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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

A Day (two hours) at Pruhonicky Park

As October grows deep, the Prague weather has been mild. This weekend had been forecast to the 60s. But alas, the fog stayed thick today. Nevertheless, we journeyed (55 mins) to Pruhonicky Park and walked through its vast countryside, which include gardens, streams, ponds, and thousands of deciduous trees which turn strikingly colorful in the autumn.

We were hoping that the fog would still lift. The bus dropped us off at 1pm, and the castle is just behind the square. The castle/mansion/chateau sits atop a promontory that looks out to the first of its man-made lakes. Evidently, this was a working estate in the 18th century. Today it is a national park, and for a small fee you can tour its miles of trails and paths all day long.

I think we caught the park at its Zenith of color. Some trees we missed by one week, but otherwise, the hues were vivid. We had a sandwich lunch on a bench beside the main lake, and then walked into the deep end of the park, about two kilometers. Then we circled around and passed next to the botanical gardens, and onward back into the chateau, and then out. I think I’ll let the photos tell the day’s story:

The low-level light allowed for some dramatic reflections off the ponds.


Notice the jacket Asia is wearing … very autumnal, n’est’ce pas?


One of my passions in life is to walk through tunnels of colorful autumn leaves.



My little Nikon point-and-shoot still takes a good shot or two….


This shot is truly a “print-that-mofo” shot


Asia does a yoga tree pose … and it’s straighter than the real trees!


The colors are just amazing … almost better than being there. Almost!


Nice woman! … and the pond reflection is okay, too.


Me, in the autumn … with flask of brandy in my pocket (some in my belly 😉 ))

Our Hradcany Walk

As autumn fast approaches, this Sunday morning broke sunny. I had planned to write all morning, but days like today will soon be a memory. It seemed better to make this morning more notable than merely taking notes and writing four pages.

I asked Asia if she wanted to take the #22 tram up to the castle, walk through its courtyards and then down along the deer moat, finally escaping out well behind the Hradcany squares, and through Petrin Park. Asia’s a morning-walker, so she agreed. I announced we would leave in one hour! She said, “Oi!”

It’s best to do anything early on a weekend. The tourists are out after 11am. And so are the Czechs, awakened from their drunken slumbers after yesterday’s big wine festival. Anyway, we beat the rush, and only had to wend our way through islands of tourists in the castle courtyards. The sun is at a good angle this time of year, which reflects off the gilt facades.

When the gates to the gardens opened at 10, we walked along the Orangery and down the steep trail into the deer moat. It’s so peaceful in this moat valley, and cool in the shade; view up the escarpment to the castle walls are ancient, picturesque, and dramatic.

Few people anywhere; tourists trapped on the bridge high above us. In the cave between the north and south moats, we took ghoulish photos.

One of the minor Hapsburg palaces, well behind the castle, has now opened its gardens to the public, and we walked through this 10-acre site.

Lots of benches sit under shady trees; topiary hedges dot the grounds like a lot of tossed gumdrops. Then we went through Petrin Park, which has, arguably, the best views of the city along the river and all the church spires.

We walked down through the park and hopped on the #22 coming back across the river and up the hill to our neighborhood. By now many of the unwashed had come out (only their God knows why they can’t smell themselves; perhaps an idea would be to send another 40-day flood to wash out the filthy).

Our treat for the day shall be homemade cottage fries, half in the pan and half baked. With lots of salt and mayonnaise. And, there’s still plenty of time to fiddle with my novel, if’n a bout of sleepy-head doesn’t grab us for a lazy afternoon snooze.


What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

The Writing Life: Scene Location

I went to the park this morning. Writing was on my mind; my new novel is seeping through my cranium cracks, but I’m wearing a hat to soak up the ooze while I do some further scene & character development. Thus, I needed to get out of the house for fresh fields, lateral vision, and the scent of automated life outside my palace apartment.

Down the street lies a beautiful park with an ancient (restored) vineyard, sloping hills and flat lawns, lush pine greenwoods, a fashioned grotto with fountain and labyrinthine “rocks,” and a cascading waterfall w/pond surrounded by oak, maple, pine, and chestnuts. The latter is where I sat to read through my notes, noodle with scenes, and capture dialogue of some characters yet “solid” in my mind.

Before I got up to the waterfall, however, I had walked along a path lined by weeping pines and European plane trees, silver-hued rhododendrons and flowering begonias. As I walked I thought of my characters, now married and the husband, a painter, asking his wife to model for him nude while she’s pregnant with their first child. Hardly a prude, her only stipulation is that he paint her outdoors. This, she thinks, should break his resolve. But no, he’s all for that, and has the perfect place: a forest, west of the city, secluded from dawn to noontime, when the chill air is swept out by summer breezes.

What I had imagined as I walked along this path was about thirty places that could work for these “painting” scenes: from western Illinois to Malta to the French Alps to a Venetian urban park, and all the way back to a Midwest golf course on which I first learned to play the game. But all of those places — as vivid in memory as nearly anything I’d experienced — didn’t seem as suddenly real as the very park in which I stood.

“Here is your location,” I thought. Here were indeed nice frames in which, wonderfully and suddenly (such as inspiration strikes) a nude pregnant mother-to-be might be seen, on a canvas, as a classical figure. This is what she would become under the guided artistry of her husband.

I took out my camera and began taking pictures. What? Of course!

These are canvases in which — on which — I only had to see and insert my leading lady. This, I realized, was something how (I don’t known for sure, because I’ve not worked on a film production) a location director finds places for film scenes. Of course, I could have walked around for awhile and taken notice of settings, nooks, crannies, and grottoes … but I wanted an exactness because, for these scenes, my artist-protagonist is fascinated with the various chroma of the flora that surrounds him. Inspired? Indeed!

A few thoughts about what happened today.

Firstly, I’ve worked for years now with the notion that — so well espoused by Eudora Welty in her Paris Review interview of 1972 — wherever I’m at and whomever I’m with can somehow infiltrate my story. So when I turned 360 degrees to see where I was in this park, I saw parts of this grand stage that I could use in my story. Thus, the photographs.

Secondly, I was reminded of Ezra Pound’s tutoring the young Ernest Hemingway by, among other things, taking him to the Louvre to look at paintings, and asking him to think about how he would write a description of the particular scene before which they stood. (Pound also, famously, instructed Hemingway to read the Russians and the French to learn how to write short stories — but that’s for another blog post.)

Lastly, the story of Vladimir Nabokov teaching literature at Cornell University struck me as particularly relevant. He told his students that if they were going to read Joyce’s “Ulysses” they best have a map of Dublin nearby as they worked their way through the story.

While much of any story setting can come from real places, we often must place scenes in invented spaces — most scenes happen indoors, and whose house or apartment or office are you thinking of while you write? — but for those scenes that are specific for so many reasons, not least of which is the imagery you want to convey to the reader, actual places are integral to your creativity and for the story’s success.


What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.