Hotellrom i Oslo by Nordahl Grieg

I’ve been re-reading some Nordahl Grieg again and decided to give another go to translating one of his poems. This time it’s “Hotellrom i Oslo” / “Oslo Hotel Room”. The poem comes from his 1925 collection Stene i Strømmen (1925).

Below, I’ve ordered the poem with a stanza in Norwegian followed by my translation into English and then the English altogether in one so you get a sense of what I’ve done. The poem is written in rhyming couplets in Norwegian, but I have dispensed with this for the translation.

Hotellrom i Oslo

Her sitter jeg på sengen i et fremmed, koldt, hotell,

og min hånd er full av lengsel mot annen hånd ikveld.

I sit on the bed of a frozen cold hotel

my hand full of longing for another hand tonight.

 

Enshomheten slår fra gaten, aldri før så bittert ny,

fottrinn, skygger, buelamper, suset fra den mørke by.

Loneliness rises from the street, never so bitter before,

footsteps, shadows, arc lights, shaken from the dark city.

 

Der blir menske møtt av menske, med et rop, et blikk, et smil.

Mellom meg og dem dernede er det tusener av mil.

People meeting people, with a shout, a look, a smile.

Between me and them a thousand miles.

 

Ja, jeg sitter sitter her så ensom at det hvisker i mitt sinn:

er det sant jeg noensinne holdt en annen hånd i min?

So lonely, sitting here, a whisper in my mind I hear:

Is it so I’ll never hold another hand in mine?

 

Men blant alle øde skygger er det som jeg innerst vet:

aldri har mitt hjerte elsket før i denne ensomhet!

Among these desolate shadows I know full-well:

Never have I ever loved before this loneliness!

 

La de andre bare møtes, la dem gå forlovet hjem

til det aftensbord som venter tusen aftener på dem!

Let the others meet, let them go home engaged

to their evening table waiting with a thousand evenings!

 

Mine lengsler seiler lenger, over hav og kveld og gry.

Jeg behøver ingen sporvogn klokken syv til Homansby!

My longing sails longer, over sea and evening and dawn.

I don’t need the 7pm to Homansby!

 

Men er rikere enn disse som hver løs og ledig stund

kan få ta sin elsktes hender eller kysse hennese munn.

In each and every idle moment, I’m richer

I can hold my lover’s hand and kiss her mouth.

 

Oslo Hotel Room

I sit on the bed of a frozen cold hotel

my hand full of longing for another hand tonight.

 

Loneliness rises from the street, never so bitter before,

footsteps, shadows, arc lights, shaken from the dark city.

 

People meeting people, with a shout, a look, a smile.

Between me and them a thousand miles.

 

So lonely, sitting here, a whisper in my mind I hear:

Is it so I’ll never hold another hand in mine?

 

Among these desolate shadows I know full-well:

Never have I ever loved before this loneliness!

 

Let the others meet, let them go home engaged

to their evening table waiting with a thousand evenings!

 

My longing sails longer, over sea and evening and dawn.

I don’t need the 7pm to Homansby!

 

In each and every idle moment, I’m richer

I can hold my lover’s hand and kiss her mouth.

 

 

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Witnessing the Rune Stone

A little over a two and half hours’ drive from Oslo—near the village of Tuddal and under the towering impression of Gausta, Telemark County’s highest peak—there is a rune stone that stands high on a mountain path.

If you are leaving from Oslo, to get there you head west out of Norway’s capital past Bærum and Drammen, in the direction of Kongsberg—a town built first on the back of silver mining and later on munitions. Passing through Kongsberg you next arrive at Notodden. Once a booming industry town, it was part of a hydroelectric network that powered much of this part of Norway. The hydroelectric plant, which sits right on the water, is now part of a UNESCO world heritage site celebrating industry. Notodden is also famous these days for its annual Blues festival. There is also the Blueseum—a museum to the history of blues music that also serves as the main public library for the people of Notodden. From here you begin the swing away from the water and start to head inland.

