Tag Archives: smetana

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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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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