Wednesday, 29 April 2009

oh, the pain of fitting a septic tank...

Our poor garden at the Lake house is turning into a nightmarish rut-riven battlefield image. Hopefully to good end, only right now I wish we never have started. Unfortunately in this particular location we have to have the tank as the high level of ground water and no real slope mean no lovely ecological run of ponds with shit-eating plants etc etc; that's not allowed - just a plastic underground monster for the loos. But at least our waste water and rainwater, and some ground-drainage, are going into a semblance of an ecological pond in the form of a large soakaway at the bottom of the garden, though I am not sure how effective this whole system can be given the clay base to the grounds and the high ground-water level even in the Summer that has nowhere else to go. But that's how my project engineer designed it - I told him if it doesn't all work he'll be inside the tank.Oh well, so the digger went to work scooping loads of absolutely lovely, clean clay. I wish I was a ceramicist because the clay is SO perfect I could easily imagine someone making tiles or bricks out of it, or insulating ponds that WOULD work! Here is a view of the fabulous layers as they revealed themselves: you can just see the grey clay under the black clay, even though the water is fast reaching up to its 'norm' which is at the top of the black layer.The next stage was the digger bringing stones to fill the bottom, at which point it stuck, because the rest of the garden, with its wet underlay despite a month of no rain, wouldn't take its weight with the stones in its jaw, and the wheels just sunk about half a meter down. I don't have a picture of it, too depressing.
The digger's still sitting there - and the project engineer and I are scratching our heads what to do next.
And I am quietly counting money in my head, feeling it drain away like that water.
These are the moments when one wishes one's never started. But I am sure when all this is over and done with and the garden healed again, I will look back and laugh. I suppose it was funny seeing the mighty digger monster totally helpless stuck in the mud, after all.

Monday, 27 April 2009

The first residents at the riverside house

As the riverside house is far from ready to move into, we are spending happy hours civilising its garden in the meanwhile. Ever since we started, a couple of blackbirds followed our every move, getting worms out of the freshly dug earth, and generally being extremely friendly and unafraid. Well, now they've settled in, beating us to it :-)
They found a lovely nook in the wall under the balcony and we watched the male busily flying in and out feeding his mate who sat on the eggs. And now there are 4 fresh chicks there. We waited for a moment when Mum flew off to feed to take their photo - the quality of the pictures is not so good as it's done with a zoom, but still...

Saturday, 25 April 2009

The joys and the sorrows of reconstruction

What a lovely thing to report: the larger of the two ceilings at the river house has revealed itself. A lovely old man who is an expert for this kind of work took the top planks off, cleaned them and oiled them and injected some stuff into the woodworm-weakened bits. Then we uncovered the underside of the ceiling and the planks were replaced.
Voila! here is a view that was hidden for up to some four hundred years. We even found a date scratched into the gable end wall above the ceiling - 1638. It may or may not be the actual date the ceiling was put there, but from its shape and manner, the conservationists all agree it's near enough (sorry, that's the best pic I could get). I fancy that the ceiling might have been built during the time the Krumlov scribe lived there (see below) as he was the only one of the long string of occupants who might have had enough money to do it? Anyhow: the main beams will now also be cleaned and preserved, and we should enjoy living in its presence from now on. Feels good.
What doesn't feel good is that due to a huge tax bill on the sale of our previous property I shan't have enough to do everything I hoped to achieve. Wouldn't mind if I knew the money was going to good purposes but when I see how public funds get squandered (see 'protest' below), I'd rather be able to spend mine on employing local craftsmen and preserving historic buildings such as this one. There: it's off my chest. Grrr.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

some history of the riverside house

For those who might enjoy this sort of thing, here is an extract from the search report on our newly acquired Cesky Krumlov house at Parkan. I find it very moving to now know the names of some of the people who passed through the house. One wanders through the (still empty) rooms and imagines their lives. Where they ate, slept, worked... how their lives passed, whom they loved...

A mediaeval building, re-built in renaissance style in the second half of 16th century. Other major rebuilds happened in the classicist period around 1800 and in the 2nd half of 19th century. Modernisation of ground floor and some upper floor rooms took place in 1990s.

Successive owners during the early parts of the building's history:
The first available record shows one Melichar, a weaver, who died in 1519. In that year the house was sold by Tomas of Mysleny, alias Pint, probably a testament executor, to cobbler Girgl, who lived in the house only till 1524. He sold the house to Jan Nevrlec, who again only owned it for a short period and sold it in 1524 to tanner Hanzl. Hanzl married a widow of tanner Ambroz, and lived there till his death in 1572. His wife then remarried and her new husband, tanner Linhart Kropf, continued running the tannery workshop. But soon Hanzl's son Prokop took over the house and sold it, in 1584, to one Martin Krumlovian - originally from Trebon, a Rosenberg scribe. In the 1590s, the records mention canner Ursula, widow of next door's blacksmith Havel. In 1596 the house had three chimneys (could have served the cannery workshop), but in 1602 there is only one. Canner Ursula sold the house in 1605 to Michal Wagner, who sold it in 1611 to spurs-maker Hans Temel. In 1637 Temel sold the house to a rope-maker Alxandr Prenner, who lived there till 1654.

