Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Summer Issue- 2009

We've had three summer weddings here. One year a daughter and our son had their weddings, and another year, another daughter. Of course there was much joy, partying, visiting with family and friends.. For the daughters' weddings we hired a man with horses and a coach who gave guests and helpers rides around some fields and forests. Along with the joyfulness of the ceremonies and parties we experienced some hitches and difficulties.

One important family member from the States told us that she was coming for the week before the wedding. Thinking of the complications about to arise, I strongly suggested she stay for the week afterward! She thought about this for about 20 seconds, before saying that, no she would come the week beforehand! I mentally tore my hair, wondering how to manage. I made arrangements to rent a bus for a week. We planned the itinerary – picking up guests in Prague and delivering them to local hotels, supper and music at a vinarna, a visit to Cesky Budejovice and Krumlov, a trip to the glass factory with lunch following, a visit to Orlik with an evening barbecue on their restaurant patio, another evening grilling lamb on a sheep farm. Some stateside guests rented cars, but most relied on our bus.

Many people were very helpful. The bride's roommate arrived mid-afternoon while our youngest daughter was agonizing over the wedding cake assembly. Instead of going to play Pitch with the university friends, the roommate stayed, talking the very nervous cook and decorator through the process.. A nearby organic farm gave us fresh roses for the cake decorations.

A few people acted as saboteurs. A couple people insisted on inviting guests for coffee, on one of the remaining weekends I had to work on writing and sending faxes. Also, after several months, the caterers hadn't gotten back to us. I sent a letter to them saying that we would have a number of important people who would expect good food: “several authors of books, a former ambassador, a signer of Charter 77, the daughter of a Czech senator [Not bothering to mention that this had been in the First Republic!], someone who had set-up a dinner for Havel when he was in the states”, and so on. I got a quick phone call: “Didn't you get our fax?” They quickly faxed their offer! However, I am certain they had not faxed earlier! Finally, while I was sending out a group of helpers to gather branches to arrange in two painted milk cans, someone else grabbed them, setting them to scrubbing the chapel door! This did no good. [A few years later it was painted.]

The bride's dress was remade from her great-grandmother's. Unfortunately a new set of bridesmaids' dresses had to be ordered! One bridesmaid was now pregnant! All the women staying here spent the morning decorating the chapel and tables on the Platz with flowers. I removed ORANGE flowers from the altar, replacing them with the pastels I'd wanted! I gave one woman who would read the intercessory prayers bits of papers to arrange for reading. Instead, she worked on flowers; during the service she had to shuffle those papers!

For our son's wedding the bride's family of course planned dress, flowers, reception. I went to the factory which makes material, buying a long roll of sturdy red cloth to run up the aisle of our chapel. Helpers fixed refreshments here for those invited to the ceremony, but not to the reception.

A nearby dressmaker fashioned the dress for our other daughter, washable silk and beautiful lace for sleeves, which we'd chosen in Vienna. She fainted at the final fitting, alarming the dressmaker who phoned us. We picked her up as planned and all was well.

The deacon from the nearby monastery brought a lovely bouquet. We asked if it was from the abbot. “No, they are from the archbishop.” !!! We finally unraveled that mystery. A cousin who had done some translations for him, sat next to him at a special mass on Vysehrad.. We could just imagine her saying to him, “I am going to a lovely zamek for a wedding in a lovely family in the Highlands!”

Standing on the platform with the deacon and his bride, the groom realized that he had left the rings upstairs in his room! Somehow he communicated this to a friend in the middle of the chapel who somehow where realized the rings were. She slipped out the side door, went to a dresser drawer, and brought back the rings, delivering them safely to the groom!

Both of our daughters' wedding receptions ended with a big thunderstorm. Guests flew around the Platz, bringing in food and dishes and taking down tents, before heading for shelter. The second caterer told me later it was if the kitchen were full of ants scurrying around!

Friday, April 03, 2009

My Czech Treasures

In the operetta, "Cikansky Baron", the protagonist returns home to a ruined estate and, after many adventures, finds a treasure, a trunk of gold coins. I came with my husband when he returned to his ruined estate; we continually have adventures. I found an old trunk his family had used for boots; chickens had been nesting in it. It was not filled with gold coins.

My treasure I found elsewhere. That it was so unexpected intensifies its value for me. My treasure is our relatives. Some my husband knew as a child, with some few we corresponded, and some, even fewer, we met in England & Germany. Of course, many were not born yet when my husband & his parents left.

In April 1990 my husband, our junior high daughter, and I went to Litomerice to see Uncle John and Aunt Irene whom we'd met once in Oxford, England. Uncle John used to send us things - phonograph records: the lovely J.J.Ryba baroque Christmas mass, and a Karel Gott 45; and a Lada calendar and Lada prints for the children. From that April '90 visit I have a wonderful photo of Uncle John showing my husband the surrender papers which had been given him in 1945, and which he had kept hidden for over forty years. Aunt Irene was rushing out to buy ham, cheese, and rolls for us.