Past Notodden you reach Heddal, an innocuous looking village with a star attraction: a twelfth-century stavkirke (stave church), a type of square, high wooden church that is unique to Norway.

After the stavkirke in Heddal, you come to Sauland, the administrative heart of Hjartdal kommune, where further on the road you find the long stretched out village of Tuddal. Tuddal’s “centre” has all you would expect of a small rural village in Norway. There’s the local Church of Norway church in its white wood paneling, the local school, a kro—a kind of canteen and inn—a little museum and arts centre, and because we are so close to one of Norway’s most popular mountains, a camping site and small restaurant that operates in the high season.

To get to the rune stone you drive through the village before taking a turn up right onto a steep road that corkscrews in a variety of hairpin bends before finally, thankfully, flattening out. To your left there is a large body of water, Toskjervatn as the locals call it in their nynorsk dialect, or Toskjærvannet as it is in bokmål. About two kilometres along this road on your left-hand side, you will find the Tuddal høyfjellshotell. Built in the nineteenth century and beautifully decorated, this wooden hotel is part of a network of hotels (høyfjell means high mountain) that sprung up in Norway in the 1800s to give people a place while exploring the natural beauty of their country, all a part of the nation building Romanticism and enjoyment of sublime nature that marked this period.

A little beyond this hotel you will come to a group of very old, much less grand buildings on the side of the road. This is the old summer seter,  a series of buildings used in the same way as a shieling, where it was possible, at one time, to get farm fresh milk, cream and cheese from the locals. The real hunt for the rune stone begins here.

Hiking out from this spot, you first go through grassy land that—in the summer at least—is rich in crowberries, blueberries, juniper berries and blueberries. As you move along you come to a birch wood forest. You begin to hear the burbling of a strong stream that comes from a waterfall down from the mountains above you to your right. Crossing over the stream, which runs a reddish colour because of the iron in the rocks, you make a steep ascent that doesn’t take long but is intense. Once you reach this small peak, you start along a series of winding paths through small foothills that are also covered in beds of various berries. Following a well-beaten path you curve around the base of two mountains known collectively as the knees of the much taller Gaustatoppen. As your path snakes round, you come into more open and windy ground. With the knees to your right and slightly behind you, the peak of Gaustatoppen should now be visible nearby. It is here, along this path, that you will find the rune stone, slanted slightly but upright.

***

The first time I hiked up here in search of the rune stone, I walked straight past it. I mistook it for an old milestone marker along the path rather than for what it was: a piece of living history that stretches back around 1000 years.

        Standing upright with the help of other stones at its base, the rune stone is about four or five feet tall. The side facing outwards is covered in dead and living moss, centuries old. It is along the left-hand side of the beautiful piece of stone that you will the runic inscription:

ᛡᛅᛁᛚᛆᛍᚽᛆᚦᚢᚮᛐᛂ

Which has been written up as: Hæila se aþ uote. This means “rock slab/stone be as a witness”. This gnomic phrase immediately begs the question: witness what?

        There are several theories as to what the rune stone was erected as a witness to. One local history recounts the story of a beautiful local woman who died up there in the unforgiving open ground while waiting on her lover whom she had arranged to meet in this spot. A more prosaic explanation of the rune stone’s job is to stand as a witness to a boundary between one area and another. Although the boundary has shifted somewhat over a thousand years, it is believed that this was its original function: to set, literally, in stone an agreement about where one area of land ended and another began.

        It’s hard not to think that both explanations have equal weight. Perhaps both are true. Standing up here in the pass, it is difficult not to imagine it as a perfect meeting spot for two lovers seeking some privacy—especially if it was a secret love. This spot is the backdrop that gives rise to ballads. If we accept the more prosaic version, that it is simply a boundary marker then it is still remarkable that it was marked in this way. A stone carved with a phrase that was both specific and nebulous, inviting questions.

