Monthly Archives: May 2012

Five highlights of my weekend with the Village People

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No picture of that 70s pop group The Village People this time. You'll have to make do with a photo of the glorious Bohemian countryside instead.

More people find this blog by searching for “Village People” than more obvious search terms like “Prague” or “Czech”.  I suspect they may be trying to track down info on the 70s pop group who created disco classic ‘YMCA’ but hey, who cares?

The Village People (aka Czechman’s parents) are essential characters in the exciting story that is The Adventures of Ms Girl in Czechland. I’ve recently returned from another restorative weekend in the Bohemian countryside and would now like to regale you all with the comic highlights of the trip.  I make no apologies for the fact this post appears in the form of a list whatever a certain silent blog lurker – yes Czechman, I mean you –  may have to say.

1. Girl in Czechland Wins Name that Tune

While in hospital I spent a fair amount of time listening to Czech composers.  Honest. Anyway, Czechman thought it would be a good idea for me to impress his parents with my newly gained cultural knowledge.

“Anglicanka is going to sing you something,” Czechman announced while we were sitting on the brown sofa in the living room one evening under the cross-stitched picture of Prague Castle. Perhaps now you see where Czechman’s aversion to kitsch comes from.

I hum them a couple of bars of Smetana’s Má Vlast. The tune is distincly recognisable but The Village People looked nonplussed. 

Czechman tells them the answer.

“Oh, Smetana! Of course I recognise it now!” Czechman’s mum tells me. “I just didn’t think you would know that!”

If you’d like to find out more about why Má Vlast is such a big deal in Czechland, then you can listen to this programme in the Radio 4 archive where Jan Kaplan explain how significant it became to him while living in exile.

2. Ms Girl dines out on old Shepherds Pie

Everyone likes receiving praise. On the rare occasions when it is handed out by a Czech person, you can usually rely on it being genuine. 

Later that same evening while sitting on the brown sofa, the conversation turns to food.

“That thing you cooked for us,” began Czechman’s dad, “I don’t remember what it was called, you know, it had meat, then potatoes then meat…”

A dish I’d prepared where meat and potatoes were the main ingredients? This could only mean one thing.

“Shepherds pie!” I replied excitedly. “But it has meat, potatoes and then cheese.”

“Yes, that the one! I told the boys at work the next day, ‘I had some English food, I don’t know what it was but it was really tasty.”

I’ll be dining out on that particular compliment for some time to come.  If you also want to win over your Czech in-laws, here’s a recipe.

3. Točena zmrzlina comes to The Village 

Točena zmrzlina is that special kind of ice cream that you usually only get at the seaside or from an ice cream van back home.  In Prague, however, every other bakery seems to have a hatch where they sell these whippy ice creams to passers by.

Why must they test my very weak willpower like this?

Anyway, a točena zmrzlina stand has appeared in The Village. There seems to be no shortage of customers judging from the mini-crowd which had gathered there when we cycled past on Saturday.

Czechman’s mum, however, was unimpressed.

“20kc for an ice cream – and you have to buy a large one! Iwas so disgused that I went and got one from the Co-op around the corner instead.”

Did I mention that beer is also točene which means that the literal translation for točena zmrzlina is draft ice-cream. Hilarious! Or perhaps not…   

4. Therapeutic Work: Watering the Plants in Babička’s Garden

Now that the weather is improving, a visit to The Village means spending plenty of time in Grandma’s garden. We feed the chickens. We drink tea and eat cream cakes. My favorite task this time was watering the plants. I doubt I’ll ever become particularly green fingered – although I should at least try to keep the violets Czechman’s mum gave us alive for a while – but there’s something therapeutic about pottering around in the sunshine with a watering can

5. Hunting for Communist Kitsch in the Cottage

I’m a pretty clumsy person. Despite my best efforts, I’ve recently managed to smash a grand total of five of our glasses. Instead of going to Ikea to buy some more, we spent Sunday hunting around in the loft of the Czechmanovi’s cottage looking to see if any replacements could be found. 

Czechman was delighted to stumble upon the drinking vessel below. Does that mean that even Czechman has a weakness for nostalgic bits and bobs after all?

