Friday, October 01, 2004

October 2004 - Interior Decorating

Interior Decorating? I wasn't sure whether to laugh or to cry. Let'sassume, before one begins decorating, that the heating, plumbing,electricity are already in place, that any fungi which had invaded woodwork has been removed (along with superfluous walls blocking doors, or sitting on a sprung parquet dance floor) and that sawed-off stair cases have been replaced.These are huge assumptions. Never mind.

First throw out junk - 13 hard moldy loaves of bread, fermenting canned strawberries, stacks of Communist youth magazines, old torn clothes, mouse nests. Save the crosses, the horseshoes, tiles from ancient tile stoves, grandfather's architect's drawing, some handmade nails.
I'll skip lightly over the repair of windows; additions of toilets, sinks; renovating floors etc., etc., since that is already covered completely in the first short paragraph. [See above!] Moving on to real interior decorating, I realize that I have actually done some decorating which I like.
Color pleases me very much & I think about the placement of rooms under consideration. A north-facing room needs warm color. My painter & I mixed & stirred paint to copy a scrap of pinky-coral tissue paper for paint on the large dining room walls. The woodwork is a warm cream, & striped tablecloths, hand-loomed by a friend, are a happy mix of cream, green, forest, pink, gold, & orange.

Two south-facing rooms could take cool colors. The library is white & gray with the same cream woodwork. A red couch & chairs done in a William-Morris-type print along with all the books add color. The bedroom next to it is red, white, & blue, but rather subtly done, with only touches of red. There's a quilt on the large bed. On the sleigh bed is a deep red blanket & a heart-shaped blue & white pillow edged in white eyelet. The pillow is "modra-tisk", the ancient technique of printing cloth with indigo dye [See Czech Handicraft shops.] Wardrobe shelves are lined in red, white, & blue paper. The walls are light blue & white, the pattern rolled on by cut-out rubber rollers. This technique was widely used here 10 or 15 years ago; neighbors loaned me rollers, but perhaps some paint stores might still have some buried in their storeroom.
Fabric comes from a nearby factory & I have gladly made friends with my amiable neighborhood upholsterer. As well as sofas, upholstered chairs, & wooden chair seats, he also puts tops on folding birch luggage racks which all my bedrooms have, & which I also sell, one of the products of our woodshop.

Collections can go on shelves, which our shop also makes. My collections are all accidental - I was left things by relatives & many were gifts. I have four - bells, pitchers, little boxes, & fish. If you have collections, purposeful or accidental, your travels give you the chance to add to your collections & the new pieces decorate your house. The little boxes are in my bedroom & the bells in another bedroom. Pitchers sit on a kitchen shelf; fish are on a bathroom wall.

I take pictures - posters, family photos, friends' paintings - to a very reasonably priced workshop close by. For years I've been wishing for non-reflective glass, which is finally available here.

Thinking "out-of-the box" is so important. What color should a floor be? Brown? Black? Well, I stained the floor in a dull small hallway a rich blue. Nice! We had to build one bathroom in front of a bedroom, because the bedroom had a great arched & molded ceiling plus there was no reasonable place to put the door. We finally put the bathroom on one side of the first room, a closet in the corner, & a sitting area with an easy chair, a captain's chair, & a hassock in the other, leaving a very adequate passage to the bedroom.

Furniture moves from room to room, according to need. A table/desk in a guest bedroom is now an accountant's desk. An extra buffet in an extra wide hallway, holds a family member's bits & pieces. Rattan furniture, awaiting eventual repair of a veranda, makes a conversation area at the end of the big dining room.

Writing this article has encouraged me to think hopefully of the next stages, when more basic renovation will let me decorate further.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

September 2004 - Transitions

Absolutely no getting away from transitions in life. Even a stone so many million years old sometimes gets picked up to edge a rock garden or to be put into a wall. We have many more feelings than that stone!

Attitudes towards upcoming transitions can vary from joyful anticipation to feelings of dread & terror. We might have a mixture of these feelings, or vacillation between extremes. Is it true that...? Will it be wonderful? Will it be terrible? Will working hard crack & solve any difficulties?

Advice is forthcoming in all the helpful magazines. Have a good night's sleep. Wear clothes you're comfortable in. Eat a good breakfast, or at least have something to drink. Learn all you can about the situation
you're about to enter. Make a list. Think positively. Greet everyone with a smile.

Actually everyday brings transitions, minor or major. You or a friend are moving; a new baby is born; the street in front of your house is dug up; a new school year starts; a visitor leaves with the enthralling book
you're reading; someone is in the hospital with a broken leg - or a terminal disease; a big storm changes your plans; conversation with neighbors & repair people requires you to learn some Czech.

