Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Olomouc, 3.7.03: Baby and Bedraggled Virtue, Bautsch and Slivovitz

Steve’s breakfast: 2 slices of ham, 1 egg, 1 sausage, 4 slices of salami, bread, yoghurt, fruit salad, juice, and copious amounts of strong coffee. I virtuously ate yoghurt (0% fat), muesli, fruit salad, juice, and 1 chaste cup of coffee. Poor bedraggled little virtue: how drably unattractive she is.

More on Euro t.v.—turned on the television in the wee hours of the morning, unable to sleep. The Czech bands had: 1) a cooking demonstration, a favorite theme of their t.v. (yesterday, one had a man showing you how to mash potatoes and serve them unadorned beside a similarly unadorned poached chicken breast); 2) a tape of some serious governmental committee meeting for serious discussion; 3) the Playboy channel.

3) was hilarious. Introduced by 2 men who must be the prototype of that Dan Ackroyd-Steve Martin skit about the Czech men fascinated by big American breasts. The segment I watched involved Baby from St. Cloud, MN.

Baby, it appears, has lost Baby’s innocence. The opening scene had her cavorting around her kitchen in a skimpy apron that left nothing to the imagination. She soon shed that to prance hither and yon, fondling her breasts, getting on the kitchen table on all-fours for our clinical inspection of her apertures, and generally making a right fool of herself for the camera.

Scene 2 involved Baby in her garden, with a hose. Seems Baby enjoys domestic chores au naturel. Hose went across her thin t-shirt-clad breasts, then down into her conveniently unclasped and almost non-existent shorts, both of which were soon shed for more cavorting.

At this point, I felt I could foresee where the hose would end up and switched channels. This is all hilarious enough on American t.v. At 3:30 A.M., dubbed in Czech, it’s beyond belief.

Speaking of big breasts, one German news channel last night did a segment on a woman who wanted larger breasts. We saw her with the wee ones waggling in the wind in a swimming pool, being caressed and inspected by her Freund, being examined and marked up by a very thorough and clinically concerned doctor.

Then (this is German t.v. news, after all), we saw the actual breast enlargement surgery, followed by recovery, and more swimming pool waggling, this time more dramatic, along with more massaging and application of oil by Freund. All this on national t.v. at 7 for the edification of German youth, who, according to a survey we saw on the same channel earlier that day, are now ranked 22nd in the world in reading ability.

Little wonder. They’re at home in front of the telly watching breasts bounce. Who needs study. Little virtue is poor, drab, and bedraggled, after all.

In Budisov nad Budisovkou now, former Bautsch, while Steve asks an old man who speaks German about the house numbers, as he seeks the house in which his great-grandmother Aloisia Schnirch was born. It’s a spread-out village, much overgrown with no center we can find, making it difficult to trace the numbers.

Drive up through pretty country. To Sternberk, the road goes through the Hana region, the plain formed by the Morava, rich farmland with grain fields and fields of some flower I couldn’t identify, almost like a pink-white poppy. The fields alternate—grain, hay, flower, rape—making a pretty picture.

From Sternberk, where you can see the beautiful castle on the hillside, the road begins to climb precipitously into the Altvatergebirge foothills, presently the Jeseniky foothills. A beautiful region, very rustic and today underpopulated after the expulsion of the Germans. The hills are clad in dark fir, roadsides dotted with wild foxglove, daisies, Queen Anne’s lace, and many other wildflowers, including a blue one I don’t know which is like a wild larkspur or the flower of borage.

There are also patches where the road is completely overgrown with trees that create tunnels. The wild is interspersed with fields, many of which have cattle in them.

The villages—well, almost as scary as those in west Bohemia that are like ghost towns now, from which all the population was expelled. Mesto Libava/Stadt Liebau was especially spooky—windows broken all over, houses empty, and the army everywhere. No matter where we stopped, a soldier was peering suspiciously and aggressively from doorway and window. We later learned from a waiter in Opava that the Russian army was stationed here and it did much of the damage, including as well murdering people.

Still, the depopulation of what is a very old settlement—at least 14th-century, according to documents in a book the Olomouc archivist gave us—must have paved the way for the destruction of houses and the church, which was in deplorable condition. Like many other towns, villages, and cities in this region, Libava was majority German before the war, I suspect.

Steve did find a woman at the hospital who spoke English, a doctor or medic who had lived a year in London. She managed to get and copy a map showing the house numbers in which the Schnirchs and Slifkas had lived.

The latter house appears to have been torn down and is apparently now one of the hideous concrete apartment blocks found on fringes of most cities and large towns in the Czech Republic. The Schnirch house is still there, though, on the stream that runs through the town. It’s a plain, unpretentious house, fairly well-preserved, but gray and depressing in its even grayer and more depressing surroundings.

On to Budisov nad Budisovkou, where we ended up in the village I described before, which had the postoffice name of Budisov above the village name, so that we believed we were in Budisov nad Budisovkou and drove round and round, stopping to ask two older people who spoke good German about the Schnirch house number. One finally succeeded in explaining we weren’t in Budisov proper, and had to seek the Eisenbahn.

