Friday 19 April 2013

Five for Friday: The things about the Czech Republic that I missed in the USA

I’m stealing this feature from the Dreamstress to make sense of my own musings... Some things I remembered yesterday trigged this, and I thought it could be a good way of introducing you to some tiny details about the Czech Republic (and me, admittedly).

I may, sometimes, somewhere, mention that I’ve been to the USA. That was in 2007, thanks to a Presbyterian congregation that decided to play host to someone from my church in connection to the Presbyterian Youth Triennium, something they call “youth conference” which quite scared me at first before I realised it was almost the same sort of youth meeting I was used to, only much bigger and with more paperwork. The Triennium was a huge, and kind of eye-opening and life-changing event, if in small ways. There’s nothing quite like meeting fellow young Christians from all over the country and all over the world... And, well, let’s say that after having spoken in prayer in front of some 7000 people, delivering a school presentation to some 30 people is not much of a problem anymore...

I spent a bit less than a week on the Triennium, and about three weeks with people from the congregation, thanks to whose hospitality I had a chance to visit various places along the East Coast. (My least favourite, and my favourite, was Baltimore, which I’ll get to.

Aside from the following five things I missed, there’s also the matter of “the feeling of safety” that surfaced during the long security lines in the Spy Museum in Washington and at the Statue of Liberty. At the Statue of Liberty, I realised with quite a shock that I was in a country where a Swiss Army knife was a weapon, while I’d lived all my life in a country where it is a tool. Not that I discount the possibility of it being used as a weapon, or the fact that terrible things did happen in New York and elsewhere. It’s just that I live in a country that has a very different mindset, and had a different mindset even before that, which is a bit of an explanation why those things happened in the USA and not in the Czech Republic, whether that's a bad thing or not.

Enough of that.

#1: Soups. As a child, I used to hate soups with a passion, the notable exception being the sauerkraut soup and some three or four others. I gradually came to accept soups and like more of them. Then I went to the USA.
During my month in the USA, I had a soup two times: in a Viet-Thai restaurant the day after I arrived, and in an Irish restaurant the day before I left. In the interim, I missed soups terribly. In the Czech Republic, you would very often get both soup and a main course for dinner (lunch, because the main meal of the day is the midday meal). You would, also, very often only get soup for your dinner. Living on sandwiches and salads (I ate much more salads in the USA than I normally do, in an attempt to escape the less healthy options) and the occasional chicken, I realised that I actually loved soups. And begged mother to cook a soup for me when I come home.

#2: Bread. There’s Czech bread. And then there’s the bread in my hometown. About a thousand light-years removed from both, there’s the white bread I encountered in the USA.

Czech bread isn’t just any bread. It’s bread you actually, hypothetically, could live on. There are days when I pretty much do. Father sometimes says, quoting something (I wish I knew what): “It seemed to me that nobody loved me, so I bought a loaf of bread and wolfed the whole thing.” ("Zdálo se mi, že mě nikdo nemá rád, tak jsem si koupil bochník chleba a celej jsem ho sežral.")
The loaf of bread we’re talking about here is usually 0,9-1,2 kg. And when it’s fresh, it is quite possible to eat the whole thing, as it is, just because it’s so good as it is. Czech bread, when done properly, has a crunchy crust and a wholesome inside, and it smells of grain and caraway seeds. My uncle, (in)famously, was once instructed by my aunt to buy a whole loaf of bread, but the bread was so enticing that he kept nibbling at it on his way home, and at home he sliced off the eaten part cleanly, pretending to have only bought a half of a loaf... (Yep, that's a pound of bread nibbled at.)
Moreover, I live in a town where the local bakery is apparently one of the last mass-produce bakeries in the Czech Republic to make genuine sourdough bread. And a bakery in a town not so far away makes the best breadrolls, the kind of breadrolls that’s spoken about far away as something you have to taste to truly have lived...

Compare this to the white, tasteless sponge that the Western world calls "bread", and you’ll understand why I missed bread so much.

#3: Trains. And walking. I did get my share of walking on the Triennium, and here and there, but the fact that we travelled everywhere by car, while at home I travel everywhere by train, was quite a culture shock.
It’s the little things that throw you. The little thing that threw me was the absence of an under-the-window heater to rest my leg on. It’s an automatic thing for me. I have somewhat short legs, and the comfortable way to sit while travelling is to sit at the window and rest my leg on the heater. It is, also, something I cannot do in a car, making car rides all the more tiresome.

But there was also the general absence of trains from the country and from people’s lives. No timetables to observe when travelling. Almost no railroads to cross. Czech Republic is criss-crossed by railways, one of the countries with the highest density of railways in the world (guessing by a map I found online, surpassed only by Germany and Switzerland). The USA, while it has the longest railways in the world apparently, has none of the railway culture the Czech Republic has. My father is a railway enthusiast, and I practically grew up with trains. (I still find an article on prototype locomotives in Czech history a far more interesting thing to read in a magazine for railway passengers than, say, an interview with a famous person...)

