At the end of Staré Město, the small village in South Bohemia where my sister and I spent our summers, the country road led, first in a steep bend and then uphill, to the castle ruins of Landštejn. On a hillock beside the road stood a cast-iron crucifix decorated with a bunch of weather-bleached paper flowers. That was the signpost for me, being familiar with the locality, to turn into the small path which was concealed from the road by high grass.
The path wound between meadows and fields which exhaled the fragrance of a hot summer day. Two deep wheel tracks which had been pressed into the ground on rainy days leaving only a small grass-covered strip in the middle added difficulties to riding my clattery bike. I had to try circus performing balancing acts to avoid getting stuck with my front or back wheel into the hard dried grooves and being forcefully thrown to the ground. It was exhausting, but could anything lessen the magnificent joy of my wonderful freedom from school days and city life? Very soon, I comforted myself, I would be reaching the end of this irksome struggle. Soon the hard, sand-covered path on the edge of the forest will show up. Then I could rest and let my bicycle just roll along.
The path was now passing a long row of huge linden trees. After the heat of the shadowless ride, the shade of these old trees was a restful delight. Only narrow beams of sunlight—changing direction as they fell through the dense foliage—cast sketchy dancing light spots on the yellow, sandy path. The overwhelming number of blossoms of the lindens poured out an intensive fragrance that also attracted swarms of bees. Their busy tunes sounded to me like a hummed melody of summer. They were buzzing wildly around me and I remembered my Aunt’s warning: “Take care that a bee or a wasp doesn’t fly into your mouth. You could suffocate to death!” I was quite sure that this advice was overdone, but maybe there was some truth in it. So I pressed my lips together and passed the danger zone unharmed and unstung.
Now I had only a few minutes’ ride to the big clearing stretching uphill on one side of the path. What a beautiful view lay before my eyes. A carpet of wild strawberries lay before my eyes as far as I could see. And it was obvious that today I was the first and the only one here. How the mouth-watering delicate red berries were smiling at me! I let my bike fall into the ditch. Then I jumped over and stooped between the little bushels. Not every year was there such richness. But today, it was nearly the same as the fairy tale of “Schlaraffenland” (a land of milk and honey). Lying on my belly I just had to move my hand in a half circle to pick the tempting, sunlit red berries, and let them melt on my tongue. Soon, too soon, I had to tell myself- even though I was not aware of the lapse of time-that I could eat no more. Nevertheless, I could not resist trying the one or another of those that were especially ripe; but now I ate in slow motion.
I looked up the slope and there was still a great big area awaiting harvest. What a pity if in one or two days the overripe fruit would fall off and rot! I decide to ride here very early next morning, alone or with my sister. We would take with us the small metal milk cans we normally used for picking berries and try to fill them to the brim. At home the strawberries engulfed in fresh cream from the farmhouse next door would be a special treat. I jumped again on my “Clatterer” and leisurely, but with new strength, rode along a brook that would lead me to my real destination-the pond deep below the castle ruin. The babbling stream of water glistened in the sun and traveled in small curves between the shores with moss covered stones and tufts of grass. Crystal clear and as through a shining glass, the yellow of the fine sand of the brook bottom shimmered. I took off my sandals and ran over the carpet of flower-covered summer grass to the water. With joy I waded in the cool, soft current. When I stopped for a short time, little groups of tiny fish gathered around my naked legs to dart away like arrows at my slightest movement. But within a blink of my eye they gathered curiously again, coming from all sides in an orderly formation, and the entertaining play could start anew.
The brook now wound under dense overhanging branches toward the saw mill which was situated in a small valley beside the forest near the pond. The voices of the workmen I could hear now were dampened by the dense foliage of the big trees in the valley. The missing whining sound of the sawing machine was an indication for me that every man was at work stapling alreadysawn planks in the lumber yard.
In the past and under these circumstances, I would avoid being seen.