In August 1990, I arrived at the Pilsen train station with four of our nearly adult children, and my mother-in-law. We were looking out of the train, to see who was meeting us and wondering if we would know them. Suddenly I realized that almost all the people stretched out along the platform were there for us. There was a little old lady I was certain was someone special. Later, I found out how very special she is. She's my husband's aunt and, with her husband, his uncle, had facilitated their route out of Czechoslovakia. There were 3 of my husband's first cousins, and some spouses; 5 of my children's second cousins. We hardly knew these people existed.

In cars and a farm truck, we were carted off to the village mill which my husband's grandmother had run. I actually had the address in my address book, but had no idea what it meant. We saw the weir island with its ancient huge hollow tree where every year the children put on a play, "fairies" emerging from the hollow tree. We ate and drank, laughed and talked, in a mixture of languages - Czech, English, German. Peter, a second cousin took us to see an ancient castle ruin, which once was a beacon, when fires were lit, on the route to Prague. In the evening we sat around a fireplace & sang. We all learned "The Mill Doesn't Run Any More", "Nemelem nemelem". But my husband's cousin, Joe, was trying: he is producing electricity. One of my daughters went to bed first. She was highly startled when her second cousin walked through, the rooms being interconnected, as typical of a Czech house. "WHY is Leslie (eldest sister) here?!!" "No, she's your second cousin, Katya!"

There's Jane, a loving homebody. Before I learned Czech we communicated just with smiles, and appreciation of her meals. She and Georgiana both like to try new recipes. Another Jane speaks English, and is sensible, outgoing, and, also, caring. Olga is full of enthusiasm, loves adventure and was in the big Sokol parade with Havel. There's Eva, with whom I used a dictionary to speak together in German, hers much better than mine; years later I was her confirmation sponsor. Her husband, Thomas, still later, did a reading at our daughter's wedding. There was Vasek to whose retroactive Charles University medical school graduation we went. Havel instituted these graduations for people who had been thrown out of university in 1949. There was Cousin Irene, very precise, organized, and interested in art.

Cousins Slavoj and Milada scurried around introducing people to each other. IWAP's support of the Zbraslav children's home was a result of Slavoj's introductions because his cousin who worked there asked me for help. There's Hana who was one of the first signers of Charter '77. There's Joe who's a computer genius. There's Margaret who brought her boyfriend, now her husband, for a visit, remembering how our girls took her on a picnic for her namesday, when she, only 8, had been dropped off with us to practice her English! She's now an elegant young woman and the mother of a little girl. There's Kathy, and Peter, Paul, and Katy, who thank us for visiting, as if we, not they, had provided hospitality.

Aunt Hana, who died at age 95 a few years ago, plied us with constant tidbits of the art, history, and architecture of Prague. When young, she listened to Ema Destinova* singing from the Vysehrad while she stood with her family across the Vltava below. 'Her voice was so clear! You know, it was before the days of microphones, but we heard her perfectly.'

I treasure all of these people. Certainly I could use a trunk full of gold coins; oh, yes, I could. However, my Czech treasure is truly of lasting value to me.

*Ema Destinova was a famous and beloved singer and opera star. You may look at her face on the 2000 Kc. note, or read her plaque at the entrance to the National Theater.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

April '09 Bridge European visits

After junior year in high school I went to a conference in a camp called Sky Lake. We had discussions, cookouts, lots of fun, but I had a worry that I didn't think concerned others: the upcoming vote on the European Common Market with uncertain passage. It felt very important to me. One evening I went in the camp store and a radio newscast: the European Common Market had passed. It was years later that I first visited Europe, but since then my family and I have been to many countries of what became the EU.

In early years at the Zamek a TV crew came to film us. It was summer, so my mother-in-law, Rina, was here. As we sat on the Platz, she told how she had packed small suitcases with pajamas and a sausage for their 1948 escape. I was interviewed in the kitchen; I said how I feel at home as climate and terrain are similar to my hometown area in central New York State. My husband talked about what we grow while interviewed on a field. Our son was filmed in one of the woodshops. He said that he had been very fortunate to have visited many countries throughout his childhood and now was pleased to be in the free Czech Republic.

When you visit another country you find, even within Europe, similarities and differences. My husband had business in the Netherlands . I went on a canal boat ride and a bus trip with two little daughters."We'll go visit a castle on the weekend" my husband said. I said, "Don't be silly. Holland doesn't have castles!" But they do - dozens. We went to Muiderslot, and also visited WWII bunkers, and the Comenius' Museum, which my husband's grandmother's friend had founded. On another early trip to Amsterdam a couple daughters bought tiny delft-ware type pieces in the hotel gift shop. They complained to the sales girl that they were using too much of their vacation money for small gifts. "Yes", she said, "Holland is a small and expensive country".

