‘What do you call a Škoda with twin exhausts?’ (and some tomatoes)

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Those of you who follow my Facebook page will be aware that there’s been a big purchase recently at Girl in Czechland Towers. After four years of living in Prague, we finally have wheels!

And the brand of the car in question? A Rolls Royce? An Aston Martin? An equally iconic British retro brand of motor car with a more modest price tag — a Mini, say?

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Of course not. If you live in Czechland, there’s only one brand of automobile for you — a Škoda.

I can still remember telling Škoda jokes in the primary school playground. Sorry Czechland. Anyway, here’s one that comes to mind:

‘What do you call a Škoda with twin exhausts?’

‘A wheelbarrow.’

Hilarious, eh?

It turns out that being chauffered around in a Škoda is actually rather fabulous. It even has a name: modrý blesk, aka blue flash. I must buy some fluffy dice to hang up above the dashboard just to make sure it has enough personality.

An exact replica of our Skoda

An exact replica of our Skoda

Owning a car has meant more weekend trips to The Village People: I won’t miss struggling back to Prague on public transport lugging sacks of home grown potatoes, plastic tupperware containers full of buchta, leftover dumplings, and of course boxes of three dozen organic eggs. Having our own wheels means that we can load up with even more of these home produced goodies.

This September Czechman and I have spent some of this year’s last remaining sunny days sitting in the Village People’s zahrádka – a sort of allotment or smallholding where they grow their own vegetables. There’s a chata there — a word that’s tricky to translate into English, because the words ‘cottage’ or ‘summer house’ conjure up images in the spoilt and Western imagination that are far grander than the humble reality of the Czech second home which often has two rooms and no running water.

Anyway, a picture is worth a thousand words:

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‘Ahoj Mamko,’ I hear Czechman intone into his mobile as I wander around with my camera. I am supposed to be watering the plants. ‘Yes we’re here at the zahrádka. Ms Girlova is taking pictures of apples.’

Here they are:

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Being in the zahrádka made me think of Jamie Oliver.

In case you’re not familiar with the global brand that is Jamie, he’s a British chef who, amongst his many media projects, had a TV series called ‘Jamie at Home’ in which you saw Mr Oliver larking about in a smallholding rather like the Village People’s zahrádka.

The point of the series was to encourage lazy British supermarket frequenting city dwellers to get up off their sofas and out into the great outdoors where they could grow their own courgettes and then deep fry the flowers to serve up at a first course to their mates at their next dinner party.

What makes me laugh is the fact that what Jamie Oliver is presenting as an aspirational lifestyle for the well-off British middle classes, ordinary Czechs have been doing for decades or even centuries.

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Some Village People tomatoes on the vine. They made a super tasty salad.

Of course growing your own is a good thing. In a sense it doesn’t really matter whether people decide to cultivate a few tomatoes because it’s what their family have done for generations or because they’ve seen Jamie doing it on the telly. That Mothership Tomato Salad with Balsamic dressing I whipped up thanks to Mr Oliver’s recipe was damn tasty.

However, I’ve noticed that Jamie Oliver’s cookery books are available in Czech – which is fine, of course. Why not give the Czech nation a chance to learn how to serve up something other than goulash and dumplings? Having said that, I think it would be more than a little ironic if you let Jamie Oliver sell your own lifestyle back to you.

Češi, don’t let a silly British chef tell you how to live! Be proud (and perhaps even a little smug) that you are already a nation of cottagers, cultivators and gardeners!

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Prague: a city for looking at and playing the piano in

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It has been a long while since my last post.

The thing is, I haven’t been feeling very well.

This isn’t an unusual occurrence in my life: if languishing on the sofa listening to Radio 4 were an Olympic sport, I’d be in with a fighting chance of winning gold.

I did get out on Sunday though. I’m glad as I fear that first day of September might well have been the last day of summer. I had a little stroll along Naplavka: Prague’s hip and happening waterside walkway. Back when I first moved to the Czech capital, this part of town was far sleepier than it is now: you might remember a post I wrote long ago about this Not-Charles (Railway) Bridge.

