Sunday, 31 October 2010

Lost in Translation

A few months ago a reader of this blog (Eva) emailed me to say I should think about submitting Adventures in the Czech Republic for inclusion in an exhibition which will be opening at the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, London tomorrow. I thought about and decided I would and lo and behold Adventures in the Czech Republic was accepted!

To quote the publicity:
LOST IN TRANSLATION is an exhibition exploring what it is like to live in another country through the works of British and Czech artists with experience of living in the opposite countries. Each works tell a different story about coping with the change of the environment, but what unites them is that it’s impossible for an artist not to be influenced by it in their work. It doesn’t seem to matter where you are from until you move elsewhere, because that’s when you really start to see who you are; to the point of surprising yourself with unexpected yearning for the national identity. The language barrier especially is something that even those resumed to visual communication can find staggering. Settling into another culture is an emotional and adventurous process. The wonderment of things being different - cars on the other side of the road, learning to talk at great length about the weather and the tube announcements in an alien language. You take it all in with all your heightened senses, initially feeling displaced and uprooted, but gradually beginning to grasp your environment and redefining your identify. You are never going to be the same. Curated by UK-based Czech curator, Michaela Freeman.

And there is a special event on the 14th November at 4.15, with the screening of a documentary Czechin London and a moderated open discussion. If you come, you'll meet Potok in person.

For more info visit

Friday, 29 October 2010

Harvesting the Forest

I am spending a lot of my leisure time up in the forest at the moment. There are still mushrooms for the collecting. My love of mushrooming has always been accompanied by a love of being in nature. The Czechs have both of these loves – but for me there is the added attraction of novelty.

It is for these reasons I am hurt by what I see on my silvan jaunts – the wholesale destruction of tracts of my beloved Mytsky Les. These Czech forests are not natural, but the legacy of generations of foresters, who have carefully harvested and restocked the forest. Trees were cut down when their time came and not before, treecover was maintained to ensure that the forest floor did not become scrubland and suited to the flora and fungi, that also supplied the contents of their wives' store cupboards. No longer – instead I arrive at some of my favourite mushroom collecting sites to find devastation, whole areas stripped bare, unwanted branches and stumps strewn over the ground, my paths are rucked up by the monster machines used by the tree harvesters. After a year or two the open space thus created is covered by impenetrable brambles.

Why is this? The forests have survived communism only to fall foul of capitalism and privatisation. These new "tree harvesters" are interested only in short term profit, they harvest but they do not farm. The large machinery is easier and quicker. If all this wood was for domestic consumption I might be less annoyed, but I regularly nearly get run off the road by large timber lorries taking the best of the Czech forest to Germany and Austria. I am not alone in my alarm at developments. They are a regular topic of conversation with my Czech friends - one said recently that the Sumava Forest will be destroyed in ten years. Most are of the opinion that the excuse that some of the clearance is needed to fight the bark beetle is simply a ploy to justify the pillaging of the forests, indeed that the beetle scurge is a consequence of profit-driven monoculture.

The news from the UK that the British Government is proposing to sell off half our national forests fills me with horror. I have seen at first hand what that means and I urge British readers of this blog to sign the following online petition
or better still write to your mp, for details on how to do this see

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Carp Harvest at Olsina

Two years ago my husband and I watched the carp harvest at Lake Olsina near our house. This time I came with Salamander and stayed at her house by the lake, this meant we could be up before dawn.

For three weeks the lake has been slowly draining, until yesterday evening I was able to walk almost to its middle. There the carp were bunched in a channel of low water, running the gauntlet of hungry gulls, herons and egrets. I woke at 6 and just had time for a cup of tea, before hunting horns announced that the harvest was about to take place.

We climbed up on to the lake dam wall just in time to see the men start dragging their flat-bottomed metal boats out along the channel. The water had fallen even lower and the carp were now restricted to the area near the sluice. A net was dropped and then the men in the boats began banging on their boats and hitting the water to herd the fish towards the shore.

The sun started to rise and the wet mud glistened. The nets tightened and the water started to boil with fish. On the shore a line of men hoisted the fish out of the water and into plastic barrels. When these were full, their flapping contents were emptied into scales and weighed. Most carp were then sent up a conveyor belt and into vast tanks on the back of a lorry. These will then be transported to holding places, from whence they will make their way to the large barrels one sees in the middle of Czech towns in the run-up to Christmas. Quite a few however did not make it that far, but went straight to the stall on the side of the road. Locals arrived in their droves (not to see the harvest as we did) but to buy carp so fresh and recently caught that it was fighting to get out of their carrier bags.

One could not help but feel sorry for these lovely creatures with their bright scales and their mouths opening and closing in the alien air-filled environment. Only a few months ago I swam with them in the warm waters of the lake. But my sorrow for them was not so great that I did not buy two bits of freshly fried carp, which I ate with my fingers from a paper plate. They were delicious. As I commented to Salamander it reminded me of eating fish and chips on a British summer holiday - it was even raining.

