Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Bad Trip

As we had to go to Warsaw the other day, we decided to drive there from Brussels, where we live at the moment, and visit Marienbad and Carlsbad on the way.

We reached Marienbad in the early evening and, after setting up base camp in a faded old establishment on a slope to one side of the town, we made our way down, among huge, leafy trees, past wedding cake houses, to the centre, to find a place to eat.

It quickly became apparent that we had strayed into a realm somewhere just outside of time as we know it.

Most visitors to Marienbad seem quite happy with this state of affairs, contenting themselves with the very simple entertainments on offer - 1950s rather than 21st century sorts of things, mainly:
For the more racy, admittedly there is the odd place where you can feel as modern as the early 1960s:

Each evening, before any dancing of any sort begins, however, crowds hurry through the dusk towards a concrete edged pond with a very ugly fountain contraption in its centre - I suspect it was generously contributed by the pre-1989 regime.

The swarming hordes gather around this hideous object and wait, watching it do nothing, in reverent silence. The scene struck me as faintly creepy the first time I saw it, (uneasy memories of The Stoning stirred in the back of my mind).

It wasn't as bad as Shirley Jackson's horrid vision though. All that happened was that at a given moment, the fountain burst into life and a rather scratchy record began to play over a rather poor quality sound system:

Not only did everyone watch the graceless sploshing of the fountain and never glance at the pretty building right next to it, they actually burst into applause once the whole thing was over:

Just think about that - they were clapping two pre-programmed machines.

Ah well. Just one more thing that makes me wonder if I'm actually an alien, while those I think of as my fellow humans are not in fact my fellows at all.

By the way, to describe Marienbad as a town is probably misleading - it is actually a park which someone has scattered with enormous old hotels. The hotels offer all the usual alarming kinds of treatments, involving mud and gas and heaven knows what else that are par for the course at spas across Central and Eastern Europe:
Anyone fancy a nice injection of gas?

Needless to say, cowards that we are, we tried none of them, choosing instead to stroll about, wishing that the First World War had never happened and the sedate way of life that Marienbad was part of had never been smashed.

Our fellow visitors - mostly elderly, (Marienbad is one of the few places in the world where I still feel very young), and tending toward white shoes, white trousers and brilliantly coloured tops as their fashion statements, (see first video for the kind of thing I mean), when they were not being slathered in mud, or worse, or dancing gracefully despite their enormous stomachs, walked about very slowly and stopped regularly for a little something at one or other of Marienbad's cafes.

Once upon a time though, if the town's museum is to be believed, Marienbad's visitors were rather more illustrious. They included Kafka:



Strauss, (the waltz one I think):


Albert Schweizer (plus organ, as always - I wonder if children are told about Schweizer these days; he seemed to be mentioned constantly when I was young, although this is the first picture I've ever seen of him - until this point, I'd always had a vague idea of a beard and a pith helmet, but apparently not [although wasn't he disgraced or unrehabilitated, if that is a word, at some point, and consequently condemned as a paternalistic racist or something?])

plus plenty of others of equal or greater note.

Perhaps the two patrons the town is most proud of are Goethe and King Edward VII. Both stayed at the Weimar Hotel, which has fallen on hard times but is still fairly splendid in a battered kind of way:

Goethe interests me more than the King, especially as he is supposed to have had a sad, Death in Venice type of final infatuation while in Marienbad, which may have led to him proposing to this lovely girl:

Her name was Ulrike and she came from here:

Ulrike never married, and this is her in later life:

I suspect there is a poignant story attached to this episode. Unfortunately, at the Marienbad Museum they have misguidedly allowed someone to tell it through the medium of Spitting Image figures:

Goethe presents his compliments
A lovelorn Goethe takes to his bed (note chamber pot detail - no Romantic tidying for this artist)
Whoever was responsible for these unattractive objects, (I've spared you the full set), also decided to apply the same technique to Edward VII and Franz Josef, portraying them together, each with their feet in chamber pots, ( a theme is developing):

If anything, in this case the artist has flattered Edward, who does not generally come out looking quite that benign:

A couple of menus from the time provide an idea of why perhaps cures were needed in the first place:

One also begins to understand why Edward was, to put it politely, somewhat on the portly side of the spectrum:

Whether his wife - whose picture in the museum displays a slightly Diana-ish wounded quality in her expression - did not accompany him to Marienbad each year because she wanted a break from sharing a bed with that bulky stomach:

or whether because of the presence there of his 'friend', whose picture is also displayed, without comment:

I could not possibly say. However, I do like the inverted commas in this headline from the Sketch:

I can't decide which bit of Marienbad I liked best. There was the colonnade, with its own bandstand, where a not terribly brilliant orchestra made up for lack of skill with great enthusiasm, as they worked their way through various things by Smetana, observed by what I suspect may be the most exotic creature to have appeared in Marienbad for a very long time:

Actually I'm not sure anyone can look genuinely Bohemian in the vicinity of a push chair, but I'm told he's a well-known conductor
The only drawback to the colonnade was the adjacent fountain. Apart from that it was so lovely, in fact, that I appear to have deleted all my photographs of it.

Another contender for favourite Marienbad feature would have to be the numerous beautiful trees. It is never easy to capture the glory of large trees in a photograph, but here's a huge and lovely copper beech, to give you a vague idea:

Then there was its abundance of 19th century buildings, replete with decorative faces:

You didn't really think I'd be content with Pinterest and Tumblr and be able to resist slipping a few stone faces back into this blog, did you?

I love the folly of places called Paradise - there is one just back from Apollo Bay on the Victorian coast that particularly appeals to me as it is bleak enough to have comprehesively smashed the dreams of whichever optomist gave it its grandiose name 

Ultimately, I suppose what beat all Marienbad's other attractions for me though was the best art nouveau domestic building I've ever seen, (as a bit of a balcony fetishist, I have to say: that balcony is a world beater):


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