***

        One thing you will notice when examining the runic inscription is that the runes are very nearly faded. They now form a part of a palimpsest of text on this rock. A palimpsest that bears witness not just to the death of a lover left waiting, nor of a settled dispute over land boundaries. Instead, it speaks to the human desire to say I too was here: I lived once and stood on this spot, looking at the same view as you who came before me and those of you yet to come after me.

        This rune stone is no museum piece. Therein lies its power. There are few monuments that are a thousand years old that we get to experience beyond temperature-controlled glass, not as part of an exhibit, nor with accompanying text. Understanding them requires seeing them in their place. Standing in front of the rune stone here below the knees of Gaustatoppen is to stand in front of human history. It forces us to imagine and to ask questions. Who put this here? What kind of lives did they lead? We have some answers of course, in the inscription, in the location. There are also other questions to be asked.

This is because this rune stone is covered in graffiti. Not graffiti as we now know and understand the term, but a different kind of graffiti from the 18th and 19th Centuries. As you read along the rune stone making out the fading lines of the runic inscription, it is the initials or the years carved into the stone, sometimes right over a line from the original runes that strike you.

My first reaction to this was a kind of horror at the desecration of this historic artefact. Yet, the more I thought on it the more I understood the impulse, of these people from 1776 and 1800, and other years since, to make their own mark on this rune stone. It is an intensely human need to show that we were here.

        The rune stone, which, based on the kind of runic alphabet it uses, dates most likely from some time in the 9th or 10th Century has stood in the same spot since a person or group of people decided to lift it from the ground, place it in its spot, and etch into it “rock slab be as a witness”. It has been witnessing ever since. It has witnessed more than a thousand cycles of the seasons. People and animals have crossed its path hundreds and thousands of times. They have died but it remains. Their lives, if ever remembered, now forgotten. The rune stone goes on witnessing.

        Standing next to the rune stone, contemplating it, running my fingers along the outline traces of the original runes you begin to understand something: that the boundary the rune stone really marks is the one between life and death. Between the short span of our mortality in the face of its near-permanence. This is the lesson of history: we are here for a short time, much has gone before us and something will surely follow after us. It is our job to witness this, to be aware that we will pass on one day, but this rune stone will likely still stand, here along the mountain pass, witnessing the next cycle of seasons, and all that comes with it, after us.
Notes: My main sources for the apparent meanings of the runestone and it’s gnomic inscription are the Aberdeen Skaldic Project, and Ivar T. Dahl’s Glimt av Tuddal før i Verden (1998) and Magnus Olsen’s Norges innskrifter med de yngre runer. 2 : V. Buskerud fylke ; VI. Vestfold fylke ; VII. Telemark fylke (1951). The latter especially was indispensable.

Wretched Strangers: Available to Pre-Order Now!

Today marks the 2nd anniversary of Britain’s historic vote to leave the European Union. I remember the day of the vote and the morning after when the shock result came through. I was living in Prague but was preparing to move home for the summer before moving once more to Norway. It was this very freedom of movement which a thin majority of the British people voted against, although most treated the vote to leave to the EU as a referendum not on membership of the EU and it’s institutions but rather as a referendum on immigration.

In the two years since then, Brexit and how it will function – what it means for those EU and EEA citizens living in the UK is still unclear. Likewise, the reality of sharing a border with Ireland – almost never discussed during the run up to the vote – now looms large in shaping what kind of Brexit can take effect. One of the few things that was clear in the immediate aftermath of Brexit was that many in Britain saw the vote as a chance to exercise openly a more aggressive and violent attitude towards immigrants and people of colour in the UK.

Wretched Strangers, a new book of poetry edited by JT Welsch and Agi Lehoczky, is a response to that, two years after Brexit. I am very proud to be one among many of the contributors to the book, which is available to pre-order now for just £12. ALL proceeds from the book go towards charities that help promote the rights of refugees. If you believe in a better world than the one Brexit signifies, read this book!

