Friday, 31 December 2010

Winter peace

One of the reasons why I love living here is the utter peace one experiences whenever getting out of town - you don't need to go far to find vast swathes of nature where you won't meet a soul, indeed where you won't see a house or any other overt signs of human habitation.

So you can wander quietly for hours just enjoying the signs of animal life, and when you get up to the higher levels, there are vistas to die for - as we are surrounded by mountains everywhere you look.
And when the bright Winter sun gets low and begins to set, it offers spectacular beauty that reminds of old religious paintings - you kind of expect an angel or two to descend, instead of the white trails of the high-flying passing aeroplanes.

 And then, being Winter, there is Silence: the snow buffers any sound, and the windless stillness adds to the magic of it all.

Well, the photos can't quite show it, but here are a few to share at least a pale reflection of the real experience.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Happy Christmas!

Every year on the 23rd December, the Krumlov residents organize themselves to perform a Nativity at the main Square. I have blogged about them before, but this year - joy! - Pushkin and I have been asked to join in, which we took to be a real privilege as it means we are now accepted by the townsfolk as one of their own.

So instead of watching from the crowd, this time we borrowed costumes from the theatre, rehearsed yesterday, and had a whale of a time being part of this ritual occasion - both irreverent and solemn.

As I said in my previous blogs, what is so wonderful about this 'show' is that it is totally non commercial,  rehearsed but still spontaneous, and there is not a Santa in sight because people here love their traditions. 

And it is humbling to see how everyone - both the performers and the huge crowd in the square know all the words and melodies of their many many carols, and how generations join together to celebrate their Christmas as a community.

I couldn't take many photos today for obvious reasons, and I regret not having had the opportunity to show you some of the more 'Czech' solutions to missing props or cast, such as a dog with a sheep's skin fastened on its back to represent the shepherds' sheep, or a horse with silly felt humps to stand in for one of the King's camels - but here are just a few pictures to bring you closer to the fun. The Nativity, just as the St Nicholas Eve party, are true highlights for me here - I enjoy these even more than the traditional Summer Festival of the Five petalled rose, which is great but a little more organized. And, as usual, my very favourite characters here are the angels of all different shapes and sizes. Hallelujah :-)

Wishing all our blog readers a wonderful Christmas and a happy New Year!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

St Nicholas comes to Cesky Krumlov

 It's the Eve of St Nicholas: traditionally the night when this proto-Santa comes to town - not just to Cesky Krumlov but to every town, indeed into every household with children. I wrote two long blogs with many photos about this occassion last year, so this time I shall be brief - still, I couldn't help popping to the Town Square to witness this joyful, old-fashioned party, enjoyed by all the locals.
Despite the freezing cold (-8C) the families all crunched here through the snow with their well-wrapped children because, well, because it just wouldn't do to miss St Nicholas' arrival.
 And so each year the Town square comes alive with music and market stalls selling hot grog, mulled wine, mead, beer and of course sausages, and the hundreds of assembled children's faces range from eager anticipation to dread - because St Nicholas comes not alone, but accompanied by an angel and a devil. The Czech idea of devils is one of patronage: a devil is seen as something inferior to humans, basically a stupid, laughable being who has been stripped of all power by the Czechs' irreverent attitude to it. Nevertheless, as an aid to parenting, the devil has its use: as in 'wait till St Nicholas comes, the devil will show you'.... but as the children grow, they begin to love the silly devils and they dress up as them as eagerly as their parents do. When you walk about the square, you will find many more devils than angels - the angel being the preferred costume for beer-bellied dads, mostly.
The underlying reason for St Nicholas' retinue is sound: the devil and the angel represent the two sides of human nature to which St Nicholas acts as a mediator, a balance. He understands that we all have our darker side and so in dishing out his presents, he usually gives a piece of coal as well. No-one's perfect.

St Nicholas visits not only large gatherings such as this one - the real St Nicholas Eve happens in the home: dad, uncle or a total stranger (there are many groups of St Nicholases, devils and angels roaming the streets on this night, whom you can hire for a shot of slivowitz) dress as the saint, sundry relatives as the retinue, and the ritual visit involves much ringing of small bells, rattling of chains, and the child or children having to admit to all their good and bad deeds, then to sing a song or recite a poem, upon which they get their reward. There are no big presents - the commerce hasn't yet caught up here. It's the ritual that counts.

And when the children have gone to bed, the grown-up party begins. Why waste a good disguise? So the sundry Nicholases, devils and angels of all descriptions get out into the night streets and aim for the warm pubs. This is the bit I love the best - the bizarre spectacle of the Nicholases loosening their beards as well as their dignity, the devils taking liberties with the opposite sex (all allowed with a tolerant smile), the angels knocking back big jars of beer with earthly abandon. And of course there's music.

And so I am off now, outside again, to join the party - good night.