What amused me was that the report now says 'no newer owners were searched for'. NEWER? Obviously, in a town reaching so far in history anything beyond mid-17th century is 'new'.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Happy Easter

Easter is in full flow here, today the streets and the countryside are full of people going from house to house in search of a good hiding :-) and beautifully painted eggs. The Czechs take their Easter with as much passionate regard to traditions and customs as they do their Christmas.
As I don't want to repeat myself, for those of you who are interested in Czech Easter, please visit here for decorated eggs and traditional food, and here for the actual customs.
We've been having fabulous weather - the nights are still cool (yesterday morning there was still thick frost as I arrived at the Lake house) but the days are in mid-20C, hot and sunny. I even saw some first brave souls trying to bathe in the river here at Krumlov :-). But the best thing is the way Nature is opening up, as it should be for a proper Easter feeling: the trees are beginning to green nicely, the catkins are out, I even had proud hen with her cute new brood of fluffy yellow chicks cross the small country road on my way back yesterday evening. How Easterish can you get?
Here is a picture sent by a friend who followed Potdog's Easter Lambkin recipe with much success.
Happy Easter!

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Easter Lamb Cake 2009

Easter Lamb Cake 2009

This is another version of last year’s recipe (my once a year blog) from a little book called The Best Czech Recipes published by Vitalis which we bought in Cesky Krumlov. Actually the recipe is for Vanocka the Czech Christmas cake but it is similar to Jana’s lamb cake although I expect I’m missing some vital subtlety. I made half this amount and it is currently in the mould by the fire rising beautifully I hope.

30g yeast
100g sugar
200g butter
200ml warm milk

Mix all together with

500g flour
3 eggs
Pinch salt
Tbsp vanilla sugar

Knead all together and add

100g raisins soaked in 5 tbsp rum

The more you knead the dough now the softer the cake will be. Work it for at least 15 minutes then leave in a warm place to rise for half an hour.
Alternatively bung all the ingredients into a bread machine on the dough only setting. (My Czech friends won’t approve of this but then they did turn up with a live Carp in a bag one Christmas having been asked to get a fillet of Carp from Tescos. The English recipient of this offering was temporarily lame and unable to get to the shops to choose his own festive fish. When confronted with the writhing plastic bag he found he couldn’t muster sufficient thanks to avoid the accusation of ingratitude. But what could he do? Czechs keep their Christmas carp in the bath for a week and he has a wet room). Anyway once the dough is made and proved, knock it back with greased hands and arrange it into the bottom half (the part with the face) of the lamb mould. (Or you could use a gugglehopf/rum baba type mould.) Put the top on and leave to rise in a warm place.

Just as mine is supposed to be doing
But isn’t.

Progress report in half an hour.
One and a half hours later, all spent on this damn computer trying to get the next posts off the new blog which I inadvertently started - you'll have to get the final installments of this thrilling cake saga by going to the blog
Easter Lamb Cake 2009
(Zoe Help)

Thursday, 9 April 2009

A proud vision of the future???

I just had to put this one up. It's by a local artist who wanted to immortalise the fabulous sentence uttered by the Cesky Krumlov Mayor, Lubos Jedlicka, now published in our local paper by his ever loyal (and seemingly the only) journalist - about re-shaping the island into a 'stable hydrodynamic shape akin to an aircraft wing'. (the text on the wing is a wordplay on the word Starosta = Mayor, made up of two core words: starost = worry, fear, and ostrov = island).
For more on this story, read the post below.

Today (11.04.09) we got a reaction to this post which I'd like to have up here, so here goes:
gaviota said...

I read the comment of Luboš Jedlička in the newspaper that you quote, which I repost for the Czech to light up more... I cannot believe it, he really said it:

„S investorem jsem diskutoval možnost úpravy ostrova a jeho stabilizaci. V úvahu by mohlo přijít vymodelování ostrova do stabilního hydrodynamického tvaru podobně, jako jsou konstruována křídla letadel. Ve stávající podobě není možné ostrov zachovat,“ konstatoval v úterý starosta Luboš Jedlička

