Saturday, 3 May 2014

Raising the Maypole

The 31st April is an important day in the Czech calendar. It is the day when they raise the maypole and "burn" witches. This year I was in Cesky Krumlov for the celebrations. Here is a video of the difficult and skillful erection of the maypole.

The event is very much a community one. There are stalls all around the Eggenberg gardens featuring local community groups.

The stage is host to performances by local youngsters, from preschool dancers to a vibrant teenage samba group. The girls of the traditional dance group decorate the maypole (before its erection) with garlands and paper birds.

Paper birds also decorate the trees.

Of course there is the usual beer tent and stalls selling parek (hotdogs). Mothers and children are cooking octopus sausages on hazel sticks over an open fire.

In addition there is a unlit bonfire waiting the witchburning which will take place in the evening. Meanwhile the older witches are happily painting youngsters faces at a stall nearby.

And younger witches wander the grounds looking for their friends or should we say familiars.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Visit to Brno

For some reason the bishop always came last in the annual Brno hide-and-seek competition.

I have just come back from a trip to the Czech Republic's second city, Brno. I was busy researching and organizing a tour of the area by the Textile Society. As part of the research I visited the treasury in the cathedral to look at the ecclesiastical garments. As I walked round the building waiting for the treasury to open I passed a series of identical bishop's tombs, which made me chuckle.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Magic Realism: Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

My review of this masterpiece by one of Prague's favourite sons is over on my Magic Realism blog. Click on the link below to read the review in its entirety.

Magic Realism: Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka:  A masterful mix of horror and absurdity which tells the story of travelling salesman Samsa who wakes up one day to find out h...

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

The Golem

Everywhere I look in Prague I see cutesy golems – on mugs, tea-towels, cards. It's as if the golem has been adopted as the mascot for a Prague Olympic bid. Do you remember those horrid blobs we trolled out for London 2012, meant to be something every six year old girl wanted to cuddle? Think more cultured and you have the Prague 2013 golem.

Now don't get me wrong, the Czechs have a lovely line in taking something threatening (like devils) and producing something less threatening for children. One of the things I have always loved about them is their strength in graphic design. But somehow, for me at least, it doesn't quite work for the Golem. You will note the shift from lower case to upper there.

The Golem is something deeply rooted in Prague, born of the mud of the Vltava River in fact. What is it/he? And what does he mean? Golems (with a lower case), and there were more than one in Jewish folklore and legend, are beings which are brought life to by magical incantation from inanimate matter, often from mud , as is the case of the Prague Golem. Only the most holy of men can create a golem, the means can be found in the close study of the holy scripts.

A golem has no mind of his own; he exists to obey his creator and master. One might say he is a pre-Industrial Revolution robot (and “robot” of course is a creation of a Czech writer). Most importantly he is dumb. He does not have that most human of attributes the skill to use language. He is in some ways a puppet, another quintessentially Czech creation. You see where I'm going here?

This is turning into a long post, so I will explore the Golem further (including telling the tale of the Golem in Prague) in another post. But let me just leave you with one last thought. The first golem, the first creation from mud, was Adam. We are therefore all golems.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

New Book

I am planning a new novel, set in Prague, and drawing on my experience as an ex-pat. It will be a psychological paranormal mystery, so totally appropriate for Prague, that home of the esoteric, the Golem, alchemy and Jungian theory.

I am very excited by it. Having published five ebooks now, I reckon I can do something unexpected with the medium. This blog will play an important part in that, I hope.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Going into hospital in the Czech Republic

I had sometimes wondered what the healthcare would be like in my adopted homeland. Would it be as good as the NHS in the UK? As an EU citizen I carry a health insurance card which means that the British Government picks up the tab for emergency healthcare I receive in the Czech Republic, but how easy would it be and would there be lots of extra costs?

In April I was taken badly ill in the Czech Republic with what turned out to be a strangulated umbilical hernia blocking my gut. A friend dialled 112 for an ambulance, which arrived promptly and, watched by concerned neighbours, I was whisked off to Cesky Krumlov hospital. There I was seen immediately by a consultant in A&E, who ordered several tests - CT scan, xrays and the like, again these happened immediately. Within three hours I was being prepped for surgery.

