Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Snow in Na Královce

Na Královce (or King's Road), is a quiet one way street at the west end of Vršovice. Today's photo shows the foot or so of snow of the past few days, which has made this part of the world even quieter than normal, with all the cars - bar one very brave one - looking like hibernating animals.

With very little traffic, most business is conducted on foot. A new Montessori school has opened here (just off camera)  and on the left is a young pupil going home with mum.

The rest of the street is largely residential. Just behind us rises the land rises towards Vinohrady, and the Grebovka vineyard, which has appeared several times in previous posts.

Monday, 11 January 2010


January is known in Czech as Leden, from 'led' meaning 'ice'. February, by contrast is called 'Únor' which may originate in the idea of thawing, though typically it's just as cold.

In the last few days I have been snuggled up and not going out (hence the astonishing lack of blogs). Not that it's too cold, but we've had an exceptional snowfall, and it's still snowing right now.

The snow is very deep indeed - I cleared it from my car yesterday and another twelve inches has already piled up. The flakes have been tiny - like pin-pricks, and my mother reminded me of the North American Indian proverb - 'little snow, big snow' when she called earlier today. Luckily I work from home, so there's no need to go further than the potraviny round the corner for supplies, wearing my new Baťa boots. I feel like Shackleton.

These foot-long icicles are hanging from a street lamp outside my window in Vršovice.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

K+M+B = 2010

What is the meaning of this arcane formula? According to ancient lore, the K, M and B stand for Kašpar, Melichar and Baltazar, the Czech names of the three wise men; and 2010 of course needs no explanation.

But why the mathematical symbols? Well, the answer is that whoever chalked this up on the restaurant door must imagine that the + is an addition sign. In fact, it isn't. The 'code' is religious, and the + is the sign of the cross, following each name. The correct version should be K+M+B+ 2010.

The lower photo (taken from a building which is due to be redeveloped) shows a more correct version, with the cross actually inserted into the B, and the year written around the letters, as is the tradition on Czech gravestones, too (where today's date would be written as 20 7/1 10). Notice also that the message is often left up for a whole year (or more, as in this case!)

But this example poses yet another question: there's a C instead of the normal K. That is because an alternative explanation of the inscription - and the reason it is scrawled on doorways at this time of year - is that CMB stands for 'Christus Mansionem Benedicat', or 'May Christ Bless This House'.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Twelfth Night

I couldn't let the season pass without posting a picture of this splendid tree outside one of the many fabulous villas that line this street on the Vinohrady-Vršovice border. The building contains the headquarters of several media and advertising companies, and tomorrow, with all its fellows, the office tree will be consigned to the fireplace, or more likely the nearest skip. But for the last few weeks it has stood proudly in the enormous doorway (presumably many visitors also stood alongside it while pondering how to get to the front door...)

This street, named after Copernicus, has some of the smartest residences in the city, including (two doors down) the official residence of the Danish ambassador, Mr Ole Moesby. What a fantastic, Gatsbyesque place it is. I shall show you some pictures in the summer.

Yesterday I made a rash promise to continue the story of Three Kings Night, when children dress up and beg for charity. Sadly I was rather caught off guard by the speed with which night descended, and now all good little kings have to be in bed, so it will have to wait until next year. But I have one more story to tell about the visit of the magi, and I am determined to tell it tomorrow. Watch this space...

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Three Kings' Eve

In present-day England, Twelfth Night passes without much interest, but in mediaeval times the master and servants in the household traditionally swapped roles, with the lowest of the servants becoming king for a day, and vice versa - a reversal of roles which forms the basis of Shakespeare's play of that name.

In Czech, the comedy is called 'Večer tříkrálový' or Three Kings' Night, and over here a similar tradition is still enacted in the days leading up to 6 January, with children dressing up as the three kings and collecting money for charity.

Front doors are daubed with the names of the magi: K+M+B (Kašpar, Melichar and Baltazar); and, as you can see, the characters even find their way on to the bonnets of parked cars. Tomorrow I'll say a little more about this interesting custom. What has happened to Baltazar? Well, he wouldn't fit on, so the next car along was decorated with his portrait. Here he is - looking rather the worse for wear - too much slivovice, I'll be bound...

Monday, 4 January 2010

Late Change

Well, I'm back from my holiday, part of which was spent in an area of Dartmoor so remote that it had no GSM and certainly no internet. Some would consider this bliss, but it meant I could do no work, and worse - no daily blog! Had I been able to participate in this month's Theme Day (on 1 January), I would have sent this photo, on the topic 'Change'. Still - better late than never...

The word ‘drub’ meaning ‘bits’ applies both to unwanted bits of meat and spare ‘bits’ of money, but if you want to avoid the odd stares of shopkeepers, ensure that you use ‘drubné’ not ‘druby’, otherwise you may end up saying, as I have on several notable occasions, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have any giblets’. The drubné which you can see here are the 2,5,10 and 20 crown coins and the 50 crown note. At current exchange rates these are roughly equivalent to 7p, 17p, 35p, and 70p, while the note is worth £1.70.

The national symbols are as follows: 2 Kč - a jewelled brooch from Moravia; 5 Kč - a stylized Charles Bridge, river and linden leaf; 10 Kč: Brno cathedral; 20 Kč: Bohemian Lion (obverse) St Wenceslas Statue (reverse); 50 Kč: St Agnes, patron saint of Bohemia.

The missing coin is the 1 Kč, on which is depicted, simply, a crown (in Czech, ‘koruna’). Please join my campaign to force BMI baby and other airline operators to say that they will accept the Czech ‘koruna’, not ‘krone’ (the Scandinavian currency) on their flights.

How long this historic currency will last is very much up in the air. There is no question that Czech exports are being damaged by not being in the Eurozone, and it would seem a logical extension of membership of the EU for the Czechs to join the common currency. So before long it may be time for a change for change.