Saturday, November 05, 2011

Very Special Gifts

Grandchildren often make drawings and paintings for us. Recently we got a letter from the youngest, a four year old. There were two words - her name and "LOVE". When she was only two years old she looked around supermarkets for me – in North Carolina! But I am here, in the Czech Republic, so her looking for me is a gift of sorts.

Grandchildren give me other gifts, both incidental and Christmas and birthday gifts. I have two coasters. One is from a zoo, with a lion on it. I don't know if it was a give-away or was purchased. The other one is obviously a crafts project – all blue decorations, scratched into a blue layer and with unevenly cut edges. The most ordinary gift, appearing like other ordinary gifts, is two short wide-mouthed jars with red plastic lids decorated with green pears. Of course I immediately threw out some other jars, storing herbs in these on a shelf.

Lately I've received a rash of objects made from lanyard plastic lengths. It began with key holders, proceeding onward to lanyard knotting covering pen bodies. The key holders you would not want to use for your major key collections as they are not strong enough. The pens are of a nice size to fit in a box of stationary or Christmas cards.

I have a cute little house made of coffee stirrers sitting on green paper. Grass?. Good thing I live in a Zámek, so I have room for all this stuff.

One Christmas I received a set of jewelry. The bracelet broke first. The set is plastic and glass beads held together with bits of wire, The necklace broke next. I still have the earrings which I often wear when our grandaughter is joining us for dinner. Sometimes someone else says, “You don't want to wear those junky earrings, do you?” Oh, yes I do, I definitely do.

Who wants junky jewelry, paper and stick cottages, unevenly cut coasters? Would anyone? Well, yes, a grandmother would, that's who. And mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles. May your holidays gift you with presents which are close to your heart! I expect and hope I will receive a few more.

Monday, September 12, 2011

One of the first meetings I ever attended was at the Diplomat Hotel. Ivan Klíma spoke. (I know that he spoke again in a recent year.) He talked about time he'd spent in America, he talked about his books, he talked about getting rid of communism. I was especially lured by My Golden Trades, buying it very soon, reading it, and highly recommending it to others, but not actually forcing them to read it! Now and then I read it again.

At an early Christmas bazaar in the Pyramid Hotel I worked at the Canadian-USA table with Joan Drabek who became a very good friend. Even at that first meeting we enjoyed working together. When I went home I told my husband about her. It turned out that he had been interviewed by her father-in-law for Voice of America in 1963. Joan and her husband Jan visited us, spending a month of vacation here in 1996 and coming to two of our children's weddings in 1997. Joan served as president of Women's Group later. We also visited them in their apartment in Prague. Jan worked for Havel in Prague and elsewhere, but he also is an author. We have and have read some of his books.

George and have have gone to 6 Balls, always with others - an artist friend and 2 of our children; Aunt Hana and her granddaughter at the Forum; friends from Canada at the Marriott; President Anja Haanpas and friends at the Citizens' Building on namestí Míru; and my mother-in-law at the Marriott and at the Prague Castle. The first ball was at the Diplomat Hotel. Edna, our artist friend had been restoring a fresco in the chapel. Caroline was working at the Prague Post, David was working with us. We won several prizes at the ball!! I yielded to someone's entreaty for the stuffed animal, but Edna and I most happily used the coupon for a delicious lunch at Parma Restaurant!

We have enjoyed visits from group members. One day Linda, Grace, and Jane arrived here. It was great talking with all of them. Linda was a ballet teacher from Cape Town, who was sending her son to Czech schools where he was doing just fine. Linda showed how she had asked for eggs when she'd forgotten the word in Czech. She flapped her "wings" and clucked, setting all in the grocery store laughing. Jane had been in the film world. Later we went to a reception and a Turkish restaurant with then. Jane bought a king size bed from us - at that time I had to have the mattress made by an upholsterer here. I'm still friends with Grace. Her then teenaged daughter spent several weeks here and planted flowers to bloom for some weddings.

Our first Charity Group chairwoman was Elizabeth Poulsen-Hansen. She and I developed a little exchange - Fokus, a sheltered workshop in Pelhrimov, made slippers. Women's Group paid for them, I took the slippers to Elizabeth who gave them to people in the refugee camps in northern Bohemia. This was continued until the refugees did not want any more slippers and the Fokus workshop people did not want to make any more!

Elizabeth and her family planned to come visit us. However, it happened that Olga Havlová would open our first Christmas Bazaar, so Elizabeth had to stay in Prague. Her husband, the Danish ambassador, and his friend, the Finnish ambassador, did come. The men had wanted to go on a hunt, so my husband and our son arranged it. The ladies who helped me baked and prepared refreshments. After the hunt some Czech folk dancers performed. I was sorry that Elizabeth could not come. We visited them at their home in Copenhagen later on.

Beginning the Facade at Last!

As you are about to get dressed someone walks past your window. You quickly close the shutters. But what would you do if the room you're in is on the second floor [European/British first floor]?? This is very startling. The bricklayers had moved the scaffolding around a corner and now were walking on the planks outside the window. We'd hoped for repairs to the facade for many years. Right now just the
facade of the chapel is being repaired. The chapel is not a separate building - it's at the western corner
of the Zámek. They had repaired the western side and the sacristy and now were starting on the south side, facing the platz.