In total I spent twenty-one days in Cesky Krumlov hospital, eleven in the intensive care ward and ten on a general surgery ward, and not once did I find anything that I would complain about. Whilst the hospital is obviously an old one from the communist era and so was not the highest spec, it was spotlessly clean and functional and the medical equipment was modern. My concerns about the Health card proved unfounded. I simply had to show the card and my passport to the ambulance man and the hospital administrator on arrival.

I was struck by the levels of care shown to me and other patients, especially on the intensive care ward. Staffing levels per patient are higher than those in the UK and so the nurses weren't running around the way they do in Britain and had time to care for you. On one occasion, when I was in pain and distressed, a nurse sat with me and stroked my face. It's hard to imagine British nurses having the time to do that.

The Czech nurses seemed to have been trained to speak softly, but authoritatively to the patients, which I found extremely calming, even though most of the nurses did not speak English and what Czech I could speak and understand disappeared in a cloud of pain and pain relief drugs. But then the language problem didn't seem to matter - care doesn't need translation. After a few days a sister discovered she could use Google Translate on her phone and so soon we were communicating with ease. Most of the doctors did speak at least some English and the consultant spoke it well. The one Czech phrase you need to know is "Boli me..." which means "I have pain...", then finish the phrase with pointing at the place that it is hurting.

As I said to my husband the place felt like a British hospital used to, before the administrators started walking round with clipboards and stopwatches, when patient care came first ahead of cost-cutting. This sense that I had slipped back to my childhood, when I had several stays in hospital, was reinforced when one of the nurses brought in a small radio tuned to a programme that played English-language pop music from the 1960's. The first time this happened I was so out of it, that the music merged into my hallucinations, but the second time I was amused to find myself to Billy J Kramer's song "Little Children", which I had loved as a child, and grateful to the nurse for thinking of me lying in my bed surrounded by the Czech language.

Breakfast was bread rolls with jam and fruit and sometimes cake, supper was similarly simple and monotonous: soup, bread rolls with cheese or pate. But lunch was usually superb. It was cooked on-site and consisted of a soup, and main course of typical Czech food, such as goulash, svickova, beef in pepper sauce. In the general surgery ward we ate together in a dining room, which allowed me to chat to fellow patients. I paid a grand total of 100 crowns (£3.30) a day for board and lodging. I could easily pay twice that for a lunch of a similar standard in a restaurant.

Thanks to the staff of Cesky Krumlov hospital I am now fully recovered and feeling better than I have done for years. I am now totally confident of Czech healthcare, so much so that I think I was probably lucky to be taken ill in the Czech Republic rather than the UK.  

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Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Cesky Krumlov Floods 2013

Did they say the flood reduction works would stop a once in a century sized flood?  This argument was used to justify the destruction of Cesky Krumlov's historic riverside and island, the grubbing out of a channel creating a speeding river where once had been a slow one, and the replacement of soft river banks with man-made concrete and granite walls. Well on Sunday the reduction works experienced their first test and failed.

In 2002 Cesky Krumlov and Prague suffered devastating floods as waters released from Lake Lipno rushed up the Vltava. This time the cause was different - we have had unseasonably wet weather last month which meant the ground was saturated when on Saturday the heavens opened for a massive downpour which lasted over 36 hours.

The water having nowhere to go ran off the fields into the streams turning them into torrrents and from there the waters poured downhill into the waiting River Vltava.
Residents in Cesky Krumlov's riverside properties were woken around midnight to sirens and the warning that the flood was on its way. The floods not only hit the area along the Vltava, but also along the little rivers and streams. As we drove into Cesky Krumlov the following morning along the Chvalsinska Road, we could see that a small stream had turned into a monster and swept across the road, flooding properties and car parks. A white car lay crushed against a fence. 

By the time we arrived in Krumlov historic centre the flood levels had already dropped 1.5 metres, but the sight was still impressive. We went to Laibon Restaurant on Parkan, which was open despite having been under 10 cms water earlier that morning. Life goes on, as it has done after countless floods over the centuries.

The truth is that no flood reduction work could ever be fully successful in Cesky Krumlov. Floods have been a way of life in this town and without raising the town by several metres they will remain so. The reduction measures have even had a disastrous consequence, which was foreseen by the former civic engineer Mr Pesek, namely the walls of the houses in Parkan are showing large cracks, due to the drying out of their foundations. Let's hope the Town Council doesn't see this as an opportunity to throw more money at failing to address the floods and so ruin this lovely town.

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