EST. 2009

July 20, 2017

That Bohemian Break

WHAT WE USUALLY CONSIDER BOHEMIAN TODAY rarely has anything to do with Medieval kings and castles. Rather, we think of the hippie fashion and avant-garde lifestyles exhibited by spiritual or artistic types. Oxford Dictionaries defines the term as both a noun and adjective, referring to "a socially unconventional person, especially one who is involved in the arts."

But long before the enduring concept of Bohemianism emerged, Bohemia was a kingdom in central Europe, preceding what is now the Czech Republic. It was first formed as a duchy in the 9th century, raised to a kingdom in the 12th, and reached its golden age in the 14th.

Charles IV, who was both King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor, is credited for this prosperity. His reign saw the flourishing of Prague, Bohemia's capital city, with the completion of such historic structures as Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, and the Saint Vitus cathedral. I vouch for their splendor, commanding even amidst Prague's rich architectural spread.

Beyond historic sites and museums, I glimpsed a bit of contemporary Prague. The boyfriend and I caught a show at Reduta: Prague's oldest jazz club famous for Bill Clinton's impromptu sax performance in 1994. An equally impromptu date with illustrator Kaori Mitsushima made for a lovely tour of her local neighborhood. Malá Strana, across the bridge from Old Town, is an elegant district of Baroque buildings and riverside dining.

So how did the name of a splendid imperial land become associated with the idea of Bohemianism? The word in this context originated in 15th century France, when artists and writers began to concentrate in the lower class Romani neighborhoods. Bohémien was the local term for the Romani, who were mistakenly believed to have arrived from Bohemia. The same word was then adopted for the neighborhood's creative new inhabitants, whether they were in fact Romani or not.

The bohemian subculture has since been celebrated in European history, through literature, theater, and in more current times, film and fashion too. Contemporary tributes to the bohemian life and style include Baz Lurhmann's Moulin Rouge, Jonathan Larson's Rent, and yes, Sienna Miller's wardrobe.

Far from being bohemian character, I had a very satisfying Bohemian break nonetheless. The Czech type. Let the folks in Rent go on singing about "hand-crafted beers made in local breweries." There's lots of that in Prague too.

Malá Strana, Old Town, Boho Hotel Prague, Municipal House, Café Savoy, Černá Madona, Prague Castle, Saint Vitus Cathedral, and Charles Bridge, Prague. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.