Sunday, December 02, 2007

Christmas at the Zamek and elsewhere!

For this Holiday issue I polled four young women who have spent at least two holiday periods at the Zamek and consolidated their responses.

That first Christmas at the Zamek I remember buying that live carp and seeing it swim around in the bathtub. I decided a shower was out of the question, not wanting to share with the carp.

We welcomed real live carolers in costume into our home! For the first time we heard “Nasam va noviny” sung as a real song by people who spoke the language, not just phonetically learned as we had years before for a Christmas surprise for my father.

I was determined to wear a skirt to Christmas Eve Mass. Because the church would be frigid, I layered long johns, slacks, and two skirts under my coat.

We’d lived for many years in a warm climate: experiences common to many people were very special to us – the smell of the real Christmas tree, seeing the snow fall, hearing the quiet of a moonlit snowy night. Our tree had chocolate ornaments wrapped in foil, as our grandmother’s had had years before. It was great to live finally in a place where we were not admonished by worried Americans about real candles on the tree.

Traditions we’d grown up with fit well into our new life: an early evening seafood supper, candle-lit tree and carols when Baby Jesus came, passing caramel nut triangle cookies and pouring wine or hot cocoa after opening gifts. On Christmas morning we had stockings with clementines, had a Christmas dinner, and read each other’s new books.

It was a surprise to get a block of lard as a gift from another family.

The weather was freezing, the frozen roads terrifying. But I loved going for a quiet walk alone in snowy woods, the snow crunching underfoot, cheeks cold. I took the dog Meddy for two hour hikes, watched him chase deer and hoped he’d come back. There was the smell of coal burning in village stoves.

Boxing Day is not an American holiday, but we did celebrate it with another family for many years. As an adult I have been able to celebrate Boxing Day several years with this same family, a heart-warming time.

We were invited to a ball after Christmas. Driving home from that ball I had a few pheasants on my lap. We had won the raffle!

New Years always means getting a phone call from someone in another country/time zone, who has already welcomed the New Year. There’s some sadness in goodbyes to friends returning to school and college. We spent our first New Years here at neighbors in the village. Around the room, each person told his wishes for the coming year, and my dad translated. Other years we walked through Prague on New Year’s Eve, and drank hot mulled red wine in a little vinarna near the Vltava.

What if I am not in the Czech Republic? One year in the USA a Slovak exchange student was with us. He decorated the Christmas tree very precisely, unlike I do myself. He also phoned his mother in Slovakia to get her recipe for homemade mayonnaise. But when his parents’ gift package had arrived weeks earlier, he immediately opened every last gift! I didn’t realize a 16 year old would do that!

Often we are with a friend’s family. Our friend’s father likes perfecting new recipes. One year we had lobster bisque made with frozen broth from a lobster dinner the previous summer! Another time he made beef Wellington. The whole family’s skill at handicrafts dominates the gift exchange – socks and scarves, pieces of furniture, hand-woven pots.

So, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, whether much or little, I advise you to do it with heart!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

November 1989

Before the move to the Zamek.....

In the summer of '89, Uncle John of Litomerice actually mailed us a political joke. "Will they arrest him, or is the Communist bloc breaking up?", we wondered. Then we began hearing stories of east Germans requesting asylum in Prague. In September arriving in Boston to visit my ill father, security told me chunks of the Berlin Wall had come through security continuously in people's carry-on bags.

Short wave radios were not allowed where we lived, but we had one, and followed the BBC's announcements, excitedly hoping and holding our breath. My father died on November 22, the day before Thanksgiving. I cooked on Thursday and soon flew to his memorial service.

In the States, television programs and newspapers were full of events in Czechoslovakia. We prepared for the memorial service and arriving family, meeting some men my dad had known in the 1930's. In between, we glued ourselves to the television. I thought about how my husband, back where we lived, was listening to these happenings on the BBC.

The most wonderful day was when Vaclav Havel was due to speak on Wenscelas Square, but could not because of the cheers of the huge crowd. Soon they were chanting, "Havel na Hrad, Havel na Hrad" - "Havel to the castle, Havel to the castle". And the crowds all went to the castle.

We devoured newspaper and magazines, collecting them for my husband. After I returned in December we started planning when we would go to Czechoslovakia. This would be my first time, and the first time since 1948 for my husband when he was ten years old. Although we knew some people who'd visited, we'd never seriously considered it. We'd read about a young man who had decided to visit - and had been put into jail for awhile. Others had had sad experiences, and had to reimburse the regime for the time they had spent in Czech schools!

At first we thought we'd go in August, our long vacation time. Then we decided on a short break in April. Our youngest daughter was in ninth grade. At the border from Austria we saw the scary no-man's land. Back home our daughter enlightened a fellow student who remarked that there's no such thing as no-man's land: "Yes, there is! I saw it!". The Czech guard used his "English" on us: "Caio, baby!".

We visited the Zamek in its devastated condition. Near the Zamek, one man said to my husband, "I know you. You were in fourth grade and I was in second grade. Everyone here says 'Now George will come back'."

We met other people, including some from Obcansky Forum, Havel's party then, and also our present doctor. We saw Uncle John in Litomerice who showed George the surrender papers he'd been given at the end of WWII which the communists had wanted and he'd kept hidden for 40 years.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Colors of Autumn

We rapt rhapsodic over glorious autumn colors. One October in New York State I drove south about 60 miles to the Binghamton airport. It was a gray day, but the trees were so wonderfully beautiful that I've remembered the sights for twenty years. Gray skies simply served to accentuate glorious reds, yellows, oranges in valleys and on hills.

Today I will mention other colors of autumn. Reds are not plentiful in a Czech autumn, but sumacs and Virginia creeper are indeed richly red. Mountain ash along a stretch of highway is bright with berries. Red apples hang in orchards and along highways. Maybe the last rose of summer is red. Think about other reds - blood of the slaughtered pig, and blood soup. The pig will be served at the dozinky, the harvest celebration. It's cooked on a spit outside, so there are red flames and coals. Also, if I ever actually do run over a chicken, there will be blood. So far, driving slowly, yelling "Chicken Soup!", clears the road.

