Saturday, 2 May 2009

Witches, maypoles and the unexpected

On the last day of April the Czechs set up their maypoles, light bonfires and on occasion burn a witch's effigy, oh and drink a lot of beer and eat a lot of sausages. They then have Mayday off to recover and drink some more beer. This year Mayday being on Friday this has extended into the weekend.

I have blogged in the past about a private party we went to, where we women (witches?) jumped over the bonfire for luck. But this year I decided to go a formal town event in Cesky Krumlov. The gardens of the Eggenberg Brewery was where it all happened - during the afternoon there were children's puppet shows and stalls from the various voluntary organisations in the town. I arrived before six, various young girls were wandering around in dandelion crowns (made at one of the stalls) and a gaggle of small boys were running around the puppet tent pretending to be monsters. About half a dozen witches stood around looking bored. The sausage stall and the beer tent were going great guns.

At about 6.30 the maypole was raised by local firemen, using a system of ropes and props and a lot of shouting. It was made of a moderately sized fir tree, with all but its top branches stripped off. There were ribbons tied to the crown and to a hoop that hung just below the branches. Also hanging was a bottle of slivovice or similar spirit. Then a group of traditional dancers performed in traditional costume. Why is it that folk dance is often so coy, I'm sure they weren't in the old days? A procession of lanterns was due to arrive at 7.30 when the bonfire would be lit. After that there was an evening's worth of entertainment.

My plan had been to stay for the evening but by 7ish I was feeling that something was wrong, nothing specific, just a foreboding and a desire to go home. So I walked along the river to my car and drove home. At Kajov and Horice Na Sumave the maypoles ribbons were streaming in the wind and smoke was rising from the bonfires, still I didn't stop. As I pulled at the gate, there was a slight rumble in the distance. By the time I had made a cup of tea, the sky was so black I had to put the lights on. The storm hit with great force, massive thundercracks, lightening that lit up the sky and torrents of rain that went on for ages. It would seem that the Cesky Krumlov witches were not taking this burning business lying down!

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