Headstuff Article on class and reading

Headstuff published a short feature article of mine today on their site about what it means to be a reader from a working-class background. It’s a topic I’ve wanted to write about for many years, but haven’t had the courage until now to tackle it. This is a topic I’ve been thinking about since I first started thinking about class way back in my teenage years. Books like Richard Hoggart’s Uses of Literacy have helped me think through the meanings of being a working-class reader and the uses to which I put my own literacy. Here’s a short extract from the full article, which can be read here:

This is what happens to the self-conscious, the working-class reader: their education – set by those who they seek most to impress – teaches them to reject out of hand, because of its register, the place where they might actually first engage with reading – the only place perhaps.

Free Poetry: Irish Anthology

A new free anthology of Irish poetry, edited by Ellen Dillon is now available to read / download / print out from Martin Corless-Smith’s FREE POETRY website. The poets included are Ellen Dillon, Sheila Mannix, Anamaria Crowe Serrano, Sarah Hayden, Kit Fryatt, Trevor Joyce, David Lloyd, myself, Cal Doyle, Karl Parkinson, Fergal Gaynor, Aodan MacArdle, Geoffrey Squires & Christodolous Makris.

As such it represents a broad conception of what ordinarily would constitute “Irish” poetry & puts in one place a host of exciting new and established voices from Irish poetry, broadly conceived. Follow the link:

FREE POETRY: IRISH ANTHOLOGY

 

Books (and other things) of 2017

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A piece by Mainie Jellett, one of the artist’s featured in a retrospective of Irish female modernists, held earlier this year at Greyfriar’s Gallery, Waterford.

There’s still a good three weeks left in the year I know, but I’ve decided to put up my list of my books for the year and one or two other things that I enjoyed in 2017. As with previous years, not everything I read this year came out this year. Any way, for what its’s worth here’s my choices for good books and other things from the past twelve months (in no particular order):

Fastness – Trevor Joyce

Joyce’s new book is a modern rendering of Edmund Spenser’s Mutability cantos.

Ghosts – Sean Bonney

A new pamphlet from MATERIALS, it will rattle around in your head for days on end.

A Line Made By Walking – Sara Baume

A brilliant second novel from the author of Spill Simmer Falter Wither.

Autumn – Karl Ove Knausgård

The English translation of Knausgård’s first in his latest cycle of books – ostensibly a series of letters and explanations to his unborn daughter, the subject matter is wide ranging and unusual.

Essayism – Brian Dillon

An essay on the essay, but there’s nothing lazy or predictable about this brilliant short book.

Games without Frontiers – Joe Kennedy

The best book you’ll read on football and what it means now. A short, sharp book, it says a lot of what needs to be said about the state of the modern game and how engage with it.

Word by Word – Kory Stamper

A brilliant memoir of life working at the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and a love affair with words and their meanings. An homage to the power of reading and its emancipatory power.

Sillion– Johnny Flynn

A superb album of folky stompers. On an album full of highlights particular highlight is Flynn’s Yeats-inspired ‘Wandering Aengus’, and ‘Tarp in the Prop’ and ‘In Your Pockets.’

Swims – Elizabeth-Jane Burnett

A single poem made of many poems, in which the author swims in rivers, lakes and the coasts of Britain – mixing memory, history, and ecopolitics and poetics.

Hode ved Hode – Cronqvist, Bjørlo, Munch @ Munch Museet, Oslo

Two contemporary artists place their work next to their favourite pieces – the results are intriguing and sometimes unsettling.

Between The Earth & Sky – Lankum

The second album from the Dublin band formerly known as Lynched, highlights include ‘The Granite Gaze’ and their slow version of ‘The Turkish Reveille’.

King of the Vikings – Waterford, Ireland

A brilliant interactive engagement with Waterford and Ireland’s Viking history in the heart of Waterford’s Viking Triangle. Did it earlier this year with my family and we all thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Beyond the Stars: The Mystical Landscape from Monet to Kandinsky – Musee d’Orsay, Paris

A superb and wide ranging exhibition of paintings which was mounted earlier this year. I was lucky enough to be in Paris on a weekend break when this was on.