Orange? You might call the ash berries red-orange. Trees and lamp posts still carry tattered orange posters from summer discotheques. Then there are Halloween pumpkins.

Yellow and golden beauty abounds. One fall we drove from Karlstein to Pilsen. Hills were a feast for the eyes, covered as they were in birches whose leaves seemed to have become pure gold. Perhaps the last rose of summer is yellow. Blighted horse chestnut trees are ugly yellow. Their leaves have been turning yellow and brown prematurely for months. Larches' skinny leaves turn yellow, falling off, sticking to everything.

Autumn this year had much more green than usual because of rain. Colors don't turn as quickly when there's been enough rain. But every autumn has green fields. Green fields? Yes because winter wheat, rye, and canola, planted in late summer or early fall are sprouting. They will then rest over winter to flourish next spring.

Skies are blue: it's classical for October. What else is blue? Fish ponds reflecting skies. As weather is more chilly, maybe workers' hands and noses when they come to the Zamek for morning coffee break.

Asters, both tame and wild, provide shots of purple. Hills appear purple when you are distant from them. My sweet peas are multicolored, majoring in lavenders and purple. They last an amazingly long time. Bring them inside and they'll last even longer, into November. Oaks pass through yellow and red to become brown, but very often a maroon-brown, rather than a pure brown.

Most, though not all, of our wood products are beige. Dried grains and herbs are beige and brown, except for poppy seeds which are black. Unplanted ploughed fields, the compost heap, scraggly leftovers in the garden are brown, all brown. Mud is brown, outside mud, and inside on-the-floor mud. Mud on clothes, mud on rags and mops are all brown. Mud, mud, mud. Mushrooms are brown, or off-white. Many people collect them in brown handmade baskets up until there are hard frosts. Long mounds of stored hay out on the fields are covered in white or black plastic.

Finally one day everything is white, blanketed by the first snowfall.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Back-tracking in time

I am going to give you a few dates, but stories, mostly. George Anthony Joseph Homolka was born Jan. 28, 1938 in Prague, coming to Brezina when he was about 2 weeks old. His name in Czech is Jírí [Year-zee] Antonín [An-to-neen] Josef [Yo-sef]. His father, also George, was born on Jan. 24, 1908 in Horky nad Jizero, a small town in Northeastern Bohemia on the Jizero river, although his father had been managing the estate at the other end of Horepnik. They moved into Brezina a year or so later after a few renovations, esp. a bathroom & toilets. Antonin Homolka, George's grandfather, died in 1941 at about 62 years of age and is buried in our chapel tomb. The Communists did not allow his grandmother, Zdenka Syrova Homolkova, to be buried here when she died in 1960. She is buried in the cemetery in Horky. George & I went there during our second trip, fall of '90. Ladies were weeding & planting family plots. "Oh, yes the Syrovys were a very nice family - see their house over there in the opposite bluff? You're Homolka? Ah, yes, one of the town girls went to work for a Homolka in Prague near the Prague Castle." [Can you IMAGINE this after so many, many years?! It could have been just after the turn of the century, although it could have been later.] One of George's great-uncles was that Homolka. George's grandparents also had a daughter, Zdenka, born in 1900.

Now I will tell you the story of the four brothers. Antonin was the youngest, born 1874. The others were Jan, born 1867; Vincent, 1870; & Josef, 1872. Their parents both died. The court directed that the great-grandfather's partner in their brewery business take brewery and inventory, and farmed the four boys out, singlely, to pubs which owed the brewery, for the children to eat up the debts! Then an uncle, Napravník, who must have been a brother of the mother, sold what household goods remained and asked the boys what he should do with the money. They said to put it in the Austrian-Hungarian lottery. They won the lottery - 200,000 gold ducats! Uncle Napravnik removed the boys from the pubs, sending them to orphanages [Maybe you had to pay or maybe just for them to be together again...?] The archbishop took on the education of Jan, the oldest. The uncle was studying to be a priest and still had some time in the seminary. When he finished and was assigned a parish he engaged a housekeeper & moved with the boys to Hodkovice, south of Prague. Antonin was 4. He told Rina, my mother-in-law, that the housekeeper was a good baker! We haven't have not gone to this town yet.

We have a photo of the four brothers and their wives. On the back the names are written: Jan married Anna who was called Hanièka, born, perhaps Bulantová, but there's a question mark on it; Vincent married Anna, ne Benèová; Jan married Marie, ne Èerná; and Antonin married Zdenka, ne Syrová.

When the uncle had his jubilee the boys bought him a robe decorated with emeralds.

You have a number of things about George's childhood in the blog. When George, Ann, & I came here in April '90 she & I kept staring at each other. We could hardly believe all he knew. He said it was because there were so many adults around trying to make an impression on him & busy teaching him - parents; grandparents; Aunt Zdenka [often here from Prague]; governess before he was in 1st grade; Rina's school friend, Helenka, an English teacher who often visited; "Uncle George", Vincent's son, a medical student who came to work here when the Germans closed the universities; Icha, an artist - painter & sculptor the older George's roommate in cavalry training [along with Schwartzenburg, the present one's father], also avoiding being sent to work camps in Germany with possible injury to hands; and other relatives. However he also remembers an amazing number of things from WWII and afterwards.

