essay

57724 garden of osek

Early one Saturday morning, I am wandering the gardens of the 12th-century monastery complex in Osek u Duchcova, in north Bohemia, near the German border.

Stepping outside, the humid morning air parts to embrace me with its chill. The greenery drips with a sopping dew, a gathered moisture also reflected above in the overcast sky. The leather of my shoes darkens with the accumulated wetness as my feet shuffle through the unkempt grass.

The bounty of autumn is everywhere in the orchard, the apple trees are heavy with uncollected fruit. I pluck several of them and find that there are not less than three varieties of apples growing here, tasting sometimes of honey, sometimes of wine, or even hinting of rose. But they are late apples, left too long on the tree, too dense and hard to eat.

Further showing to the fertility of this place and its abundance, a small flock of sheep grazes in a nearby field, but a wire fence keeps me from going any closer. They look up at me as I pass, but they don’t stop chewing, their breakfast being far more important to them than any passing stranger.

garden ambience

Morning garden ambience, Osek Monastery

The gardens of the estate seem vast, but are hemmed in by walls that create an enclosure for the yards, the orchards, the pools, the workshops and the storage sheds. Some of these walls are made of raw stone knitted together in a chaotic matrix, characteristic of a certain style of wall building. Others are put together from orderly brick logically arranged in rectilinear expanses. The length of a stuccoed wall next to a highway (I know the road is there because I can hear the passing sound of the occasional solitary vehicle) is divided by a portal gate that leads out.

In the wan misty light of early morning, the sun appears as a fine white disc, still hanging low in the sky. In the enclosed space there are arranged, not only the convent and church and its formal courtyards, but also several ruins, and I find stone stairways disappearing into the grass, seldom-used walkways, and other baroque pieces rendered poignant by their now run-down elegance. I discover a small chapel and step inside. It’s a bit grimy, but generally in good condition. A statue of a bare-chested man, a martyr probably, stretches out his hand, offering me a skull.

I had arrived in Osek the previous afternoon with friends to take part in one of the events of the Frontiers of Solitude project, about transformations of the landscape and the close connections between post-industrial civilization and nature, elaborated in terms of cultural geography. Of particular interest to the project participants are the vast, scarifying open-pit lignite mining that takes place throughout the nearby region. In recent history, the region around Osek has stood as a symbol for environmental degradation and sweeping transformations of the landscape with often tragic consequences.

After we are assigned rooms to spend the night, I wander the corridors of the monastery for a time, inspecting the many paintings hanging on the walls, consisting of religious scenes, mainly, and portraits of church patriarchs. I admire the play of late afternoon light as it pours in from tremendous windows in broad diagonal shafts, asserting their hold on space as if they were solid bodies. The streaming light is modulated by baroque balustrades, reflecting glass, and other furnishings, which throw their own images on the surrounding walls, their forms visibly resonating by means of a regiment of distorted shadows. I listen, too, to the sounds made by my own movements in the building.

walking the corridors

Walking the corridors of Osek Monastery

This evening, the project organizers have arranged an organ recital in the main church of the complex, the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Klášterní kostel Nanebevzetí Panny Marie). Built in the romanesque style in the 12th century, like so many old buildings in the Czech Republic, it was redone in the baroque style in the 18th. The vast interior of the church boasts two organs, a large one over the narthex, and a small one in one of the transepts. The recital is performed on the smaller organ, which I have partially documented in this recording.

organ recital

Organ recital in the cathedral of Osek


Part of this essay was first published in Czech on the web site His Voice: Magazine of Alternative Music, as the 14th post for the ongoing column „Field Notes.“

The following filecast is connected geographically:

57280 black ocean, field recording