Thursday, 30 September 2010

Natural disaster

 I am breaking the Cesky Krumlov blog to go somewhere very far - to Almara in India. It's because I want to share an email sent to me by an American woman friend who has lived there - and also in the Czech republic, hence the connection.
She writes with such dreadful news - what gets me is that I listen daily both to BBC Radio 4 as well as the Czech radio, and we've heard nothing of this. Just Labour party elections, financial crises, Czech government shenanigans - it's as if natural disasters with masses of people, animals, trees and crops dying, were something that's no longer newsworthy unless we really have thousands dead. We are getting imured to what we are doing to the planet, it seems. But no more from me - here is the text of the e-mail itself:

> things have been very bad here this past week - we have had 4 days and nights of unrelenting heavy rain and that came on top of weeks of heavy monsoon. the ground had been saturated for some time. when the cloud burst came, the mountain fell down the mountain. landslides are everywhere, many many many people are dead or disappeared, whole villages are gone. 2 of my friends died and many people i know lost their homes. me too. my beautiful house was lost to the landslide day before yesterday. now i am homeless and staying at at a guest house until i figure out what to do.... and i have no money to speak of. god knows how this one will play out.... the atmosphere around here is so heavy. people are all crying or trying not to. many go out for search and rescue though there's not much rescue. i am exhausted from 2 days of heavy work trying to save my house from the mud (also tired from sleepless nights listening to every little sound that might spell disaster)until i thought i would drop dead. but then the big slides came and i had to evacuate. i am so tired but i can't even sit still for a minute. something in my nervous system can't rest after all the "high alert" stuff. and when i do sit, like everyone else who is not rushing about trying to help, i just cry. not for myself though there is that too, but in response to the heavy grief in the is very bad here. you see these feelings on disaster clips on tv, but until you are in one, you have no idea how it feels in your cells. it's like an alien force has taken you over and everyone is prey and there is no escape.
don't know if any news of this has gotten out. i just looked on the google and they report 65 dead in the state which i think is nuts. on the first day we had 30 dead in the next village and yesterday i heard there were 100 dead in almora town. there are mass cremations in the rain with corpses lined up waiting their turn... i was never in a disaster like this. i couldn't imagine....
this morning i heard one on my friend's body was recovered. he was lying on what was once his bed holding his 2week old first born. his whole family died except for one sister who is in a coma. this is an unreal state.
i think i am still in shock. i think everone is. somehow it is all just so horrible that you think you must be dreaming it....
that's all for now. i am in a safe place. please send prayers for all of us.

Monday, 27 September 2010

more on mushroom hunting

I posted several items on this Czech national obsession last year, but it is hard not to return to this topic because September is the month when mushroom-picking reaches fever pitch. The countryside roads are literally lined with parked cars as townies invade the woodlands, and the country people themselves are getting up earlier and earlier so as to get to the forest before the hordes descend. But the forest areas are vast in this country, so no matter how many people come, they all manage to find a quiet route through the woods and fill their basket. Then at the end of the day they compare their trophies, and retire happily home where they spend literally hours cleaning and sorting and cutting the mushrooms which are then eaten for dinner, pickled, dried or frozen.

I went picking with my brother in law and his family the other day, and he commented that mushrooms are the one thing that completely unites Czechs across all classes, backgrounds, political persuasions or religions: a policeman might meet a football hooligan in the forest and both their eyes, and indeed souls, will light up in unison at the sight of a perfect boletus: a moment when the world is at peace.

But this doesn't mean there is no competition: akin to fishermen, mushroomers love to tell tall tales about the sizes of their catch long after the season is over, and women compare the rows of jars with pickled mushrooms that line their pantry shelves. And in long Winter months when nothing grows, the pickled and dried mushrooms, added to nearly every dish, help the Czechs survive their withdrawal symptoms until the Spring mushrooms start growing again and the hunts can resume.
Recently I read an article in the Guardian that tried to teach the Brits how to pick. And of course I know that the more adventurous Brits in Britain have now been foraging for mushrooms for some years. But as ever the article both encouraged and scared the wits out of anyone reading it, as (it seems to me|) the British mushroom-hunters like the sense of danger associated with dark tales of poisonings. Here in Czecho a very few foolish people also die every year of fungi poisoning but you would never hear anyone tut tut when seeing a person with a basket: after all there are other literarly mortal dangers out there in the woods: ticks, vipers, or even boars if you don't know how to handle meeting them. But does anyone care? Not at all: the hunt is the thing. The beauty of a fresh mushroom sticking its perfect head out of the perfect clump of moss is beyond anything dangerous. And to a Czech, perhaps even beyond any other pleasure: I have not yet met any Czech who would mention the joys of sex or even beer with such an ecstatic, nay beatific expression as when mentioning a mushroom.