‘Maine, Evie, Mary and Grace’: Women Who Led the Modernist Movement in Irish Art – Greyfriars Gallery, Waterford

This exhibition ran until the end of September in Waterford’s Municipal art gallery and was a fantastic retrospective showing the power of women in Modernist art in Ireland.

 

 

 

October Evening on Karl Johan

After a long summer hiatus from me, I’m back with a translation of Nordahl Grieg’s Oktoberaften på Karl Johan. The poem comes from his 1925 collection Stene i Strømmen (Stones in the Stream).

October Evening on Karl Johan

From the Norwegian of Nordahl Grieg

 

Dizzy my red heart, as down I come

from Slottsparken’s rain grey mist into

the street fantasy.

Dazzling arc lights a hundred white moons

stiff in flight in the space here

above Karl Johan.

 

Rain sinks streetward

the shine back of the lights

tram lamps stripe wet trees.

Dazzling the letters over the darkness

spelling F R E I A

tigers fanning out in the autumn evening.

 

Phosphorescence dark & sizzling

the fire of youth crawls along the cold coast

of buildings —

The air charged with mockery, light without cease.

 

O,

here our street,

the pining dodging night,

where swirling heart, & fire light burns,

where nerves get played to death, singing violins

pain & it’s own cheering because of

our continuation.

 

 

A Spectator

Every once in a while you read a book that prompts you to rethink your own ideas that you have about a subject. I’ve just read Joe Kennedy’s Games Without Frontiers from Repeater Books. It’s made me revisit an old essay of  mine which I have been sitting on for a while. I wrote it while living in Prague and spending my time following my local club there, Bohemians 1905. Following Bohemians for little over a season helped mme understand better my ideas about football and its social function. It also helped me better understand my own fandom,  and what it means to be a supporter of a club when you live away. That means finding a new club but also they way it reinforces and changes your relationship with your home club. As Kennedy concludes “football is only ever a microcosm of whatever exists in our broader social settings”. I am still developing and changing my ideas of what fandom looks like here in Norway, but this essay captures a moment when I was trying to find my place in Prague and also at the same time, understand what role, if any, football has to play in social formation. So here it is, the essay, unedited and unupdated as I wrote it almost a year ago. I am sharing it now because I thought and still think it was well written even if the ideas expressed are no longer directly relevant to my lived experience at present. 

As an outsider in a foreign country, all you ever are is a spectator. It is how you are oriented to everything, everyone else, in the city. You have no compass but the one given to you by others. Prague runs east to west, not as I am accustomed, north to south in its orientation. This is a deep form of orientation. Ingrained. Though in their minds this is Central, not Eastern Europe, I am Western. This is resolute. In the map of the city which I am granted by those who live here, those who I talk to, I am always approaching from the west.  This is an orientation I am unable to escape.

I live on the east side of town. Crimea. Sevastapol. Kharkiv. The River Don that runs southeast to Voronezh. My home lies on The River Don, on Donská. From my apartment window I look up the hill Kozácká, named for the Cossacks. Around the corner, runs The Black Sea. The Crimea bleeds seamlessly into Moscow, before it, in turn, encompasses the Caucases. These are my immediate borders. My streets. At my tram stop, the Crimea, there is graffiti which read Včera my, Dneska ty. Our yesterday, your today. It is painted blue and yellow. The colours of the Ukraine. There can be no mistaking the meaning. It is punctuated by a yellow heart. Here, in Vršovice, all of my surrounding streets are named for countries. Estonia runs parallel to Norway runs parallel to Finland. At the foot of each of these is Copehagen. Armenia. Moldova. Murmansk. Deeper into this part of town there is Ulyanov street. A street for the Altai mountains. A street for the Bashkir peoples of Turkey. For the 28th Regiment of the Red Army. Magnitogorsk. Yalta. Lvov. Carpathia. Yerevan. Cuba Square. Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan. Kazakhstan. Kirgizstan. Here, in Vršovice, these streets all flow from one great avenue, Russia. These streets a map, of Communism, of the East. Their yesterday. Something of which they were once a part. Their addresses a daily reminder of the greater project. It’s ghost lingering in red street signs with white lettering and blue borders.