Several things made them leave - when Jan Masaryk died George explained in school that he had not jumped from the window, but been pushed. The police came to say he couldn't talk like this. George's father was urged to join the Communist party - showing him a newspaper article which would be published, if he did not. Of course, also, all the general tenor of what was happening. Many people including good friends were being arrested, with trumped up charges. In March '48, George's father took some things to Kozolupi, beyond Pilsen, and planned their escape with Rina's brother Frantisek & wife Boska. In April they drove to Prague, leaving some things with Aunt Hana & Uncle Dick Hucl [who much later compiled the Hucl family history], but not telling them. They drove to Pilsen & had lunch in a hotel, leaving their car in the parking lot. About then they told George. They took the train to Stribro where Uncle Frantisek met them & took them to a mill hidden in the woods. After dark two young smugglers walked them across the border, where they spent the rest of the night in a farmhouse kitchen. The next day the OSS took George's father to the county seat, Tischenreuth, to ask him about conditions here. They stayed in a hotel in Bamberg for awhile, waiting for their things which never came. Then they went to refugee camp in Burg, north of Frankfurt for a few months, & then to Ludwigsburg for about a year. The Atlanta Rotary Club sent boxes of clothing which they used & sold. George's father belonged to Rotary.

George's father corresponded with a man who owned African farms, saying, "Now I can't consider buying a farm". Mr. Kapnek asked him to come as one of the managers on his huge farm. They went by ship. They had plenty of food at last! George had some adventures. He enjoyed the week resting & swimming in Mombasa, spending time with the Captain. Someone said later that the captain had cried when George left the ship in Beira. George's parents had spent alot of time on the ship studying a book of African trees - later it was apparent that they knew much more than people who'd been there for many years! After working on Kapnek's farm they went to Tracy's farm - Tracys are friends to this day. In Cape Town this April we had dinner with his granddaughter & husband. Meanwhile George was sent to a boarding school whose head was near retirement & who wanted to teach a child English before he did. He also had the kids do wood-working in the afternoons - easy to learn words, if you are holding, say, a hammer. Alot of the kids, especially the Afrikaners, left school for good when this school finished after 6th grade and went back home to their poor farms. After about 1 1/2 years he began St. George's College, a Jesuit high school in Salisbury, as was.

After living at the Tracy's for awhile, Tracy helped George's father buy his own farm. When George was home they were building & he helped supervise the builders- the foundation rocks had specks of gold in them, as they were in a gold-mining area!

They bought almost no furniture - people gave them things, some was built on the Tracy's farm. Of course Rina was making Czech dinners & pastries for many & knitting sweaters for all the babies. George & his mother liked to go to the movies about 15 mi. away - he took her, as he had his license at 16. George liked to read the "Saturday Evening Post". It was only in the '70's that the farm was making a good profit as they got a better irrigation well & pump & began doing flower seeds for Holland & California. There were a few Czechs in Rhodesia & they got to know most of them.

University of Rhodesia had no chemical engineering department and George went to the University of Cape Town. He took the train a couple times, but mostly hitch-hiked. He & friends liked to go to the movies, and he also read literature - these helped slow down his chemical engineering progress! At one point he went to Zambia, teaching school on the copper belt for part of a year, to get money to go back to UCT. After he graduated he worked on the copper belt.

After 1 1/2 years there he'd paid back his school loans. He went to London for a few months & then to Washington D.C., sponsored by people they'd met in refugee camp. He went to many Czech gatherings with "Uncle" Matt. He began applying to many companies. He had an interview at the salt works in Watkins Glen but arrived a day early, so hitch-hiked to Corning. The engineer who picked him up suggested he apply at the Glass Works. While he was in the personnel office they pulled out a letter from a D.C. friend of "Uncle" Matt to Amory Houghton, head of Corning!!! He had NO idea this had been done! He went back the next day, & then was taken to lunch at the country club, which made him late for his salt works interview - by then he didn't care.

After he was in Corning a couple weeks, working on control for the television bulbs, another engineer took him to a "Young Adults Group" dance in the Baron Steuben Hotel & he met me & knew he'd marry me!! Which he only told me much later, of course. This was in Sept. 1963. We saw each other at the group, but our first date was Feb. 22 when the group was skiing. We were married in Oneonta on August 22. Leslie was born in Corning in 1965. When she was one, we went to Rensslaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY for advanced degrees. David was born in 1967 in Troy; Caroline was born in 1969 at a maternity hospital in Niscayuna, NY. George finished his PhD in early Jan. 1971. We went at once to Africa for over a month to meet George's parents finally.

The day in Feb. we came back from Africa we began moving to Bellaire, Texas for George to work at the Texaco Labs. Alice was born in Sharpstown in 1971. Very little research was actually done there, so George joined a smaller company in Fort Worth, going there in the summer of '72. He enjoyed much of the association there, but it was a rather strange company; he left & worked for Alcon, which does cleansers for contact lenses. At the same time we began investigating working for Aramco in Saudi Arabia. We moved to Dhahran, the summer of 1974, seeing a little of Holland for 3 days.

In all of these places we'd had very little money for travel, so did things on the weekends that were close to the places we lived, going to open houses in developments, going to state parks & lakes, visiting people some. George also told the children stores from Shakespeare, which he continued later in Saudi. [Ann recently had a Shakespeare class & said that, along his stories, the plays we'd seen in 1983 the summer we spent in Oxford, it felt like coming home.]

Ann was born in Dhahran shortly after we moved there. We went to Africa for the second time when she was about 6 months. & she was baptized there. One reason for going to Aramco was so that we would have the air fare to go to George's parents. We went about every other year.

George decided to learn to dive, joining the diving club. Once he took Leslie & another time David. I went, too, when Ann was about a month old, with her as she was nursing! I can hardly believe I actually did it. I swam a little while someone watched her, but don't dive. George only did it a few years.

His big hobby was doing research on a British explorer of Arabia, Gerard Leachman, who was the first to photograph Riyadh. Aramco library has many manuscripts. We followed Leachman hither & yon - to an oasis north off the tapline; to Nanital, India; to Baghdad, where he is buried, shot in Iraq in 1920; to his birthplace, Petersfield, Eng. where we met a doctor whose father had been the other doctor in town with Leachman's father, and an old woman who had met Leachman when she was 17. The material in the Aramco library is also at St. Anthony's College in Oxford, along with much more. There is also material in Durham, and in London at the Military Museum, the House of Lords, & Kew Public Record Office [I discoved something there!!] Even Alice's friends ask now & then how Leachman's coming along! He's in a cupboard in our library. George began reading many biographies to see how authors made them both factual & interesting. Leachman's diary, written up as a sort of biography by St.John Philby, father of Kim, the spy, is deadly dull.

