My dashing alchemist on the stairs leading to our Hotel in Prague.

I have just returned from Prague. People say it is a fairy tale of a city, and you don’t really believe it. How could it be? That is, until you see it yourself.  Despite the onslaught of tourist hordes, all traveling in massive groups, the city’s dark soul survives, suggesting narratives around every bent corner.

While many beer lovers champion Czech pilsners, there are myriad microbreweries around the city making up some original, gorgeous beers that break with tradition. The best was Klasterni Pivovar, where we went every night for their special November ale.

My obsession with Czech glass beads, one of my favourite materials, was a driving force in this trip…this is the subject for another post. I found only one source in the city, and will most likely have to return after doing more research, and travel farther outside of the city.

In the Bone House, Sedlec, Kutna Hora.

We spent a day traveling to Kutna Hora, to visit the surreal ossuary of the Sedlec monastery. This also merits it’s own post– as you can see I will be writing about Prague for some time!  The Kostnice, or bone house, was relatively free of tourists on the day we went, and had the cold static of an unquiet grave about it. Not really a peaceful place at all.

Around every corner was something that inspired my jewellery, as if the whole city were talking back to me. From the Art Nouveau facades to the elaborate iron work of the heavy doors, the sparking crystals and blood red garnets winking from every tourist trap of a shop, the dark glamour of the place ameliorated a lot of the indignities of tourism. It is a testament to the power of this place, and to the Czech people. The ones we met remained gracious and warm– something the Brits of York could learn in the face of their own tourist invasions!

Alphonse Mucha inspired necklace of sterling-plated brass and Czech glass beads, in my Etsy shop.

While the Kafka museum in Prague was unforgivably pretentious, my dealings with security in Heathrow were indeed Kafkaesque.  I was retinally scanned (twice) but still interrogated by immigration, X-rayed a total of 4 times, frisked (twice) and everything in my carry on and purse dumped out and examined down to every crumpled receipt and tissue.  The second security agent pulled me out of the queue and actually lifted up my clothing so she could search inside my trousers and underwear– this was in front of the large crowd also queuing; it wasn’t a private search. It was shocking and intimidating, especially given the signs every where that say that failure to comply will lead to fines and possible imprisonment. If this is travel in the 21st century, perhaps staying home is the better option?

Check back soon for happier tales of ossuaries, beer halls and beads, beads, beads.

Ghosts of Mardi Gras Past

Mardi Gras, French for “Fat Tuesday,” is the last all-out party day before Lent.   The tradition of “throws” or beads tossed from floats dates from the 1920s.  Originally the necklaces were made of Czech glass up until the 1960s when plastic was introduced.

For many years I combed the flea markets and junk shops of New Orleans collecting these vintage strands of beads, lovingly restringing them and imagining the street parties and music infused with their history.
I was particularly fascinated by these strands that had survived the throws and their original destiny as a kind of disposable favor.  There’s a chaotic beauty in their random patterns, and now that they have new clasps they seem to be just waiting for the joyful noise of the next Fat Tuesday.

More vintage Mardi Gras beads can be found in my Etsy shop.