Renewal

I wanted to tell the tale of our heroic reconstruction of Spalena 3, but the images of the effort which sprung to mind are phobic to portraits of the heroic. The first weeks were spent in destruction … or as our no-longer-hip postmodernists might say, deconstruction … and a large part of that job involved a kind of humiliation, slave-work, grown men turned to beasts of burden, job site sweating machines gradually caked in filth. Oh, but all work has dignity. And oh, there were moments where hammers went through walls like Rutger Hauer’s bare hand did near the end of Blade Runner, but most of those first weeks’ man hours were spent hauling the resulting debris down flight after flight of stairs amid trailing clouds of dust to the ground floor where massive mounds of concrete, masonry, tile, gypsum, linoleum, carpet, metal, old toilets and such were piled up and then hauled, bucket by bucket and wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow to great metal bins which were in turn hoisted onto truck beds and hauled away to wherever it is in the Prague environs where the unwanted refuse of men’s failed attempts to make a city are unceremoniously bulldozed back into the gentle hills of Bohemia. Some of those clouds of dust contained specks and shards of materials that had been put in place with great care and precision by trained craftsmen centuries ago. Their work can now be seen in the glorious ceilings of some of our rooms, and in the fantastically thick oaken planks of most of our floors. Later workers, especially the hired hands who put three floors on top of the original three in 1888, had applied different skills and materials, but in 2016 some of their efforts had no value at all. In fact, they had a negative value. Some of what a mason in 1888 had built on the fourth, fifth and sixth floors was today only in the way. We had a use for Spalena 3, but the cubic space was not configured for the purpose. And twentieth century workers! Those boyos were only cursed and ridiculed as their “modernized” bathrooms and practical flooring was pulled down and ripped up with the energy generated by

modern materials
modern materials
take away
take away

contempt.

Raw Material

Cosmopole is becoming something easy on the eyes.  But when we first found it on the market about a year ago it would never have been mistaken for a pleasant and welcoming place where a weary traveler would want to relax, refresh himself, sleep and dream sweet dreams.  It was six floors of utilitarian office space, its grand oak floors buried under four, and sometimes as many as seven layers of linoleum, carpet so thin and threadbare it could be overlayed with another go-round of linoleum, or other materials difficult to identify.  On the positive side it was big and had the most important quality of any real estate: location.   It was in the center of everything a visitor wants to see and do in Prague.  On the negative it had not just a tired interior but a façade that brought to mind the Brutalism of Le Corbusier.  I love that term, one of those telling slips that describes more than it intends.  It refers to the beton brut (raw concrete) he favored over decorative materials such as tile or sculpted detail and the like. No frivolity for him, by God.  Of course Spalena 3 was built centuries before Le Corbusier and his ilk existed.  But much later, in 1888, three floors were added on top of the existing three in an epoch when form was an afterthought and function the only factor of any importance.  And so, the home away from home we wanted Cosmopole to be would be in exactly the right location, but made from D grade office space behind an ugly face both cracked and filthy.  Am I exaggerating?  I submit to the jury the following photo I took a year ago.  The resolution is not so hot, but maybe you can get the idea.

img_0331

I’ll look for some photos of the original interior and show that to you next time.

So Lets begin with …

It is early December, 2016, and the ground floor is being prepared for plans I will tell you about a little later.  Winter has set in and I had to scrape the ice from my windshield this morning.  Reading Catcher in the Rye last night (for the squagillionth time) I miss New York a bit, but then I remembered that what I love about New York is right here in Prague in spades.  I love to discover things in New York and what makes a great discovery is usually connected with the fact that it comes from or grew from The Other … there are hundreds of languages in New York and dozens of whole expat communities, and to find a great Polynesian restaurant is a kick (I used to live in French Polynesia) … but here in Prague I find The Other every day.  I am still American, after living in Yerp (sorry, I learned that one from Bubba, excuse me, President Clinton) for a quarter of a century, and Prague especially always surprises me.  Sometimes in Paris you would think you were in Cincinnati, with all the English you hear, and Prague was like that in the early Nineties … but now that the American expats have apparently found somewhere else to congregate, English is not as common as it was.  Oh, but don’t get me wrong, it only means that I cherish meeting Americans here.  I love gossiping about what will happen once Trump is in the Hotel White H … excuse me, the White House.  I have visited over forty states in the Union (I am missing both Dakotas, Alaska and Wisconsin … how did I miss Wisconsin?) and I have usually visited or lived in wherever the expat is from.  What I mean is that with much less English I am forced to discover ways to communicate with people from elsewhere.  Sometimes we are host in a single night to people from dozens of countries and every continent, save Antarctica.  They tell you things (almost everyone speaks a version of English as a second language) that challenge your way of seeing the world, and I am once again gratified to have made a success of a hostel in this world gathering point.  I don’t need TV (but I will say that Netflix and other streaming services are a pretty terrific addition to the TV menu here … Halt and Catch Fire from the US and Doc Martin from the UK) … I don’t need TV because my guests are far more interesting than the tube (I am showing my age, I know, but we used to call it the Boob Tube). Gone too long today … have to stop myself mid-sentence and continue later … After all, tomorrow is another day, eh Vivien Leigh?  Hey Viv, old girl, get a load of the Vltava … just a coupla minutes from the Cosmopole doorstep …

My First Post (from the owner)

I will try not to go all Ed Grimley on you (hello Martin Short) and get overly excited (I must say) about this, the first blog I’ve ever done posted, but I am, shall we say, happy to communicate with whomesoever reads such things.  Our webiste is just about done, and we have been open for three months, so it is time to write some history, after which I can blather on about the present.  I and my Czech partner decided about a year ago to find a place to convert to a state-of-the-art hostel, and after months of looking, we settled on this ideal location and ideal building on Spalena, smack in the center of everything anyone would want to see and do in Prague.  It looked less than ideal to begin with … it’s facade was hideous and as a large office building on six floors plus attic, in need of a complete rebuild … but we thought we could see a diamond in the rough.  It was big enough to give us a ton of beds, while affording a very generous amount of space to dedicate to common areas, and it had this very cool terrace with specatacular views off a fifth floor we decided would remain without any beds at all … and after all that we still had a ground floor on one of Prague’s busiest streets – a big space I will be blogging about over the next few months.  So lets begin with