In Arabia George always worked in Computer Processing - which sometimes changed its name, but was always that - regulating processes with computers. He went on business trips to Texas & Arizona & Mass., & to UK, watching as new computers were being developed, often for Aramco's specific purposes. Sometimes these trips were tacked onto our vacations, but often he went alone or with other employees. Once while he was gone for several weeks I had all the rooms in our house painted, glorying in the colors, as it had been all white! Our Indian houseman thought I'd overdone it, but I didn't.

We talked about taking Aramco's early retirement, buying a pecan farm, & moving to Texas. One vacation we spent several days looking around, & nearly bought one near West, Texas, which is a very Czech community. Then came the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and we changed our direction, to Czechoslovakia.

Summer 2007, The Second Visit and Moving to Brezina

In the fall of 1990, on our second visit, George & Rina, his mother, began working with people in the Pelhrimov archives & with a lawyer in Prague. In the spring of '91 they continued this while I looked out at un-expected snow & wrote to everyone that we had survived the Gulf War.

The Farm Collective said of course we could move into the zamek in the summer, "It's yours, after all". Went back to Saudi. Made arrangements for moving. Talked with Fr. Reynold, a priest friend. He gave us his blessing - that we would be surrounded by helpful people. After we were here, in Oct. friends visiting asked if they should tell him to call a halt! When he visited several years later he prayed that we would "have just the people we needed to help" us! From Saudi we flew to Switzerland at the end of July, 1991 with Ann & the cat, met Alice who flew from the US, vacationed for a week, took the train to Pilsen, went to relatives, picked up the car a cousin had purchased for us, and drove to Pelhrimov. We stayed a few days in the hotel, bought some mattresses & bedding, went to a few offices, & moved to Brezina.

Some of the rooms you could just go into, some needed a key, & some were nailed shut. George went to someone's house & got a key. Bozenka's daughter & son-in-law & the Obcensky Forum woman came after work to start helping us clean out. Alice picked up beer bottle tops for half an hour from under a bed. I threw out about 20 loaves of moldy, blue bread. And many moldy canned pickles & strawberries. The village firemen came to remove their things - tables, chairs, dishes, booze, leaving us a few tables, chairs, & dishes, & an old wood-burning stove. They had a banquet here 2x a yr. but also used the room next door as a kind of village pub. Ann was appalled to see two crosses upside down, so we got those off. Ann & Alice removed girlie match-book covers from a door. The Horepnik mayor brought over a farm wagon to throw the junk in, & switched it as it filled. In the evenings we went to the people above for showers & supper. During the days George visited offices in Horepnik, Pelhrimov, maybe Prague. Alice, Ann, & I straightened-up, washed clothes by hand, vetted the visitors, walked to Horepnik to buy a few bits & pieces to eat. Once Alice & I had lunch out! We had hotdogs in the buffet/grocery store... Alice reconfirmed her flight at the post office telephone - we didn't have one until Thanksgiving. "You needn't spell 'Homolka' in this country!!" said the agent!

One day Ann went to Pilsen with George to the relatives to get the rest of the suitcases we'd had on the train. One day George & I went to Prague to see about our air shipment - Aramco shipped 3 large boxes that way & we'd put blankets, sheets, towels, more clothes, some dishes. The expediter lived on a hidden street!! His wife was listening to the radio about the Russian communists trying to get back in -- she had to be hoping... Also she asked if we had asked our embassy about our shipment!! George told her he could move wherever he wanted, with his things! While we were gone several builders came to visit - they asked if we had any plans so Alice showed them what I'd sketched on a tablet. She said they were disgusted, but would return, which they did. The girls also walked to Horepnik to buy us glasses for our anniversary present! "Where did you get money?" "Each time I went to Horepnik, I kept the change." later someone from Horepnik told us about this excursion! The girls also told us that if we never came back they'd decided to go to Pacov to Jaruska, the OF woman, & she'd help them! A bit scary.

People didn't stop coming. We started getting invited for dinner every Sunday - but the string attached was the family then communicated with an old Communist running another JZD. We almost had to have another wedding, because USA was not a country with which the Communists had a marriage agreement. We phoned Leslie at the post office to get us another certificate at the church in Oneonta. She thought this was quite amusing & sent us a fancy wedding congratulations card. George got the certificate officially translated in Tabor - he had to wait for the man, but the neighbors said he'd be back, as he had small children. He was embarrassed to translate for George, but added a couple words after he'd got George to do the translation. While he was gone some neighbors came over here & invited us for coffee, but they used different words than I knew, & I told them something crazy. The translation was accepted by the town hall.

Rina had to come sign some things - she came in November for about 3 weeks. She owned a percentage from the 1930's. Normally she came only in the summers, until George moved her here in the fall of 2001. George's grandfather had a will, & his father & we had those. Also, one vacation here a woman came running from a store in Horepnik, waving a piece of paper with a name & phone number. There was a man in another town who wanted us to come see him. In the early 50's he'd lived in George's grandmother's room, now our room, & had found & kept all the papers between the Knight von Eisenstein & Antonin Homolka from the 1908 purchase of Brezina & he gave them to us.

