes in the town (including diverting the river!). He said it was actually the oldest settlement in Ireland, going back several millennia, well before there were any towns. (The museum and the tour were all free. He commented that they were located in the department store because they’d been offered free space.)

The most recent was this morning, as Nina, MJ (our cousin, who is traveling with us) , and I walked along the Galway waterfront. A man stepped past me, and turned – without prompting – and gave us a little discourse on the status of the river tides (he was a fisherman), the landmarks in the immediate vicinity, and the boats of the area (including a classic type called a “hooker”). We asked him about an interesting boat on the shore. He said “that’s not a boat, it’s a coffin.” Apparently it was not seaworthy.

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the “coffin”

It takes next to nothing (or, in the last case, actually nothing) to get an Irish man or woman talking, and not just idle chatter, but substantive interchange. At this point, I will find any excuse to start an interaction, because 9 times out of ten, it will lead to a wonderful experience.

(by Nina) The other thing that both MJ and I have noticed is how charmingly flirtatious the men are to women of any age (respectively 66 and 73 in our cases). It makes us feel young again! One example – we were listening to two of the featured musicians play in Ardara at an informal afternoon event outside. A seat on the bench opened up next to the guitar player and I sat down. Without missing a beat he asks me where I’m from, then says “Tis a great pleasure to have a beautiful woman such as yerself sit next to me.”   Aww….

Highlights: Last few days of Budapest; Israel; and Dublin

(from Nina)

As predicted. we did not have time to blog while in Israel. Here are some highlights of our last few days in Budapest and our two weeks in Israel.

Budapest

We thought that with almost a week in Budapest, we’d have time to see most of the major sites, but we seriously underestimated the many things to see and do in this lovely city. We spent a day with a guide and saw a lot, including a square with the only remaining Soviet monument in the city. When Yeltsin was asked to name a single Soviet monument to be left up, he said “the one across the street from the US embassy.”

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Yeltsin’s favorite

We also visited some old synagogues, a number of beautiful buildings, and this gorgeous overlook above the Danube.

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One of the old synagogues in Budapest

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Photos inside the Szechenyi bathhouse

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Dan and Nina with the Danube behind us

We visited another bathhouse, this one incredibly beautiful, filled with Hungarians soaking and steaming. What a great custom! Our last night, we took a boat trip on the Danube, and heard some great musicians play a wide variety of music, and, of course, danced. Wouldn’t want to leave that off the list!

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One of the riverboat musicians

Israel

Much of our time in Israel was spent reconnecting with our Berkeley kids and grandkids, who are spending a sabbatical year there, and seeing friends. We had the chance to attend one of our grandson’s baseball games. Ari is a terrific athlete and it’s fun to watch him. Dan also took him to a baseball skills competition, where he won best batter and most valuable player for his age group (which is 10 through 12 – and he’s 10).

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Ari at his baseball game

Meanwhile, I went with Shoshana to a rehearsal for a play in which she has a major role. It’s called “Number the Stars,” and is about the rescue of the Danish Jews from the Nazis through the eyes of two young girls, a Danish Christian and a Jew (played by Shosh). It’s going to be a great production.

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Shoshana at rehearsal

Other highlights include exploring the ancient port of Jaffa with my friend P’nina, who grew up there and is a tour guide (let me know if anyone wants a guide while visiting); picking beets with a large group of volunteers for the national food bank, which serves refugees, Arabs, and Jews; and going on an archaeological dig at the site where the Maccabees (of Chanukah fame) used to be, and actually finding 2200-year-old pottery shards, charcoal, and an animal bone found by 6-year-old Amir.

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Ari twisting the greens from the beets

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Ari, Amir, and Shoshana at the dig

Our last night in Israel (April 26), we had a festive dinner with our family and some friends who were available on short notice. Since Dan will turn 70 on April 30 while we are in Ireland, it seemed like a good chance to celebrate with friends and family. He knew we were having dinner with everyone, but when he noticed me circulating something to sign, he wondered whose birthday it was. When dessert appeared with sparklers and we all sang him happy birthday, he was really surprised. Success!

