Sunday, 5 March 2017

Masopust Masks - A Traditional Manufacturer


Over the last seven days Masopust (Carnival) celebrations have been taking place across the Czech Republic. An important element of Czech carnival as it is in other countries is the wearing of masks. Some will have been home-made, some will be cheap plastic masks from China, but some will have been purchased from the traditional mask manufacturer PVO, which is based in Zakupy in the north of the country. PVO is the last surviving company in Europe to make traditional papier-mache masks by hand. 

Scraps of paper impregnated with starch glue are pressed into moulds in a series of layers and then allowed to dry. The masks are then handpainted. The workshop is lined with shelves for the 2500 original moulds used by the company. In addition to masks the company also makes giant heads. 


You can buy masks from the company's e-store: http://www.karnevalove-zbozi-masky.cz/ 
Or you can commission a unique mask or head. The masks are remarkably good value, starting at about £3.50. Better still why not visit the company museum, you might even get a chance to paint your own mask! The address is E.H.Muzeum Nám.Svobody 247 471 23 Zákupy. 


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

PFs - New Year Cards


About a year ago I blogged about my new hobby of collecting Czech exlibris and other small prints. Well, the collection has grown a lot since then.



In addition to exlibris (bookplates), a significant part of the collection are PF's or "pifees" as the Czechs call them. Pifees are New Year greetings cards. The PF stands for Pour Feliciter. As you can see the term is French, which was spoken at high levels of Czech society at the start of the 19th century, when Count Karl Chotek of Chotkow and Wognin is said to started the fashion for the PF abbreviation. 


The cards were often commissioned from the artist by the family and sent to friends. As you can see many are signed by the artist and were by their very nature limited editions. One of the joys of PFs is the way they reflect not only the artist but the interests and characters of the commissioners.


Not all PFs are/were commissioned. Some are designed and sent by the family. My first experience of PFs were when I received them from my Czech friend, Hannah. At the time I took them to be home-made Christmas cards. But now I understand them to be another sign of Hannah's Czech roots. 



Note the artists featured above are in order: Antonova, Vaculka, Kaspar, Stech and Mezl. The more sharp-sighted among you will have noticed that Mezl's Pf is a print of Cesky Krumlov.

Friday, 20 January 2017

More on Winter in the Czech Republic


Yesterday we woke to bright sunshine, sparkling snow and frost flowers on the exterior window pane. This is the type of winter weather that first helped me fall in love with this country. Bitterly cold but divinely beautiful, so beautiful that it stirs the soul.

Today the weather was even more beautiful. The temperatures had fallen further and so every surface was covered with hoar frost. The trees were iced with white crystals. When we came to drive the car into Ceske Budejovice, we found it covered with crystals like snowflakes growing out of the paintwork. As you can see from the photo above they were nearly at right angles to the car's surface. I grabbed the camera and snapped. This picture does not show the brilliance of the crystals as they are semi-transparent and have taken on the colour of the car's metallic paint.

As we drove off, the temperature guage was indicating a temperature of -17 degrees at 10 am. Goodness knows at what temperature in the night the crystals had formed, but it would have been very low indeed.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Community Winter Spirit


I apologize for the absence of posts over the last two months. Unfortunately I had a heart attack in mid-November and until now have not felt up to posting. In addition I was in England when it happened and was only given the all-clear by the doctor to fly back to the Czech Republic a fortnight ago. Anyway I am back now, accompanied by my husband who insists (rightly) on carrying all the firelogs into the house, as well as stopping me from trying to walk uphill.

One of the great things about living in a Czech village is the support I get from my neighbours. So when it became clear that I could not get back until January, I was able to email my neighbour and ask her to start the car and recharge the battery.  This is in part due to having such lovely neighbours and in part due to the fact that we need to help each other, especially in a winter like this.

As I have said before, the village is on the top of a hill in the foothills of the Sumava Mountains. In the winter we get some serious snow and temperatures to match. The road to the village has a long uphill drag, at the bottom of which is a blind 90-degree bend under a railway. Being a minor road to a minor village the only snow clearance is by a man on a tractor with a snow plough attachment who clears the top layer of recent snow but leaves the layer of compacted snow/ice beneath.

My friend Hannah used to claim that Czechs laugh at winter snow, indeed that they enjoy driving on it. Not if they live in our village, they don't! The secret to getting up the hill is to build up enough speed to get you to the village and pray that you don't meet someone coming in the other direction. If you stop on the hill, you probably won't be able to get going again and will have to roll back again until you can get traction (sometimes all the way to the bottom of the hill).

Once in the village you have the backup of your fellow villagers to help with your car. In the last week I have been both the recipient and giver of such aid. My car failed to start a few days ago and I was loaned a neighbour's battery charger. And then today the local postwoman knocked on my door. The wheels of her van, despite being equipped with snow chains, were spinning on the compacted snow. I came out with a snow shovel.

As I write it is snowing, as it has been for four days. We are snug in our house and have no plans to risk the hill. I had laid down a store of winter foodstuffs during the summer, which we are now using, and the logs are piled up against the outside wall ready for Phil to carry them upstairs. And of course if I run out of food or logs, I can rely on my neighbours to help out, as they can rely on me.

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