I finally decided to have a housewarming party. It's two years since we bought the house. I know, but it has hardly been in a fit state to host visits from curious neighbours. They all thought I was mad to buy the place - that crazy Englishwoman living in that wreck of a house when she could have a nice new one. But it is now looking pretty wonderful and the vision I had for it two years ago is now beginning to be visible to all.
I wrote out an invite and hand delivered it to all the houses in the village, where either there was a letterbox or there was someone at home. The first response by those who opened their doors to me was bewilderment (clearly this sort of thing is not done out here) and then as they read the invitation it changed to delight. Thank you, they would come. I wasn't sure whether this was the usual Czech way of saying no, but hoped rather that curiousity would get the better of them.
I laid down a stock of sausages and beer and waited the day, hoping that the summer night storms would not hit us that evening. I needn't have worried. A stream of visitors arrived throughout the evening - bearing cakes, home-made slivovic (plum brandy), wine and flowers. The weather held and we sat outside and drank and ate. There were regular guided tours of the house at the request of my visitors - "Jesus, Maria!" was a regular exclamation at the changed house and in particular at the central heating water tanks taking up the space of a small ship's boiler room. Fortuanately one of my neighbours turned out to be a heating engineer who explained that this was, actually despite its size, not an extravagence but the most effective way to heat the house.
I had cut and sharpened some hazel sticks and the kids stuck sausages on the end of them so the sausages could roast them over the fire. The sausages had been split in four at both ends, and curled back like an octopus' tentacles in the flames. There was clearly a nack to it, one which I and the younger children had to be shown. One neighbour arrived with a jug of burcak - the young cloudy wine still in a state of fermentation, which you can buy in unnamed bottles from roadside stalls. I had seen it but never tasted it before and it is lovely - how any wine gets to its final state in Czecho escapes me!
Everyone chattered and talked with each other; new arrivals came and old ones went throughout the evening and at the end the hard-drinkers were singing. A major topic of conversation was of course the wild mushroom harvest, gazing at the full moon they commented that the moon would be good for the mushrooms, which were as they spoke muscling their way through the leaf litter and pine needles in the forest on the hill behind the house.
At the end of the day I had invitations to go and eat at various houses in the village, and am now waved at every time I drive or walk through the village. One neighbour commented to me -"It is good you do this, we Czechs never do this, we do not meet as a village. It is funny it takes an Englishwoman to do it." So there you go, even when I don't try I am being a community development worker. I think I will make this an annual thing - a summer party for the village - my present to this small community that has allowed me to join it.