Thursday, 26 May 2011

Toilet breaks

I was driving along a country road the other day behind an old Skoda. The road was typical of many one gets in the Czech countryside - built at a time when there were no cars and few carts and so narrow enough to make overtaking difficult. And as is the case with many such roads it was lined with fruit trees which made overtaking even more dangerous, so there I was - stuck but philosophical. Then suddenly the car in front started to indicate - I could see no side road down which it could be turning and sure enough all the Skoda did was pull up. I  could do nothing but stop behind the car as the road rose to brow just beyond the parked cars.

What was the matter? Imagine my annoyance when the male driver and his passenger jumped out of the car and walk away. Then in clear sight they proceeded to pee against one of the fruit trees. When they had finished they walked nonchalantly back to the car doing up their flies.  

I have observed such behaviour regularly - Czech males peeing in public. On any car trip of length you are likely to see this (and not just on car trips). As a Brit I still find this lack of embarrassment strange. What is it about the Czech male? Is it, as I suspect, a cultural thing? A friend of mine once told me "I do enjoy peeing in nature." Getting back to nature certainly has a great appeal to the Czech psyche, maybe this is a reason. Or is it related to the copious amounts of beer Czech men drink?

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Sharing the Garden

Having spent so long doing up my Czech house I am at last turning my attention to our enormous garden. Well, I say 'garden' it's really an overgrown orchard - very overgrown. As long-standing readers of my blog will be aware I started the hard process of mowing some of it a few years ago. At first my only option was to hand scythe, but each year I have managed to get more of it to a point where my electric strimmer can take some of the strain off my shoulder and arm muscles.  

The improvement is such that this year I decided to start planting some shrubs. My friend Hannah had always urged me to improve the garden. She was a great one for planting decorative shrubs and plants with edible fruit (very Czech) and what little was left of her busy life was spent gardening, including removing snails from her strawberries and throwing them over the fence. I pointed out that that was all very well if you are in the Czech Republic all the time, but I am not and so the battle against pests would be lost almost as soon as it began. Now with Hannah's death I found myself rethinking my position. With a large population of snails and ground riddled with mouseholes it was a no to strawberries and runnerbeans but more substantial shrubs might be possible.

I returned from the garden centre (Czech garden centres are very different to English ones - less flowers and more trees) with an aronia bush, two sea buckthorns (male and female to allow pollination), an edible amelianchior, raspberries, thornless blackberry and cranberry. After a day's digging the shrubs stood proud on a bank half way down the garden, where the blossom and bright fruit will be visible from the window by my desk.

A few days later I inspected the plants to discover that someone/thing had chewed the bark of my aronia. This was unexpected - snail damage on the raspberries yes, rabbit attack on the blackberry - but not a large shrub. Look closely at the photo above and you will see the culprit - a deer. I knew they regularly strip my plum trees of fruit on the lower branches, but I was not expecting them to eat bark in early summer. During the day I never see them in the orchard (this photo was taken at dawn from the window hence the lack of clarity), but I do see their droppings.

I checked the internet and discovered that the answer to this problem was human urine. Apparently they are scared off by human scent. So urine it was. I leave you to work out how it was delivered to the aronia bush!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

A Relationship With Trees

When I was in the Cesky Raj - Bohemian Paradise - I passed this old tree on the side of the road and had to stop and take this photograph. For the Czechs the old limetree merits a wooden roof to protect its stump, a sign and to be marked on the map. But a cursory examination of most Czech maps will find 'significant' trees - 'dub' (oak), lipa (lime) etc.

I have been unable to find out any real significance in these trees, other than they are usually old and so have been a feature in the landscape for several generations - this tree is about 280 years old.Yes, we Brits do on occasion preserve trees but usually they have some historical or at least legendary claim on our thoughts and time. When I contrast the Czech veneration for these trees to British attitudes it seems so much greater.

As I have said in previous posts the forest plays an important part in the Czech psyche and I think this tree veneration is part of this. But in the case of limes - they are a symbol of nationhood. The limetree is the national tree and linked to the legendary founder of the Czech nation Queen Libuse. My research into the life of Czech religious reformer Jan Hus (John Huss) reveals that he reputedly preached regularly under trees. These trees or what is left of them are now of course significant.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Rock Castle at Sloup v Cechach

A few weeks ago I was visiting the Bohemian Switzerland and was making my way to Jicin when my satnav decided to take me on the scenic route. I am very glad it did, because it brought me through some lovely old villages with the traditional wooden houses of the northen Sudetenland and to this rock castle at Sloup v Cechach.

The northern part of the Czech Republic cannot boast the wonderful unspoilt towns of South Bohemia, its towns have been too industrialised. But it can boast spectacular sandstone formations like the one above and is a mecca for lovers of spectacular scenery, geology and rockclimbing. Some were converted into rock castles when robbers or local leaders built forts on the top of them. But in this one much of the castle is hollowed out of the rock itself (Sloup means column in Czech).

You enter the castle via a small door at the base of the rock and then climb a staircase cut through the rock, with toolmarks on the wall, further up you will find rooms - a black kitchen, chapels, living rooms, and more buildings on top of the rock itself. It probably started as a shelter for local people and then in the later middle ages became a more formal fortress. After a period as the base of a robber knight it was besieged and taken. During the Baroque period the rock was home to a hermit and several chapels were built for pilgrims to the site.

It really is the most weird place and one unlike anything I have experienced elsewhere. You are left alone to explore the rooms clutching an information sheet and imagining the past, so much better than the rather boring guided tours the Czechs normally insist on providing. My visit did not take long, but I left grateful to my satnav.


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