Thursday, December 01, 2005

December 2005 - Christmas

Philip Brooks, author of "Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem", wrote another poem that is pertinent to us who've spent some of our lives flitting around the globe. "Everywhere, everywhere Christmas tonight! Christmas in lands of the fir tree and pine. Christmas in lands of the palm tree and vine." Christmas is to be celebrated wherever we find ourselves. Yes, we all enjoy familiar trappings, but none are really necessary.

Family customs are meaningful. Our family lights the candles and sings carols around the tree. Also on the tree are a wide variety of ornaments - crude plaster of paris ones made by two years olds, "Gods' eyes" done by grade-schoolers, a glass Santa I had as a child, two tree-candle holders which were my parents'nearly 100 years ago and new ones purchased in the Czech Republic, three of the annual White House ornaments and other elegant pieces which were gifts from friends, cross-stitched personalized ones made by a daughter, bits and pieces used on the farm tree in Africa.

Many people, even my own family, think one verse of a carol is sufficient, whereas I feel every verse should be sung. We compromise. What's important is getting just as many of those carols as possible into children's minds, where words and music can simmer and bring them to celebration. "There's a song in the air, There's a star in the sky, There's a mother's deep prayer and a baby's low cry..."
(editor's note: what my mother fails to mention is that while we are singing, there are candles burning on the tree. we want to get through these carols before the tree is alight)

My husband and I ate oyster stew for a meager supper before the tree, while the children had Campbell's chicken dumpling soup. We all liked little round oyster crackers. I don't bother searching for those things here, but we stick to our tradition of a meager supper. I did do the carp route - once - shivering in line, bringing carp home to the bathtub, husband slaying it, me breading and frying it. I'm glad to have had the experience. [After tree and gifts we eat cookies and chocolates.]

Some of our traditions came about because family members are hither and yon.
Christmas parcels include some stocking gifts. Members not with us delegate their carol choices. The telephone rings either after we've opened gifts on Christmas eve or on the next afternoon. Twice a daughter was given a free conference call - this is quite a funny occurrence, with everyone, or no one, talking.

A separate decoration box holds angels and stars for the chapel tree. If we're really lucky one of our priest friends will have some free time during Christmas week to say mass and eat a meal with us. Otherwise we just go to the town church for the 5 p.m. "midnight" mass. I've tried the "real" midnight mass in the nearby monastery - lovely, but I fell asleep more than I was awake.

Our adult children, hither and yon, with their families and friends are developing their own special traditions, but they like knowing almost exactly what we at the Zamek are doing on Christmas. All of them find great joy in the celebrations; I wish the same for you and yours this season.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

November 2005 - Prague Impressions

Our visitors at the Zamek also visit Prague. I’ve interviewed some, to share memories.

Louel: I’d love to go back to Prague. I really think Cinderella lives there. You know “The Golden Key”, the Peter Sis book you gave our grandson? He can’t get enough of it. When I ask what book he wants he picks that and goes slowly through the wonderfully detailed drawings of the streets of Prague. At first I just talked about the drawings, but lately have been reading him more and more of the text. It brings back my memories of Prague.

Colin: I think of the architecture, the old and the new. There are stillmany cobblestones, and yet there are modern ideas, too, such as the Fred and Ginger building. Prague keeps its old roots while adding new. People were very friendly, and Czechs I’ve met elsewhere are always friendly.

Bonnie: My lasting impression is the roofs. You took me on a walk up the hill to the Prague Castle; we were looking down and around at all theroofs, the lines, the colors.

Sandy: The music, the concerts

Lyn: The artistic-ness of the city, the buildings, the layout of the city.A variety of restaurants, excellent meals, reasonably priced. We stayed at the Ostriches – I loved the antique furniture, but especially being able to walk everywhere and being next to Charles Bridge – yes, we could sleep, it wasn’t too noisy. It was great going to concerts in churches. We enjoyed the trolley to the Hradcany, but kept our fingers crossed that we would know when to get off!!

Caroline: Ohhh, it’s a magical place, far removed from everyday worries. Five or six times while I lived in Prague I ran into people I’d known before; seeing them in this magical place has strengthened my relationship with them.

Edna: I loved the sense of antiquity which Prague has more than other European cities. Walking on Charles Bridge, visiting Prague Castle, being shown around St. Nicholas Church by Aunt Hana and hearing its history. As an artist, I enjoyed very much the Gallery in St. Agnes Cloister. Remember we went to a concert there in St. Barbara’s chapel?