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

protest continues

Well, what can I say. There is so much going on that to be brief is hard. The new letter with the embankment residents' denial of the accusations by the Town hall that claimed the works are in response to the residents' exact demands, has now effectively disproved any such claim. So the Town hall called another meeting with the river authority yesterday. Today they issued an official press release.
The press release is 2 pages long (unfortunately just in Czech). It's proud title says 'The town council asks the River authority to consider the possibility of keeping the island under Lazebnicky Bridge'. Hooray, one might think. But read on and soon the arrogant manipulation of its message becomes apparent. Remember, what we want is to keep the island, in its natural form, even if perhaps somewhat reduced in length for compromise, and not to have the banks encased in concrete. Well, this is a quote form our Mayor, Lubos Jedlicka, who says he is trying to find a compromise between the demands of the CK citizens and the council's need to protect them from high water: 'I discussed with the investor the possibility of modification and stabilisation of the island. We may consider a remodelling of the island into a stable hydrodynamic shape, similar to the construction of aircraft wings (!!!?). The island cannot be kept in its present shape...neither the town nor the investor can bear the responsibility of the consequences of some rash scoop-out of the river bed that would leave a dangerous mass of material on its bottom. We must wait for the expert analysis of the project engineer'.
The same project engineer who designed this brutal project in the first place, that is. So that much for the louded and benevolent attempt to keep the island. The rest of the 2 pages then tells us again and again how the island will be disposed of, or kept in this 're-modelled' form. How convenient. Here is another quote, this time from one of the protesters: 'It seems I live in a surreal world. Our striving to retain a natural enclave in the centre of this town has beautifully played into the main investor's hands, in fact it has helped all of those who will participate financially in the project. So the island needn't be removed, but will have a hydrodynamic shape - as if its present shape wasn't formed by water, or was somehow blocking the river at 90 degrees! What fantastic reasons to have to invest more and yet more millions. ... We asked the Town Hall questions*, we sent them to the appropriate departments, to the appropriate officers. We published them on our website. And save for a few evasive phrases in response to our first question, we got no other answers. Why? Because every question is a call for responsibilty. So we complicate the officers' lives, and they in turn erect Don-quixotian mills in our path. What's certain is that we have smoothed the way to yet more lucrative jobs for certain companies...'
I wish someone would have the courage to open the Pandora's box of the opportunities and relationships that underlie this huge investment project. Or should we just give up, and look forward to sitting by a sterile bank of the river in a town that once attracted tourists from all over the world.

*- Why was it necessary to cut down mature trees in the centre of town by the river Vltava?
- Who is directly responsible for the felling of the trees?
- How and from what materials will be reconstructed, and what character will take, the left bank after the works?
- Will there be any changes to the right bank?
- How will the river be in the Summer months, during 'low water' periods when Vltava in its newly deepened bed changes to a narrow 'brook' and the drying mud on its (concrete) sides stinks?
- Where and how can one access detailed plans to the project for the riverbed changes and the reconstruction of the weir? Will they be publicised so the citizens may be informed adequately and early about the planned changes to the historic townscape?
- Is, and has UNESCO been informed about the tree felling and other changes to the look of the historic town?

Saturday, 4 April 2009

The renovation works continue

Every day, I wake up at 5am and drive to the Lake House for 6am to meet with my project supervisor and the workmen. The Czechs get up early. For someone used to a British timetable this is quite something. But the works are now progressing at a good pace and the ground floor is coming to the point when I can see the end of the tunnel. The electrics, the water and the heating are now in place and the wounds that their installation has caused the house are healed over. Being a house built of stone - and some stones are enormous - one has to try to take all pipes etc through floors rather than hack into walls. But even then some bits of wall needed to be rebuilt - for example, most of the lintels over doors and upstairs windows were completely rotten so their removal meant having to dismantle what's over them. Without causing too much damage. Not easy. But the guys working there are so lovely and careful, I am quite happy with the result. The next big stage will be the roof - I dread to think about it as all of the main beams that rest on the top of the walls are also rotten through. We hope to hever up the roof (once the old tiles are removed) and replace the rotten beams without the need for taking the whole structure apart. Right now we are interviewing roofing companies. Of course so far all of them think we should make a completely new roof. The search continues....
Meanwhile, at the house by the river in Krumlov, the attic has been cleared down to the top of the historic ceilings and we have an expert restorer who will start carefully taking them apart to renew them. It was funny to listen to the workmen clearing the mud-and-brick insulation over the ceilings: they think we are completely mad, of course. Especially looking at the salvaged bits of the even older ceiling that makes our conservationists friends burn with passion: The planks of wood, blackened by centuries of use and with bits of them eaten through by woodworm, look like something that should be burnt straightaway but the workmen are not allowed to touch them, just VERY carefully clean the top of them. 'OK', they humour us, shaking heads and winking at eachother: 'If that's what you want...'

another short update on protest

We now have a copy of the original 'petition' from 2002 which the Town hall so victoriously tried to use as ammunition to argue this whole huge project is happening in response to the residents' wishes. It was interesting that when we asked to see the petition, no-one in authority was able or willing to produce the original. But one of the embankment residents has kept a copy which clearly shows that all that is being asked for is what I already listed in my last post.
So we went round all the past signatories and managed to get every single one to sign a new letter, denying the Town Hall's interpretation and re- asserting the original wish, with emphasis on the fact that NO trees were asked to be removed and the banks were to be left natural!

More meetings with the officials at the Town hall. This time their argument is 'well, it's up to the River authority to make the final decision. The Town hall can't as we don't want to be legally responsible for any flooding to your houses if another flood comes'. And the river authority says that it will do whatever the Town hall decides. And so on and so on. So really we must hope that UNESCO starts asking some questions. We don't have the means to hire lawyers. But we aren't giving up. The thought of the river and the town suffering such an ecological and aesthetic damage is worth the fight.