Ireland

After the hot, dusty weather in Israel, we have stepped back into winter here. After a long day of travel, we arrived on Wednesday, April 27, and connected with our wonderful cousin MJ, from Portland, who will be traveling with us. The weather changes every 10 minutes here. It has been in the 30’s and 40’s all day – we saw sunshine, rain, and a bit of hail in the afternoon. The city is full of events related to the 100-year anniversary of the Easter Rising, which went pretty disastrously in itself but inspired the struggle that eventually led to the independence of most of Ireland. While I was out on my own this afternoon, I stumbled across an exhibit at the Dept. of Agriculture (which, curiously, historically ran not only agriculture, fisheries, forestry, etc., but all of the country’s museums) about their role in the Easter Rising. I almost entered Parliament by accident as well (the guard was very nice about it).

Finally, a wonderful cab driver told us the story of his great aunt “Nurse Farrell.” She was one of the major women figures in the Easter Rising and he had some great stories about her, as well as interesting things to say about current Irish politics. I so love the wonderful sociability of the Irish. It is never hard to engage them in conversation! Tomorrow (April 29) we tour the jail/gaol where the heroes of the Rising were held and executed, and then we head north to county Donegal for the “Cup o’ Tae” music festival.

We’re in Israel now

(Written Friday evening, April 15): We arrived in Israel yesterday afternoon (Thursday, April 14), and at some point will find the time and energy to write about the rest of our wonderful time in Budapest — seeing interesting places, meeting wonderful people, etc — but we were too busy to do that before we left, and now, our focus is on spending time with Joe (aka Yossi), Tamar, and the kids. We’re traveling around the country until Sunday, seeing a bunch of friends, and then have the kids to ourselves Sunday-Tuesday while their parents get a couple of days of R&R.

So don’t expect to hear from us for a while. We’re doing well, having lots of fun (and food), and just too busy enjoying ourselves to spend much time composing a blog. For now, we have just this photo to share:

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First full days in Budapest: April 8 and 9

(mostly by Dan)

Saturday, April 9:

Our Airbnb flat is right next door (really!) to a Chabad synagogue. Saturday, April 9, was my mother’s 10th yahrzeit (10th anniversary of her death), so I wanted to say kaddish (Jewish memorial prayer) for her, as well as for my Aunt Sylvia’s shiva (first week since burial), so while Nina slept in, I went next door (opting for convenience, rather than ideology).

Interestingly, the other “visitors” included a young Australian couple, living in Berlin, who were both musicians. As the conversation developed, it turned out that the wife (Eleanor Lyons) would be performing Sunday evening at the Budapest Opera House. Now, I’m not an opera fan, but Nina had expressed interest in seeing a performance, and this seemed like a sign that we should go. (The opera was Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress” so it would even be in English.)

We did the tour of the Opera House that afternoon (photos below), and bought tickets for Sunday.

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That evening, we had dinner with Lew and Diane, friends of our friends George and Maggie (thanks for the connection!), and had a delightful and warm evening with them. They are Americans – not even of Hungarian descent – but have lived off and on in Budapest ever since Lew came to a mathematics conference here. It was a nice opportunity to discuss Hungarian political history and recent developments.

We returned to the Budapest Jazz Club after dinner, for another evening of great music.

20160409_202237One of the bands featured a Hungarian instrument that looks like a large hammer dulcimer. It sounded like a cross between a hammer dulcimer and a harpsichord.

Sunday, April 10:

We started our day with a tram ride up to Castle Hill, with some great views of the city and more intriguing, ornate architecture. The roofs are very ornate, with beautiful patterns made from multicolored shingles.

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As we wandered around, we just happened to notice the Medieval Synagogue (right near the Hilton!) – see photos and sample explanations.

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This is a section remaining from the original decoration of the walls:

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There was a small section with gravestones (not the actual graves), with this identification plaque.20160410_120451

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Tombstone #7

Another “find” was the Bela Bartok museum, beautifully done. Bartok was both an avant guarde composer, and a famous collector and recorder of Hungarian folk music. Nina was struck by seeing a photo of Bartok on piano accompanying violinist Joseph Szigeti. This was of great interest because her uncle Joe (Levine) went on tour as a young man as Szigeti’s pianist. A charming older woman, who spoke no English, followed us around, handing us explanations in English and playing recordings that were set up for each room. She was sweetly concerned that we get as much as possible out of the exhibits. This photo is in honor of our euphonium-playing nephew Nate.

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After a delicious Hungarian lunch (chicken paprikash, which Nina’s Hungarian brother-in-law loves; we loved it too), we came down the very steep hill in the funicular trolley, and walked along the Danube. Here’s the view on the way down.

