Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Olomouc, 2.7.03: Smetana, St. Katherine, and Hallo, Pani!

Up early, 5:30; everything very fresh and cool after last night’s storm, just as things are in the American great plains. This country reminds me so much of that region. It’s no wonder so many people from here went there.

Streets buzzing with activity now. People do their thing early here. Work ethic from the communist era, or cultural norm? I can see from the dark firs across the street against the skyline and the cool air in midsummer that this could be an oppressive place in winter. No wonder they celebrate summer, do all they can to be outside and enjoy it while it’s here—which is reflected in the music of Janacek, Dvorak, and Smetana (whose name, we discover, means “cream”).

The Slavs are, when all is said and done, a forest people, people of bright sunny glades in forests primeval, hunters of the mushroom and the berry. But those same forests in winter....

No wonder there’s such a sense of…depression…in people. So many people look depressed, dispirited, unable to meet the eye. The communist period and the continuing uncertainty now that it’s over have to have added to the racial somberness. People did not know whom to trust, to whom to say what. The distrust seems to linger in their relationships with each other.

The combination of perhaps inherited dourness and the effects of communism create some unattractive traits in people. No one wants to go out of his or her way to assist. Stand in line, or think you’re doing so, and someone (or many someones) will shove right ahead of you. And everyone seems out to gouge, to make a few extra pennies in whatever way—up front or canny—they can. It seems not beside the point that you constantly meet beggars on the street. One yesterday in front of an open air market past St. Katherine’s convent and near Dolmi Namesti kept shouting to us, “Hallo, Pani! Pani, hallo!”

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