Thursday, January 22, 2009
4. / A Sentimental One
Jiří Trnka, Zahrada, Praha 1960
A book that was important in my childhood. On their way to school a bunch of boys pass a mysterious wall with an old rusty door. One day they manage to open it. Inside there is an overgrown garden inhabited by a stone gnome and a very hateful tomcat. The gnome represents a stoic character, he never speaks and therefore is considered somewhat wise. The tomcat on contrary is all evil the boys can imagine and that they tend to tease.
Now, for those who read my blog regularly, is quite clear why the gardens intrigue me that much, I confessed about it few posts earlier. I made it clear here for myself as well. Still I think that it is not only a childish dream that got stuck in my head, after all, I have no desire in meeting an arguing cat, no matter what it personifies. Like I said earlier, gardens are small worlds in themselves, monastery gardens, clausuras, images of paradise and gardens depicted in old paintings that all have a special symbolic, are a proof to it.
It was interesting for me to find out that the author of the book, Jiří Trnka, mainly painter, illustrator and puppeteer but also a writer of this book, lived for long years in a villa surrounded by a baroque garden, just one like you imagine after you look in this book. It was in Prague on one of the side streets, it was originally a garden with a farmhouse, but the house was rebuilt in the 19th century and became a representative villa. Trnka lived there as a tenant in the 1940s and 50s as and the place still kept its 19th century atmosphere, his friends were amazed and jealous at the same time.
An owner was this old aristocratic lady who held firm to the original image of her place. She kept refusing to sell it to Trnka who consequently built a career in animated film and could afford it but a fate turned against her when the socialist state nationalized her property as it was considered too big and thus useless for her own need. They moved her into a gardener's house (picture above, not bad, he?) and her villa became a dancing school. (Such behaviour - the state not only overtook somebody's property but also practically stopped maintaining it - had certain advantages: the houses decayed and gardens grew over but both still kept their original traces that after 40 years could be, in better cases, still recuperated and renewed, they didn't disappear under the complete reconstructions).
Trnka moved out in the 50s and the vila and the garden faced their sad fate. On one autumn day I went by to check it out. It really is this strange fold of the town where the time stood still, pressed between two hills where only cars on the road spoil the image. I had learned it was a private property inhabited by squatters but when I approached it I knew it was in much worse condition then an ordinary squatter would live in. The pictures that you see I borrowed from this site, as well as the information about the owners of the house. The pictures were taken in 2008 but they present an image that no longer exists. I guess that such gardens are somehow supposed to be testimonies of the past and all their inhabitants - be it gnomes or squatters - are always only temporary. Nevertheless, the fate of this garden is insecure.
Zahrada was made an animated film by Břetislav Pojar: