Monday, 7 July 2008

Masopust at Cowley Road Carnival

In my post in February on Czech Carnival - Masopust I talked of our plans to bring a Czech masopust group to Oxford's Cowley Road Carnival. Well this weekend it happened. They arrived on Friday, having travelled across Europe in a van. We had managed to get them accommodation at St Hilda's College - a lovely Oxford University college near Magdalen Bridge. I took them for a meal at the Bodrum Kebab restaurant, which treated our Czech visitors to East Oxford's famous hospitality and a large mixed kebab each. Afterwards we went to a bar where they were welcomed by local artists and musicians. After a few beers and initial shyness Czechs and Brits were soon jamming and sharing each other's music.

On the Saturday the group explored Oxford and then travelled to the Cotswolds, ending up at my home for tea. They had asked me about typical English food at the Bodrum restaurant and I had said that English food was what people ate at home. And so we offered them a typical English tea - three types of cheese (of which Oxford Blue was a great success followed closely by Cheddar), pork pie and sausage rolls (I explained that food in pastry casings was very much an English speciality) and finally chutney. Remarkably the Czechs, who pickle everything as far as I can tell, do not know about chutney. Chutney is of course originally from India and a product of our imperial past which has evolved into something very British, so I suppose it isn't that surprising that the Czechs don't have it. Chutney was hugely successful. Afterwards we had scones with fresh cream and home-made strawberry jam - again a great success. This was all washed down with local apple juice and mugs of tea, drunk with milk in the English manner. After the meal I took them to the local Tesco's to buy ingredients for Czech Masopust doughnuts, English cheese, chutney and local ale, which they had sampled and enjoyed in a pub in Northleach.

On Sunday, with doughnuts in a basket and wearing their tall hats and rag coats, the Czechs joined the Carnival procession down the Cowley Road. It was wonderful to see them there. There were a whole range of carnival traditions - (as you can see) they were walking behind a Trindadian skeleton figure, in front of him was a giant puppet made with local artists, elsewhere there were samba bands from Brazil and a giant Bangladeshi tiger. When they saw me they dragged me into the road and danced round me - it is meant to be bring good luck, something I could do with right now. I spotted them several times through the day, walking through the crowds attracting a lot of attention with their top hats covered with flowers (they were surprised and delighted as people came up to them to talk and to ask to have their photo taken).

Towards the end of the day they came to my office and presented me with a special bottle of slivonic and a cd of Czech traditional music. They seemed very pleased with their reception and amazed by the size of our carnival. They have invited me to go to their town when they give a presentation to their fellow townsfolk about their trip to Oxford. As for East Oxford Action we have a wonderful record for the Heritage Lottery project we are doing on the traditions of Carnival and have a real tool to help us access the Czech community in our midst.

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