Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Olomouc, 30.6.03: Schnitzels, Wine, and Coffee in Old Moravia

Olomouc, breakfast. Lots of bizarre uses of English here, as on the dinner menu last night: “for the sweet tooth,” followed by a list of steaks, veal, etc. And a sign I saw as we walked near the university, advertising a shop that sold skating and snow-sport supplies, called Titty Twister. Why on earth? Very hot in the evening as we walked, and all along in the train journey from Prague, much drought, with gardens wilted to the ground.

Olomouc is one of those places where you can see the ravages of history in Eastern Europe most starkly. The churches and public statuary are incredibly smutty from coal dust. Fragments of plaster have fallen from the facades of historic buildings, exposing the brick beneath. Hard to believe in its heyday the city drew Gustav Mahler.

Lunch, morning archives: city much livelier on a weekday morning than on Sunday afternoon. Folks up early filling the streetcars outside the hotel by 6 A.M.

Dinner last night at a much-touted “Old Moravian” restaurant. All very alt, alt, and a bit overdone: waitresses in costumes, pottery embedded in the plaster walls, folk music pouring out of some sound system. Food good, though. Steve had pork schnitzel, I trout with fried potatoes. We also ordered cucumber salad that turned out to be cucumbers put through a mouli, swimming in a sweet vinaigrette, with some unusual spicing I couldn’t put my finger on.

The schnitzel and the variety of foods and seasonings show more Austrian influence than you seem to find in Prague, where things gravitate in the pork, potato, beer, and sauerkraut direction of neighboring Bavaria. Wechsberg’s book about his childhood says that northern Moravia always considered itself decidedly Austrian and looked to Vienna, not Prague, as its cultural capital. Wine rather than beer, and the coffee-house tradition . . . . 

One senses, too, more of the East here. Many people with darker complexions than you see in Bohemia, and quite a few Asians, Vietnamese, I think, who may feel a vested interest in the area from the days when Vietnamese doctors came to the Czech Republic (rather, then, Czechoslovakia) to train.

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