We were returned the forests in Jan. 1992. That spring we found out that the zamek had never been confiscated!! In the fall we hired a young man from Horepnik to be the farm manager, but we had back the garden & park. George called Pepik his "field marshall". The property is not in one neat square - maps from the archives Pepik pasted on a big piece of paper - there were bits & pieces that George didn't know, although most of it he did. The fields were mostly returned in the fall of 1993.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The First Visit

George, Ann, & I first came in April 1990. We still needed visas, so we were going to Vienna. We stayed at the Schwarzenburg Palace Hotel, having made arrangements through Schwarzenburg's secretary to speak with him, as he has property here & actually was helping Havel. [Now he is the Czech Foreign Affairs Minister.] We got our visas in the morning & met him in the late afternoon. He suggested 3 things which were exactly right - talk with the local people, see the local farm collective - the JZD, and talk to the local Obcansky Forum people, Havel's party. Nothing about trying to see a Prague lawyer, which was what we'd planned. We rented a car and drove to Brezina. Within the first few minutes a man gathering manure for his fruit trees talked with us. "I remember you. You were in fourth grade, I was in second. Everyone here says 'George will come back'." !!! We poked around & then went to Horepnik & talked with two women with a baby. [The younger is our doctor, the older a nurse who helped out with Rina when she was ill.] The next day we returned from our hotel in Tabor to go to church, which was closed with a sign on the door. A woman told us that the priest had gone to Prague to see the Pope. The first visit ever of a Pope to the Czech lands.

So then we went to Pacov to find the Obcansky Forum office. The two women there were just closing up & took us home to one apartment. Over beer & coffee she told us the story of November 18th, and then started to cook lunch. Her husband came home; she met him at the door: "We have three Americans in the living room!!" After lunch the other woman returned. We watched some of the Prague coverage of the Pope, and talked all afternoon. "All of the history books were withdrawn from the schools." [Tigre whom George's family knew in refugee camp wrote new ones.] They were appalled to hear where we were staying - George remembered it from his childhood, but now it was mainly hourly stays by military personnel! We tried a new hotel, but they had no room until the next day. So we went back to our hotel for supper - about 8 pm. Bozenka came flying into the dining room! After we ate she sat & talked with us. George's parents had encouraged friendship with her, because she was the fastest & best reader, by testing. "When it rained I could go in the coach with you to school." [WWII severe gas rationing.] One of the OF women lives next door to Hana, her daughter, & told her. Hana went to Bozenka's apt. "Take out your curlers. My husband will take you to Tabor to see George. You've always said you want to see him again before you die." Bozenka invited us to her apartment for dinner the next day.

In the morning George visited the JZD. They had been expecting him, and were cordial. Later we went to Bozenka's for dinner. She had family there. Her daughter & son-in-law along with one of the OF ladies helped us clean trash from the Zamek when we moved in in August 1991. After another night in Tabor we drove to Prague for a couple nights and then on to Litomirice in Northern Bohemia to see Uncle John [George's father's cousin, whom we had seen in Kent, England when they were visiting a daughters there. Also, Uncle John was one of the very few people who ever wrote to us, he sent presents, too. In the spring of '89 he sent a political joke - you could see things were loosening up here. When we knocked on the door he said "Of course, I know you are George Homolka. But which one??" ..He knew George's father had died, but we threw him for a loop. Aunt Irene came home, and went out again to get us ham & rolls. Uncle John showed George the surrender papers which the German commander had signed at the end of the war. I snapped some photos. As things crumpled for the Germans they'd run around town trying to surrender ahead of the Russians. Uncle John was the leader of the resistance there & they gave the papers to him. Uncle John had kept those papers hidden for 40 years because the Communists wanted to claim the surrender for themselves. I felt he should have some honors & he did the following May.

In another couple days we returned to Vienna for a short time. We had not yet visited any of the Prague or Pilsen relatives.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Summer 2007

Life is different in the summer. I might lie in the hammock for awhile, gazing up at the trees. More visitors come, including family. There's unexpected happenings, adding interest, or a smile and a chuckle. You do things you'd not do in cold weather, such as planning outdoors parties,
and filling the wading pool. [Although, I have known children who swung in the middle of winter.]

One summer we had a lamb on a bottle, who came running when he saw people. It was a major children's attraction at a Fourth of July party. We tried to limit bottles, but still the lamb had many. The next Monday one of the children's mothers remarked, "I bet that lamb didn't eat yesterday"!

Ben, not yet three, firmly believed that when he finally possessed the correct key, he would be able to open big glass doors leading to Platz and farmyard, where he mustn't be alone. He tried many batches of keys; the reason he couldn't open the doors was that he was too short!

He also believed that with the right key he could get into the bedroom where his cousins slept... That door knob is too difficult for small children to turn.

One summer no one here had time to do a party, so I booked one at a nearby sheep farm, where they'd previously done lamb roasts for us. I couldn't believe the consternation amongst those invited. "There? You want us to go there?" "Tell me again how to get there." "No, no, we won't come. If it were at your place, of course we would." In the end we had a great time with the people who decided it was fine to go to OUR party at another farm!

Visiting college-aged cousins made salads. After lettuce and tomatoes were in the bowl, they reconnoiter my herb bed outside the kitchen tower, snipping chives, parsley, oregano, thyme, a different combination each evening. They'd add many more herbs than I would have, but results were always tasty.

A cousin shared a bedroom with her grandmother. The grandmother loved "The Nature", flinging wide window and shutters. Closing the shutters, the younger woman said,"I love nature, too, but I can't sleep with light coming in so early." Grandmother would open them again. They didn't do this all night, but I don't know who won.

I've even played tricks, telling a cousin who asked about a ditch draining from the tomb, that we were building a moat, because "a castle must have a moat". She briefly believed me!

One summer day I looked out the window to see a couple with their son, sitting on a bench, talking with a family member. They were searching for family and ancestors. The next day I telephoned people with the same last name. One older women growled, "We have no foreign relatives", and slammed down the phone! I was a bit scared to try again, but I did; the man who
answered was eagerly welcoming, telling me how to get to his nearly hidden village. At his place I was pleased to view fence slats from our workshop, which he said he'd come to the Zamek to pick up. The man had lived in Munich with brothers; my visitor had spent a year in Germany, so they communicated in German.

The young teen-aged son was amazed that the man and his brothers had had to escape - so I explained about the last regime!

I wonder what interesting things will happen this summer, and who willvisit...