Prague must be one of the most mapped cities in Europe. There are countless mapped versions of Prague. Cartoonish ones for tourists with giant drawings of the major landmarks, bordered by ads for pub crawls, ghost tours, casinos. In these, the limits of the city are stark. There are maps for the discerning tourist with cool, clean lines. It assumes a certain amount of knowledge is already held by the reader of the map. It is about getting off the beaten track. The unbeaten track is still mapped. There is the map of Prague on my phone, dazzling with the stars of saved places. I am always its centre. Its heart. I am my own tiny blue dot. Each yellow star forming a criss-crossed constellation of my eating and drinking habits. Of haircuts and work. You could with this map trace and traverse my life in this city. You could live as I have lived. It would double over on itself a dozen times, like the accordion folds of any map. You would know my borders, my limits.

My favourite asterism is the starry plough. When I first started seeing Miriam, I would visit her in Tábor, an hour and half south of Prague. As we walked one night around the illuminated, still-standing walls of this medieval city, I noticed the stars in the sky. It was a clear night. October. I mentioned my love of the starry plough. The big dipper she called it. No, the starry plough. Our aims most modest are, we only want the world, from the plough to the stars. When I think of the starry plough, I think of home. In those eight stars, whether on a field of deep blue, or green, I can map a history of Ireland.

The certainties I had about Prague, about the Czech Republic, have dwindled the longer I’ve lived here. Still I am trying to get a grip on it. I watch football from the terraces on Saturdays. There I am a spectator. But every other day of the week I am still one. I watch as this city, this country, my new home, also changes. From afar, I am a spectator of the changes at home. It is election week in Ireland. I wish I could vote from where I sit. I can’t. Instead I watch. I spectate.

One of the many things I love about Prague is its nearly inexhaustible number of antikvariats, or second-hand bookshops. In each one I visit I feel I am a deep-sea diver. There are corals of ex libris cards, discarded photos, postcards, medals, maps, and diaries. I swim through them, the water feels familiar though the language, the colour, is not.  Their stock in trade is second hand Czech books, which I cannot read, but occasionally I buy these if they are sufficiently interesting to me. Among the books I have bought are a range of different translations of 14th Century French poet and troubadour, Francois Villon, evidently considered sufficiently ideologically sound to be translated at the height of pre-Soviet invasion Czech communism.

Just before Christmas, the American poet Steven Rodefer died. I was lucky enough to have heard him read and to have even spoken to him at various times when I lived in Cork and he visited for the annual Soundeye poetry festival. I know the work of Francois Villon entirely because of him. His translations of Villon in the 1960s, under the moniker of Jean Calais is one of my favourite books of poetry. The week he died, in Prague’s Old Town, killing some time, and keeping out of the rain, I spotted on the poetry shelves of one particular antikvariat with which I am especially familiar, a whole slew of different translations of Villon from the late 1940s and the early 1950s. When I heard of Rodefer’s death I was cursing the fact that among the poetry books I brought from Ireland I didn’t bring his Villon. I wished I had.  I saw these three books and thought I had to buy them. They cost maybe a combined total of 150-,Kč. Though I couldn’t read the Czech, I could recognise something of Steven Rodefer’s own versions of Villon in the typography, the artwork of the books. It was a close proximation, across language, time and geography.

My only other substantial purchases in an antikvariat have been two photography books. One, which I got for 50Kč-, was a photographic history of Czech sport from the 1860s to the beginning of the First World War.  The other was a photo essay of the city of Prague. I bought this photo essay book early in my time in the city, when I was still in an exploratory phase and wanted to imbibe the city in as many ways as I could.

