Monday, April 1, 2013

Another Visit to the Roman Empire

Which is to say, of course, another visit to Europe.  I've noted before in this blog that I recently visited the province of Britannia, and may have noted also that there was a time, long ago, when I was conveyed by bus around portions of the Empire as a distinguished member of a high school band which was there for some reason I cannot recall.  In those distant, halcyon days, I spent most of my visit either drunk or hung over.  My more recent excursion to Londinium and Edinburgh was a more sober experience, as was this one.

In fact, a part of my imperial tour was spent outside the boundaries of the empire, in what apparently would have been the province of Marcomannia if the plans of Marcus Aurelius had not been abandoned by his curious son Commodus.  It's been said that Commodus in deciding not to create such a province compared himself to Hadrian who had withdrawn from territory conquered by Trajan.  It's doubtful Hadrian would have appreciated any comparison with that very odd emperor.  People still wonder why the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius "allowed" his dissolute son to succeed him, the more imaginative claiming that he did not, and that Commodus assumed the purple by killing his father.

The province would have been called "Marcomannia" because it was at that time the habitat of the Marcomanni, a troublesome Germanic tribe which, along with the Quadi and and others, kept Marcus in camp with his legions for quite some time, eventually wresting from them a satisfactory though temporary peace (peace with the Germans was always temporary, it seems, then and up to now).  Although he isn't known as a great military leader, Marcus Aurelius was a very competent commander, particularly in light of the fact that he had little military training.  Regardless, I refer to that area now known as the Czech Republic, comprising the former regions of Bohemia and Moravia.

Bohemia was of course the home of another very able military commander--Wallenstein.  That interesting man fought on the Catholic side of the Thirty Years War, and fought very well indeed, rivalling and even outshining the Protestant King of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus.  As he was a servant of the Hapsburgs, famous for their lips and inbreeding, not the most intelligent or faithful of the royal families, he did not do as well as he could in life, though.  It's said he inspired jealously, and was excessively venal and ambitious, which no doubt annoyed the venal, ambitious Hapsburgs.

Prague is a lovely city, although it was frigidly lovely during the days of my visit.  Its brightly colored buildings and spires dotting its seven hills and extending along its river are charming; the city has been compared to Paris, and indeed does look rather like Paris along the Seine as it appears in pictures (I haven't been there).  As it was (is?) largely a Catholic city, despite the efforts of the Hussites, its churches are grandiose, even baroque, compared with those of Londinium; saints are everywhere in stone, silver and gold.  The churches are gloriously ornate.  King Wenceslaus himself appears on its streets, or people dressed as him do, looking disturbing and even creepy, I must say, due to the use of an impassive and even baleful gold mask.  It's great castle or palace (both, I suppose) is impressive.  One has to wonder just why Hitler looked down on the Slavs after seeing Prague; but he looked down on so many, having the peculiar hauteur of the psychopath.

It is supposed to be a great beer city, but the beer I had while there was merely Pilsner Urquell, which is prevalent, or worse Budvar, a kind of hideous European version of Budweiser, or perhaps Budweiser is a hideous American version of Budvar.  Either way, it is an insipid brew, and I was disappointed as I know there are fine Czech beers.

Its Old Town is impressive.  The decor of the Belle Epoque is everywhere, which I found somewhat surprising, but I have a fondness for it as well as Art Deco (also frequently seen) so this wasn't displeasing, although the work of Alphonse Mucha grows old on me rather quickly.  Franz Kafka is there also, of course, as a kind of counterweight.  I longed to visit the tavern Einstein is said to have frequented, but time, being what it is, and relative, ran out.

Time runs out now for me as well, and I must leave the rest of my musings on this visit to another post, and so say Vale for now.

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