Monday, April 30, 2007

June 2007 - Czech Women

Two admirable Czech women are relatives who visit the Zámek. I know Hanicka and Katerina better than other admirable women; each deserves to be admired.

A wedding guest should relax and enjoy herself. Before Hanicka did, she hiked up her skirts to wash the chapel floor! She'd arrived early. Another early wedding guest pointed out the streaked chapel floor, reminding us the wedding would be in an hour. Could we get the annoying streaks off? Hanicka got rags and buckets, and did it.

Hanicka was one of the original signers of Charter 77. She signed because she firmly believes she must do what is right, regardless of consequences.

Consequences were not pleasant. The first thing which happened to her was having her passport confiscated just as she and her husband were about to visit Holland. Persecution continued: instead of teaching languages at Charles University she was sent to clean stairways in panalaks. Later she taught, but was only allowed in various night schools around Prague.

She experienced great pressure to renege to free her son and daughter from the stigma of being children of a dissident. Every year until the Velvet Revolution she was called into a bureaucrat's office shortly before Christmas to discuss the problem of her children and, how, as children of a Charter 77 signer, would they receive the education which every child needs in order to succeed in life? She replied that this was her problem, and she would take care of her children.

The older child silently suffered with his mother. Not until several years after the Velvet Revolution did he became healthy. The younger child took longer to realize the importance of what her mother had done. After we lived here, I explained this to her, firmly, more than once.

Hanicka was finally successful, in the larger picture of her country, and in her personal life. She traveled, her children studied, graduated, and traveled. She taught at Charles University, and became head of a department until her retirement. Now, she continues to help people and take care of her family. A small example of her bravery: she was the only person willing to sign for our daughter a Prague place of residence.

Katerina was looking at a colored engraving of flowers here at the Zámek. "When I was little I loved finding the bugs depicted amongst the flowers." She could look at them, because it was one of the things which George's father had taken to Plzen in 1948 before the family escaped.

When we came, Kátá tried to return them. "But we're hardly moved in", we said. In June 1992 their whole family came, bringing the things: the engraving, linens in pink and in yellow, a cut-glass box, and, most endearing, a small porcelain coffee set, yellow with silver. This had been George's grandmother's who'd died in 1932. Kátá's mother even apologized to my mother-in-law, Rína, that she'd sold a diamond ring which she herself had been given by Rína's father. "We needed a bathroom," she explained.

Giving things back to those who had escaped is very, very unusual. One woman was told that there was absolutely nothing, no photos even. She'd seen them in the dining room the first time she visited after 1989! It's much more usual that relatives keep whatever was left, and expect you to give them more.

The regime expelled Kátá's husband from medical school just before he finished; he went to cut trees in the forest. [He had his retroactive graduation after '89.] Their family all turned out well: one son, an engineer, became a priest after '89 and was sent to Rome to study Aramaic. The other son, an engineer and an organist, played at our weddings here. Her daughter also with a college degree is married with three little boys.

When you visit Katerina she thanks you profoundly for visiting!! I wish both she and Hanicka could visit more often.

Friday, March 30, 2007

May 2007 - Body, Mind and Spirit

Body, Mind, and Spirit. Hmm. Well, there have certainly been tasks enough to stretch all of these during the 15 years we've worked on this devastated place.

Initial sports were carrying wood upstairs, carrying dirty water downstairs - or, flinging it out the window -, digging nettles and picking broken glass from flowerbeds, planting shrubs, moving furniture. I filled duffel bags with boxed orange juice in Prague and hauled it home on the bus. I chopped wood.

Sports changed in nature. Then it was chasing sheep to re-pen them, walking - being dragged by - the huge Central Asiatic shepherd dog we had, moving books and furniture, moving plants, hanging clothes outside. Sometimes bringing wood inside.

Now I hang clothes outside only in pleasant weather - I have a dryer. I still move books, but move only small furniture - no large pieces. I get assistance for any difficult plant moving. Others bring in wood. Our Golden Retriever walks herself, although once in a while I go looking for her.

Nowadays I ought to take the tips I give visitors. There are interesting walks - down to the old mill, to a little bridge above the river, to the ancient brickyard, and along a road to a fishpond and up the rise in a field to overlook forests, fields, villages.

My mind has been so engaged here that at first when I shut my eyes in bed at night I saw things, things which don't exist. As well as all the physical work, learning Czech took energy. In early months, after a neighbor visited, a daughter sick with a cold said, "Today, I didn't understand one thing Eva said. Now I know why I'm so tired when I go to her house, with the dictionary, for a couple hours".

There were many problems and many interesting puzzles and questions about people and history to which we bent our minds. If I should make a list, you wouldn't have time to read it. Who would work for us, and how, and when, and what paper work is needed? These are a few things we pondered.

Renovations require much thought. We found that areas where we'd planned and re-planned most were most done to our later satisfaction. We engaged in negotiations garnering comments: "Barbara, you don't want several colors in the kitchen. Kitchens are best all white." I answered in meager, broken Czech, that not only did I not desire a hospital operating room, but that I
wanted to match colors of remaining decorative tiles my husband's grandmother had installed in 1910: beige, gray, and deep red, as well as white. A carpenter explained if my closet had just shelves, I wouldn't have to hang anything up! "No, no", or rather "Ne, ne" worked okay here.

As a respite for the mind from present problems there is always the library - a biographies, travel books, family photo albums. In a mystery story, I ponder someone else's mystery instead of my own.

Aunt Hana used to say on visits here that it's wonderful to be in "The Nature". I find it so, although a series of gray days I do find not uplifting. Letters, e-mails, phone calls, and personal visits by family and friends feed the spirit. I like talking after church with people we've gotten to know here - which here has been VERY SLOWLY. I especially enjoy talking with the young novice whom I help with English.

We had a wonderful old abbot, and somehow, I'm not certain how, we communicated. One day he did the sermon. Not understanding him, I was thinking about hopelessness and hope. Afterwards my husband told me our abbot's sermon had been about prisoners of the old regime, especially those he'd known in prison camp. Those who survived best were those who had not lost, or at least had not completely lost, hope.