Some outside re
pairs were done immediately, notably windows. Windows were broken, frames and/or glass. We were going to live here all winter! Some window openings were only openings, some had flapping frames with glass on the ground or on the inside floor. Some were covered with plastic. A few were boarded up.

The first Christmas eve we thought someone was trying noisily to break in. It was a flapping window.

A carpenter friend came to insure that all windows had glass and framing. In rooms we were living that first winter he fixed

double windows. In rooms we only walked through he fixed single windows. He warned me never to open a certain window in the Grand Dining Room. If I had, it would have crashed below. Then he returned to his wood shop to make enough frames for the whole Zámek. As was typical of him, he made many more. Later we used some for screen windows in summers warm enough for screens! A glazier very skillfully filled all the new window frames - that is, of as many as we needed.

Did you ever read Kidnapped? Remember the wicked uncle sending the boy up a stairway? Only a flash of
lightening saved the boy from stepping off into nothingness. We had a balcony like that. There was a wall with a door, so we were not in very great danger. But there was no balcony. Father and son blacksmiths visited, looking for work. We ordered a new lacy stairwell surround, an iron bed, and a half-round table. Then my husband commissioned the new balcony. When it arrived we hired a crane to lift it up. The same glazier added the glass it needed.

Today the balcony is filled with plants, the half-round iron table, and a wicker settee. It is a lovely place to sit and read, or just relax and gaze outside.


In George's grandmother's bedroom was a hole to the stars [or to sun, clouds, rain, hail, snow ] We fixed the

hole and reroofed the first spring.

The facade very badly and still needs restoration.but many other things clamored for money. Outfitting carpenter shops, farm machinery, seeds, fertilizer, hiring a few workers were important needs. The facade waited in its dilapadated state. At last a grant became available. Little by little the facade its regaining its High-Baroque gold.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Art lessons

Several well-known artists have been connected to the Zámek, but perhaps the first to give art lessons was the sculptor, Vaclav Icha. In WWII universities were closed, and students sent to work camps. So, you'd offer students important jobs, such as on a farm. Vaclav Icha, a sculptor, had been my father-in-law's roommate, along with Prince Karel Schwartzenberg V, at cavalry school in Pardubice. He sculpted George's grandmother and sketched.Mostly Icha is remembered for making "bathtub gin" and partying. However, he did teach my husband, then a small boy, to sketch. My husband still draws in the style Icha taught him!

Other artists connected somewhat to us are Jan Autengruber, painter, who courted Zdenka, a family member, but didn't marry her. He died of only 33. I found a few of his paintings on internet.

Another artist was Vilem Pistorius, an especially excellent painter of horses. He lived at a nearby zámek with his wife. Many of his paintings were on our wall.. After they sold their estate, Mrs. Pestorius often came from Prague to visit my husband's grandmother.

Today, Ivan Smilauer lives nearby, painting and sculptiing. In summer he sculpts great, beautiful pieces in one of our barns. He is a friend of Zoubek, doing some exhibits with him.

Two of Karel Simunek's paintings are on the walls. One is of the chapel dome and the other is the zamek from a hill. He spent some time here, but no one today knows when he did. His dates are 1869 - 1942.

Our son's brother-in-law , Petr Hempl has done much work here. There's a formal portrait of a Polish officer, a lovely sketch of the Zamek, posters for a nearby 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 who came to the last hunt in 1947. Hempl 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.

Our young artist friend,
Michael Loughlin, stayed here one summer, Petr showed him how to restore the Saint Jan Neponuk fresco in the chapel. Petr restored the painting of The Fourteen Auxilliary Saints in the chapel. It was full of
The artist who gave lessons here this summer is not as yet famous. She worked here on vacation from art university in Prague, mostly working in the kitchen. Grandchildren arrived. What a great opportunity! The boys, Sam, 6 1/2 and Ben, 8 1/2 and the girls, Charlotte, 9, Maisie, 7,and Taylor, 3 1/2 were all very, very interested in art lessons.

We thought that outside at a big table was the ideal spot, but it was not comfortable, as it was quite cold that day. After breakfast and the workers coffee break was cleaned up, the art teacher and her translator, another college student who's worked here seven summers, covered the long table in the kitchen with newspaper, laid out art paper, and set out leaves, grasses, a few flowers by each paper. Each painted his/her bits of nature with acrylic paints, using the leaf or grass to make a print on the paper. There was still another step. These prints on the paper were then made into animals with paints or crayons. A small leaf might be an eye; a flower might be hair, a long grass might be legs.

The next project was covering a piece of paper with crayon in stripes, or circles or as one wished. Then, this was painted completely with black ink. When the ink had dried, a picture could be scratched on the black paper, letting the colors show. Again the teacher suggested animals. The younger boy, Sam, drew a dragon made of cotton-candy. It looked as if the dragon were leaving puffs of himself, everywhere he went.

