Monday, November 24, 2014

My Mother's Letters

     My mother's letters arrived in boxes 2 years ago,  a year after she died.  I haven't counted yet, but clearly at least a thousand she'd treasured from the 1930s through World War II, through all her years living abroad to her return to the US with her crew of two daughters and a husband.  Reading what her mother wrote her in April 1944 from Spartanburg, South Carolina, that her father thought the war would end May Day, but that she'd heard Dr. Benes (the President of the Czech government in exile in the UK) said he thought it would last at least until the fall, reading this sitting in my house in Prague where Dr. Benes returned after the war to try to lead Czechoslovakia recently liberated from the Nazis, gave me a chill.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Painter last week.

Grrr...Painters!  Last week a new painter arrived.  Smiling and seemingly more competent than the diffident smoking threesome who first came seven weeks ago.   A colleague joined him who told us the paint was bad.  Whatever, the addition wall is streaky with last week's coat of paint.  The same area where the door's hinges are needs painting.  I've pointed it out several times for weeks to anyone from the building company who seemed to be listening.   Nobody was.  Or rather, they finally did this past week, but first did only half, made a botch of it, then repainted it sloppily.  Is symbolic of the whole painting process which started in mid September.  

It has become increasingly intolerable looking from the outside through scaffolding bars.  Feels like we're in jail.  Or worse.

Looking west early morning from my office through the scaffolding bars.  The long roof  extending from the left of the picture belongs to a 17th century farmhouse, one of the oldest houses in our "village".  You can see on the white house in the foreground the shadow of the scaffolding. 

I told our building company last Friday,  I just want the scaffolding, which has been up for weeks, DOWN even though there are still many mistakes to correct.  I am beginning to feel it's my death shroud, that I'm buried alive with all my worldly goods in my sarcophagus  house.  Maybe those Ancients were on to something - why bother to sort out belongings of the dead? Just pack it all up in a house for the life beyond with food for the journey along with the corpse.  Maybe that has been the problem all along. I've been having a life after death experience and didn't know it.

 Scaffolding was used also for the execution of criminals.  What a sinister word.

When we are free from our scaffolding prison, we shall sing and dance with our new lease on life.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Couple of Weeks Ago

Tuesday of the fourth week of getting our house painted or not depending on your point of view.  The first 2 1/2 weeks with two lots of paint which left smudges due to the incomplete chemical mix of the color and lime.  Now we have a silicate based paint which doesn't smudge, but seems to streak.

The two tones our building company used on our trim last year the director of the company tried to attribute to the sun last week.  Today the color man came with his book of paint shades.  I picked a shade similar to the cream of our front door for the trim.  Seems my idea all the trim needs painting has taken hold.

House with curved addition 
Although I told the director's assistant several times the winter garden needed to be painted too as it was the original outside wall, the painters last week had not a clue about it.  Those painters were the same ones we've had all September whom my husband and I swear we've never seen before.  Painting didn't seem to be their calling.  The painters who arrived today are our old friends from when we were in the blitz of demolition and reconstruction.

We will have lived in our house for a year in November.  Peter let out a yelp of joy this morning. Finally, after 4 months our eco-garbage - grass clippings, pruning debris was emptied.  Slowly we are taking root in this place.  More to do.  Our bedroom has wires on the ceiling and beside our bed where lights should be.  We have no curtains and I have to skulk lower than the window sill when I dress or undress in our bedroom.  Still boxes to unpack.  And a garden to plant.

Slowly our roots are settling into this old house and garden.  I sometimes wonder what the original family who lived here would have thought of what we have now.

Never Never Land

Never Never Land is the walls and trim of the outside of our house.  This is the 7th week of our builders trying to paint our house making it worse each time than when they started.

September 2010 renovation started on our house, built in 1824.  It was what is called a "Vineyard House" because the manager of the Strahov Monastery Vineyards lived here with his family,  pigs, chickens, presumably horse and cart to cart the grapes to be processed into wine and  wife who filled the house with the smell of cooked cabbage.  Perhaps they had numerous children who played in the vineyards between the 850 year old Strahov Monastery with its gold flected towers to the East and the  onion dome of 1,000 year old Brevnov Monastery in the West.

Today,  on what used to be acres of South facing vineyards, turn of the last century buildings obstruct the view of Strahov.  However,  the tips of the spires of the St. Vitus Cathedral  ( three quarters finished in the 1300s and the rest completedin the 1920s ) on the Castle Hill several hundred meters further East from Strahov peek between early 20th century structures.  We can see them  only from our East facing attic window. The Gothic spires poke up with the dawn light behind them shooting their holy messages into the awakening Prague sky.    

Late 19th,  early 20th century and Communist era buildings hide all of Brevnov except for its Baroque onion tower.  Late afternoon light that pours through the West facing attic window of my study gives more definition to what looks like an upside down top.  At night it is lit like a beacon to guide whatever faithful may be left in this mostly atheist country through the long dark struggles of their lives.