Monday, March 05, 2007

April 2007 - Books and Libraries

I'm happy that we have a library. In the old days it was The Grand Salon, used during large parties. Most of the time Empire chairs and settees held large fancy dolls! Several death masks lazing on black velvet pillows and granite busts of ancestors on stands did nothing to improve coziness. A cousin and my husband agreed that as children they'd found the room sinister. Now it's comfortable, nicely decorated, with sofas, a round African mahogany table, new and old bookcases. It contains our myriads of books.

The library does not have central heating yet: in winter one pops in and out quickly! One year as the weather warmed up, someone working here wanted to reshelve books with no regard to arrangement. I made her wait for me or a visitor to reshelf properly.

Although we're out in the countryside people do come looking for information. We supplied a customs official with maps before he went for special training. He was pleased to have "National Geographic" maps of Civil War battlefields which he then explored in his free time. I switch
books with another English-speaking country dweller. Fulbright exchange teachers borrowed reading materials during their year nearby. Every Christmastime one daughter pulled-out and reread "Cheaper by the Dozen". Another daughter met a male visitor, clad only in his shorts, looking for a particular novel in the library! I loaned our doctor information before a trip to Scotland. Children pick books from the children's section. Very careful children get to look at old children's books. Recently I showed my second cousin family photos, including one of our great-grandmother. I gave her two children's books, with bookplates, of a first cousin-once-removed who died a few years ago at age 100 because I have those books.

I prefer mysteries, biographies, novels when they are NOT the kind specializing in being depressing, and poetry. I read poetry when I am feeling emotionally strong. Our son likes Tom Clancy for his intricaties of science, history, politics, and human relations. My husband has read much on Middle East explorers and has a number of biographies and journals. I think we've both read most of Havel's plays, and some Ivan Klima, Josef Skvorecky, and Jan Drabek.

At various time I concentrate on specific authors. London is a wonderful place to collect, but other places are possible, including Prague. Special to me are Eleanor Fargeon, Madeleine l'Engle, George MacDonald, Alice Meynell, C.S.Lewis, Charles Williams, Laura Ingalls Wilder. My first old George MacDonald books came from Foyle's in London, when it still existed. In a summer in Oxford I collected several authors, but most exciting was attending meetings of the C.S.Lewis Society and meeting the man who was his literary executor. One person leads to another - Alice Meynell is because of Fargeon; MacDonald and Charles Williams follow Lewis.

Admittedly I read just about anything printed on pieces of paper.... But some pieces are much better than others.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

March 2007 -Storytelling

When children visit the Zamek here a few stories I might tell them.

Most villages and towns have fish ponds; some have rivers, also. These bodies of water are guarded by vodniks. You can always recognize a vodnik. Seaweed hangs from him, and green slime. His hair and clothes are wet. One coattail drips water. He loves to catch children, pulling them under water where he catches their souls in clay pots, popping on the lids, so they don't escape. If the citizens of village are bad people, their fish pond has no vodnik. Do you think this is good? No, it's certainly not, because no one is guarding the pond, no vodnik scaring away children who could fall in the water. Sometimes a vodnik floats a yellow ribbon on the pond to attract children. Do not be fooled by things you might see floating on the pond, and do not go close to the vodnik or his pond.

About once a year fish ponds are cleaned out, by men, never by children. The men pull the plug to let the water drain away, netting the fish which they toss into barrels of water. Then they clean out mud and rubbish and plug the pond again. The owner of the pond and everyone who helped clean take home fish for their families. In the old days often a wooden-slatted cage was placed in the deepest part of the pond and filled with some fish. It was fairly easy to take out fish for dinner during the winter.

Long, long ago, at a time lost in the mists, Duke Kroc's daughter, Princess Libuse, married Premysl. Their children and grandchildren began a dynasty lasting hundreds of years. Princess Libuse founded the capital city, Prague, "threshold = prah" - Praha.

After some generations one Premysl, Duke Kresomysl, decided to mine gold in the fields of a farmer names Horymir. Horymir did not like this and killed the miners. Then Horymir rode on his horse, Semik, to High Castle. The angry duke went to kill him at the High Castle wall. Horymir whispered in Semik's ear. The horse sailed over the wall, plunged into the Vltava river, dashed through Prague to the village Radotin where the poor exhausted horse died.

Another story from long ago is about a noble family who lived in the beautiful Bohemian castle, Cesky Krumlov. The mother and maids noticed that the children had an extra playmate, a kind woman, White Lady, who loved children. White lady was a ghost, a very kind ghost. She played with the children of the family for generations. The very last one, Peter, she visited very often because he had no brothers or sisters. Nowadays you may go to Cesky Krumlov, seeing rooms of elegant furniture and paintings, and also live bears outside in the moat, but there are no families with children living there. People say that White Lady is very sad and sometimes walks through the castle rooms, searching for children with whom to play.

Karel Capek, a famous Czech writer, told stories about a cat and a dog who were best friends. They liked to do projects together. Do you do projects with your friends?

One day they washed the floor. Oh, did they wash the floor! The cat poured on a pail of water, the dog poured on a pail of water. They swished it around with rags and a broom. Then each poured on another pail of water. Oh, they had a big flood! Maybe next time they used less water??

Another day they baked a cake. They put in lots of all the ingredients you usually put in a cake - eggs, flour, sugar, milk, butter. Then they added more things to make it especially delicious! The dog put in some meat, the cat put in a fish, the dog put in a bone, the cat put in a mouse. After pouring the batter into a large cake pan, they baked it. When the cake was done they set it outside to cool. Along came an ugly, fierce, mean dog who stole the cake and ate it all up! They were very sad until they saw that the mean dog had a terrible, terrible stomach ache. They were glad it was gone and had sandwiches for their party.