This brings me to Baltimore. Baltimore is a terrible city for someone used to walking everywhere. But, as I learned after my first visit there, it houses a railway museum. (Railroad. Whatever.) The day before I left, then, I visited Baltimore again, and spent a very enjoyable day at the museum, including a very short, not at all picture-perfect train ride. I put my leg on the heater and I was a very happy marmot.

#4: The landscape and the countryside. The thing about Czech landscape is that it is very rarely flat. And it is quite green. When flying home, I knew we had crossed the border by the bunches of little forests scattered all over the country. A village, a field, a forest. A village, a field, a forest. And so on.

Czech Republic has almost no truly high mountains (our highest mountain is 1602 m high). But it also has almost no plains. Czech Republic is one of the watersheds of Europe, and everybody knows that rivers flow downwards. And Czech Republic is full of hills. It’s a rumpled country, and I missed that rumpledness terribly in the flat, flat, flat regions of the USA I visited. Czech Republic’s rumpledness makes it a very cosy country.

#5: The music. This is the one I would not have expected at all. I expected to miss the food, and the language, and the cultural customs – maybe even the landscape. I do not listen to Czech music all that much and modern music seems to be so American anyway, right?
Well, that’s modern music, perhaps. But I missed Czech Christian music. I missed the music of my church. On the Triennium, on one of the meetings with the other international participants, we sang a song (Jesus Loves Me, or some such) that they chose because they thought everyone would know it. Everyone did, except me. Because, while I come from a church with a Presbyterian organisation, my church has a very different history, very different background, very different tradition. I only knew two of the songs sung on the Triennium: Bless the Lord, My Soul – which, to the best of my knowledge, originates with the Taizé community in France – and Amazing Grace which is... well... Amazing Grace.

Here comes a rant. It could have been an excellent opportunity to learn new songs, if only the majority of songs sung at the Triennium had not been “worship songs”. In retrospect, on the Triennium I came to realise that while I definitely believe in worship by song, I do not believe in “worship songs”. They were all so tepid, without any taste of their own (just like the white bread...). The tunes were interchangeable, and the words were interchangeable, too. Had I known nothing else, I might have found these songs, sung by the mass of people, moving – I did find it moving at times. The thing is, before I attended the PYT, I had attended numerous youth meetings in my own church, and experienced a very different kind of song. The sad fact is, even compared to the many medieval, renaissance and baroque songs I know, those modern worship songs were very much dead.

Spirituals and gospel songs and songs based on 1960s folk are very much popular with the youth in my church which was why I was quite surprised by the blandness present at the Triennium. (It wasn’t just me, though – I had a very animated discussion on the subject with a black member of the Presbytery I was there with, who treated me and some passers-by to a much more soulful rendition of Amazing Grace than the one at worship). But a number of very old songs enjoy the same level of popularity, maybe even greater (one of the perennial favourites is a song recorded in a 1567 hymn-book.)


This, for your info, is a 1630s song.

It helps that my church’s current cantor really has a knack for bringing those old songs to life.

Unfortunately, this is not one of those old songs. Neither is, technically, this, because that's his own creation. But it gives you an idea of what he is capable of. This is originally from 1490.
Sorry about the bad quality; while Ladislav Moravetz is a celebrity in my own church, he's not much of one elsewhere.

I missed variety. “Worship” is all fine, but not even all Psalms are “worship songs”, are they? There is a lot of anxiety, a lot of despair, a lot of almost prideful assuredness, a lot of joy that makes you burst and want to dance. You do not get any of that from the sort of tune that usually accompanies “worship songs”.

I do not want to mislead you: the “music culture” (for lack of a better term) at my own congregation is quite atrocious. But I can’t help myself; I now have a lot of almost prideful assuredness in my church’s variety in Christian songs. It's not just in comparison with the Triennium: many other churches I encountered also tend to have songs from only one period, songs of only one style.
My church's very checkered history prevented that from happening. We have some (few but some) songs from before the hussite period. We have hussite songs. We have songs from the Unity of Brethren. We have renaissance songs like those written by Martin Luther, baroque songs like those written by Jan Ámos Komenský AKA Comenius, classicist songs, 19th century songs, 20th century songs. There’s something for every situation. There are songs that tell a story. And there are songs that are very much a credo; those are usually the best...

EDIT: I just ran into this on YouTube, and had to share...

Sunday 14 April 2013

A Spring walk and another American Duchess giveaway

This afternoon, me and my sister played guides to her friend and her friends in our hometown. Well - we mostly found out we don't know our own hometown. :D But it was all right; and it was so warm and sunny, it was unbelievable. It's great to have photography-friendly weather back. I feel more like blogging immediately. :-)

I'm not going to tell you what my hometown is, but I'm going to show you some pictures...

* * *

Yesterday, when I went out to take photos of the Regency-ish necklace, my usual object-photographing spot on the bench was taken...

Nelinka looks grown here, but she's still such a tiny cat. In Czech, I say she's prťavá. I'm not sure how to get the same effect with an English word... it's kind of mocking and kind of fond.