Two days later the girls went home to America, but the boys begged for another art lesson, preferring the black ink on crayon. It was interesting - the girls packed up their pictures, but when the boys were finished, they were finished.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Sheep and Bees

My husband, George, went out one evening to put the sheep in their fold, as we usually do. Normally they are waiting just outside the fold when he comes with the bucket of snacks. This evening they were already inside, very quiet and tense. He thought, "This is a little strange". when our golden retriever, inside the yard gate, began barking furiously. He looked up to see two men going out the gate.

One, he thought, was dressed like a cowboy - white clothing with colorful detailing and having a large hat on his head. A sombrero?? So, George went to talk with them. The "cowboy" was actually a bee keeper and had come to collect bees which were making their home in a fuse box. The large hat was a bee-keeper's hat, covered in the typical mesh. That is why George had not been able to see his face. (He is someone we know.) He asked if they had caught the queen. They had. All the bees were in his special box which he was taking away.

The sheep had not liked the sounds outside - the angry buzzing, two men they did not know - so they had slipped into the fold very quietly.

Monday, April 04, 2011

I did do other things in DWG, but the most interesting & the most fun were the 5 years I spent as the Welfare Chairman. In this article I will mention some names of women who worked with me, but please realize, that I, having left Saudi almost 20 years ago, and Dhahran for RT before then, I simply don't remember all the names of people who worked so well with us. Several names have reappeared as I've been working on this, but not nearly all.

We organized people to run clothing drives for refugees, and supported women's nursing scholarships in the Middle East. Once I had 10,000 blankets to give away! In the place where the blankets were stored, many Saudi men worked. It was fun visiting with them and talking about their villages. Many were in the village charitable societies, so we arranged blankets to go to these societies. Many went out of the country to refugees.

We really loved cooperating with various women's charitable societies. We had an Arab cooking class at their place and they came to our place for an American cooking class. We were invited to homes. We went to oasis villages to give educational aids and show their use. Once we had a nursery school workshop in Dhahran. Many ideas were presented by Welfare Committee members and by nursery school teachers who joined us for this special day. Women from the Al Khobar nursery school who had more resources, afterwards themselves helped village societies with their nursery schools.

However it was amazing to see how those village women had worked to fix their schools and to prepare themselves to lead. Many got books from the boys' schools, studying at home, and going back eventually to take the exams for their high school degrees. I was so impressed that some of the grandmothers had encouraged this program.

Western women thanked me, too, for the treasuring those contacts.

Students had opportunities to work on clothing drives! This was not volunteer work - I drafted Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and returning students and some others. Well, they needed service hours.... Of course, DWG members helped, too. Art Kelberer facilitated the movement of the clothes up the Tapline. Recently one of our daughters asked if those big boxes we'd had in the hallway were for clothing drives. Yes, they were. We once took clothes to Greece; people going on a trip to Pakistan took some suitcases. In the papers of the Welfare Committee I found a wonderful little note. Someone asked Tom Barger for help for people in terrible floods in Italy. He'd written on that paper - 'try the women's group'. Kathleen took hold, sending many tons of clothing.

Ruth Edmondson, living down the alley from me was DWG president. She said one day," Barbara, now you are the Welfare Committee chairman." I wasn't certain I loved this information. What should I do? There were almost no references to find. Kate Crawford wrote letters, having them translated as needed, and had checks issued for the charities we supported. People told me to talk with Ellen Speers, but Ellen was in Houston for a year. The Speers did come back to Dhahran later, and Ellen was very helpful. Someone found the files for me.

Some letters with checks were taken to Qatif and Hofuf by a DWG member in a taxi. This is how the visits to the societies began. We were sometimes asked for further assistance. Soon, we expanded the project. Margaret Woodhams, a school music teacher, threw herself into this. Drawing lessons, help for the nursery schools, the cooking lessons mentioned already, private visits. Once my friend, Karen Irwin who speaks Arabic, and I, with our daughters Chandra and Alice, went to Tarut Island Charitable Society. It was a lovely morning. Of course, the girls wouldn't talk, but we made up for that!

One very helpful person in making contacts with the Arab women was Mr. Nawab, the head of Public Relations. He was very much in favor of our programs and helped facilitate some of them.

When Mary Eddy lived in Dhahran she was one of three women who really got the welfare program off the ground. When Norah Barger visited she said that Mary Eddy's family had made her move from New Hampshire to New Jersey [I think NJ], because, in her 80's, she was still skiing the NH hills! Do you still send scholarships to the Mary Eddy nursing program at the American University of Beruit?

Now I will tell you more about Norah Barger's visit. She was working with Catholic Near East Welfare in Jordan, came to visit her sister, Annie Hebert. I asked her to speak to the welfare committee, as well as some visiting vice-presidents' wives. Of course it was interesting, and wonderful to have someone directly working with one of our charities speaking to us.

One woman who worked on some of our programs, Louel Larkin, is betterknown for her work in organizing the hospital volunteer program. When she finally stepped down, perhaps when they were leaving. the program was very well staffed, and running like clockwork. Probably Louel would disput this last. Of course, DWG members were in the program, as well as a number of Saudi women.