Concert in a cloister – Czech Republic

Its day two in Czech Republic and time is of the essence. I am met by a local historian at Chotesov,  the closest station to my family village of Mantov. I have a surprise waiting for me. From a family tree I have already sent ahead to the historian, he has arranged a likely relative to join him at the station too. He has a familiar face. Features from my family gene pool stare back at me.

We only have the German language in common. I have to rack my brains to remember the polite form, Sie, as my historian guide is 91 years old.

We talk back and forth until the early evening. I am asked to stay on for dinner and attend a concert in the local 12th century cloister.

By complete coincidence I am in the village at a time of the only summer chamber concert there. In the ruined beauty of the Chotesov Cloister, I am treated to Musica Florea, by artistic director Marek Stryncl.

Fittingly the chamber ensemble play a local Josef Myslivecek piece from the 1700s, followed by Mozart and finishing with Mendelessohn-Bartholdy.

I dont know much about classical music, but hearing this beautiful music played in a centuries old building under a ceiling of exquisite frescoes, gives me goose bumps.

I have missed the last train back to Plzen. A taxi is sorted for me and arrangements made for the morning when we meet again to explore the village and see some houses that could have been lived in by my forbears.



A night at the opera in Prague

I am in Prague briefly. With no expecatations, as it’s a Sunday night, I call by the ticket office at the National Theatre. I am in luck, there are still tickets left for Puccini’s Madama Butterfly tonight, even if they are stories up in the balconies.

I ransack my bag back at my room, for something suitable to wear. The grandeur of the building is impressive when I return. I spend time on the roof deck taking pictures of the twin horse and chariot statues which dominate the skyline of the building.

The orchestra is already warming up when I arrive at my seat. Some of the chorus, in character, are enacting scenes from the Japanese geisha life, as the audience is still filing in.

From the giddy heights of the balcony, there is a great vantage point to appreciate the sophisticated staging. There is a real water filled bath-pool covering a quarter of the stage, which is lit from underneath. It is used several ways throughout the evening, even the principal cast wade through it.

And so the tragedy unravels. Cio Cio-San (Butterfly)  is exquisitely performed by Christina Vasileva and the cad, Pinkerton, is played suitably callously by Peter Berger.

The cast are all standout and the choreography interesting ranging from huge fan dances to the stark stillness of silent witnesses on the stage.

The Czech Republic has a proud history of opera. I would encourage anyone visiting Prague to sample an opera. Mozart premiered his work at the Estates Theatre to appreciative audiences that he lacked in his home city.

A French man next to me strikes up a conversation as I am solo. We riff on the opera and also mention our own century-old connections to this country. He, with Brno, myself with Plzen.

I could linger longer but I have been up since 5 AM today for my London flight to Prague. I cut it short to be able to take my early train to my home village where people are waiting for me, to help me find out more on my family’s past.

You say you want a revolution ? Records and Rebels V & A Museum London

This one is for the baby boomers out there. Today was the opening of the 1960s colossus of a V and A Museum exhibition in London.

Unlike the Underwear Exhibition I had shelled out for recently, which was over in a quick corset summary, this exhibition is the bonus edition.

I emerged after 90 minutes completely and utterly overloaded with icons, images, fashion, sounds and philosophies of the 1960s. And ready to go back in again.

Once inside the exhibition its like being at a silent dance party as toe tapping visitors enjoy the top tunes of the era in supplied head sets.

We view the Beatles Paul and John’s hand written songs, see original Carnaby St fashion with Twiggy, celebrity photography, art, consumer advertising and then move on to more sombre themes.

Self expression repression, the Vietnam war, black politics, feminism and gay issues all form thought provoking sections of the exhibit.

On the lighter side are two of original Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart Band costumes and a special room full of Woodstock footage played up three high walls.

Bean bags are supplied for you to slouch into and enjoy the show. Whilst on a stage in front is Keith Moon’s drum kit.

We file through the last part covering some technology with space travel, computer precursors and the counter culture, until the last exhibit, John Lennon’s cordoroy jacket and the words to Imagine.

The Imagine sound track engulfs me as I exit and I have to compose myself a bit, before I turn my head set in to the museum attendant.


Bowie’s Schöneberg, Berlin



I have one last day in Berlin and my own bit of Deutschland back home has me on an errand to Schöneberg. He wants me to bring home some lederhosen for him to wear to a Oktoberfest event. I google the specialist shop and set off on foot.

I note the late hour of the shop opening so park myself in a corner cafe until it opens. I down a series of rare one euro coffees as I wait. Finally the store opens. One side of the shop is classic lederhosen but upon examining the other side of the shop, I notice numerous modern leather outfits that are, shall we say, rather niche.

I make my purchase, thinking I am a long way from Kansas, I wander through streets where I am most definitely the odd woman out. Somehow my thoughts segue to a documentary I had seen on David Bowie’s stint in Berlin including his mesmerising music video performance in svelte leather of ‘Heroes.’

He lived with Iggy Pop in Schöneberg in the 1970’s and co-wrote ‘Heroes’ with Brian Eno, ostensibly referencing the Berlin wall, but with other nuances. A quick google comes up with an address of 155 Hauptstrasse. The GPS says I have a 20 minute walk. Any quest has its challenges and I seem to be following the blue dots in ever decreasing circles, until finally hot and sweaty, I am on the Hauptstrasse.

I walk up the street with great anticipation looking for an uber cool, probably shabby chic alt bau, but find a bland utilitarian block of flats at this address. I am at the right place though, as some joker has spray painted ‘David Bowie was here,’ on the wall. I take a couple of photos up and down this very ordinary Berlin street and head for the U Bahn station.

Update. RIP David Bowie. Your style and talent will be missed. There is talk of this street where you lived being re-named for you. I hope it does happen, it surely could do with some added star dust.


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