* * *

On a completely different note, American Duchess came with dyeable Regency slippers of the flat kind...

And you may win them in a giveaway - although with the number of American Duchess fans, the chances are pretty slim... :D

Completely different note, but these do look very Springy.

Saturday 13 April 2013

HSF Challenge #7 - Accessorise: Regency-ish necklace

Sooo... better late than never, right? This could have been earlier if I had not gone to cinema on Sunday, had not had to read a long novel on Monday, and had not just enjoyed the Spring and listened to the blackbirds on Tuesday. Oh, and then somehow I took a photo except it was not there when I looked. Or maybe I did not take it after all.

That's all right: because I could not find the original photo, I went to the garden today and took photos on my Indian shawl. Which is infinitely better for a Regency-ish necklace than a photo with a plain wood background would have been.

This necklace was inspired by the necklaces I posted a long time ago. For a long time, that shop did not have any medallion components with more holes than one. When I finally got some, they were silver. Then I could not find my white acryllic paint; and then I realised it was a good thing because white against silver would not look as good as it does against gold. So I took a cue from the malachite jewellery in the UPM instead. My colour ended up a bit more turqoise/teal...

So the butterfly necklace still looms before me as an idea for the future. This is a test necklace. A muslin, so to say.
The "stones" are made from an air-drying terracotta modelling paste (which is suspiciously paper-like in some respects) that I got years and years ago for birthday or Christmas. I had never used it, because while I liked modelling, I did not know what to use it for - it seemed too precious to waste on some experiments that would be thrown away years later, and because of its nature, it could not be used for more sturdy projects that clay would normally be used for.
The process - cutting the shapes from the paste, letting them dry, painting them with acrylic - still leaves something to be desired, but it's generally a good way to use the materials in my present situation and interests in life.
It'd be great if I reached a level of skill with the material to actually make reliefs like on the UPM jewellery, but I don't think that's very likely to happen anytime soon. I never achieved that level of detail, not even with conventional clay.

The Challenge: #7 - Accessorise.

Fabric: Obviously, none.
Pattern: Likewise.
Year: 1805-ish.
Notions: Metal jewellery components (medallions, chains, rings, closure), air-drying terracotta modelling paste, acrylic paint, glue
How historically accurate is it? As accurate as it can get with the list above... Also, I've only seen gold necklaces of this kind so far, but I could not get gold components.
Hours to complete: I'm afraid I lost trace, as I made it over a longer course of time. Not counting the drying of modelling paste, paint and glue, about 2-3 hours? With it, several days.
First worn: This Thursday to school, just because.
Total cost: About 130 CZK for the components. The modelling paste was a gift. The cost of the paint and glue is just a fraction of the cost of the whole package...

Thursday 11 April 2013

Spring, Once Upon A Time In The West, and so on: a wrap-up post

The recent weeks were... I don't even know what. Frustrating for sure, because it's April already and there had been no Spring to speak of until about Monday. I also missed Easter Sunday service. That's really frustrating, and I thank everyone who wrote wonderful Easter posts on their blogs, because I fairly lived by those in these recent days, even if I did not comment. I think you'll know who you are...

As I said, though, Spring's finally, finally here. The sun's shining and the blackbirds are singing their syrinxes off.

I've been to the National Theatre. The National Theatre is a perfect example of squeezing as much as possible from as little as possible. It was built from money raised by popular collections, on a plot by the river that looks very romantic nowadays but was probably a low-rate spot back then. And small. It seemed to us as if the stage was bigger than the auditory, and we sat high above it and it gave my sister vertigo.
My Little Black Dress got another outing, the excitement of which was kind of ruined by the heinous weather and badly fitting shoes (a case of "they fit all right when I bought them, and never since").

The play was awesome, though.

In other news, my ooold computer finally died on me (as in, it kept hiccupping while doing the most basic things, and finally certain things stopped working), so now I have a new computer that Father's had in works for a long time now. The new computer is so, so much faster. And so, so much quieter. The old one was somewhere between 8 to 12 years old, though with upgrades...

I finally, after a very, very long time, made it to an editorial meeting of our youth magazine again. Nearly everyone in the "editorial board" is from Prague or studies in Prague, except me, so I have not been able to attend for a long time, and it was another frustrating thing, being in touch with these people only through the internet.

The last post still remains unfinished. And I realise I must have forgotten to inform some of the last blogger awards nominees...

Best school quote of the week: "You should not be surprised by American hypocrisy. America has the greatest ideals, and therefore also the greatest hypocrisy."

Apologies to my American readers. The man who said that is American, too.

And I have only finished a single Historical Sew Fortnightly item so far, and that one a bit late. Item to come.

The most exciting thing for now: Once Upon A Time In The West in cinema! Sunday evening. I had not been able to just let something roll for a long, long time. I needed that. I love the music. I cried at the end, as always. (It's beautiful in that very raw Western way.)

Here's an iconic costume-related scene that may explain at least part of it.