Now’s there a floating art gallery cafe almost underneath the iron river crossing point where once there were only swans. I’m not complaining: as you know, I’m rather partial to a nice sit down on my wanderings so I felt it was my duty to give the boat-cafe a whirl. The coffee wasn’t up to much and it was windy out on deck but there was a view of the Castle – and lots of those swans.

See?

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The boat you can see on the right is another super-cool-trendy floating art gallery music bar thing. I tried to get a drink there too – it was the strange Tetris like formation on deck that attracted me – but despite wandering around repeatedly I couldn’t seem to work out how I was supposed to get a drink. Was there table service or should I go to the bar? Failing to work out this riddle, I left – but not before taking some shots of that weird multicoloured sculpture.

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Spot the hipsters admiring the installation…

If other readers find that these floating boat-cafes might float their boats, head for the tram stop Vyton and take the stairs down to the river. This water tower, which I’ve always liked, is nearby too. I wish there was a plaque explaining when it was built and what it was for. Perhaps some of my readers can enlighten me?DSC_0331

Anyway, now comes this post’s Important Point (drumroll, please…).

Naplavka has always been a nice public space but not many people were making use of it. In order for public space to be profited from, there needs to be something to attract people there: an event. Thanks to the floating cafes and farmers markets and other miscellaneous happenings, Naplavka isn’t just the habitat of swans and eccentric English bloggers.

This Important Point has been shamelessly stolen from the architect and social commentator, Adam Gebrian. It was one of the points he gave in a talk as part of the Creative Mornings monthly breakfast lecture series. It’s no good artificially creating somewhere in an urban environment for people to go. There must be a reason for them to go there – and to hang around.

Like unexpectedly stumbling upon a man playing a piano in the street, for example. I took a picture of one of the rogue pianos which are currently dotted around Prague waiting for passers-by to tinkle their ivories outside the Faculty of Arts near Staromestska tram stop.

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Fun, isn’t it?

I must end here as it’s taken me several hours just to write this and I must lie down on that sofa again. I’ll leave you with this to ponder though.

Adam Gebrian also claims that Prague is a city for looking at, not for living in – a comment which I’m shamelessly taking out of context and asking you to respond to.

What do you think?

 

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All Czechs are Artists: Uličnicka Galerie

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-It’s been ages since you wrote a new post Ms Girlova!

-Yes, I know, I know. I do feel quite guilty about it. Sometimes life just gets in the way…

-Hmm, sounds like an excuse to me.

-And now I’m off to England for my sister’s wedding.

-Aww, that’s nice. Are you going to be a bridesmaid?

-Not a chance. Do you know how old I am? Oh no, of course you don’t. Because this blog is anonymous isn’t it? And that means my identity is top secret.

-If you say so. Anyway, hadn’t you better get to the point? What’s this new post all about?

-On my wanderings the other day in Holesovice I spotted this quirky little street art gallery! You know what they say – all Czechs are artists.

-Do they? Prague certainly has its fair share of grafitti: perhaps making a few blackboards and some coloured chalk out on the street like this is an exercise in crime prevention rather than fostering creativity.

-You’re so cynical.

-Anyway, I do hope that you’re not just going to stick up a few photos before you dash off to the airport and call it a blogpost?

-Would I ever do a thing like that?

(A proper post will follow soon loyal readers, I promise! If I don’t finish packing before Czechman gets home I’m a dead woman…)

Street Gallery

The Little Street Art Gallery, Dukelských hrdinů street, Holesovice

 

Love Don't Hurt

This statement may be gramatically incorrect but we must presume it was heartfelt.

 

Entrance to squat

This hole isn’t art. It’s the entrance to a squat located in the same building as the little street art gallery. I would have crawled inside to have a look but I wasn’t brave enough. Hey, this blog is all about whimsy not investigative journalism!

 

Life, love, Czechland

I couldn’t pass by without indulging in a little shameless self promotion. Life, love and Czechland forever!