Steve followed her instructions, which were letter-perfect, and we drove right to the house. We took pictures. The window frames had a nice plaited ornamentation that must date to the late 19th century when Steve’s family left.

Across the street a couple, an older man and woman, watched from their garden with their frightening large-boned German shepherd, which kept trying to leap the low fence. Steve went to ask them where house #288 was—the house in which Petronella Slifka Schnirch died. The Schnirch house proper is 286, which we photographed.

They invited us in (chaining the dog, which pulled at its chain and carried on alarmingly) and produced a tray of coffee, cookies, and those ubiquitous peanut crackers people in Germany and Eastern Europe appear to think Americans like.

Bottles of slivovitz also soon appeared, along with their own homemade wine (we were sitting under the arbor), and a white wine from southern Moravia. They also brought out fruit juice and soft drinks. The husband (whose name Steve wrote down) drank slivovitz with us.

As soon as any glass was empty, more appeared. Coffee had the grounds in it and was very strong; I dared not drink it all, as my heart was racing, something it’s done in the past two days.

The homemade wine was not very good, and I was glad it was served in thimble glasses like the slivovitz. It was foxy, with a pungent and rubbing-alcohol taste. The white wine, by contrast, was very good, as wines from south Moravia can be.

We spoke pidgin Czech, laboriously looking words up in our Czech-English dictionary. I said, “You very kind”—Ty velmi laskany, as well as I recall. Later, I repeated it, or thought I did. But what came out was Ty velmi zlatany—“You very golden.” They laughed, and the missus pointed to the ring on her finger.

They spoke to us in Czech, seeming to be of the mind that, if they did so often enough, we’d understand. We stood to leave, thanking them.

They then took us into their back garden, full of plum and apple trees, along with more vines; the front had roses, lilies, tomatoes, cucumbers, and strawberries. The mister then wanted us to go to the basement, where he pulled back a curtain to reveal huge bottles of his wine and homemade slivovitz. He proceeded to beg us to sit at a table and drink some older slivovitz—he counted on his fingers—but we were already two sheets to the wind and had to drive to Lesni Albrechtice, Slatina, and Opava, so declined.

Gracious people, to bring strangers inside their garden and house and ply them with drink. At the same time—and it’s very ungracious of me to say—I was shocked at the squalor of their bathroom, and noticed the missus, who was in green sponge hair curlers, spent the whole time sitting on a very dirty wet rag she must have used to clean the house.

Steve made me rather (or more) nervous, asking, “How many years?” meaning, How may years have you lived in this house? She kept pointing to herself as he asked (in German), evidently understanding enough German to know what the sentence meant, but not knowing what he was referring to. And who would?

I was going wild inside. No lady wants to be asked her age, and when she finally understood it was about the house, I could just hear the wheels turning in her head: Strangers: RücksackDeutsche: when did we take over their house? He then asked her to write the names of her children and grandchildren, adding, I thought, insult to injury, as if he were preparing a dossier on the usurpers in his irredentist case. He was, of course, oblivious, and later begged to take her picture (!) against her protests and wild gesticulations to her be-curlered hair, saying “Prosim, prosim” in a pitiful voice to compel her.

On to the church, which is a beautiful Baroque church on a hill, with two onion towers. The whole town must at one time have been lovely, and still has an air about it. It’s well-situated and full of beautiful buildings.

Slatina and Lesni Albrechtice are in deep Slavdom, up forested backroads where cars were parked all along—I suspect, to pick mushrooms after the several days of rain. Both were tiny, and Lesni Albrechtice didn’t even have a church.

Slatina, though, had a pretty church on a hillside with well-tended graves. Steve found his Slatina family, Rodina Furchova, with a Rudolf Furch’s name listed. There were a number of German names, Slavified—Schindlerova, Bauerova, etc.

On to Opava, getting thoroughly lost on the way, finding ourselves on backroad after backroad as signs pointed to Opava and then petered out in villages with several turns. The countryside was beautiful all the way from Sternberk to Opava, and breathtaking on the drive back, with long vistas to blue mountains, and rolling hills of ripe grain and what Steve confirmed are, indeed, poppies, grown for their seeds.

The country roads also have those wayside shrines—some crucifixes badly damaged, with legs or feet broken off, ubiquitous star-crowned John Nepomucene—and beautiful allees of fruit and nut trees, as in Baden-Wurttemburg. At one point, we saw a young couple picking cherries (no one seems to harvest the fruit), and stopped to pick and eat some ourselves. They were small and bitter, reminding me of black cherries from my youth.

Opava: we arrived late and tired, so hard to tell much. Some beautiful buildings in Opava, indicating its distinguished history. We ate near the center. I forget the restaurant’s name. The waiter—Simon somebody—turned out to speak excellent English. He had lived a few years in Australia and wants to return there.

He spoke a long time with us, giving us a glass of slivovitz each at his expense to end the meal. Steve asked if he was from Opava. He said no, from a tiny village about 30 km from Opava. We asked. He said, reluctantly, Slatina. We told him we’d been there just that day, in its cemetery…. Life is a series of collisions and (in my case) near collisions.

No comments: