The Fidlovacka Fest

1-2 2007 Kultura English
obálka čísla

Fidlovacka used to be a fest not only of Prague shoemakers, but of the youth and Prague students as well. It took place in the Nusle valley close to the mill on the big meadow. There's an interesting story that has been told about its origin.

Emperor Joseph II a great fan of crafts was trained to become a cobbler. On the day of his "graduation", he was given a trade certificate and became a journeyman. On that occasion, the Prague shoemakers presented him with a pair of fabulous boots. Each master cobbler and journeyman fabricated a certain part with his own hand. The Emperor was very pleased and rewarded the shoemakers by giving them a lasting token. It was a small tree made of silver; from its branches hung miniature cobbler tools, also silver.

The Emperor's gift was placed on the green trade guild table, around which the master shoemakers sat when they conferred on different problems.

It was then the custom to have Monday a work holiday. The journeymen, who had to work all day Saturday and also Sunday, often until noon, celebrated their "Blue" Monday to compensate for their overtime hours. They sat in the pub, drinking, talking and singing late into the night and then on Tuesday they did not feel like getting up, and at work they were good for nothing. The master tradesmen were quite displeased and decided to discontinue the custom. However, they did not count on opposition. The journeymen did not want to give up their old rights. They debated and made a decision to go on a strike. They left their work, broke into the guild pub, took Joseph's tree and moved out of Prague to the Nusle Mill. The master tradesmen laughed and said, "Just wait, the Journeymen will change their mind when they run out of money!" However, along with the journeymen disappeared even the apprentices. They pulled into Nusle and camped themselves on a meadow by the mill. There they partied and made fun of the deserted superiors. They were having a good time, but sad to say their money did finally run out and they had to seriously consider what to do next. The older and more prudent ones counseled that they humbly return, but the younger ones would not hear of it. Then somebody came up with the idea to sell the Emperor's Tree. At first they were horrified, but then they realized that it really was not a bad idea and secretly sent two of their colleagues to Prague. There they sold it, keeping only the little silver "fidlovacka", a tool used for smoothing out leather, for memory's sake. The colleagues returned with lots of money and the feasting went on.

In the meantime, the master tradesmen held meetings in the guild room wondering what to do next. A day or two went by, business was at a standstill and customers became impatient Profits were decreasing, but still they would not give in. They were truly convinced that the rebellious journeymen would contritely come back. Then they would take them back at their mercy, but would insist on abolishing the custom of "Blue Monday". While they were thus debating and drinking a great deal of beer, they got the news as to what happened to the Emperor's gift. As if hit by lightning, they quickly decided to send three older and most respected masters to Nusle in order to have a talk with the journeymen and try to arrange a reconciliation.

The messengers were welcomed with all decorum and the speaker for the journeymen proclaimed that they all would like to go back to work since idleness was not what they enjoyed. However, they insisted upon keeping Monday a holiday as anyone who works hard is entitled to a bit of rest and fun. The masters could do nothing but to capitulate. They shook hands with the journeymen, and accepting their conditions, returned with them to Prague.

The return was very festive. A parade was organized at which head walked the speaker of the journeymen, bearing on a tall pole a tree, no longer silver, but green, cut down in the nearby forest. It was decorated with ribbons and streamers and the silver tool "fidlovacka" to remind themof Joseph's gift. Behind the tree, which since that time has been called "fidlovacka" marched, all the trade masters, journeymen as well as the cheerful cobbler apprentices. At a special council meeting of the Shoemakers' guild, the day of reconciliation, which ended the cobbler rebellion, was designated to become a great annual fest in the Nusle Valley. It was to be called FIDLOVACKA.

Květa Síglová
Translated by Charles Opatrny

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