|Petr assuming the guise of Grímnir|
The pieces born in his mind and formed in his hands come not only from there, but also from elsewhere. There is an impressive amount of study and experience behind Petr's design and craft, but there is also a certain element that cannot be accounted for among waking life. There is a channeling, a tapping of ancient things beneath his pieces that are not entirely tangible. Anyone can make a blade incorporating wrought iron, carve some Salin style II serpent-ornamentation on the antler handle and call it "period". There is a harmony beyond subtlety that transcends technical perfection and artistic style. This sense permeates Petr's work.
An avid Viking-age reenactor, Petr is outfitted with highly functional and comfortable Viking belongings. I can barely describe how deliciously cozy it is to sleep outside on a wooden bed under a linen roof swathed in rabbit fur for two weeks, many nights in the driving rain, sometimes in the gentle whispering of trees.
That night I sat under the stars at the table by my tent with Petr, Baška, and two bottles of good wine, exercising our cross-cultural conversational skills while discussing politics and spirituality, a habit that did not lessen throughout my stay (though the tension around it did, considerably). In the wee hours we retired, all of us working the following day, but it was the beginning of a friendship that I was both excited to pursue and eager to see what fruits it would bear. Baška, Petr, and their incredible children gave me their full selves, open and unabashed, and I can't put into words my gratitude for the time and spirit they showed me. I can only contribute to the growth of our friendship which will last for many years to come, hopefully in many forms and adventures!
Needless to say, the majority of my time was spent sharing Petr's shop with him, and often using it alone when he spent time with his family. Somehow, we managed to fit lots of conversation and adventures into the times between making, and that's what this blog post is for--the work can wait.
can be found here. We spent long days chopping down and cutting up trees (all with axes), carrying them a distance, stripping them of bark with draw knives, charring the ends of vertical beams, planting them with rocks--by the end I was sore and tired and not much help anymore. But we were well rewarded with a bright fire, good bread (everywhere in the Czech Republic), meat, cheese, beer, and strong, clean air.
|Petr, Mira, me, and Ráďa (left to right), definitely exhausted.|
It was almost difficult to comprehend where I was and what I was seeing: the gravity and implications of 40,000 skulls is not something grasped easily within my own cranium. I felt like just another skull, honestly. On every wall, bundles of bones hung like dried flowers, and muted light from the windows cast everything in a sort of gray. The ornamentation hovered somewhere on the border of morbid and ironic. Such a dichotomy may have been symbolically alluded to in the intersecting circles playing across the vaulted ceilings (there's an architectural vesica for you, Peter Johnsson!). Lately I have been reading about the proliferation of witch-hunts in Europe in the 17th century, and the driving force seems to have been a combination of severe repression and crushing boredom among the religious and illiterate, which encompassed practically everyone. I can only assume that such a situation could be what drove priests to exhume tens of thousands of skeletons and arrange them like so many Lego bricks.
This is just one of the ancient and alien places we visited, and I don't if I'll ever comprehend the nature of places so long built upon by humans. The film of civilization seems transparent by comparison in most parts of America, but often more vulgar. I think I feel it most in churches: those in Europe know more of the struggle and secrets of the spiritualism of a people. I am not a religious person but there's something to feel in those stones, as with so many other things so intertwined with the past.
St. Barbara's church and Prague Castle were awesome to behold, filling your body with the presence and ideas of countless people of the past, slipped between the stones and hovering in the shadowed corners waiting to be found. As breathtaking as grand scale is, I usually find most joy in the smaller or more out-of-the-way things, details, or coincidences. One of my favorite adornments of St. Barbara's was this fresco in a window alcove. Though huge (possibly 20 feet tall), it could not compete with the majesty of the whole church, and enjoyed its muted sunlight in quiet contemplation. It portrayed a raggedly-dressed man, bearded and barefoot striding across a stream with a great walking stick. There was no explanation, but my mind went instantly to a Wanderer archetype, an Odin or Berggeist or Grímnir forever seeking, like Petr's grim visage at the top of my post.