After I left Oxford, I spent the weekend in Prague. Like my time in Oxford, the trip was primarily work related. I was there visiting the Czech photographer Libuše Jarcovjáková. Her show at FotoFest 2022 will be held at First Houston. My father and I are curating it and the objective of the visit was to work with her to make the final selection of images for the exhibition.
I think it is going to be extraordinary. The photographs will all be of the T-Club, Prague’s only LGBTQ+ club during the Communist (Marxist-Leninist) regime. At a time when the Texas Republican Party has declared homosexuality “abnormal” it is important to celebrate queer love and queer communities within the context of a religious space. Also, this will be Libuše’s first major show in the United States. I think she’s one of best living European photographers (as you might have noticed if you read the piece my Dad and I wrote in KATALOG about her).
My time in the city wasn’t all work. Libuše basically kicked me out of the house on Friday evening and Saturday and told me to go enjoy myself. Friday I was rather tired from my travels and didn’t make a particularly long evening of it. I was out long enough to go to an up-and-coming restaurant called Eska (rated with a Michelin Bib Gourmand). It is about 45 minutes walk from Libuše’s. On my way there I found the exceptionally cool arts and social space Kasárna Karlín. It is a converted military barracks and occupies the better part of a city block. There’s a sandlot of kids, numerous outdoor sculptures, a huge garden space, and several different cafes, bars, and arts venues. I happened on a performance by a local Czech indie rock band–all woman–that was energetic and interesting.
Eska itself was a creative take on Czech cuisine. Since I’m a pescatarian this meant that a goodly portion of my meal consisted of various kinds of cured fish. I got a tasting menu and a wine pairing. The Czech Koruna is relatively weak to the dollar and so the whole thing still just cost me about what a meal out in a middling Houston restaurant would run. The place’s strong point was definitely its bread, which everyone raves about and which more than meets expectations. It was crusty and dense with a bit of wheat infused pungency. A curious thing about the place, which I suspect is inspired by El Bulli and the molecular gastronomy trend, was the decision to have all dishes be things that included difficult to make sauces like a green tomato water.
Libuše and Markéta Luskačová, who is another well known Czech photographer, have been close family friends for years. I’ve known Markéta since the 1980s when she was living in exile in London. She now splits her time between Prague and London. It happened that she was in the city same the time I was. We met up for an early dinner on Saturday at Cafe Savoy. It is one of the city’s classic gathering places. I have been eating there since my family first started visiting Prague (when my Dad would teach there) in the late 1990s. During the Communist regime it was a spot that was popular with dissidents and members of the ruling elite and secret police alike. I don’t know about former Communists, but former dissidents like Markéta still really like it and I have been there many times with other friends of my parents such as Karel Cudlin (Vaclav Havel’s photographer).
Before and after my dinner with Markéta I walked through the city. I have been there enough that I didn’t have a particular need to visit any of the famous sites (though I did walk over the Charles Bridge). Instead, I swung by a couple of old favorites. One I made sure to visit was the Vojan Garden. It is a park in the city’s center, entirely enclosed by walls, that started life as part of a monastery in the Middle Ages. It is charming, with ancient orchard trees, hand carved bee hives, and its own resident flock of peacocks.
When things got dark I decided to go for a bit of a bar crawl. My first stop was Cafe Jericho. A hot spot for Czech artists and beloved by Libuše, the crowd was overflowing onto the streets when I arrived. I ordered a drink and soon found myself in a conversation about David Graeber and David Wengrow’s The Dawn of Everything. That wound down after awhile and I decided to move onto the Hemingway Bar. It is a cocktail place near Old Town Square. I had an intense abinsthe infused drink.
Sunday and Monday were more devoted to work and travel than enjoying the city. I did have a nice meal at Gran Fierro, another of Libuše’s favorites. I also stumbled across a jazz venue called AghaRTA. I also visited the site of the now closed T-Club and had several long conversations with Libuše about what it means to be a dissident, but that is a subject for another post.