The medallion of Jan Hus, the 15th century Chancellor of Charles University who was against the corruption of the Catholic Church especially indulgences lies embedded in the plaster above our front door.   In 1415 the Church burned Hus at the stake at Lake Constance for the sin of trying to make the church a better place.  A restorer of antique church art repaired the much damaged medallion. He said he thought it was made in the 1920s, but was not sure.  Most likely the "heretic" was not on the house when it was part of the heavily Catholic Austrian Hungarian Empire.  It was probably put on after World War I when the State of Czechoslovakia  was made from the old Czech lands of the Empire: Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia.  Jan Hus was a defiant symbol for many in the new Czechoslovakia of standing up to the oppressor of Empire, religious or secular.

I have to keep in mind the joy of owning and living in our house which itself lived through dramatic moments of the 19th and 20th centuries.  I love its stone walls. Unfortunately obscured by scaffolding. I love the sunlight that fills our house on bright days.  Through the bars and planks of the scaffolding.  Yes, I am frustrated by the builder's lack of competence in completing a simple job which should have been finished in a week.  But this too is part of this country's history.  The Empire and Russia patronized the Czechs so long there is a saying: the right way, the wrong way and the Czech way.  Which is Kafkaesque i.e. in Never Never Land.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Painting Re-revisited

Finally an explanation of why the paint on our 188 year old house has huge white smudges in it.  We wanted to have environmentally friendly paint and also paint which is for "pamatky",  the name for old buildings or monuments that are considered part of the Czech Republic heritage, therefore, can't be torn down.  The ecologically kind paint was supposed to let our 3 foot thick walls breathe.

The smudges were due to the lime which didn't mix with the terracotta particles.  Great color except for what looked like a giant's fingerprints all over it.  Yesterday they came with similar paint from another company.  Less fingerprints, but there all the same.
After three week of scaffolding and three different paints,  21 September we finally have the color without smudges. 
Today the painters surprised us by ringing our bell at 6:15 a.m.  No smudges so far, but the color is, well,  a bad pink.  I saw the color we ordered on an old building on one of the narrow winding streets in the center of Prague last year.  It was a lovely warm red.  I've seen similar colors on other old buildings. Nothing like what the painters are putting up now.  Why are we having such a hard time getting the right color?!

Three weeks of scaffolding and it looks like at least another. The bars holding up the planks outside our windows are beginning to feel like a prison.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Painting Revisited

Our house has scaffolding around it.  This ragged dress has disgraced our outside walls for almost three weeks.

Last November  when our 14 month renovation finished, it was too cold to put on the last coat of paint.  On the sunny warm days of two and a half weeks ago the building company returned  to plaster the cracks that developed over the winter on our facade and paint.  They painted two walls and left.  Not only did those two walls look worse, but they didn't match the other walls.

A verbal skirmish between me and the building assistant ensued in which she insisted our original agreement was to paint two walls.  My look to her upon her departure was not warm and fuzzy.

Two days later the architect, the building engineer and the building company's manager appeared and we all agreed the cracks needed more fixing and the paint job was appalling.  We were assured all would be fixed.  However, the painters would be out of the country the next week, so we had to wait.

They showed up three days ago on Monday, fixed the cracks and painted the whole house which still looks as bad as it did when they painted two weeks ago.   My husband and I can't figure out why the terra-cotta paint still has large whitish smudges all over it.  The house looked better before these painters put a brush to it a couple of weeks ago.

The painters are coming today with a new paint.  I am in growly guard dog mode prepared to spend the day sniffing around to make sure all is in order.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012



       Prague, Czech Republic 
       May 2012

   Cool morning air breathes through our kitchen.  Birds trumpet in the cherry, apple and elderflower trees over the traffic noises on the street 2 blocks down the hill, a  main artery in Prague.

Carol and her family after they moved into their newly renovated house fall of 2011

   Sunlight mingles with the quiet breeze, both entering in a festive mood through the east and south facing windows.

    When we renovated our house, built in 1824 in an old village originally  about 1km from the outskirts of Prague but now part of the larger city,  our main priorities were getting enough sunlight and space.  First, we took off the security bars on the ground floor windows and made them bigger.  We broke through two 3 feet thick stone walls to make an eastern window in the kitchen and a western window on the first floor ( US second floor).   For space we built an  addition which has  4 French doors, a skylight and winter garden with a glass wall and ceiling.  Light floods our house to such an extent we sometimes think electric lights are on when they aren't.

   Fifteen grey winters in Central Europe taught us our survival here depends on light.  So we were looking for a south facing house which we found after a five year search.  The low winter sun brings in more light than the higher summer one, so when it's cold outside, our rooms are filled with sunlight when it decides to shine making our plants flourish.