 

 

 

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A tale of two Czech defence systems

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At the beginning of June, Czechland went on the defensive. The incessant rain ceased to be merely a nuisance as the threat of major flooding  became a very real possibility.

You’ll understand that this was particularly worrying as despite being British, I don’t own a pair of wellies. Or a canoe.

Like many other Prague residents, I spent several days glued to the news, crossing fingers and toes that the heavens would close.  As we live only a short distance from the river, Czechman and I even had our bags packed ready for evacuation. Scary stuff.

As you will no doubt be aware, the rain did stop in time – for most of the Czech Republic at any rate. Prague did not suffer massive wholescale damage – in other words, a repeat of 2002.

Prague floods 2013: picture taken from Libensky Most

Prague floods 2013: picture taken from Libensky Most

In my life so far, I’ve never been within so much as even the vaguest reach (to my knowledge at least) of a natural disaster. It was a strange experience. Metro stations shut, parks closed, police tape everywhere. The vague feeling of helplessness.

Anyway, it did seem to me that the authorities were reasonably well-prepared this time. And Praguers can all breathe a collective sigh of relief that these hastly erected metal barriers you see in the picture above managed to keep billions of tons of cubic water at bay.

It was a close run thing though as you can see:

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Back in 1938, Czechland – or Czechoslovakia as it was known at the time – was busy building a very different kind of defense system: a vast network of bunkers similar to the Maginot Line constructed in France along the German border.

As part of this year’s summer holiday with the Village People (aka Czechman’s parents), we visited Fortress Hanička in the Orlické Hory. Hanička isn’t quite as photogenic as your average Czech fairytale castle but the tour of her underground passages did make for an interesting day trip. Here’s what the old lady looks like from outside:

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Thanks to the agreement made at Munich in 1938 by a certain Neville Chamberlain with Adolf Hitler, these fortifications were never put to the test. Instead they were simply handed over to the Nazis once they came to occupy the Sudetenland as agreed by the Western Powers.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Hanička didn’t entirely go to waste though. The Germans used the main bunker for target practice so that they could see how difficult it would be to destroy the similar fortifications in France. Here you can see a wall that has been damaged by repeated shelling:

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‘Ironic’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Once the tour was over, we sat on the bit of grass you can see in the picture and ate sandwiches. I’d like to think that I looked at that wall and considered myself lucky to be in that particular spot in 2013 rather than in 1938 but I suspect that’s just a retrospective gloss.

It is 75 years this September since the Germans annexed the Sudetenland.

Neville Chamberlain with that infamous piece of paper in his hand.

Neville Chamberlain with that infamous piece of paper in his hand.

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Liberty, Equality and a disposable camera: the Migrant Visions Project

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disposable cameraRemember this thing? Yes, it’s a disposable camera – once an essential piece of kit for any holiday, now an amusing retro artifact occasionally seen left scattered around the dining tables at weddings so that guests can take blurry shots of each other in various stages of inebriation.

Ahem. Anyway, even in the digital age, the humble disposable camera can play a role in a significant international artistic project – such as the latest international photographic exhibition to hit Prague, Migrant Visions.

The idea behind the event is simple: take foreigners of different ages and from different walks of life in three European cities – Cluj, Munich and Prague – and give them a disposable camera with which to record their own unique perspective on the place which they’ve adopted as their home. Oh yes, and in case that weren’t interesting enough in itself, chuck in a theme for the participants to use as inspiration: liberty, equality and fraternity.

As dedicated readers will know, this blog attempts to be a sideways view of life from a foreigner’s perspective, so it seems appropriate that I give a bit of free publicity to a project which has the same aim – albeit in images rather than words.

So, here goes.  If you happen to be in the Czech capital between now and June 29th, do stop by the foyer of the National Technical Library in Dejvice and take a look at the ninety pictures on display. The quality is generally very good indeed given the rather low-tech equipment the migrants were given to work with and the project’s aim is a laudable one: to promote cross-cultural understanding.

Hurrah for that.

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