 

 

 

 

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Another Czech kitsch mug for my collection

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No musings this time. Just a photo of a mug I picked up in a bazar as a gift for Czechman’s dad on his name day. Fishing is his main hobby but he already has plenty of mugs. Oh well, at least I tried.

 

The very witty slogan translates as something like, “Don’t drink the water. Spawn in it!”

How romantic.

I’m not feeling very well at present. Serves me right for boasting on here about being full of vitality. Anyway, thanks again for all your great links to top Czech tunes: I’ll work my way through them while recuperating. And we have a trip to The Village planned this weekend so that should give me something to blog about.

Until then, mej se!

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Five Czech tunes you must hear before you die

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If music be the food of love, play on!

Those are the words of Shakespeare. Who wasn’t Czech. As far as we know.

I digress. Again.

You want to get to know Czech culture better but haven’t yet mastered those seven cases well enough to tackle Klíma in the original. Why not try taking an aural journey through Czechland’s rich musical heritage instead? From opera to pop, Czech composers and songwriters have come up with some top tunes over the centuries. Sample five of them below and ensure that you do not go to the grave completely ignorant of Czech musical achievements.

1. Overture to The Bartered Bride, Bedrich Smetana

I’m no opera buff but I have become a big fan of Smetana’s The Bartered Bride. I’ve even started singing bits in the shower – much to the amusement of Czechman.

I think most of us have some secret theme music that they imagine would kick off the big budget Hollywood film of their lives. The overture of The Bartered Bride is the tune I’d make them play as the credit rolled. It’s my secret happy ending music. It makes me want to fling my arms out and pirorette in a circle. I don’t actually do that too often: I may damage something or fall over and end up back in hospital.

2. Modliba pro Martu, Marta Kubišová

A minor Anglo-Czech domestic dispute

“You’re not writing about Marta Kubišová are you?”

“Why not?”

“Because you don’t know anything about her! If you’re going to talk about Modliba pro Martu you have to explain that it became a sort of unoffical national protest song after the Russians overran Prague in 1968.”

“I was thinking of saying she’s a sort of Czech Dusty Springfield. Only without the beehive.”

3. Tepláky, Nightwork

Shakespeare, opera, the Soviet invasion…

This is all getting a bit serious. Time to lighten the tone.

This song by Nightwork pays tribute to what is arguably the favourite Czech item of clothing: tepláky (aka jogging bottoms or if you’re American, sweatpants). If you don’t whip off your work clothes as soon as you get in the door then immediately change into your comfy teplaky then slob out in front of the TV with your sliced cheese and rohliky, I regret to inform you that you are yet to become truly Czech.

You don’t need to understand the lyrics to find the video funny but the chorus always makes me titter. Tepláková souprava/kule dej si doprava: Jogging bottoms on, move your balls to the right.

4. Lítací, Lenka Dusilova

I can’t pretend I really know what this song is about. Running it through Google Translate hasn’t helped much either. Still, as it seems the most repeated lyric is ‘najnajnajnajnaaaaaa’ which I’m guessing is something like ‘ladidadidaaaaaa’ in English, at least I shouldn’t have too many problems joining in.

I listened to Mezi světy, the album this tune is taken from, while I was in hospital. It reminded me of what Jarvis Cocker said when he went to visit his old school recently: that pop music is no longer so central to our lives. Instead, it’s turned into something inoffensive and soothing you have on in the background like a scented candle. Still, when you’re lying in intensive care, soothing and inoffensive is what you need. Lenka hit the spot for me then for which I’m grateful.

5. Mám jizvu na rtu, Jaromír Nohavica

According to the Czech Musical Dictionary of Persons and Personalities, Jaromír Nohavica is “exceptionally talented, marked by his intelligence, erudition, sensitivity, and industriousness.” He’s also a bit of a controversial figure: it seems that he may have been an informer during Communism despite being critical of the regime in his music.

Whatever the truth of the matter, he is still responsible for penning and performing lots of songs I like, including this one.

Tell me all about your favourite Czech tunes – modern or classical, funny or serious – in the comments section. And next time I may even get around to that erudite and serious post on Communism. Or not.

