Bohemia Lost (cont.)
I ask my
host what the future holds in store for Zizkov. “Instant
yuppification,” he sighs, and tells me that The Prague
Post, the city’s English-language newspaper, recently
declared Zizkov 2004’s most up-and-coming neighborhood.
“In the 15th century, the gypsies were expelled from
Bohemia. In the 21st century, the artists are being
forced out,” he says.
Though melodramatic, his appeal
to history is apt. When King Zikmund of Bohemia ejected
the Romany people, they fled to France. They became
known as 'les Bohemiens' – and their exotic, unconventional
customs gave the word ‘bohemian’ its modern meaning.
Jan is soon hungry, though, so it’s
time to head north toward the infamous Zizkov Tower
– a rocket-shaped television aerial, known locally
as the Prague Prick. In the shadow of the tower, in
a quiet little square, lies U Sadu. Jan assures me
it is a typical Czech pub. Upstairs it seems anything
but. Relics from the country’s gritty communist past
press in from all sides. Everything from traffic signs
and vacuum cleaners to helmets and gas masks adorn
the walls and ceilings. Downstairs things are a little
saner, with fashionable artists drinking draft beer
around wooden tables or playing pool and darts.
My host is eager to introduce me
to the delights of Czech pub snacks, and two plates
of strange-looking cheese soon come my way. First
up is nakladany hermelin – camembert pickled in oil
and herbs – which is alarmingly alluring, though I
can’t imagine what the Frenchmen at Le Clan would
think of it. Next comes pivni syr, or "beer cheese".
It looks like a mushy orange baseball. To my surprise,
though, it complements a basket of brown rye bread,
sliced onions, and a pint of Pilsner Urquell like
nothing else on earth.
Suitably refueled, we head to U
Vystreleneho oka. Its name means “The Shot-Out Eye”
– a tribute to the one-eyed general Jan Zizka, who
led the Hussites to victory over the invading papal
forces in 1420.
Inside the pub, apathetic
students loiter at the bar alongside leather-clad
bikers. Cheap local pilsner flows continuously and
there’s more beer cheese to be had. My host wants
to toast Jan Zizka. “He may have kept the crusaders
at bay, but he would have been no match for the stag
parties,” someone quips. Indeed, thousands of westerners
flock to Prague each year, all too happy to dabble
in the city’s vices.
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