Tim: The progress over the years I’ve visited thrills me. People used to drive rickety trucks and old Skodas. Now the cars are upbeat. The crowds are upbeat. The food is better. Capitalism is working! There’s Opportunity!

Vivian: Magnificent, old, charming. I absolutely loved it.

Sharon: It’s a jewel of a city. It’s very walkable; we walked everywhere. People are very friendly. When we asked for directions, they’d take us there, or find someone who knew the way. Great shopping, great places to eat.

If you are new to Prague perhaps these visitors’ impressions might give you ideas for making your acquaintance with the city. If you have lived here awhile you could be alerted to seeing this ancient/modern milieu anew. Happy exploring!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

October 2005 - Forests and Wood

Most of our forests, and thus most of our products, are spruce. Spruce has to be at least 60 years old before it can be harvested. Rina, my mother-in-law, remembered when she was taken by coach when she was a new bride, to our Lipi forest being planted with young spruce. They were turning a meadow into a forest, in her honor. When she came back to the Czech Republic after the Velvet Revolution we began to harvest those spruces.

Visiting the woodshop, you'll find some of these items being constructed: balcony, fence slats, stair components, beams, wine racks, bookcases, tables with chairs, cradles, king-sized beds, luggage racks, kitchen shelves, pegged coat or key holders, Adirondack chairs, or a special order for a single dining table or a garden gate.

Forest protection laws go back to Maria Theresa: felling trees is always followed by replanting baby trees. The first thing we did with harvested trees, after they had been hauled to the road with horse, and then tractor, was to sell them as is, as logs. However, raw lumber prices are low, so we began making products.

Driving through Austria or Bavaria you immediately see wide-spread use of spruce balcony and fence slats. Thus began one of our early products. Austrian company Holtz Schneider purchased these, but most are sold in the Czech Republic.

Several products were made mainly by one employee who worked at home. If we gave him too much wood, or didn't keep close track of him, we'd end up with a great surplus of whatever he was making, all beautifully done. We asked for two cradles for our expected grandchild. A few weeks after her birth we asked, "Why the delay?" Well, he was making 16 cradles, not just two. Two cradles are in America, two are in Holland. Several were given as gifts here, or purchased. We still have three or four.

We have a couple dozen extra luggage racks made of beech. Initially a friend with a hotel ordered some, and then another hotel. Our upholsterer put on canvas tops. We use them for guests, and daughters in America have some. But, suddenly one day, we had many more. I've sold a few of these.....

Another overflowing product was king-sized beds!!! An impetus to the order was a request from a former manager of a California rock-band, who'd moved to Prague, and wanted one delivered to her apartment in a small street near the British Embassy.

My husband came from the carpenter's shop one day, "Do you know he's making seven?" "Yes, but four are single beds." "I don't think so," he replied. So I went. "Oh, all the beds are king-sized" (i.e. 80" X 80 inches), this carpenter assured me. (Never mind what I'd ordered.) "Of course we can't change now. See, the head and foot boards are already shaped fit for a Zamek!" As I walked out his gate, our son arrived. He also counted seven king-sized beds....
I had to go back to the upholsterer/mattress maker and change my order a little.

Every working day a transport company picks up most of the bulky orders, which consist of large numbers of balcony and fence slats, along with, usually, wine racks and bookcases which customers assemble themselves with included screws; pegged key & coat holders; small spice shelves; and sometimes knife blocks.

Adirondack chairs were a new product last year. After the floods, Stephanie Vyborna urged us to make these while people were replacing their possessions. Finally we did; several have been ordered by people who tried out the one we have in our dining room, along with its separate foot support. We too think that it is very comfortable. The chairs are made of birch, a hard wood which takes finishes very nicely.

I have a small forest of my own: "Barbie's Oak Forest". For several years I heckled a former forester to plant a few oaks for me. He always said, "Oh, I can't plant oaks". Finally my husband told him, "Plant oaks!" I was thinking 20 to 50, planted here and there. One day they came to tell me, "Your oaks are planted!" Great! They continued speaking, "It's a little forest, only 1000 oaks." LITTLE forest! ONLY 1000 oaks! When you look at the small area it's hard to believe there are 1000 oaks there, but they must be planted closely, so that they will grow straight and tall. I help them when I drive past, encouraging them, "Grow straight and tall little oaks".Harvesting must wait at least for our grandsons.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Czech Moravian Highlands

Our area is the Czech-Moravian Highlands, a classical vacation area, especially for people from Prague. It's cooler here. It's also cooler in the winter, but that's another story.

