Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Silver Anniversary

The reason why my blogging has been so intermittent recently is that for the last three weeks my husband and I have been celebrating our silver wedding anniversary by making a long-planned trip across Northern Europe and back. We've had a lovely time in various German and Belgian cities, but chose to spend the big  day itself in the Czech Republic - well, I can't think of anywhere more romantic.

After a lazy morning we drove to the lake district around Trebon via the lovely countryside around Novy Hrady. At Trebon we sat at a table in front of a fish restaurant on the town square and enjoyed a meal of fried carp. Carp has such a bad reputation with the Brits, who consider it at best tasteless and at worst muddy, but the Czechs love it. And cooked well, by a restaurant which knows what it is doing, it is delicious. We then walked away from the square and around the corner to a cafe, which serves some of the best Czech cakes I have ever tasted. I had discovered the place on a research expedition for my historic tours business, but hubby had never been before. I am glad to say the cafe lived up to my billing.

After lunch we decided to walk off some of the calories with a visit to the nature reserve at Cerveny Blato. A wooden boardwalk takes you for four kilometres through a forested peat bog. The place is just incredible - it's like stepping back in time to an age before Man cleared the forests and drained the swamps. You half expect to see giant dragonflies and dinosaurs appear out of the bog pine forest. You certainly get to see some rare plants, fungi, butterflies and birds. A black woodpecker twice shot up from bushes as we passed, its red head standing out against the rest of its dark plummage. We were stopping so much to ooh and ahh and take photos, that the four kilometres took two hours to complete.

After our work we returned home, where we finished our special day eating chanterelle mushrooms and Czech chocolates, washed down by Czech bubbly. Just the two of us, plus our lovely old house, and the crickets serenading us in the garden.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Butterflies


The last butterflies are enjoying the warm sun of late September. As I was scything the grass and weeds in the orchard, peacock and tortoiseshell were flying over the orchard weeds. As always I left patches of nettles, which are a favourite foodstuff for caterpillars. Of course this has nothing to do with how hard scything is. In the woods when I was mushrooming, there were brimstones and dappled brown butterflies flittering in the strands of light descending through the leaves. But the nights are getting cold, soon the butterflies will be arriving in the cellar and barn looking for a place to overwinter.

My favourite is the little blue (above), which in the summer collected in huge shimmering crowds on the sand by the swimming pond. It is very special for all my family, in that when a beloved aunt died over ten years ago we noticed the little blue everywhere. It was and is forever her butterfly. Strangely enough when we moved into her house, we found that it clearly was a favourite of hers before she died, because there were pictures of it around the house.

Friday, 17 September 2010

More on Wayside Advertising

In my last post I wrote about the political posters on the sides of our roads. As two comments have pointed out, there are local and senate elections coming up that in some way account for this. But nevertheless there do seem to be a number of posters that have remained unchanged from the general election. Why is this? Are they being recycled for some reason? Or is it that nothing has replaced them?

I wrote my last post in haste - I was feeling guilty that I had not put anything for over a week. Since then I have had more time to consider my feelings on the subject and I am surprised by how strong they are. Something in my British sensibilities is reacting adversely to Czech roadside advertising. For starters I am shocked by the amount, location and size of it all – from huge posters to poles chocked full of fingerposts pointing the way to different banks, supermarkets and hotels. Signs hanging off roadbridges tell the driver that s/he is only x kilometres from their nearest Tescos/Obi/etc. Scantily clad young women advertise everything from non-stop clubs to machinery. On every side the marketing clamour presses in, even in towns as spectacularly beautiful as Cesky Krumlov. I know from my previous career in England, that in the UK this simply would not be allowed. The planning process regulates the amount and position of advertising. The local civic societies are keen to prevent visual clutter from damaging the appearance of towns and the Police and Highways Authorities will oppose signage which could confuse or distract the driver.

