Do you want to build a snowman? How can one gracefully slip and fall on the ice and pretend “I meant to do that” with any credibility and dignity? Walking across Jasenická Street to Kaufland market (a German hypermarket chain) I slipped and fell on the ice in the middle of the street. Did anyone stop and help? Nay nay, you’re on your own, bucko. Cars just drove around me and if they said anything either I didn’t hear it or I didn’t understand it. I slowly lifted myself off the snowy roadway, dusted my self off and calmly limped the rest of the way across the street to the market. Yes, I meant do do that. I learned later from Lance that to properly walk in snow one had to walk like a penguin. It actually worked. A long time ago when I was learning how to ski I was taught to walk on skis in a “v” shape so neither leg would take off on you, so there was some wisdom in imitating flightless birds wearing tuxedos from Antarctica .
Along with the first snows we began our Christmas Fair tour to various villages in Southern Moravia. I was looking for homemade crafts I could send home as gifts. The cheaper the better and if I actually met the craftsmen (and women) it would all be more meaningful. And true to form I did meet the craftspeople and found some bargains (yes I spare no expense for my family). The weather turned cold very quickly and so as time went on I became more layered and more bundled up. The travels and the experiences of each village getting ready for the Christmas season had their own unique flavor. Susan and I traveled to a Christmas market in Valmez (town name means, “between the rivers” and home to several of my classes) and a craft fair in Hovĕzí (town name means “beef” and the home town of Markéta one of my Monday students and our guide) and a Christmas Festival in Valašské Klobouky (town name means “hat” and the hometown of one of my private teenage students, Salvátor who was also our guide). It was in this last town that I sampled traditional Wallachian kyselice (pronounced kiss-eh-lee-tea) for the first time. It is a soup that is made from potatoes, spices, smoked kielbasa, cream and homemade sauerkraut. It was love at first noisy slurp. On that cold day in Valašské Klobouky, with the snow falling silently outside, it more than hit the spot. I have since searched on-line to find a recipe and I found one. I will give it a shot soon. I am sure it won’t taste exactly like the soup I had on that cold December day but maybe just making it will solidify memories before they completely fall out of my head.
Also during this time I had the privilege of returning to Rožnov to spend some quality time with the Valek’s and their talented kids. I arrived by bus from Vsetín and they were there to pick me up. Traveling to a a restaurant just outside of Rožnov we stopped for lunch and some conversation in English. We were planning on catching the village’s annual performance of the Bethlehem story later on that night (Živý Betlém). Before the show began I spent some time at the Válek’s home where I was treated to an impromptu concert by their talented kids, Štěpán and Magdaléna. Štěpán played the dulcimer and Magdaléna played the recorder and sang. It was very sweet and I felt honored to be included. It is things like that evening that I will hold in my quickly fading memories of the generosity of the Czech people. There have been many incidents and events, some planned and some serendipitous that have surprised and entertained me along this journey so far from home.
The Živý Betlém is a kind of Christmas pageant in Czech with traditional songs, dances surrounding the classic Christmas story. I had been told that this program has been around since the Soviet Empire fell and revolution swept over this Eastern European country. The show was actually a lot of fun and although I didn’t understand all the jokes the shepherds told (read any of the jokes) I did pick out a few familiar words that I had written down in my little Czech vocabulary notebook that I keep in my back pocket. I have been writing down new fun words to practice. It was chilly sitting outdoors for the show, but it was pretty neat-o. The three kings showed up on horses bearing their gifts for the Christ child and each sang a short song. I know that doesn’t follow anything, but I thought it was worth noting, if you’re taking notes that is…you are taking notes aren’t you? Being by myself all these months had put a drag into the days leading up to Christmas. I was a gazillion miles from home and family. Over the months I had made friends who were not only fun to be with but helped immeasurably to fill in the gaps of “family-lessness” I had begun to experience. Christmas was going to be difficult time alone. I didn’t want to intrude on anyone’s family gatherings although I would have been taken in by any number of people without a second thought. But I also knew that this time of the year was for family and even as close as I got to people, I really wasn’t family. The old Jesuit adage I learned long ago was that I felt I was “a part of many families, but belonging to none” if that makes any sense. So rather than spend the time alone in Vsetín I thought I could be just as alone in the capital, Prague. And that’s where I spent Christmas and the days following. (Coming next, Prague and the New Year)
…and so it went…