There was good reason for that: a plank that was supposed to serve as a temporary foot-bridge over the brook. I had used it as a raft on the pond. In spite of my good intentions, I was, after hour-long paddling and swimming, mostly too exhausted to bring this heavy thing back to its right place. No wonder that some of the men did not speak well of me, but as the rascal who was stealing their very useful gangway to the other side of the lumber yard. How soothing the thought that I was now no longer dependent on this bulky piece of timber. Since yesterday. I was the proud owner and builder of the small wooden canoe, that sat at the far end of the pond waiting for me.
The pond-which was, for me, rather a small, but romantic, forest lake - got its name, “Castle Pond” a long time ago when it belonged, with other properties, to the Knights of the Castle of Landstejn. Sometimes the forest warden passed by, or a few wanderers or a woman collecting berries or mushrooms. Because it was hardly visited, the lake boasted a very quiet and refreshing bathing enjoyment. On one side it was bordered by a high embankment leading to the valley in which the mill stood. The rest of the shoreline was rimmed with pine forest. The end of the lake was formed with dense reeds and rushes; behind them, an area with shallow water in which were strewn boulders-the biggest of them forming a mysterious cave. Here my canoe, camouflaged by surrounding high growths of bushes, found a secluded hiding place
I started to walk along the shoreline, trudging through high grass which sometimes forced me to tramp through the woods. In this way I rounded the whole lake and thinking back to the building of my canoe in my aunt’s garden, which sometimes was nearly too much for my strength. All the way back to the first idea for it, long ago in Prague, and then forward to the lively and successful boat christening here on the lake with my friends from the village. That was all behind me now, and, whistling satisfyingly, I reached the end of the lake. There she was! I pushed the canoe through the reed girdle, balanced myself, sat in the boat, and, once I got used to the somewhat too long paddle, glided over the surface of the water which was rippled by a light breeze.
The men in the mill must have finished work because I could hear no voices or sounds. A breathless stillness lay over the lake: only very few faint sounds of birds were carried by the wind from the forest to me. Unexpectedly, a fish jumped out of the water. with a splashing sound, it disappeared again under the surface. Only slowly growing circles in the water gave any clue to where it submerged... Leaning comfortably back, I let my boat glide gently through the mirror images which the forest trees and reeds were projecting onto the surface of the lake. I felt like a trapper from Karl May’s The Treasure of Silver Lake. Every moment I would see the men on horseback from my friendly Indian tribe coming out of the forest. I would greet them with a raised hand, as was the custom. And I would know of their plans to flood the secret tunnel to conceal thieves and treasure forever.
Returning from my fantasy world, I thought, as a few times before, that today could be a good time to fish here. There were outstanding perch in the lake, though fishing was strictly forbidden. But I hadn’t met the forester anywhere today. A better moment for what I had in mind could not be found. I had only a piece of fishing line with a hook, and I could lower it inconspicuously beside the boat into the water. I had no great expectations about this primitive method, but it occurred to me that these precious fish would snap up everything that fell in the water.
However, I was not at all prepared when, after only seconds, a quite heavy specimen struggled on the hook. I was so surprised by such lightning fast success that I needed several minutes to pull the fish into the boat. At first I thought I was close to throwing him back into the water, but, in the end, I decided to take the big catch home with me. Now it was better to leave the scene of the crime fast.
I paddled one last time across the lake, pushed my canoe into its hiding place, and rushed back as fast as I could to my bicycle, which I had laid down behind bushes. I had just sat down to put my sandals on when first the hat, then the head and then the complete forest warden appeared over the edge of the embankment. There was not much time left for me so I covered the evidence with my wet bathing suit and sat down on it. He came toward me and stood still next to me. I tried to smile as innocently as possible under those tense circumstances.
In his face I could not read if his show of friendliness was only a camouflage, but it seemed to me that he had not detected anything. While I made a pretense of brushing non-existing sand from my feet and sandals, he talked about the weather, over thisand- that in the forest. Then he asked me if the water wasn’t too cold for swimming.
Suddenly, without pausing, he said to me, “but I will certainly catch this man who is always fishing in the pond”. He was grudgingly looking in the direction of the mill, so, thankfully, he couldn’t see my face which was, even for such a warm day, extremely flushed. After a time, which seemed to me endless, he advised me not to ride hare too late and went with long strides on his way. I gave a deep sigh of relief and headed home with my catch.