In his 1962 collection of photographs capturing Prague and its people, Praha a Pražané, published by the main publishing house of the Czech state since the period of the First Republic, Orbis, Václav Jírů included a number of photographs of sporting scenes. Along with the touching image of a group of young boys walking toward the open-air ice rink with their skates slung over their shoulder for some hockey in winter, there was also the power of the spartakiad, of speedway racing and more besides, but the most resonant images for me are those of football. As was surely de rigueur for a book of more or less vernacular, or at least social-realist photography taken in early 1960s Czechoslavakia, the images of football included almost obligatory jumpers-for-goalpost snaps.

The book of photographs covers a year in the life of the city, beginning in spring and ending in winter. As well as the jumpers-for-goalposts images of the summer months captured by Jírů, there are two other images of football that capture the game in that era in Czechoslovakia. On one page we see a fence, about ten feet in height, riddled with gaps and along the fence there are men, boys and women with prams, all looking on at the footballing action through the gaps – unable to get in either because of cost or because too many had already been let in. Here we have people straining to watch football. On the facing page, we see what appears to be a gate, but with no turnstile, wide open, and a single man standing, briefcase in hand, watching on as the action unfolds on the pitch. We can see, just barely, the packed stands of the stadium. Part of the book’s “autumn intermezzo” the image on the left is titled “One eye on the game” while that on the right is simply titled “A spectator”. In this last title there is the ambiguity of who is spectator and subject, from the camera lens, to the view that Jírů’s spectator sees of the players on the pitch, and the potential view of a spectator at the far end of the ground looking at Jírů’s subject, and finally, at Jírů as he takes the photograph himself. Borders on all sides. Framed, and framing. The page. The picture. The city.

Aside from being a beautifully poised image, constructed and captured so well, this image has helped me understand Czech football and the country at large as I have lived here. If the photography of Jírů showed the sport of the people with the people clambering to get a view – then it would be nearly impossible to compose a similar picture of the game, and of the Czech people, in today’s climate.

So what is the reality in Prague? In a city where the major ideological battles of the twentieth century have been played out – democracy, fascism and communism all creating a palimpsest here through which you can walk, the history mapped and mappable, the city is one that now embraces the neo-liberal consensus. Yet there are in places a resistance to this.

Sparta Prague, the Czech Republic’s biggest and most successful club, play their home games at Letná Stadion, or the Generali Arena as it is officially known. For a club supposedly the darling of the old Communist regime and the worker, the nasty truth is that in a post-Communist state this is manifested in a decided rightward shift of its hardcore fans – the right-wing tendencies of the Sparta ultras manifests itself all around the local area. As you walk around the leafy Dejvice and Letná area generally you are likely to be met with stickers with taglines like “Good Night Left Side”, a play on the usual antifascist slogan of “Good Night White Pride” in part no doubt a result of the large student population in the area, typically the holders of the city’s liberal flame. Thus Letná is a contested zone between on the one hand the hard-right ultras of Sparta and those opposed to an increasingly nationalistic, right-wing, anti-immigrant culture typical of many post-Communist states in central and eastern Europe.

Ironically, Letná, Dejvice and Holešovice, which make up the catchment area of the club are each popular with expats, usually older more settled ones who have been in the city for between fifteen and twenty years in some cases. Happy to take their money at the gate, nonetheless one wonders how welcome these interlopers would be among the Sparta faithful.

When I first moved here, I saw Bohemians as the natural antidote to this as a football club. The bigger question remains for me however: are Bohemians, their fans, and their stadium a space for the exploration of alternatives to the orthodoxy of neo-liberalism that prevails in the Czech Republic or is it like many such alternative clubs – still fundamentally about the football first and the culture second?