It's an area of rolling hills, fields, streams, woodlands, small towns. Every side road traveled and every hillside climbed open vistas of fields of ripening crops set off by dark green woodlands. Many people have vacation cabins near a fish pond; others spend time with relatives in the villages and towns. There are rooms to be had in pensions and small hotels, also.

Living is easy after you've taken care of your guests, weeded the garden, and bought more refreshments. When you've sat long enough, with a glass in your hand, on your lawn furniture, or your neighbors' you might go for day trips to visit castles and fortresses - Cesky Krumlov, Cervena Lhota, Orlik, Tabor, Lipnice. Or you might just enjoy the countryside, going for picnics, gathering basketfuls of fresh fruit, especially bilberries, cherries and blackberries, going swimming or wading.

Did you ever have opeceny bonbony [roasted bonbons]? That's what several little girls named toasted marshmallows after I'd introduced this treat to them at our Fourth of July party. I love fireworks and really enjoy that there is no problem in their private use here! It does make me nervous so I issue a stream of cautions to the already careful and responsible persons who are setting them off. As well as planning food, moving furniture around, decorating with flags and patriotic themed tablecloths, I have learned to have handy several vases, with water; many guests bring flowers with a clever red/white/blue theme.

Everything is easier to get to in the summer. Daylight lasts long; roads are ice-free. The Pacov zamek chapel has an exhibition of crafts done by inhabitants of retirement homes; we go and buy a few presents. The Zeliv monastery has an evening concert and I go. There are special festivals. Goat Mountain - Kozimberk - a hilly section of Pacov, itself a small town, has a parade of real and papier mache goats with carts, and people in dress of long ago; a campaign for the [spurious] mayor of Kozimberk; dancing and an evening in the pub on the hill. When we first came the festival occupied one afternoon and evening. Now it's three days - 13-15 of August this year. Lipnice, near Svetla nad Sazava, has a medieval festival every year in its fortress castle. There's a parade, marvelous costumes, medieval music, maybe lunch in Hasek's Inn where he wrote "Good Soldier Svejch".

From the end of April until late September or early October is the season of the "pou't". As each person has a svatek, a namesday, so each church has its svatek called the pou't, or pilgrimage, when everyone comes home for an excellent lunch at grandma's after mass in a completely packed church. Any largish town plot boasts bumper cars, merry-go-rounds, and other rides, while up and down the streets and covering the town square are tables of goods for sale. There are always a few handmade items - decorated gingerbread cookies, maybe some wooden utensils and toys. But I want to tell you about a pou't where everything is handmade. [Well, except for the ice cream.]

The village of Mlade Briste will have its pou't on Sunday, June 27th, one day only unlike most pou't (s). Masses are at 7:30 and 10:30 in a little church originally decorated by [or, "after"] Mikolas Ales. There should be special music on the fine, recently renovated organ. The lawn between church and parish hall is filled with handmade items and their craftsmen and women - there's leather, ceramic, knit and crocheted lace, wrought iron, painted works, straw ornaments, wooden objects. Every time I've gone I've purchased Christmas gifts - straw bells and crocheted snowflakes for daughters, small stick puppets of leather for a granddaughter, a typical Czech block puzzle, but hand painted. A knitted lace tablecloth is a perfect wedding gift. Take the waist measurements of your menfolk, in order to be able to purchase hand-tooled belts. [I forget to do this.] Somewhere, probably in the shed at the back, you should be able to find sausages, gulas, and drinks. Village children give a playlet. The one I saw was about a vodnik, a water sprite, presented right at the edge of the pond. You might hop into a horsedrawn carriage or a wagon for a ride.

How to get there: Take Dalnice 1 to Humpolec. Get off at Exit 90, turning in the direction of Pelhrimov. Take the first left turn, about 1 km, and go three more kilometers almost directly south to Mlade Briste. Find a place to park, and enjoy yourselves!

Sunday, May 01, 2005

May 2005 - Travel

Here at the Zamek, most prospective travelers send an e-mail. Friends,relatives, strangers write that they would like to visit. I write back detailing ways to get to us and asking when, actually, they're coming.

