Thursday, 22 November 2012
Here I am in my Czech home trying to write a novel and procrastinating, so I'm writing a blog post instead. The weather outside is grey - November is a naff month here, by which I mean English weather, grey, foggy, cloudy with occasional rain. Winter hasn't really arrived yet, with that wonderful white crisp snow with skies so blue and clear you could furnish an entire navy with trousers. The village is alive with people getting ready - draping their garden plants with conifer branches and cutting firewood. But one preparation is already completed - the preparation of conserves.
All through the summer and autumn the Czechs have been making jams and marmalade, bottling fruit and vegetables and of course drying mushrooms. I too caught the bug for the latter - mushrooms were sliced and dried on trays or hung on string over the stove. And the result: I have a large kilner jar full of sliced mushrooms the consistency of foam rubber. As for fruit, well I have no need to lift a finger. My Czech friends will always bring me jars when they come to tea. And not just one jar either, a carrier bag will open and at least four jars will be produced. I am very grateful during these winter months - there is somehow nothing so warming as toast and jam.
It seems to me watching my Czech friends that they cannot bear the sight of food going to waste. What we would discard, they harvest. Baskets of bruised windfalls are gathered and every tiny bit of good saved and turned into delicious food. Perhaps it dates back to those years when food was not abundant. I am sufficiently old enough to have been brought up by parents who knew rationing and know the impact it had on their attitudes. I still feel guilty when I do not finish my food. But the Czechs do seem to take it to extremes - in Czech cellars and pantries there are jars and jars of the stuff.
When my lovely friend Hannah died she left shelves full of jars and several freezers full of mushrooms and vegetables (mostly runner beans). Knowing that they would otherwise go to waste, I took a basket of jars home with me. After all those saucepans she ruined making the stuff, it was the least I could do.
Saturday, 17 November 2012
Tuesday, 6 November 2012
Slavonice is a small quiet town in the area of Czech Canada on the Austrian border. The town isn't on most tourists' itinerary, which is a shame for the tourists but good for those of us in the know. The town is decorated with spectacular Renaissance sgraffito, but for me the gems in the town are to be found inside the buildings which crowd round the town's two adjoined squares. Step through any number of archways and you will find yourself in entrance halls with wonderful ornately ribbed ceilings.
I recommend visiting the tourist information centre, if for no other reason than to admire the wall decorations. But best of all is a house where one of the rooms was used as a Lutheran chapel in the very early days of Protestantism. Three of the four walls are decorated with scenes of the end of the Last Judgement. The iconography is fascinating with the pope clearly depicted as the anti-Christ. It is not hard to see that to the worshipers who sat in that room four and a half centuries ago the day of Judgement was nigh.
The house is now a small museum and bed and breakfast. It was very strange spending the night in a museum, although I am pleased to say that you do not sleep in a room with demons dragging souls off to hell on the walls. Now that really would be spooky.
The museum is only open in the peak summer months, but can be visited by prior appointment on other months via the website http://www.evagiordanova.cz/en/modlitebna. You can also book accommodation there too.