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That afternoon we went to Rudas Thermal Springs, located near the Danube. Communal bathing in the many hot springs located in Budapest is a huge thing here. On Sunday, the Rudas Springs, which caters mainly to locals, was full of people of all shapes, sizes, and ages. Teenagers flirting, young couples cuddling, rotund old men taking up plenty of room. There were many different areas in the building – we mainly hung out in a large, old room with colored skylights and painted designs on the walls. It had a large warm bath in the center, and smaller tubs of various temperatures around the edges. There was a sort of shower stall on one side where you pulled a rope and dumped a bucketful of cold water on your head. Nina also swam in the pool while I went to the sauna. Altogether, a really enjoyable experience. We hope to visit another historic bathhouse before we leave.

As we returned to our building, we stopped to take a photo of the plaque below, which is on its outside wall. Basically, it tells that this was a “Yellow Star” building, which means it was one of the 2000 or so places into which 200,000 Jews were herded in June 1944, before most of them were taken away for extermination. A sobering sight.

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After a quick dinner at our apartment, we headed to the Opera House, just a few blocks away. The young soprano, whom I had met the day before, was an amazing singer and performer, and the sets were very imaginative. Nina really enjoyed the performance and although opera is not my thing, I was glad we had gone.

 

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Nina in the bar during intermission

Prague -April 6 to 8 – and on to Budapest

(mostly by Nina)

We had a busy last few days in Prague, which has got to be one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. The ornamentation, often multiple statues dripping from ornate facades of buildings, is unbelievable. Different architectural styles are next to each other, each more complex than the last.

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The parts of town we saw were beautifully maintained. Even the outskirts with big, drab, Soviet-style apartment buildings seemed to have been very well cared for.

During our last few days there we saw a lot.

Wednesday, April 6:

The Jewish quarter has some very old synagogues and a wonderful old cemetery, where people are buried 6 deep due to lack of space, and the headstones are all jumbled together. We walked though many of the large, beautiful squares (including Old Town Square Wenceslas Square [which is really a very long rectangle]), and went to the Mucha Museum. Alfons Mucha was a famous Czech artist who believed that art should be accessible. He was a contemporary and friend of Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, and other innovative artists in Paris, where he studied. He was one of the originators of Art Nouveau, and much of his early work was in the form of posters. Beautiful, flowing images of women, nature, very complex, and quite familiar, though I had never known anything about the artist.

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In addition to theatrical posters and other commercial work, he donated posters to things like the concert of the teachers’ choir and various local cultural and sports festivals.

Thursday, April 7:

During the last 20 years of his life, Mucha created the “Slav Epic” – a series of 20 huge, gorgeous paintings depicting the history and mythology of the Slavic culture, housed in a building created specifically for this work. This was a fascinating sight that should not be missed, along with the Kafka Museum, which did a great job, through its design, of depicting the writer’s tortured soul.

On our final evening, we had dinner with a delightful couple we met through Servas (the international friendship group we belong to), which included a late night trek through the grounds of castle and cathedral, we headed to Budapest. Our conversation included extensive discussion of the Czech and Jewish experience of the post-war period.

The Czech Republic was the first Eastern bloc country l’ve ever been to. As the granddaughter of devoted American Communists (a “red diaper grandbaby”), I found it so sad to hear the people’s tales of the lack of freedom, paranoia, and corruption, and the strong sense of oppression people experienced during those years. An altruistic philosophy gone terribly wrong. I wonder what my grandparents would have made of it. There is still a Communist Party in the Czech Republic. As the third largest party, it draws only 10-15 percent of the vote. It was also fascinating to learn about the Czech people’s long struggle for independence, first from the Austro-Hungarian empire, then from the Nazis, then from the Russians. My public school sense of the history of this part of the world is very American-centric!

Friday, April 8: From Prague to Budapest

On arrival in Budapest, after a smooth flight, we spent an hour with our Airbnb hosts: a wonderful gay couple who shared information about all their favorite places. The flat we are staying in, located in the former working class Jewish quarter (now a lively hangout for young people) is lovely, but the common areas of the building – stairways, facade, etc. – look like a pre-war relic. Interesting.

That night we went to a great show at the Budapest Jazz Club. Apparently the Communist government would not allow western pop music (you could get picked up by the police for listening to the Beatles), but jazz without words was okay, as it represented the oppression of African Americans by the capitalists. Hence, the sophisticated development of jazz in Eastern Europe.