Under my aunt’s strong questioning I had to admit that I had caught this splendid specimen in the castle pond. She shook her head disapprovingly, but decided that since the fish was there anyway, it should be baked. “But, woe to you”, she added,Then she raised a warning finger and I looked remorsefully down to the floor and shut my mouth. Should I tell her that not long ago the forest warden had stood next to me while I sat on a fresh-caught rare fish? Even though it was hard for me not to brag, I realized I should keep it to myself. When I fell very tired in my bed later I was very satisfied with myself, the day, and the world.Text and picture Walter V. Albert
(From the book Theater Lane 7)
Czech Photographers and Africa
Historical photography is still a topic that attracts many people interested in past times. As time flies, old photographs tend to be more and more precious and more appealing. And let alone the preserved historical negative and glass from which photographs used to be copied. Fron one plate, tens of positives could be printed – but the original is the only one to be preserved.
The Naprstek Museum in Prague is honoured to keep several folders of historical negatives in its collections. These comprise the photographic works of Czech travellers such as Vráz, Machulka and Štorch, who have all focused in Africa themes. All of them took up photography when it was still very much an emerging form of art. Travelling into unexplored world regions was always connected with trouble, and not everybody was willing to pack heavy equipment, including fragile glass plates and chemical, and besides, the results of these efforts were not always satisfying. Negatives tended to get damaged while being developed in inconvenient circumstances transported and stored inappropriately.
The very interested exhibition was prepared by Jiřina Todorovová and Jaroslav Olša jr. in Czech Centre Prague, Rytířská str. till June 6th.
A woman from the tribe Mursi and Surma, Ethiopia. The photo from František Tvrdoň, Czech photographer living in Alsace in France.-red-
České centrum Praha od svého letošního otevření v Rytířské ulici připravilo řádku pěkných akcí. Dvě dokonce uspořádalo ve spolupráci s Mezinárodním českým klubem.
Nyní hostí ve svých prostorách mimořádně zdařilou výstavu Afrika očima českých fotografů, 10.5.- 8.6.
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Amerika II. aneb z deníčku vydavatelky
Tato kniha vzniká nyní na mém počítači. A je to bomba! Pracuji na ní jen chvílemi (což ovšem obnáší hodiny), protože hlavně denně dělám Český dialog. Ale oba tyto, jak by se dnes módně řeklo – projekty, jsou pro mne moc důležité. Časopis se snažím zlepšovat, přibyli v poslední době dobří autoři, přibývají čtenáři po celém světě…
A kniha? Bude o téměř třiceti letech časopisu, který jako jediný vydávaný z ČR vede léta dialog s Čechy doma i ve světě. Byly všelijaké pokusy jiných zdejších periodik ujmout se tohoto tématu, ale všechny ztroskotaly. Český dialog vytrval a to přes veškeré, a někdy opravdu velmi těžké překážky. Především v prvních ročnících, kterými nyní listuji a vybírám z nich perly, jsou velmi cenné články od autorů věhlasných jmen jako je Josef Škvorecký, Jaroslav Strnad, Alexander Tomský, Jiří Ješ aj., či neznámých, ale kteří napsali ze světa, kde žijí, zajímavé postřehy, ohlasy či názory. První ročníky byly opravdu mimořádně živé a dynamické. Po mé první cestě do daleké Austrálie v roce 1997 se začala českou společností šířit „blbá nálada“ a i ta je zde velmi plasticky vylíčena.
Kromě politiky jsou zde samozřejmě i moje cesty do světa za krajany. Napsala jsem o nich sice už pět knížek, ale ne o všem…tady to pokračuje. Například New York, Kanada, Jižní Amerika, Švédsko aj. A na webových stránkách budu ráda uveřejňovat některé ukázky a vy je, doufám, budete rádi číst. Budou nejspíš v rubrice OSTATNÍ, ale ještě před tím, než tam spadnou, tak na stránce hlavní.
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