Strahova Monastery, Prague

The Strahova Monastery in Prague holds a celebrated library. Two rooms filled to the ceiling with books on philosophy and theology. The ceilings are painted, heavily influenced by the Roman tradition, and not well done.

Because I had not booked prior to going, and had no time to gain permission which takes three days to a week, I was not allowed to walk around the library proper but had to look at the rooms from the corded doors. And here I was given the first real visual experience of a library as a pure expression of shapes.

For as long as I have known libraries exist, they have been places to go and only find a book, smell books en masse and enjoy the learning in them which, hypocrite that I am, I can wax lyrical about, knowing I will never know a tenth of it. But here, for all the world I could have been looking at a painting for its brush work rather than at objects. Enjoying perspective an an odd flatness created by staring for a long time.

The shelves were all regimented and in the lines one would expect, except one towards the floor that slightly bent with the weight of the books along it. One small curved line in a forest of straight horizontal ones. The books were vertical strokes of a brush finely worked over with the titles by a careful eye. Above the books, the space between the top of each line of books and the shelf above, were black lines. I thought of geometric, abstract art but they were not uniform.  A library is a Modernist masterpiece.

Book spines of dozens of colours, differing thickness, running deep into the room more like beautiful drapes hanging down and along a wall, than books. Decoration. Here, in a place were books were filled with ideas that are supposed to challenge ones assumptions about almost everything, I was challenged to understand a library in a whole new way. The visual landscape that I was enjoying had nothing to do with knowledge, nothing to do with traditional reading although I was reading, and with my eyes. A library is its own kind of visual expression of a truth – everything we create has its own aesthetic but the aesthetics of everything we create are connected to all our senses. And reason, the place where we deal with the information from our senses, marries them all together with an interpretation that starts off as reality but becomes as we become adults, interpretation. I was no longer assuming this was a library, I was altering my perspective. A library is an artwork of its own.

The Rose Garden

There are grey doves here and a pong with a fountain that hides two golden carp. The roses are turning but still full and, according to Jennika, ‘smell ridiculous’. It is the perfect place to sit and have breakfast, serene and if there are people here, they too are quiet. Not that Prague is a noisy city. It bustles in places but it is not dirty and noisy to London standards.

Amusingly three people here, who didn’t wish to be understood by their fellow Czechs, spoke in English. The details of a young woman’s sex life heard with half an ear while I was looking for couchsurfing hosts in Zagreb, was beyond amusing. She was bright, fed up with her boyfriend and detailed everything she had to say to her friends who listened and replied only occasionally.

I hope she sorted her immediate problems out. I have never had the angst to sort things out quickly because time is flying. Maybe that is my failing in this life, I do not feel the pressure of so short a time to live I am too busy just engaging with what is around me.

Maybe I am just too simple minded.


Prague doesn’t use the compass points like other cities. It long ago decided its pathways and routes and thinking would wend like the river, though descriptions will\always tell you the Vltava runs North into the city, believe them if you will.

The churches flow across the city in no particular order, the National Gallery starts on the second floor and you circle around rooms and down a floor being told the exhibition continues from door to door until it ends. As you walk into an old palace you find birds of prey being exhibited to the public, dancers on the promenade, singers on the boats that slide along the river with tourists far out-numbering the locals. Prague flows, with all the bustle and camera pointing of tourist cities and with its own,  growing mindfulness of the world outside.

Half an hour driving from the centre you are still in the countryside. Twenty minutes and you are still on unmarked roads looking at dilapidated houses and seeing people ‘getting by’ in a landscape rich in colours. This is not a major city but it seems with all the building it is a city that wants to know where it is going.

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January 2019
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