Before I travel, I like to read up on the place I will visit. When I leave a hotel or my hosts' home I feel very tuned to any possible nuances in the air. Mostly I try to go along with hosts' plans, discussing with them their ideas. Sometimes I ask to be taken to a store, or to make a phone call and I do demand a drinking glass, preferably plastic, for the bathroom. What else might I see or do on this visit? I talk to the people aroundme. If I simply can't do all I wanted to do, I keep the leftovers in mind for a future visit. And/or buy a book on the subject.

When you travel, you notice some things that natives are not very aware of, and conversely, don't notice things under your nose. One family of four threw themselves into experiencing local possibilities - they went for walks, picked cherries and bilberries, visited a saw mill and a small
castle. They even washed dishes, which at that point required heating water on a wood stove. But about the third day with us, they said, "You know, someone has a carpenter shop and lumber yard at the end of your farm yard". "Yes, we know!", we said, "It's ours, and it's how we
make money, or, at least, hope to make money, to support this place."

Gracious hospitality is always appreciated. Some guests expect us todrop everything to attend to their wishes. While a pair of American priests had lunch we discussed a Norbertine monastery. "We'll go visit it this afternoon", they announced. I just looked at them. How did they think they were going to get there? Czech summer hikers do take this 12 kilometer hike, but the two priests did not have in mind that mode of travel. Of course I took them and they actually were welcomed to the rooms of our then, very dear, old abbot, Tejovsky.

Sometimes you hesitate to impose on your hosts. Irish friends saw other guests when they arrived, so, after lunch, in order "not to bother"us, the man demanded a rental car for exploring. Easier said than done. The rental place is over 20 km away; arrangements must be made. Sorting this out, our newly arrived guests agreed to take over the rental car of people leaving in the morning. The couple contented themselves with being shown around the estate, garden, fields, workshop, zamek by family members.

You might imagine yourselves able to do much more than is possible during your stay at your travel destination. In a box of old clothes,available for guests who want to help on the farm, I still have work pants left by a friend who'd planned to do whatever he could to help our
renovation. However, he had an academic conference to attend in Budapest and train connections were not good. It seemed they needed to spend the night in Vienna, and that train left the following morning.So he left his work clothes for the next volunteer. In case you want to
borrow them, I'll let you.

Friday, April 01, 2005

April 2005 - Mostly Music

Literature written here at the Zamek is so scarce as to be almost
non-existent. We do have the original, and only, copy of "Report from
the Adriatic", by George, age 9. Maybe I'll be noted someday? Some
newspaper, magazine, and TV reporters have visited over the years,
writing articles and doing a couple programs. A visitor did show us a
book with a "old" map of Komensky's/Comenius's travels indicating
that he dwelt here for awhile. Did he live in a cottage in the village? Did
he live in the Zamek? The book was only about 100 years old, though,
& Jan Amos Komensky's dates are 1592-1670. [I guess I needn't
mention that no one remembers this....]

It's possible to find many more musicians in our history, including into
recent years. At the end of the 1800's, Bedrich Smetana, then a young
man, lived in an area zamek and, according to the local historical
society, came here for hunting parties. They said he once gave a
concert at our zamek and that he set "The Bartered Bride" around the
fish pond in Posna, a nearby village. Wouldn't it be fun to interview
people there, asking if this one's or that one's grandmother or
grandfather were the prototype for a character in his opera?

We've liked inviting musicians to help us in our celebrations, but the
first group, about six people, invited themselves on December 24,
1991. They were dressed in folk costumes and gave a little talk saying
they were reviving the ancient Czech custom of caroling from place to
place. We shared "Good King Wenceslaus", greatly pleasing them that
English-speaking people remember him. When they'd left for a
retirement home snow fell furiously for about fifteen minutes covering
the bare ground and sealing the thrill for us of that magical, musical

Weddings are perfect times to invite musicians. There's music for the
wedding ceremony, a folklore group to perform local wedding dances
and songs, and a band for dancing. I'd wanted a bilingual ceremony.
Fr. Max accomplished this at the rehearsal in one sentence: "Now,
Petr", he directed our organist cousin, "your family please sing all the
responses in Czech." And they did. Hymns were in English, some
scripture was in Czech, some in English. Fr. Max did the ceremony in
English with the bridal couple reciting their memorized vows in English.
The congregation chose their own participation language! Our violinist
friend played Bach's "Sheep may Safely Graze". Afterwards the folklore
group was enjoyed and then dancing began with the classical Czech
circle around the newly-married couple.

