Life on the Farm in the Czech Republic

Trip Start Apr 25, 2007
Trip End Oct 03, 2007

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

We arrived in the Czech Republic from Spain on June 19th. I have been coming to this country (what was, back in 1990 on my first trip here, still Czechoslovakia, for 17 years, first to visit my mother, who was here for two years teaching English, and then to visit my father, who moved here 12 years ago. My father has married a Czech woman, and together they spend their time between an apartment in Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad) and a tiny village in the countryside called Brody.
The Czech Republic changes every year I visit. In 1990, I remember standing in line with my mother at a tiny shop that sold whatever it happened to have (a battery, a box of tissues, ten potatoes) because we heard they had bananas. After an hour and by the time we got up to the counter, the bananas were, of course, gone. Now we go grocery shopping by car to our choice of supermarkets, from Tesco to Aldi to Kaufland to Norma and buy almost anything we could want. I remember squeezing into the kitchen of our doctor friends' tiny Communist era apartment in a section of town that looked like it had been covered in coal dust for centuries (the coal mine was just down the road) and tell them what it was like to buy any book you wanted to. We would take trips with them in their Skoda, whose motor they would turn off whenever we went down the slightest incline in order to save gas. Now they have a two story Western style house in the suburbs and an SUV.
My father came here to teach languages at the Economic University in Cheb, in the western part of the country near the German border. He bought a flat with his wife in the town of Karlovy Vary, or Karlsbad as the Germans call it. Karlovy Vary is one of those old spa towns that Europeans would flock to at the turn of the twentieth century to drink the waters and walk the forests. They still do, only now there are more Russians than anyone else. In the center of town there is a Communist era building housing a geyser of hot, stinky water, and all along the river people walk with cups in hand, filling them at the different fountains and sipping the supposedly curative liquids. He retired two years ago and bought a lovely old farm farther east, near Pilsen, in the little town of Brody.
Here in the villages you can still experience life as it once was. My father's house sits on ten acres directly adjacent to a 250 acre park. The park has a large manor house, a lake, pavilions, chapels, what was once a flowing waterfall that cascaded into an open air theatre, oak trees, beech trees, linden trees, thousand year old trees, and a six-hole golf course. The best thing about the park is that no one is ever there. At the farm we have an orchard with apple and cherry trees, walnut trees, a vegetable garden, an acre of clover and hay, a courtyard, a stone barn, and a well. The neighbors regularly bring us wheelbarrows of potatos, baskets of strawberries and cucumbers, fresh eggs, slaughtered rabbits, ducks and various cuts of pork. Most sunny days we try to get out into the forests and go mushroom picking and run into the occasional wild boar or deer. The area around us, the region of Zatec, is world famous for its hops, so we make sure we have an endless supply of Zatec beer on hand in the root cellar. The first day we arrived, we stopped on the way into Brody and picked 8 kilos of cherries on the side of the road.
So, life here is the opposite of Spain: quiet, industrious (always something to do on the farm), and private. The remnants of a society that lived through Communism still remain, especially with the older generation in the villages. So although we trade clover for potatos and strawberries for walnuts, village neighbors don't come over for dinner or the spontaneous bottle of wine. A few years ago we built a brick barbeque and pizza oven, and one night we took the neighbors across the road a few of the pizzas. I think they didn't quite know how to respond, and although they are courteous and watch out for us, there won't be any rousing parties any time soon. Life takes on a different rhythm out here, and one of my favorite things to do is to walk up the road for a view of Brody in the evenings. All I can see for miles beyond the red tiled roofs are fields, forests, and the occasional large hare jumping over the road. My days are filled with cleaning out the barn, sanding benches, moving bricks, watching baby birds grow until they leave the nest, building bonfires and roasting sausages. Life on a farm in the Czech Republic........
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