About two o'clock one afternoon in our early years here I was writing to an English friend [This was Neil]: "We are usually exhausted by mid-afternoon. Six strange things will have happened. Today we already have our quota, so I still have energy to write to you." At that point I was interrupted while three more strange things began to
happen! First, we were asked to make a phone check for a neighbor without a phone who had been tricked by other neighbors, who disliked him, into believing that his brother was at death's door in the
hospital. [Stanek] [His brother was really staying with a drinking buddy.]
Then a friend, grandchild in tow, arrived to say she needed to sell family goods, & that her husband might be very ill & what could we do about these problems? I made coffee; provided paper hankies. My
husband listened to her story. Finally, we had to chase away a couple rough guys who tried to come inside to look around for furniture they could buy.

Recently our 2 1/2 year old granddaughter was very well prepared for the birth of her baby sister, but I began to perceive she believed that
carefully not bonding closely with me, would prevent her mother from leaving for the hospital. On the actual morning that mother & daddy were gone she was amazingly calm. It was not nearly as bad as she'd imagined - her house was still there, her Elmo, her breakfast, her wading pool. Soon daddy came home to tell her about her new little sister with whom she is very gentle & sweet.

A new experience I had while in the States was taking a friend sightseeing in Boston, where I'd only ever spent several days, & that years ago, & they've dug up lots of Boston since then. Discussing restaurants with my son-in-law, picking up some maps of Boston, & having a cell phone made the excursion nearly painless. My friend & I greatly enjoyed our day eating at the Union Oyster House, visiting Paul Revere's house, & talking with people in Boston's North End.

Magazine advice is not all bad, but I'd like to add a few things. Grin & Be Grateful. Do not add Gritting Teeth to this, or you will have to find a dentist before you are settled with your other changes. You may kick the door - if it's strong enough - or, better, dance around the room. For twenty minutes or so, dance, & avoid looking at the remaining things to be done. Next, so many Prague churches are open through the day. Sit in a church. You are not allowed to kick the pews, but you may pray. This needn't be a "nice" prayer; freely list all your complaints. Then, just sit. Finally realize that your perceptions are greatly heightened right now because of your new situation. Take advantage of this. Get a notebook, and begin to jot down things you notice - strange experiences in moving, a few lines about interesting people seen in your daily trek to & from the school or the hospital or your new job, or a complete description of the progress of the road diggers as observed from your window.

Nevertheless you miss the book your guest walked off with?? IWAP office will sell you another book - possibly even a copy of the same one you were reading. Profits to charity.

Monday, March 01, 2004

March 2004 - Stained Glass

How often do you re-lead your stained glass windows?

In our Blue Room is a bay window whose inner panes are decorated with brilliant red and pale gold stained glass. Several small missing panes would again let in drafts in the approaching cold winter of the Southern Bohemian Highlands. A tower's deer's head windows also needed repairing.

A Prague friend faxed us information on a firm at Novy Bor in Northern Bohemia.Bonnie, a friend visiting from New Hampshire, would make the journey with me.

First, I asked a worker to lay all the windows in my car, wrapping them carefully in blankets.
"You must stand them upright, or they will totally smash."
"There's not enough room."
" Wrap them thickly, and wedge with the styrofoam pieces."
"Can't be done." With a few more comments, he walked away.
So, Bonnie and I did it.

We set off: north to Prague, on to Melnik, and further north through hidden river gorges to Novy Bor. The town is replete with glass factories, firms, stores. Finally we parked near a store which had the correct name, and sold some stained glass windows amongst other glass objects, but the saleswoman sent us around the corner, to the main yard. Upstairs in an office we consulted with a somewhat doubtful manager (whom I had, however, telephoned). He did consent to call the head artisan, whom I will term Pan Sklo.

Downstairs we went again and across the yard to unwrap our treasure. Only a few of the cracked panes had jostled out. Pan Sklo watched with interest and assisted us. "Yes. Yes, we can do this work. But the repaired windows must remain upright."
"A truck will come," I said.
"We shall re-lead them all," stated Pan Sklo.
"Re-lead all!?!," I exclaimed. "No. Just needed repair......these pieces of broken glass......and the lead is gone there......."
Pan Sklo was firm. "Lead glass windows sag. Old lead ceases to bond to the glass. Don't you know stained glass windows must be re-leaded every One Hundred Years?"
No. No, I did not know. This fact was not part of my store of knowledge. Now I know. Every One Hundred Years: Re-lead your stained glass windows.

Pan Sklo showed us around the workrooms. We gazed at pretty things, imaginative, exquisite, striking, very modern, antique, small, large. Designers drew in one room. Special single-piece orders were in another. A third room had Obecansky Dum windows laid out, dismantled, arranged on paper patterns for re-leading. When a young apprentice spoke with us in English, we told him he would one day be as skilled as Pan Sklo.

Later we heard they'd done the beautiful blue and green windows for the mosque in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Twice. Pan Sklo said they'd told him a fork-lift had crunched the first windows. He was appalled. [Actually they had been purposely crushed - someone thought Americans were building a church!]

