Monday 24 September 2018

Darkness visible

Na Parkánu
I spend a lot of time in pubs and bars. I find them conducive to thinking; I find them an encouragement to mulling over things in my mind; I find beer acts as a Tesla-like conductor of ideas; I find that beer factors itself, all on its own, as a tester of theories, a lesser known philosopher whose name is absent from the history books. It’s also a place where I talk with friends, acquaintances and strangers (and also tune in and out of conversations with the obsessive sense of the radio ham), a loosening-of-the-larynx kind of place. 

Given that I spend a lot of time in pubs and pubs, I noted something that has occasionally badgered away at me, when I was silent and contemplative in Na Parkánu in Plzeň. This is a pub that I first visited in 2005, a Pilsner Urquell pub where the beer is as fresh as the ideas that emerge from the kind of think-tank where all barriers have been lifted with the ease of a well-oiled sprocket. I looked around. The waiters prowled, not as leonine as those in U Fleků or as CCTV-aware as the ’kobes in Cologne or Dusseldorf, but still possessed of a 360˚ vision, superhuman in the way they could spot a drinker with a parched throat in need of respite. Elsewhere groups of drinkers sat at the brown tables, on brown chairs, beneath brown panels and I started to wonder, to ponder, to mull. 

What is the attraction of dark wood in a pub, especially as it is so international, or at least European (and I include British within this term) in scope? Why do so many people (me included) find it comforting to sit in a space that is brown, oppressive to some, but cosy to others? 

The first thought that attempted to answer this question was that these wooden wombs are perhaps reminiscent of the dark forests from whence we came, where we all felt the same and during a time before electric light, a time when perhaps, disregarding tales of monsters and demons, we were more comfortable with the dark. An ancestral memory perhaps? Another thought tip-toed along, light and airy, just about deigning to add a certain something to the conversation. Was it the onetime dominance of wood in building materials and we’ve just become used (rather than programmed, which sounds a bit odd) to this dark interior, as it is something that speaks to our soul, makes us feel safe even.

Later in the day I visited Pivovar Chodovar, in the west of Bohemia, a family-owned brewery standing on terrain that is home to a big belt of granite (obviously that effects the water, but I’m not talking about brewing today). The entrance is through a tunnel that was laboriously cut through granite in the 19th century, or maybe earlier. The restaurant/bar is within this complex of dark stone and sombre wood and on the sunny day I visit it somehow acts as a cool bunker away from the hot sun, in the same way it provides warmth and comfort on a cold winter’s day. 
The restaurant in the rock as Chodovar

I guess what I trying to discover is why we crave and find comfort in this dark spaces even on a day when the sun is high and the air beneficent with warm zephyrs from the south? Heredity, ancestral, protective, comfortable, hidden or maybe I should just continue to enjoy this appetising, fulsome, lithe and lissom yet muscular pint of Pilsner Urquell I had in front of me, its gleam of orange and yellow a direct contrast to the dark fittings that surrounded me. How yin and yang, just like our moods when it comes to the pub.