A small part of a nearby town is named “Goat Hill", on part that's a hill, of course. Every summer there's a Goat Hill Festival, a weekend of parties, singing, dancing. A mayor is elected for the weekend. He makes such promises as that it won't snow in the summer, or that no more trucks will drive through town, only goat carts. Children like the parade best. A band plays, people dress in old-fashioned clothes and ride in farm wagons pulled by horses, or carts pulled by goats. A large papier mache goat stands on a farm wagon. Watching the parade, you might have ice cream or a big balloon.

Here, below the Zamek a little boy had a cave in the cliff side above the weir. When he'd found a niche there he began enlarging it with a chisel and hammer. One day he showed it to a young man, who immediately borrowed the tools and enlarge it more. After that whenever strong young men visited, the little boy invited them to his cave, because the young men would always work on it. If you come visit, and are between four and ten years old, say, we will take you to try out the cave.

Can you draw a picture of one of these stories? What will you draw?
Princess Libuse? Semik, the horse, leaped over High Castle wall? White Lady? A vodnik? The cat and the dog baking a cake? Or, maybe you'll draw yourself in a little cave.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

February 2007 - Artist Hampl

I met Petr Hampl for the first time in the autumn of 1992 when he came to the Zamek and lept upon the chapel altar to point out aspects of the painting of The Fourteen Auxiliary Saints. This astonished me of course, but I soon learned that this creative person, overflowing in energy, dips into dozens of interests.

After his visit, several firemen arrived to see our two depictions of St. Florian, the firemen's patron saint. One's a fresco and the other's a statue outside. Their visit puzzled me until I learned Petr had sent them. He quite likes astonishing people. At a church under repair he took his sister up to the open tower and shot photos, which shocked his mother later.

Hampl was born in 1964 in Pacov, a small town east of Tabor. Artists and craftspeople are in his blood: his mother teaches art and math; his grandfather, now in his nineties, was an extremely skillful blacksmith; and his uncle is an artistic blacksmith.

After basic school Hampl studied at art schools in Prague: Umeleckoprumyslva skola; the painting department of Vysoka Umeleckoprumyslva skola; and the restoration department of Akademi vytvarne umeni. He does both original compositions and restoration work. If he drops in for coffee or lunch, he's soon off again - to Olomouc, Bechyne, Nepomuk, Prague - wherever he is working on restorations. Asked to enter a local show, he painted a slew of pieces in just a few days.

Before this, he'd had his own show. The centerpiece and crowning glory was an absolutely fantastic triptych of the Battle of Britain with Churchill, Big Ben, planes, Czech flyers in their youth and in their old age. The flyers included General Perina whose wife Anna belonged to IWAP. They and other flyers still living had come to his show! Hampl gave the painting to the Air Force Museum where it was displayed at first. Later he found it shuttled to a storeroom and, disgusted, took it home.

Hampl ordinarily restores frescos on or in buildings - government ones, churches, zameks. One very hot summer he worked on the Mala Strana clock in the wee hours of the morning, because of the heat and because tourists were there all day. He used a ladder, painting by street light.

If you are walking in Prague late at night it is quite normal to run into Petr. We have. During the millennium celebration one daughter met him on Charles Bridge. Another daughter and her husband were once on Old Town Square when they heard: "Leslie, Robby". Startled, they looked around to see Petr. He took them to Umgelt, the ancient customs house, and up in the construction elevator to see how he and colleagues had been repairing frescos.

We have some of his work - a formal portrait of a Polish officer, a lovely sketch of the Zamek, posters for Pacov's 400 year celebration, a contemporary portrait of my husband and me behind the chapel, surrounded by impressionistic foliage. The Grand Dining Room features his painting of General Helidor Pika.

Hampl has done some restorations here, also - a large painting of the Prague skyline, sprucing up St. Florian in the chapel, some work on the library fresco. For that fresco it was tremendous watching him, with a few brush strokes, bringing out a face. He wanted to work more on it, but it turned out to be impossible. He had other work that summer before our daughter's wedding and we needed to remove the scaffolding to do the floor in the library.

He restored the painting of The Fourteen Auxiliary Saints, which designates our chapel's name. It was greatly damaged. [We were told that a potato-picking brigade - from another location of course - had amused themselves by making holes in it.] Petr Hampl removed it from its frame putting it in an unused room where he set a new canvas. He ironed the painting onto the new canvas! Eventually he painted missing and damaged sections. I had had a 1941 photo enlarged which helped him. We no longer use the enormous and very heavy Baroque frame, but have made a simple frame in our workshop.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Czech Dumplings

Czech Dumplings

5 Viennese rolls [rohlicky?], or one half loaf of white bread, 1-2 days old.
1/2 cup butter or bacon fat.
Cut the rolls or bread into small cubes, heat butter or fat and fry cubes until they are crisp. Set aside.
Often dumplings are made without this frying, but babicka says they are really much better.
Of course you might experiment if you wish, with tossing in oil & baking or microwaving.

2 eggs
1 1/2 to 2 cups soda water.
1 pound flour sifted together with [or just mixed with]
1 teaspoon salt & 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Beat eggs & soda water.
Add flour mixture & beat vigorously until dough is very smooth & loosens.
[It says from a wooden spoon with which you are beating, but I think I'd use the Kitchen Aid, until the dough would be smooth & start to ball.] Mix in the fried cubs and if desired, chopped parsley, until all cubes are covered in dough.
Let rest for 15-20 minutes.

With dampened hands (small bowl of water) form two large long rolls.
Slide them into a very large saucepan with briskly boiling salted water.
Be sure the water is boiling vigorously when you put the rolls in, or they will stick to the bottom. Bring to the boil again.

Cooking time is 25 minutes - about half-way through, turn the dumpling over.
Test readiness with a cake tester - no dough should cling to it.
Remove with a dumpling lifter. If I didn't give you one yet, use 2 spatulas.
Immediately poke with something long & thin - skewer, cake tester - to let the steam out, so they don't collapse.

Dumpling may be reheated in the microwave, either sliced or whole dumpling.