Saturday, 26 August 2017

Stamp Collecting & President Benes

By Nelliette (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

It is funny how people can be drawn to visiting a country. When I was running Czech Tours I always made a point of asking why people had chosen to come here, what had sparked their interest. In one case it was stamp collecting.

Anyone who has collected stamps as a youngster will know that Czechoslovakia produced loads of great stamps. I assume stamp production was a way to generate income from the West for the then Communist state. I no longer collect stamps, but I do collect Czech graphics and many of the artists I now collect also were hired to design stamps and first-day covers.

But it wasn't the graphical flair that had caught my customer's interest, but the story of the presidents whose faces appear on the stamps. In particular my customer was fascinated by President Benes. Now Benes has a very mixed press among Czechs. Many do not see him as the wartime leader, but as the president who failed to stop the Communists. To the Sudetenland Germans he is the man responsible for the forced expulsion from their homes and the deaths of those who fell or were slain on the route. But my customer made the pilgrimage to Benes' home near Tabor and came back enthused.


Friday, 18 August 2017

Cezeta - The Pig Flies Again


The Pig is the affectionate nickname given by the Czechs to a 1960s scooter and design icon produced by Cezeta. This is partly due to the scooter's snout and partly due to the pig as a Czech symbol of luck. Cezeta had been producing motorcycles since the 1930s, but it is the Cezeta 500 series culminating in Cezeta 505 that sticks in the collective memory.

Instantly recognizable due to its distinctive torpedo shape, the Čezeta was popular for its simplicity, reliability and durability. Due to its long wheelbase, it was originally marketed as a ‘car on wheels’ and never called a scooter. Two people could go on holiday with their bags stored in the body space, whilst the larger seat made comfortable room for lovers riding pillion. The Čezeta quickly became a symbol of freedom and adventure for young Czechs. It was also raced for fun by the company’s engineers. Following Grand Prix success in 250cc and 350cc classes, the ČZ brand became famous and because of it more than 100,000 Čezeta scooters were sold around the world, many of which have been lovingly restored and are now collectors’ items.

This year, thanks to the enthusiasm of a British ex-pat, Neil Eamonn Smith, the Cezeta 506 is being launched. Whilst keeping many of the design details that so appealed to its 1960s customers, the new scooter has been brought up to date. The 506 is a high performance sports scooter with a 0-50 km/h in 3.2 seconds, a powerful bike you can control, engineered for everyday use. It boasts new proprietary technologies including the electric drivetrain, the Sway throttle and the Dynamics torque selector.

A limited edition of just 600 bikes has been launched this year. But hopefully this will be the beginning of a new chapter in the story of the Cezeta Pig.

More  at www.cezeta.com

Sunday, 6 August 2017

A tinker's craft


I have been looking for a present for my cousin's 25th wedding anniversary. It had to be small enough and tough enough to survive going in hand luggage. And this is what I found. It combines a ceramic base with a hand-woven wire rim attached by holes drilled in the rim of the base. Isn't it beautiful!

The dish is a good example of a domestic handicraft, which traditionally was hawked around the villages by Slovak tinkers. Legend has it that after the tinkers had presented the Empress Marie Theresa with a cradle made of wire so brilliantly that it would rock forever with one push, the grateful empress granted the tinkers the right to travel all over the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Much of their trade would have been in repairing pots or wrapping them  in wire nets to stop breakages. Mousetraps, birdcages, whisks, coat hooks, strainers, and other household goods were also offered. All the craftsmen needed in their packs were rolls of soft flexible wire, a hammer, pincers, and a stitching awl. The wire was bent cold and so no bellows or anvil were needed.

The days of the itinerant tinkers are over. But in Slovakia and the Czech Republic some craftsmen are keeping the tinkers' craft alive, adapting it to modern markets and I was lucky enough to meet one yesterday at a stall on Ceske Budejovice's main square.


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