Salamander has been doing some interesting posts on her blog about the history of the Czech fishponds

Friday, 22 October 2010


Winter will soon be upon us. Already the first sharp frosts have turned the grass in the orchard white. The Czech winter can be long and white – with snow lasting from early December into March. The Czechs have been getting ready for it all summer. Even as I was picking redcurrants in the garden I could hear the sound of chainsaws in the village. Whatever the carol (about the Czechs' saintly king) says the Czechs like to get their firewood well before the snow is deep and thick and even.

All around me whole walls of logs have been assembled in the gardens, ready for when the logs will be split and sawn to length, then they are stocked high against the house walls, where they are protected from the weather be the overhanging eaves. Still the chopping and sawing continues. The family across the way from us have been disappearing off on an old tractor, only to reappear with a trailer piled high with old wood. As I write the head of the family and his brother are using a remarkable machine to split four foot long logs. My other neighbours came back from their weekly visit to the supermarket yesterday with a new chainsaw.

I too have my store of wood piled against the wall near to the front door. Believe me when the snow comes I would not want to have to transport it any further. I hope it is enough. Last year winter was longer than is usual, with snow first appearing (and disappearing) in October, and it caught some of my neighbours out. They have no intention of it doing so this year. I am using up my supply from last year, when we cut down some trees in the orchard and cut up some old rotten beams. But if the worst comes to the worst I have my plans – the remnants of the floor downstairs may be for the chop.

I really should be stocking up on wood for the 2011-2012 Winter, laying down cheaper unseasoned wood for the future. I know some of my neighbours are doing just that. But somehow I can't just bring myself to look at more than one cold Czech winter at a time.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Late Autumn

Okay, so I often blog about my walk home up the hill from Horice na Sumave, but there is always something new and lovely to see. And I just thought you would like to see some photos of the leaves and rosehips in the bright autumn sunshine. There was, as you can see, not a cloud in the sky.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Empties (Vratne Lahve)

As a follow-up to my previous post about recycling beer bottles in the Czech Republic, I thought I might share with you a video clip from one of my favourite Czech films - Vratne Lahve. Its English title is Empties and is a story of a 65 year old man, who having given up a job teaching literature to annoying school children, ends up in a supermarket recycling beer bottles. It is set at a time when automatic bottle machines were just appearing in Czech supermarkets, instead you handed your bottles to a man on the other side of the hatch, who would give you a receipt.

The film comes the father and son team, Zdenek and Jan Sverak, which also gave us the Oscar-winning Kolya. Zdenek wrote and starred in the film, whilst son Jan directed. The film is a gentle comedy about a man, who has problems facing the approach of old age. It is full of wonderful characters including the man's long suffering wife and the many denizens of the supermarket. In the hands of Hollywood this film and this subject matter could be mawkish and certainly would be quicker paced, but instead it is lovely and forgiving (Zdenek's character is no angel), funny and sad, and ultimately life-affirming.

Thursday, 7 October 2010


One of the things that surprised the members of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society on their visit to the Budweiser Budvar Brewery was the spectacle of old beer bottles being cleaned and recycled.

When I was a child in 1960's Britain we used to pay a deposit on lemonade bottles. I remember the delight of handing the empty bottle over to Mrs Evans in our local cornershop and getting back a nice coin, which if allowed I used to buy some sweets. We Brits stopped recycling bottles sometime in my childhood - a mistake I think. 

But the Czechs sensibly have retained the system of paying a deposit on beer bottles. You save your empty bottles and crate (if you paid a deposit on that too) until you decide to return them to the supermarket. There you will find a machine - with a hole into which you feed individual bottles and another for crates. The machine weighs the bottle (checking you're not trying to fiddle the system) and then a converyor takes the bottle and drops it with a clink somewhere on the other side. When you have finished, you press a button and the machine gives you a receipt, which you hand in to the checkout. It is amazing (and pleasant) how much money you get back. You certainly are motivated to recycle every beer bottle.

Friday, 1 October 2010

When the Circus Came to Town.

A week ago my husband and I were walking into Cesky Krumlov, when we found ourselves behind two men who were wearing strange multi-coloured wigs and riding on kiddies scooters. 

"What is that all about?" asked my husband.

Later we got our answer when I pulled a flyer advertising the arrival of a circus from under our windscreen wiper. The day after we were passed by a van announcing the circus' arrival through a tannoy and towing a trailer on which was a life-size model of a crocodile. 

Going to the circus seems to be a common activity in the Czech Republic, more so than in England. The circus has been to Cesky Krumlov at least twice this year already. It is set up on a piece of ground in front of the blocks of flats near to the Lidl supermarket. This is a traditional circus with animals - there are stalls for the various animals - zebras, etc. which the locals can wander round. And there are the traditional caravans, such as the one shown here.

Traditional circuses in England have been in decline, hit by popular opposition to exploiting wild animals and increasingly replaced by non-animal based circus. Although there's a ban in the Czech Republic on the use of certain wild animals, or maybe because of it, the circus seems to be going strong here. The circus website shows performing elephants, camels, bears and zebras. As you can see we didn't go to the circus, despite the publicity.


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