The hope has to be that the culture is of real significance, if not the primary raison d’être. It is my suspicion, having attended Bohemians games for most of this season that most fans are just there to follow their team and have a good time while doing so. For many, politics probably doesn’t come into. You sense there is a degree of apprehension among some Bohemians fans in seeing themselves as the vanguard of an increasingly under-threat alternative culture in the Czech Republic’s capital. But for other fans following the club itself is a political act.

In recent times, the last official squat in Prague was forcibly shut down by a heavy-handed police operation. Following the major floods in the city in 2002, the regeneration that was required was used to gentrify a previously vibrant working-class community making it a centre for new office buildings. Karlín, which had been cheap and thus a good place for many in the city’s artistic community, including artist collectives, was increasingly overrun by new office buildings and subsequently by developers looking to build apartment blocks to house the area’s new office working population. This change has seen the spaces available for artists to work in diminish. The best example of this is the destruction of the former factory that housed the Trafačka collective – occupants of the former industrial site for a number of years until the owner of the building decided that the offers being made to him to demolish the site and build new apartments in its stead became too tempting. This has meant the dispersing of a collective that has operated for eight years.

The end of Trafačka means not alone a reduction of these artists’ collaborative potential but the end of one of Prague’s most celebrated artist groups of the past decade – a real loss to the cultural life of the city. This shows that the values driving Prague forward as a city are hostile to such collectives – be they squats or shared artistic spaces. Even the inoffensive Karlín Studios, which has been around for about ten years, is due to close in 2016. This exhibition space is in a former factory warehouse that has been gutted but developers have decided that it ought to be turned into either offices or apartments or some kind of mixed development. It will be erased. Removed from the physical map of the city.

In the suppression of the city’s small number of squats, the demolition of spaces like those occupied by Trafačka in order to make them into profitable developments for business, one notes the same processes at work as the education provided by the neo-liberal tutors identified by Benjamin Tallis. In two recent essays appearing in Abolishing Prague, Tallis reassessed the paneláks which house the majority of the city’s citizens and also the communist-era architecture spread throughout the city.

The view of panelák housing (think late 60s early 70s social housing flats) held by westerners is unremittingly negative in contrast to the actual lived experience of those in them here in the Czech Republic. Likewise, the brutalist architecture of Prague that Tallis argues is occasionally the equal of Berlin goes against increasingly restricted ideas of what Prague as a city ‘is for’; the city as the tourist sees it is only to operate as a kind of real-life Eurodisney devoid of the things that make such places worth living in in the first place. In how read Prague, its architecture, it history, we are told to keep within the well-defined borders of the cartoonish maps your hostel or hotel furnish you with. The beauty of the Baroque is undeniable, objective. Anything else is heretical, subjective, awkward, a posture. No one, we are told, can really love Kotva.

Despite the demolition of places like Trafačka, other spaces are emerging that at least have the potential to act as engines of a subversive culture, in particular Paralelní Polis – a Bitcoin only café, and educational open office space that plays host to Prague’s crypto-anarchist community of hackers and others who are determined to build an alternative culture in the city. It will remain a clique-ish oddity, but its continued existence is a reminder of broader possibilities. It gives us a different way to read the contours of the city.

What does this have to do with me, with my little constellation of stars, my limits, my borders? The fans of Bohemians and the club are widely seen to share an antipathy for modern football’s pursuit of profit over other concerns. Through its development policy and absolute adherence to the logic of the market Prague may be seen to be preventing the emergence of alternative art spaces and squats that have the potential to help establish the city as a receptive one to creative people operating beyond mainstream culture.

It might be fair to say that in fact Bohemians’ home ground, Ďoliček, the dimple, is an alternative space. Not through a conscious cultivation of a politicised alternative but because in a culture largely uncritical of neo-liberal orthodoxies, any space that offers alternative approaches and culture is welcomed, encouraged and celebrated. When I stand watching Bohemians, I like to think of the club, of its fans, as Jírů’s lonely spectator – watching the game, wondering if it might be better. It too offers itself as a map. Perhaps I will save it and make it part of my constellation.