BRATISLAVA – Patches of sunshine teased us today, but you couldn’t ignore the bone-chilling cold. Still, Kapitulská Ulica beckoned me for a brisk walk.
From the 16th to 19th century, “Canonry Street” greeted the first steps of the newly coronated Hapsburg kings and queens, who descended from the St. Martin’s Cathedral, whose exterior is now partly blackened by soot.
Today, you can hardly imagine such pomp. While Kapitulská is the most authentic section of Old Town Bratislava, it’s also the most neglected.
Both reasons make it my favorite spot in Bratislava, a fragment of the past where I blur my eyes to visualize life in “Mitteleuropa” centuries ago.
It’d been several weeks since I’d been back there, as it’s the farthest walk from our apartment just outside the Old Town. (Parenting duties now dictate that those extra 20 minutes are better spent on my backlog of assignments.)
But today’s sunlight, so deceptive, put me in a Kapitulská state of mind. I set out on the winding, cobblestoned lane — as always, on guard not to sprain an ankle on the steep stones — admiring the simple but elegant two-story homes, with archways tall enough for the horse-drawn carriages.
Today, though, I was reminded of the striking difference between Kapitulská and the hub of the Staré Mesto, or “Old Town,” just a couple blocks away. While that quaint, period-piece restoration (and multitude of cafes) draw stylish Slovaks and a stream of tourists, Kapitulská looks untouched.
For better … and for worse.
The worse, first. Most of the homes have crumbling facades, with bits of litter strewn about. Several homes are abandoned, with one plot is fully fenced off and overgrown. Through padlocked gates, I spy what was once a stately courtyard. Sure, the bottom third of Kapitulská is pleasingly painted is soft pastels. Coincidentally, that section comprises the first short stretch of the “coronation walk,” before it turns off toward the town center.
On the other hand, Kapitulská is an oasis of tranquility in what is already a pretty peaceful city. There’s no souvenir shop or café to pollute the line of view, or draw a crowd. Out there today, I saw the norm of three or four walkers, the usual mix of off-the-beaten-path visitor, church clergy milling about their numerous properties, or a day-dreaming local like me. (The street, I learned, even has a Facebook fan page.)
Actually, if it’s such a pleasure, would I want it touched by gentrification? Selfishly speaking? Hmmm.
What happened to me next, though, made me question my earlier suspicion that Kapitulská is a victim of government neglect. Instead, perhaps Kapitulská’s condition illustrates that Slovakia remains a country of modest means, with more pressing economic and social issues.
After walking down to St. Martin’s, I doubled back down Farska Street, where I came across two laborers working on the gothic Klarisky Church. One was way at the top of one apse, atop six flights of scaffolding. He was up so high, I couldn’t see his face. But I could see what he was doing: banging away with a hammer, chipping away at cement that pelted the path below. A restoration project!
His partner was down on the street, standing back, observing the progress. Rather than set up a cordon, he escorted the occasional pedestrian in a semi-circle around the falling chunks and shards.
He had a kindly bearded face, one familiar to me from Slovak pub-life. So, I stopped to ask him about the restoration. The church is from the 15th century, he said. (Actually, the 14th.) As for the project timeline: It’s a city venture, he said, and depends on when the money’s available.
He offered to show me inside, pushing open the door to see the unique pentaprism interior.
Since he’d satisfied my interest in the facts, I figured I’d try for a little emotion.
Is it interesting to work on such a project?
Sure, he said. “But more important is that it’s a job.”