Friday 10 August 2012

Imaginary Holidays

I've just completed a Grand Tour. I would say that I've just completed a Grand Tour of Europe, but that would be a tautology as the OED insists that a Grand Tour is:

A tour of the principal cities and places of interest in Europe, formerly supposed to be an essential part of the education of young men of good birth or fortune.

Three attributes to which I can lay only a fragile claim. I visited Verona and saw Juliet's balcony, which is odd because Shakespeare never visited Verona and the idea that that particular balcony is Juliet's is utter hokum cooked up much later. I made the mistake of trying to explain this to the nice lady in the tourist information bureau. She did not take it well.

I visited Vienna, subject of the splendid 80s song by Ultravox, which is odd because Midge Ure had never visited Vienna when he wrote the song.

I visited the Hofgarten in Munich which is mentioned in Eliot's The Waste Land. Most of that section is derived from a book called My Past by Countess Marie Larisch, whom Eliot had also met in person. It's a funny little autobiography of an aristocrat describing her mad relatives. For example, one of them saw the ghost of the dead King Ludwig and had a strange conversation with him:

"'Ah me!' he sighed. 'Death has not brought me peace. Cissi, she burns in torment. The flames encircle her, the smoke suffocates her. She burns and I am powerless to save her.' 

 "'Who burns, dear cousin?' I asked. 

 "'I do not know because her face is hidden,' he answered, 'but I know that it is a woman..."

But Eliot had visited Munich, indeed he wrote much of Prufrock there. And My Past contains no references to the Hofgarten at all - making this a proper piece of poetic tourism. I even went on in the sunlight, though summer did not surprise me.

In Prague I read Too Loud a Solitude and then chucked the book into the paper recycling bin. If you want to know why that is so neat, you will have to read the book too.

In Marseille, a friend told me that he had, through his own researches, discovered the exact spot that the Marquis de Sade had poisoned three teenage prostitutes. I have never read any De Sade, and can't say that I was filled with a desire to do so.

But the main poetic point that I learnt on my travels is that there are no native English rhymes for Prague. This is immensely frustrating if you are trying to write a limerick about every city you visit. The best I could come up with was:

While messing around in old Prague a
Czech chap purloined my lager.
So I slew him right there
In Wenceslas Square
And cooked his remains in my Aga.

Geneva was easier but less printable, and Brussels was a doddle. Anyone who can do better with Prague should leave their poem in the comments.

P.S. I also visited two branches of Shakespeare and Sons (English language bookshops), one in Berlin and the other in Prague. They were both excellent.


  1. Can't think of anything in English but there is a French cockle-fishing boat called a "drague". Cropped up in a crossword by a particularly fiendish setter. However it would depend upon which regional French accent you said it in to get a rhyme.

  2. There was a tipsy lass from Prague
    Who en route to the Camargue
    Inebriated with Cava
    Fell in The Vltava
    And splashed to the shout of an "Aaargh"

  3. Started to write a poem about Prague. A
    suitable choice for a saga
    Tried very hard
    to copy the Bard,
    but only drove myself gaga.

    Da da!

  4. A word that will rhyme well with Prague
    Is the Cornish cheese that is called 'Yarg'
    It's a bit like a brie
    Wrapped in nettles, you see
    Buy at 'Kaasspecialzaak' in Den Haag

  5. A traveller, walking to Prague,
    Took a moment to sit on a log.
    He felt undignified
    And wanted to hide
    When he noticed a neighboring frog.

  6. There was an old man of Prague
    Who always hunted the warg
    Asked why, he asserted
    The fat was converted
    To the best lubrication against jarg.


    There was a young lady of Prague
    Who farmed nothing but the rare pygarg
    The wool of its silvery arse
    Was more precious than tarse
    And made her rich from a single darg.


    Though I am in Manchester, so have no problem rhyming Prague:

    Went for our hols in Prague
    For a cheap beer and a fag
    Eating sticky buns
    Feeling like Bohemians
    But now we're back with the skag.

  7. Was the Brussels one anything like:

    There was a European Parliament in Brussels
    Famous for its angry, vicious tussles
    The new, local Speaker
    Makes them meeker
    Simply by flexing his muscles.

  8. These are all beautiful. Congratulations one and all.

    Incidentally there is the possibility of mid-word rhymes as in an embarg-

  9. room for yet another silly one?

    The last time I visited Prague,
    I wanted to eat aloo gobi and saag.
    Since no curry-house was I able to find
    I downed pints of pilsner, bearing HaĊĦek in mind.
    And that's what I did in old Prague.

  10. On the way from old London to Prague,
    Mark swam naked in France's La Brague,
    His British backstroke
    Was a bit of a joke
    But his mast had those Frenchmen agog.

  11. On the way from old London to Prague,
    Mark swam naked in France's La Brague,
    His British backstroke
    Was a bit of a joke
    But his mast had those Frenchmen agog.

  12. Good work to get Bohumil Hrabal in there Mark. Much under-appreciated writer (in English anyway) and my personal favourite.

  13. Prague.

    I found an old indian chiragh
    in a shop in a side street in Prague.
    I gave it anon
    to a man of Luzon
    who taught me to speek Ibanag.

    J Lange

  14. These are astonishing and strangely beautiful. I'm going to have to up my game, damn it. And I'm still nowhere near.

    The cruel customs-men of old Prague, Oh,
    The fools did embargo my cargo,
    (Fifteen pails of snails
    Brought directly from Wales)
    Oh damn this escargot farrago!

    Yours in the local argot,


  15. The insomniac Antipodean14 August 2012 at 18:42

    I once met a girl who loved Fargo
    So I wed her in haste in Prague - oh
    Cruel brothers Coen,
    (if I had but known!)
    You're no sign one has avoided a virago.

  16. No rhymes in English -

    There was a young fellow from Prague
    Who suffered too much from an ague.
    Though his symptoms were vague
    He claimed it was plague
    But he was wearing a clague.

  17. This is not meant to be pejorative about Prague as a common stag do destination, more a reflection on what I could find to rhyme....

    The girl says she comes from Pra-ha,
    a town not particularly far.
    Then my friends start to clap
    as she hops on my lap,
    and deftly undresses her bra.

  18. I guess it all depends on how one pronounces Prague. Around these parts, it rhymes pretty well with frog, dog, bog, cog, fog, hog, jog, nog, blog, log, flog, clog...