In our recent article about the Rabbi Loew/Golem trail in Prague, we mentioned the statue of the Iron Knight (or Iron Man) that stands vigil over Prague’s Old Town from a corner in the city hall building. Because the other corner is occupied by a statue of Rabbi Loew himself, and because the legend of the Iron Knight is relatively obscure outside of Prague, an overwhelming number of publications — including many that should be respectable enough to check their facts, like a 1938 issue of Life — misidentify the statue as Rabbi Loew’s golem (a few also identify it as Darth Vader, but what can be done about that?). Of course, it looks nothing like the golem, but with Rabbi Loew hanging around on the other corner, most people assume any strange monstrosity must be his golem.
Which is perhaps why the Iron Knight still hasn’t been able to lift the curse placed on him over four hundred years ago.
The history of Prague seems tailor-made to appeal to a vast number of my personal obsessions, among them my fascination with the history of magic and alchemy and the story of Rabbi Loew and the golem. Modern Prague has not failed to capitalize on this history of mystery and magic, as places like the Museum of Alchemists and Magicians prove. Fans of weird and mystical history owe a debt of gratitude to Emperor Rudolf II, the 16th century Holy Roman emperor who, because of his own obsession with the occult, turned his home base of Prague into the capital of European mysticism and alchemical pursuits. Rudolf II’s endless quest for the Philosopher’s Stone, as well as his craving for a potion of immortality, brought such notable alchemists as Edward Kelley and John Dee to the city, not to mention Jewish mystic Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel.
Hell has always been popular cinematic fodder. Italian strongman Maciste has conquered it (twice, at least), Claude Rains has managed it, and Nollywood has done its best to make a basement look like it (see Die Danger Die Die Kill’s review of 666: Beware! The End is At Hand). Still, when it comes to off-the-wall interpretations of the subject the countries of Asia have something of a monopoly. That all seems to have begun with the inimitable Nobuo Nakagawa (Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan — reviewed on Teleport City here, and WtF-Film here), who persevered against a studio in a death spiral to produce Jigoku, an avant garde guignol masterpiece and perhaps the quintessential “hell” movie. Twenty years later acclaimed Nikkatsu roman porno director Tatsumi Kumashiro paid his respects to that film with The Inferno, a lavish Toei epic that matched Kumashiro’s own experimental flair with gobs of big studio production value.
It’s an amazing testament to my willpower that on my latest Frolic Afield over at Alcohol Professor, I did not title the article “Czeching out Czech Whisky” or “The Head of the Cock.” Anyway, On the Prowl for Czech Whisky is my look at two Czech single malts, the low-end Gold Cock and much higher end 23-year-old Hammer Head, as well as one of Prague’s coolest whisky bars, Whiskeria, inside an old medieval tower.
Spring has sprung in the northern hemisphere, and fall in the southern, marking the drawing to a close of a particularly nasty winter for us, and a particularly brutal summer for those down under. With Australian brush fires finally being extinguished, and with the polar vortex finally releasing its icy grip on America, thoughts now can turn to outdoor adventures that don’t involve ice-crusted beard or smoke jumpers. While Australia is known to those of us in the United States primarily for its surf beaches and its Outback desert full of steak houses and marauding bands of punks in dune buggies, I always enjoy seeking out the slightly less common avenues of leisure and adventure. Which is how I found myself in the Gold Coast Hinterlands, a sprawling collection of mountains cloaked in mist and primordial rain forests that are home to prehistoric plants and a collection of oddball wildlife.
I’m back on The Cultural Gutter for another Frolic Afield. Queue up the montages of civil unrest and warfare set to Buffalo Springfield and “All Along the Watchtower,” because Back to the World is a look at Joe Haldeman’s amazing 1974 “Vietnam War in space” novel, The Forever War.
In 1971, audiences were delivered the message that the freewheelin’ sixties were over, and so were the innocent fifties for that matter, when long-legged Clint Eastwood stepped onto the screen as “cop on the edge” Harry Callahan in the groundbreaking crime thriller, Dirty Harry. Other tough-as-nails cops and private eyes followed in Harry’s cynical footsteps, including Shaft, Serpico, and a guy named Popeye Doyle. This new generation of cop film was a marked departure from past crime films, where guys like G-Man Jimmy Stewart would walk proudly through spotless backlots dispatching ne’r-do-wells with precision shots from six-shooters balanced on their wrist. They were a return to the hardboiled, world-weary detectives of the 1940s. Callahan and his compatriots were angry, disillusioned, and cynical.
Everyone knows the Czech Republic is the beer capital of the world, but as I discovered for my latest Frolic Afield to Alcohol Professor, the way bars and restaurants contract with breweries means you often can only get one type of beer at a location, and then only one of the macro-brews. But the Prague Beer Museum is a pub dedicated to Czech craft brewing, with thirty Czech beers on tap. Obviously research was called for.
A light dusting of snow danced in swirling eddies across the sidewalk as we waited for the rumbling old elevator to arrive and admit us into its dark, wood-paneled interior. The operator nodded wordlessly to us, slid the door closed, and threw the lever that sent us upward in that creaking, moaning, shaking box. After what seemed an impossibly long and precarious ascent, the lift finally stopped and, just as wordlessly as he’d greeted us, the elevator operator bid us adieu and left us standing in a foyer lit by the yellow glow of incandescent bulbs. A row of wooden telephone booths lined one wall, and the sound of a little big band working their way through a Kay Kyser tune drifted to us on wisps of blue smoke coming from somewhere down a dark hallway.
My vacation was nice, but it’s time to get back on the alcohol beat with another Frolic Afield at Alcohol Professor. The Still on the Hill chronicles a visit to Napa and Sonoma, where I eschewed vineyards and went to the Charbay whiskey distillery — where I drank wine. Complicated story.