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Češi, máte pravdu! Six Things the Czechs Are Right About

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– God, has it really been over a week since I lasted posted? Damn. Better come up with some of my usual, witty, whimsical observations about life and love in Czechland or else my readers will forget about me.

– Forget witty and whimsical! They’re so last Tuesday. When are you going to stop writing about trivial nonsense like failing to bake a cake in the shape of a lamb and flowery gilded plates? Why not try addressing a really important topic for a change, say racism?

-Done that.

-Or the Czech inferiority complex?

-Done that too – wished I hadn’t.

-Or how about the legacy of Communism? Can it really be blamed for all contemporary Czech society’s ills?

-Hmm, sounds meaty. But today I’m in the mood for frivolous. How about one of those ’10 things’ posts that are contributing to the death of journalism?

-Suit yourself.

Greetings readers! Today’s post has been inspired by another Brit expat writer, Stephen Clarke, and his hilarious book, Talk to the Snail in which he outlines “Ten Commandments for Understanding the French”. According to the first precept, to be French is to be always right. This rather extreme self-confidence might be an explanation for the legendary alleged Gallic rudeness. I am French, therefore I am right – and also superior to you.

While Czechs can be rude, this does not in my view originate from arrogance or any in-built sense of cultural superiority. Now I don’t want Czech readers to start getting big-headed but I think perhaps you could do with reminding about all the things you are right about.

Six Things the Czechs Are (or Were) Right About

1. Eating your main meal at lunchtime

It’s better for your digestion! It’s a decent excuse to escape the office! It saves you having to cook in the evening! It’s more social than shovelling down a sad pre-packed sandwich in front of your desk! Embrace this Czech tradition! (hold off on the exclamation marks in future paragraphs but talking about food gets me excited).

2. Jak to řekne ‘credit crunch’? Or The Art of Frugal Living

Can you imagine Czechs taking out 110% interest mortgages and juggling repayments on five different credit cards? No, because unlike their British and American cousins, they aren’t idiots. If you want to buy something, you save up for it and as far as is humanly possible, this also goes for large purchases like a flat. While I sometimes get sick of the petty penny-pinching of Czechman and his compatriots (‘buy soap instead of shower gel, use one teabag for three cups of tea, blah, blah, blah) when it comes to the big financial decisions, you can’t fault their approach.

How do you say ‘credit crunch’ in Czech anyway? Is this a term that’s bandied about in the media constantly? I suspect not but correct me if I’m wrong…

Here it is. That piece of paper that meant the end of Czechoslovakian democracy.

3. 1938

Chamberlain. Appeasement. That piece of paper that was supposed to secure peace in Europe but didn’t. You were right. We should have defended you, Czechland, but alas, instead you were sold down the river. In my history lessons we were taught we didn’t have a choice – apparently Chamberlain followed a policy of appeasement not to avoid war but to give England much-needed time to rearm – but whatever the reason, it meant the end of Czechoslovakian democracy. Consider this an apology. Sorry chaps.

4. Cubist architecture

Did you know that Czechoslovakia was the only country to construct buildings in a Cubist style? Well you do now. Quirky, eye-catching and timelessly stylish, Cubist architecture is something the Czechs were definitely right about.

Now that's what I call a lamp post!

5. Being a stay-at-home mum: the option of lengthy maternity leave

I don’t say that juggling career and the responsibilities of motherhood anywhere in the Western world is easy. However, at least in the Czech Republic, you have the option of remaining at home to look after your child for an extended period, even if the level of maternity pay offered is no king’s ransom. In the UK, the financial assistance offered by both employers and the state is of a minimal duration, leaving women no option but to head back to work asap. I know this is a complex issue (perhaps even more so than the impact of Communism on contemporary Czech society) and I don’t believe women should be forced to take three years out of their career but at least in the Czech Republic it seems that the state acknowledges that mothering is an important job worth giving some financial support to.

6. Table service in pubs

Why do we Brits think that being sociable in a pub has to involve crowding around the bar in a mock convivial fashion? Having table service – and a seat – makes the whole pub experience so much more pleasant.

More evidence of Cubism's impact on the buildings of Prague

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