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New Europe

Day One Hundred and Nine: Tatra Mountains to Brno

Brno station. 
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Czech railway woman at Brno station.
Michael Palin - New EuropeTurba, a big man with a head of snow-white hair and a ruddy face dominated by a powerful beak of a nose, has now returned home, but his back gives him problems so he performs less and spends more time teaching a class of what he calls movement artists. He asks me to join them for a session. I've always been resistant to mime, admiring it in others but unable to get to grips with it myself, so why I end up impersonating a cockerel in Brno, God only knows, but I put it largely down to Turba's powerful, persuasive, gently applied charisma.

Apart from his intimidating instruction at the start of each exercise - 'Preparation for art - Now! - I enjoy being drawn in and Turba's authoritative but soft-voiced suggestions create such an intimacy that I forget feeling silly and go for it. We play mirrors and use masks and imitate dogs and farmyard animals, and I find myself thoroughly enjoying the ability to communicate with a group of Czech students without being able to speak a word of their language.

When we go for a coffee one of the students pays me the ultimate compliment.

'We have only seen young people doing this.'

The afternoon train from Brno to Prague is a smart, modern tilting one on its way from Vienna to Berlin. There is some poignancy in all this for Prague was, back in the fourteenth century, the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, a golden city at the heart of Europe, quite overshadowing faction-racked Vienna, with Berlin a mere trading outpost in the distant north.

A combination of poor rulers and being on the losing, Protestant, side in fierce religious wars turned the tables and from the mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries, it was the Hapsburg capital of Vienna that took Prague's place at the hub of Central Europe.

As we glide, tiltless, across the flat plain, out of what was once Moravia and into what was once Bohemia, I think back to the last time I saw Prague. It was in the 1980s and when I asked the friend who was showing me around what was happening in his country he moved me, smoothly but firmly, into the middle of the street where, he told me in a low aside, it was safer to talk. Politics was dangerous then.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day One Hundred and Nine: Tatra Mountains to Brno
  • Country/sea: Czech Republic
  • Place: Brno
  • Book page no: 257

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