I think my dislike of the Czech roadside adverts is rather deeper than that. I feel the current adverts let the side down. As you will have realised from reading this blog, I have a great love and regard for the Czech graphics tradition and this extends to advertising and indeed signs. When I first visited this country I spent quite a lot of time photographing Czech signs, which I considered delightful and infinitely superior to those of my British home. I certainly wouldn’t do that now. These current signs are typical of those we see all over Europe, part of a lowest denominator mass communication.

These political posters are some of the worst culprits. There is one which for some time really disturbed me and I could not think why – it was just some man talking to an audience. And then today I realised – it was the hand gesture. To be precise it was the Tony Blair hand gesture, which is no doubt taught in "politician school" the world over. The hand is open with palm revealed and thumb up, as if he is about to shake your hand. Don't make a fist he has been told, an open palm is non-threatening, consider you body language. Only somehow it doesn't work, he looks false.

Politicians' body language, advertising signs, - all part of a homogenization of communication across the world in which true communication is lost.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The Journey & Arrival

My apologies for the slight break in postings, this is because I have been travelling. Yesterday was our 25th wedding anniversary and my husband and I decided we had to do something to celebrate. We have long planned a trip across northern Europe, but my husband is self employed and so we never could quite find the time - it was always a case that he either had work or needed to be by the phone in case work came up. But at last, with our silver wedding as the spur, we have done it.

We left England on my birthday and made our way slowly across Germany, taking in various historic towns along the way - Trier, Worms and Regensburg. We at last arrived at our home in the Czech Republic with a car filled with books, various English foodstuffs (cheddar, biscuits, marmalade and marmite) and several paintings we were bringing over for a friend. We are now relaxing and playing at being tourists here. In about a week's time we will spend six days making the return journey, stopping in Belgium as well as Germany. This time the car will be filled with a crate of Czech dark beer (for our son) and other Czech goodies. After a fortnight I will be flying back - I have work to do on the new Czech tours business and I am trying not to do any on this "holiday".

One thing that struck me on our return was that the election posters still line roadsides. The elections were nearly four months ago and yet there are the politicians still gurning at the public at every turn. It's bad enough having to look at them during the run up to the elections, but now.... At least the British politicians have had the decency to remove their election posters, apart from the occasional errant banner hung in some Tory farmer's field alongside a tattered poster in support of foxhunting. It strikes me that this is a rather alarming indication of the state of the Czech economy, which like the British is bouncing a long at the bottom with only slight growth. Obviously marketing expenditure has been slashed, otherwise the advertising slots which the politicians occupy would have been taken.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Posts on Czech Culture and Customs

As the blog gets larger I thought I might help readers interested in certain topics by creating some pages which list the blog's content by theme. I promise to update the pages as new posts are added.

The themes are: Czech Nature, Czech Customs & Culture, Places to visit in South Bohemia, Buying and Restoring a Czech House, Czech History and Politics, Day to Day Life in the Czech Republic. This post covers Czech Customs and Culture, click on the links above for the others.

CZECH CUSTOMS AND CULTURE

Revised 22 August 2010

Zumberk


Zumberk is one of those well kept Czech secret places, so well kept that my Czech friend had not heard of it. She even corrected my pronunciation, thinking I was talking about somewhere else. And yet Zumberk was only forty minutes drive away.

I found a short reference to it in a guidebook and as I was passing I dropped in. I couldn't believe my eyes. There it was - a perfect fortified village with fairytale towers, standing above a still small lake. And there was more - in the manor house the South Bohemian Museum displayed a wonderful collection of South Bohemian painted furniture.


I have always coveted the examples of Czech painted furniture I have seen, but here was a treasure trove: the finest examples of the local styles. The exhibition highlighted the subtle and not so subtle differences between the folk art from different areas of South Bohemia. And the building was fascinating too.

Unfortunately Zumberk is not geared to the British visitor: it is where I was asked to translate by the guide, but then my archaeology tour was, we were told, the first English speaking group to visit. And they did have a folder of English translation they can give you as you walk round, which allows us to spend as much time as we want to gaze at the exhibits.

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