Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Czech Customs Museum - Easter

Easter in the Czech Republic is one of the most important events in the year. I have blogged before about the custom of painting easter eggs and women being beaten with woven willow switches in return for luck and easter eggs before now. A troupe of my neighbours' children (girls and boys) went round the village collecting eggs, chanting Easter rhymes and waving switches on Easter Monday (although not necessarily in that order). Twenty-first century commercialism  has sadly got in on the act - if you are too lazy or have not been trained to make the switch yourself you can buy them in Tescos! As I have covered egg painting and switches in a previous post, I will leave my comments at that and move on to something else.

No, in this post I want to talk about a wonderful Prague museum, which is regularly and sadly overlooked by foreign visitors. My excuse for doing so, (not that I need an excuse, as this is my blog and I can post what I like) is that it is the Musaion - the Museum of Czech Ethnography - in Kinsky Gardens and of course features the Easter celebrations in its displays.

The picture from the museum collection above is of a figure of death or the old winter - called Caramura (in Moravia) or Morena (in the Sumava). The figure is usually made of straw and decorated with a necklace of eggs. The figure is processed to a river where it is torn apart, burnt and the remains thrown into the river. With winter dead, spring and Easter can begin. Other easter exhibits included a large collection of traditional decorated eggs (different areas have different forms of decoration) and switches.

In all the time I was in the museum, which was over an hour, I think there was only one other visitor. We were outnumbered by the old ladies who were the Museum's attendants. As I left I said "Muzeum je krasne" (the museum is beautiful), to which I got broad smiles Why wasn't the museum full of Czechs, let alone foreign tourists? I can't tell you how much I enjoyed the exhibits - there were exhibits on the Lent and Christmas, Masopust, Harvest festivals, birth and marriage traditions, traditional folk costumes, folkart, crafts and furniture and even more recent traditions such as the Czech hiking tradition. Most of the notices were in Czech, but all the rooms had summaries in English.

I combined my museum visit with a walk up onto Petrin Hill - another one of Prague's well-kept secrets. The Hill has is covered with woods and orchards and allows the best view of the old city. I went in spring, my favourite time for visiting the hill - it was covered with wildflowers (grape hyacinths, yellow stars of Bethlehem, blue squill and violets) and the fruit trees were in blossom.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Flashes of wonder

Today has been a remarkable day for insects.

Yesterday morning I was working in the orchard clearing some space for some shrubs I had bought, when I noticed that the cherry tree blossom was about to burst. I withdrew into the shade and cool of the house for a midday break and when I re-emerged at 3pm I found that the miracle had happened and the cherry tree was covered with white blossom. Today I returned to the orchard to plant the aforementioned shrubs and was amazed to find the cherrytree was buzzing loudly and the blossom shimmering with frantic bees.

Then this evening I went to Cesky Krumlov to feed Hannah's (Salamander's) cats, my way took me along the bank of the River Vltava. Another miracle - the air was full of mayflies (even if it is still only April). I watched with amusement as the diners at the riverside restaurants waved their hands as insects landed in the food and hair. By the time I made my way back to my car it was nearly dark and the mayflies were swirling flashes of light in the ray of the spotlights that illuminate the castle. It was a magical moment and one Hannah would have loved. Looking back through this blog I realise how often when I spoke of her, it was because we were sharing a moment of wonder such as this. In a way I feel we still are.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Other parts - 1 - Litomysl

Over the last four days I have been up in the north visiting Bohemian Switzerland, the Bohemian Paradise area, and Litomysl, and I managed to call in on Hlinsko on the way back too. I have taken loads of photos and so over the next few posts I thought I would do some photographic blogposts about what I've seen. So let us begin with Litomysl.

Litomysl is like Cesky Krumlov on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. It has a wonderful arcaded square, the highlight in which is for me the Knights House (now used as a gallery). The facade of the house is decorated with a series of carved knights.

Litomysl's Renaissance Palace is covered with the most incredible sgraffito decoration. The decoration on the outside is just amazing:

But the work on the inner wall of the courtyard is even more spectacular and include this portrayal of the Battle of the Malvian Bridge.
 I cannot do justice to the Palace and its decoration in this blog, you will just have to visit Litomysl yourself.

Litomysl's other main claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Czech composer - Smetana. The town plays host to a major international music festival in June - the Smetanova. I came across this fountain - currently dry for the winter - in which children were playing. What a photograph cannot portray is the fact that speakers built into the wall were playing music by Smetana.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Saying Goodbye

Today saw the funeral in Prague of my friend Hannah. I didn't go, I daren't - I drove for nine hours yesterday and a similar time the day before and a further round trip to Prague was beyond me and my aching back. In any case I always think funerals should be for the family and although Hannah was the older sister I never had that doesn't quite count. Tomorrow there is a get-together of her friends in her house in Cesky Krumlov, which I will go to. But today I had the day to myself to think and to say goodbye.

About a month ago - maybe a bit less - we were having a whimsical discussion about what to do about funeral arrangements. It was already clear that she almost certainly had terminal cancer, but Hannah was the sort of person who is able to enjoy the funny side of the darkest things. I suggested that we should put her in a boat and launch it on to her beloved Lake Olsina, so that she could sail off into the sunset - sunsets there are often spectacular. She liked the idea but then said it would be too much of a shock for the poor carp fishermen when they come to drain the lake next year for the carp harvest - it might even start a "woman in the lake" murder enquiry, so we moved on to other equally unrealistic ideas.

Yesterday as I drove across Germany I was thinking about this conversation. Her son Danny has created a website in her honour and I had searched out some photos of her prints to send him, among them was the print shown above (the original of which is in her Olsina cottage). It made me think. Today I made an origami boat, dipped it in wax to make it last longer. I printed out the photo and cut out the little man. With these on the car seat beside me, I drove off to Olsina as the sun headed towards the horizon.

On the bank above the cottage I stopped to pick some of the violets which had so delighted Hannah in previous springs and which alas did not come out this year until after she had gone into the hospice. I had at least been able to tell her about them in a telephone conversation only five days before her death, and she was pleased. I stood on a small beach of the lake where she and I last summer had stripped down to our pants and swum in the warm summer water, whilst the carp rose to the surface a few feet away. The carp were still rising this evening. Out on the water two crested grebes were calling each other. The only other sound was the lap of small waves against the shingle and the beat of a heron's wings overhead.

As the sun slid out of sight, I rested the boat on the water. At first the little man stood in his bobbing boat waving at me, until it turned and the current took him on a new adventure, first out into the lake and then along the shoreline away from Hannah's cottage. The boat soon disappeared behind a small headland, covered with willows and fringed with bullrushes, and was gone. It was turning dark, I walked back to the car and made my way home.  

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Learning English

I saw this advert on a building in Prague. It reads "Pingu's English. English courses for children from three years old."

What next - Czech children learning German with the telletubbies? Japanese with Bill and Ben the flowertop men?

Woodstacking Update

Further to my last two posts - here it is ten cubic metres of cut firewood. This took my husband, son and I two half days solid stacking. The logs are two deep! As we were working from all over the village came the sound of wood being cut ready for next winter.


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