“Children need death in order to get a new, disgustingly delicious kind of thrill. No, that’s not quite accurate.
They need it, as they need the other things, in order to give a specific form to the thrills they already have.
Can you remember how acute your sensations were, how intensely you felt about everything as a child?
The rapture of raspberries and cream, the horror of fish, the hell of castor oil! And the torture of having to get up and recite before the whole class!
The inexpressible joy of sitting next to the driver, with the smell of horse sweat and leather in one’s nostrils, the white road stretching away to infinity, and the fields of corn and cabbages slowly turning, as the buggy rolled past, slowly opening and shutting like enormous fans.
When you’re a child, your mind is a kind of saturated solution of feeling, a suspension of all the thrills – but in a latent state, in a condition of indeterminacy. Sometimes it’s external circumstances that act as the crystallizing agent, sometimes it’s your own imagination.”
-Aldous Huxley, The Genius and the Goddess
The language of the dead is whispered in serene inner voices. Find the face you could love – greet it in all the languages you know, ‘dobry den’ ‘guten tag’ ‘good morning’ ‘bueno dias’ and see what happens. Let your perceptions and intuitions be your guide through Prague’s personal history.
The dead themselves visibly memorialized in obelisks and Art Nouveau sandstone, twirling vegetal ironwork and stone crosses, life-sized statues and palm-sized oval portraits, finely sculpted medallions, lanterns and votives graveside lit, gilded family names on black marble, ornate crucifixes cloaked in ivy, crumbling crypts, open doorways into high-ceilinged rooms of mystery. And sometimes the dead are actively present, in a quick laughing flash of white that just escapes your peripheral vision.
A memorable welcome – no reason to get spooked. These are places for introspection and deep regard for the unique qualities we all share: Embodiment, Consciousness, Connection.
So bring a cherished friend – new or old – someone you discovered last week at a cafe or someone you’ve known for half your years on this little green planet.
Bring a friend and get to know him/her more deeply. Bring a walkman, a favourite soundtrack of any style and get to know your Self more intimately, review your options, your choices.
The dearly departed (we are gathered here today) embrace the noises of Life, whether a soft-voiced discussion of mortality, wistful homesickness, rabid hunger, new love? Or the barely audible but exuberant sounds of Rebirth of Cool, Vol. 3. Be jovial, be solemn, but be aware of all that surrounds you.
Gloomy weather is stereotypically enhancing but can also overwhelm – thank you Spring for a week of lovely days! If you can’t shake whatever sorrows you, look to the trees – birdfeeders made of recycled plastic bottles hang everywhere – a handful of seed, raised high and still, invites exquisitely colored songbirds to your fingertips.
They alight, inspect, and fly away… but the momentary touch of a wildbird is a joyously unconditional contact. Just before closing hours, the magical shadows of a clear late afternoon/early evening are undeniably life-affirming, showing the funereal works in their best emotional light.
The entrance to the Novy Zidovny Hrbitov, the New Jewish Cemetery, is located on Vinohradska near Jana Zelivskeho, across from the Zelivskeho Metro and the Don Giovanni hotel.
Unlike the popular Old Jewish Cemetery in Josefov, this cemetery is open to the public at no cost and is vastly overlooked by tourists.
Men are traditionally required to wear a yarmulke or other head covering, but if you arrive unprepared, the groundskeepers will lend or rent a skullcap to you for a few crowns.
The Novy Zidovny Hrbitov contains works by notable artisans including Jan Stursa, whose peacock and weeping willow sculpture strikingly identifies the painter Max Holb’s resting place.
Bring a friend, bring a walkman, bring a crust of bread for the resident red squirrels, but bring yourself! Because this is an aspect of Prague that is not to be missed!
HOW TO GET THERE:
Olsanske Hrbitovy – the Olsany cemeteries – take the Green Line to Zelivskeho namesti and walk down the street a little, or take tram No. 16 to Zizkov and disembark on Vinohradska (Flora Metro, Olsanske hrbitovy stops) or Jana Zelivskeho (Mezi hrbitovy).
Photos & text by Kristian Cohler