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In Memorium

From Dan: It’s the morning of April 7 as I write this, and later today, in Chicago, my aunt Sylvia will be laid to rest. We knew when we left home last week that her death was imminent, and that we would likely be too many thousands of miles away to be able to attend her burial, but having that preparation does little to diminish the sense of loss at her passing, at nearly 95 years old, and the regret at being unable to join with family to comfort each other.

She was one of my mother’s younger sisters. (Her twin Beatrice is the only one of the siblings – four sisters in all – now still living.) She was a feisty woman, with the same candor and no-holds-barred style as my mother. When I was a child, the Chicago family (Sylvia, her late husband Shelly, and my cousins Jan and David) came to New York many summers. I felt very close to my Chicago cousins (and still do). Nina’s and my thoughts today are with them and their families.

Zichrona livracha – may her memory be for blessing.

Prague – Days 2 and 3 (April 4 and 5)

First – a p.s. to Day 1. Nina talked about the Charles Bridge. She didn’t mention the jazz musicians playing along the bridge, which gave us a chance to add another to the list of countries where we’ve danced in public places (streets and now bridges).

Day 2 (April 4):

About a dozen years ago, we joined an organization called Servas, which is an international travel/friendship group. Over the years, we have often hosted Servas visitors, from several countries, but had never been guests through the organization. A week before leaving, we suddenly remembered this group, and after some scrambling got it together and rejoined. We contacted people in Prague, Budapest, and Ireland, and have found several “day hosts” — people interested in spending time with visitors.

Our first “host,” George, is not a Servas member but is the friend of a member who was herself going to be out of town. George is a partly retired architect, and is involved in historical preservation. He was not only wonderfully warm, interesting, and friendly, but is also an expert on the architecture and history of Prague. He met us at our hotel, and we walked all over town for the afternoon, seeing some places we would never have found on our own. Here is one of the views we saw looking down on the city from some beautiful gardens, which were located past a series of little passageways and staircases:

 

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We parted at about 4:30, and reconnected a few hours later to spend the evening at a local blues club, “Blues Sklep,” where the music was delightfully familiar in style, but mostly with Czech lyrics. Some really hard driving blues, and some more mellow, but beautifully performed. Here we are at the club:

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(More on music in Prague: For those who missed it, check out Dan’s Facebook video of the “hang drum” player we came across near the Castle.)

Day 3 (April 5):

We spent most of Tuesday on a tour to Terezin (aka, Theresienstadt), through a group called Whitmann Tours (thanks for the tip, Michael Semler). Our tour was led by a young woman who grew up with little awareness of her Jewish parentage (her mother is Jewish), but who reconnected in her teens and has become very involved (as has her younger sister) in Jewish history and her heritage. On the way there we heard the story of an entire Czech town that was imprisoned, and all of the men and children killed in retaliation for the underground having assassinated a prominent Nazi. The townspeople had nothing to do with the assassination, but the Nazis thought it would help the Czechs develop the proper level of fear, so that they could be controlled more easily.

Terezin was not an extermination camp, though many died there. It was both a transit camp, and a cover for the Germans when international groups (like the Red Cross) wanted to see what was going on. We heard stories of a children’s playground constructed right before Red Cross came to visit, even though prisoners were not allowed in the parks of the walled town at other times; it then was immediately torn down. Because the primary population there included many people from Prague, a highly cultured town, there were many artists and musicians, and prisoners were allowed to organize entertainment. Many plays and concerts were presented. There was an exhibit about the prominent composers and musicians who were held there. One survived the war and went on to become the director of the Prague Symphony Orchestra. Most of the others were deported to extermination camps and killed.

The photo here is inside a secret synagogue used by Jews at Terezin, but which was only rediscovered about 20 years ago, after being hidden for decades. Our guide suggested that the Hebrew inscription (only barely readable) suggests that the people using the synagogue were Zionists.

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This next photo is of the prison fortress at Terezin (which predates the Nazis). There were many Jews here, but they were imprisoned more for political reasons than for purely “racial” ones. There were also communists, members of the underground resistance, and others who opposed the Nazis.

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The rooms in the prison used for torture and the “dark cells” used to keep people in complete darkness and solitary confinement were chilling. Unlike in Germany, where survivors had no place to return to after the war and ended up in dismal displaced persons camps, Czechs were allowed to return to their homes, which had mostly been occupied by German invaders during the war. It was a bit mindbending to walk back to our hotel through this beautiful, peaceful, lively city after we got off the tour bus, with visions of this extreme brutality fresh in our minds.