At another wedding a couple funny or off-beat incidents took place. We
pushed two guitarists, who'd gotten off an airplane three hours before,
to take part in the rehearsal. They survived, barely. The flautist did not
come to the rehearsal, quite to our surprise. He did come to the
wedding, not particularly early, but instead of the flute, he played the
saxophone for the offertory to everyone's astonishment! Between when
I'd talked with him and the wedding, he'd decided that he knew the
French chanson better than he knew the flute music.

During the reception I found a few of the folklore group just hanging out.
"What are you doing?" "Waiting for the others." Long afterwards I
realized that I'd forgotten to send the bus for them! Others picked them
up in several loads, so we did have the show after all.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

March 2005 - Wellness

Since "The Bridge" theme this month is wellness and health, I thought it might be fun to talk about people who have come here to convalesce, not all of whom realized what they were doing, perhaps! One who came on purpose to convalesce was a visitor in the 1930's who made a little photo album of zamek and scenery as a thank-you gift for the time she spent recovering here. We had this little book in America; it contained some of the first
pictures I saw of the Zamek.

A Czech general, made a general by Havel after the Velvet Revolution, was a fellow bridge player with my in-laws in Africa. When he decided at nearly 90 to move to the Czech Republic friends suggested that he try a few months in an apartment before actually moving his household, but the general liked to make up his own mind; he moved with his pit bull dog. We found him a room near Petrin and visited him. He soon came down with a serious flu for which he went to the military hospital. When he was out of the hospital my husband and son went to fetch him one day to convalesce at the Zamek. This took two trips, because the first time he refused to go while he was ill. He said he was "walking my dog". He sat in a lawn chair, with the dog tied to a chair leg. The second time he came along.

He used to sleep very late - 10 or 10:30. Irina who worked here and I used to sneak in to see if he were still alive. Since he liked to sunbathe I noted that he had very blue legs. I caught an excellent doctor acquaintance, a former military doctor, for him. He checked him over, ordered whatever medicines needed, and most importantly made friends with
the general. Since he had been fellow military he was willing to trust him.

We and the general felt differently about the friendliness of the pit bull. One day I thought I'd take the dog for a walk, but trying to put the leash on him made him so angry that I left out the window.

The general walked along the highway everyday for exercise - west in the morning, east in the afternoon. He kept this up after we had snow and ice, one day slipping and falling. "Just a sprain, just a sprain." But the doctor came by, took a look, and had him taken off to the hospital for an operation. The ankle was broken.

He finally moved to a small apartment in a residential facility not far from Prague. He liked being closer to Prague acquaintances and to various military ceremonies. Several of us visited him, but we had to listen to complaints about the cost, and uselessness, of a computer course, and the cost of sending someone shopping for him. He died about 1 1/2 years later.

A couple years ago after Christmas a young women arrived from Philadelphia. We soon noted that Bonnie was not in a good state. She'd planned to have fun, but most of that visit she spent in bed with warm drinks and antibiotics. She had had two weeks vacation scheduled after a very rigorous working year. She set about filling this time with just as much vacation as was possible - possible for the airlines, but obviously not for herself!
First she went skiing in Colorado with friends. Next she visited her suitor in Scotland. Bonnie then returned to Philadelphia, to spend Christmas with her parents, afterwards flying to Prague. All this was in less than two weeks. When she reached us she started talking changing her ticket so she could celebrate New Years in London. "How about going to bed with an antibiotic?", I inquired. "I'll phone our doctor." But she said, "Oh, I
brought my own antibiotic along. I thought I might get sick."

Another young woman tried to help her fiance with the sheep, but after we'd carted her to the emergency room late at night to get treatment for asthma we barred her from the nnimals. But she was determined to keep working at something, even though their top goal at the Zamek was rest and relaxation in the countryside before returning to California. She amazed me by removing old, old rust off cream tiles on a bathroom floor. It took her nearly a week: she just worked until it was clean.

I took a sick three-year-old and her dad to the doctor, but to our regular doctor, not to the pediatrician whom I don't know as well. It turned out that the child is allergic to penicillin, and the GP had to PHONE the children's doctor to ask the correct dosage of another medicine. I heard, "I have Mrs. Homolka in my office with a visiting child, etc......." This I found embarrassing. The medicine was not very pleasant as it was chalky.
The child however recovered quickly.

Now if you are planning to come here to recover from something please stand advised, that, as soon as you are able, you will be holding a carrot peeler and knife, helping prepare supper.