We never spent much time in France, but one two-day visit to Paris seems quintessential to me. We arrived from an overnight flight. The concierge at the King George Hotel looked askance at our bedraggled crew, fumbling around with reservations, until my husband asked him to store our PC very, very carefully. [PC's were a new item in the world back then.] The concierge found the reservations. The computer went to the storeroom; we were taken to a beautiful and extensive suite. There was some chipped paint, pre-renovations, but for us and our four children unending space after a night flying was wonderful. There were three bedrooms, a large sitting room, corridors, and a number of bathrooms. One child did math homework on a Louis the something table.

After all rested, we ordered room service for the three girls -exquisite food, with linens, silver, and flowers. My husband, I, and our young teen-age son went out for dinner and then the show at the Folies de Berges. Of course it was interesting. I remarked that I liked the variety of costumes; our son remarked that he thought it very repetitious, my husband agreed. However, we had at least viewed it once.

The next day we walked to the Champs Elysees, Napoleon's tomb, the Eiffel tower, and lovely gardens. Our fashion-conscious daughter remarked on the clothes of French children playing in the gardens. "They are all wearing Outfits!", she said. [Toiletries she collected from the hotel bathrooms lasted her several years.] The following morning we flew off, having experienced Paris.

Greece was our destination four or five times. On the island of Kos the children played in marketplace ruins. There had been money to excavate mosaic floors, but not to build a structure, so you scraped the four or so inches of sand off and then recovered them.. One child got a painful bee sting. I went to a pharmacy across the road. This was my first experience of European pharmacists as medical advisors. I said she was not allergic, and he gave me something which took the sting out.

The last time we saw the Parthenon it had scaffolding. I think the repairs were really needed, so it wouldn't collapse. However our youngest did not like this! "Don't they know that people want to see it like it ended up? I'm not coming back until they take the scaffolding away!" She left. My husband said, "I didn't know Ann is a classical purist".

One of our daughters has returned to Greece twice, from Prague, including on her honeymoon. It's not sneaky infecting the children with interest in other places, it's vital to our world and theirs.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

March 2009 "Thinking of Children's Insights"

Perhaps you will soon be taking your children on vacation for a late-winter or early-spring holiday. I always tended to stuff my children as full of the history, geography, literature, culture of the place visited as I possibly, possibly could. It is fair turnabout to note well what children are feeling and saying. Recently I've been thinking of many interesting reactions of my youngest daughter in all our travels over the years, from the time when she was a baby to our arrival in Czechoslovakia, and later moving into the zamek.

Eight months old, she was sitting on my lap while we viewed a herd of zebras in a game park. At this moment she registered what she was seeing, her eyes growing large - these were the first animals she'd really noticed. She was baptized on the trip; Years later we needed the date so looked in her brother's notebook; interspersed with a sentence about seeing a lion, and lots of drawings of tanks and guns, was the sentence, “Today my sister was baptized”. Also in Africa, when she was 3 or 4, she brought her notebook, with pasted-in maps to her father. What she requested of him was to mark HOME - the town in the Middle East where we lived! It was all very well to visit Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nairobi, but she wanted HOME to be firmly marked.

When she was 5 she had one goal for our USA trip: getting a pair of “Party Shoes” - black patent Mary Janes. When she had those she said, “Okay. We can go home now.” Never mind that her father had a computer course, one child needed a small operation, I had to get some household supplies and clothes for everyone for the year, and we needed to visit relatives.

Some incidents in England, involving her at age 9, come to my mind. She really hated walking on tombstones. “Thank you, Becky!!”, she said with all her heart to the cousin who warned her about a tombstone on the floor in a small country church. I remember her amazement at the age of the Oxford “New College”, where we watched “The Tempest”. We also visited the pubs which C. S. Lewis and the other Inklings frequented. I bought her a copy of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”, telling her that she was absolutely going to read it. Of course, she could read, but until that point had avoided full-length books; after that, you couldn't stop her. Her very best day was the day a neighbor in the village where we rented a house took her to school -PE, art, and music all in one day, and all the other little girls on the school bus.

A few years later she was with her sister, so my husband and I enjoyed the art of Florence, Italy, without complaints! But another time, in the Prado in Madrid she recognized a painting because of a set of coasters including that painting. The hour we spent there suited a child more than the 3 hours at the Uffizi would have.

When we drove to Czechoslovakia from Vienna in April 1990 most of the old border defenses were still very apparent. When she returned home to 9th grade one of the other students remarked, “Of course there is really no such thing as 'No-man's land'”. Our daughter immediately informed him that there certainly is, and that she had seen it!

She wrote poems about the zamek later, putting into them ages and sounds. If you didn't know better, you might think that she had actually lived here centuries ago.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Music (originally published in "The Bridge" in 2005

It's possible to find 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 afternoon.

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 had forgotten to send the bus for them! Others picked them up in several loads, so we did have the show after all.

The older cousin of the young man who played the saxophone is an accomplished pianist. She is now a PhD in languages, but she did give a concert here years ago. The old general who lived here then had some requests which she played competently.