Leaving our windows in this fascinating firm, we returned to Novy Bor's main square for lunch and shopping. We looked at unusual art glass. I bought painted glass Christmas ornaments for gifts and China trays for guests' toiletries. Bonnie found a bowl to take to America: a globe shape with the top sliced off, slightly engraved.

When we had returned to the Bohemian Highlands we informed my husband that the windows would be finished in two weeks, but that they must be re-leaded every One Hundred Years.
"My grandfather didn't think to tell me", he said, and turned to our son: "Write it in your will. 'Re-lead stained glass every One Hundred Years'".

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Interesting Hitchhikers

On my way to Prague for the IWAP meeting I passed a woman, laden with shopping, trudging from a small town. She wasn't hitchhiking and I didn't stop for her, although this is the sort of person I sometimes do stop for. I soon felt guilty when I saw how far away the next village was.

I've become something of a pick-up artist, you see. Often buses don't run, at least not at convenient times, to all villages, so often little old people trudge along country highways, lugging heavy bags of groceries. Some entertaining guests have shared the passenger seat in my car.

Such as the old woman who started talking about how terrible life is today: "There is something called the C-O-L-D W-A-R going on." She was very firmly told the Cold War is Over, and the communists Lost. "Ha. If the communists lost, how am I getting my pension!?"

A young woman was walking to her village, 6 km. from the long-distance bus route. We chatted - a bit - and she told me that for someone who's lived here for over 10 years I speak very bad Czech! I thought, "Just a minute, chickie, I'm giving you a lift!" Luckily for my ego, another Czech later told me that my command of his language is great.

My husband has also played the good Samaritan. One day he saw, he thought, two young women whose skirts billowed in the breezes. As soon as he'd stopped however, two travel-soiled monks wearing supposed-to-be white robes entered the car. He delivered them to their monastery.

Another time he picked up a man on the way to Mlada Boleslov who immediately informed him that he had just been released from jail. The man said that he at least had not had to string tiny glass beads on wires like the junkies; he'd only had to sweep up all the spilled beads. When he heard my husband was going farther south, he wanted to go there. At that town, he wanted to go to a village, 20 km, more. My husband delivered him, and then went for a very late lunch at a nice hotel in Sazava, and thought about his day's experience.

Just once I hitchhiked. In our first or second week of living here in August 1991 a daughter & I hitched to the nearby town. A little tiny driver, dressed all in brown, drove an old, old car. A large basket of mushrooms sat on the back seat. After we got out we stared at each other: "Do you think he was an elf?"

Our riders sometimes muse over us as well. There's a summer disco about 2 km. from our Zamek, and one evening we gave two girls a ride. Realizing we were a bit different, maybe from Prague, they asked if we had "some kind of a cottage in the village". "Ah, yes, some kind of cottage", said my husband, casually. We did live in the Zamek, although at that point -- back in 1991 --it was nearly unlivable.

Or there was the snockered father and son on their way to a funeral. Usually men go to the pub after a funeral, but these had obviously gone beforehand. They wanted to be dropped at another pub. I think they're still trying to figure out how a foreigner had given them a ride.

You get plenty of advice, too. One day a friend and I stopped for a man who lived in a nearby village. After I dropped him at the turn, she told me, "Don't ever give him a ride again. He lives next to my relatives, and he's always stealing things!"

We've even had hitchhiker stay beyond the ride.One came in for coffee. He told us his uncle, a research scientist in Corning, NY, where my husband and I had lived would sponsor him to the States when he finished studying. Later we talked with Corning friends, a PhD. ceramist and his wife, a curator at the Glass Center. They know this Czech-American scientist very well. What a small world.

Students are the biggest group of hitchhikers, I think. One beautiful spring Friday the roads from Humpolec were lined with students out for the weekend. I stopped for three boys. One said, "Hello, Mrs. Homolka, it's nice to see you again. Thank you for stopping." I did a doubletake; he had changed so much in three or four years. I remembered him snooping all over the Zamek when he'd come with his parents for tea.

We often pick-up young soldiers. They have a weekend, say, but are far from home Their military salaries are too small to pay for buses or trains. Now that the draft is one year, instead of the former two years, it's easier for them, but still not easy. And the roads are still lined with soldier boys heading home for a visit on their free days, so I suppose there will be plenty more opportunities to stop and give a ride to strangers.

Disclaimer: Now don't think that I recommend that you go hitchhiking, or that you pick-up hitchhikers. Personally I have passed by many who really seemed to be just fine - such as the laden-down woman I passed on my trip to the IWAP meeting. Obviously I am a little nervous about hitchhikers. On the other hand people do things which I think are highly dangerous and which I would never do. Hang-gliding and rock climbing come to mind. These are often written up, with pictures, in perfectly nice magazines.