For IWAP’s “The Bridge” Magazine
Many of you moving to the Czech Republic have temporary accommodation provided by your company. Usually these include hot and cold running water, electricity, heating, beds, a sofa, and a kitchen!
Our permanent accommodations lacked most of these amenities. We bought some mattresses and moved out of the hotel. The mattresses were the old Czech-style three-piece, so we had to put our suitcases at the foot, otherwise the mattresses moved around the floor during the night. The village firemen left a few tables, chairs and dishes. Within the week, some of our boxes arrived by air. Then we had blankets.
The first day we cried “Eureka!” when a helper broke into our room with washbowl and cold water faucet. We proceeded to wash the filthy floors.
Parts were damp. Until we got a furnace in the hallway, where the one bathroom was, towels would be wet in the morning if we forgot them.
Electricity functioned here and there; some plugs even worked, so we bought an electric hotplate. Buying meat was difficult, because butcher shops in our area were closed for several weeks for privatization. I did not realize that one might buy fish and chicken at the little grocery store. Finally, in another town in a sort of supermarket, I found poultry and proceeded to buy a slepice. Slepice had been one of my first Czech words – taken from a book. I didn´t know this meant “tough hen” rather than “tender chicken.” I boiled and simmered it on that hotplate for three hours and we gnawed it for supper. The next day I cooked it some more.
Former experiences can come in handy in a new situation. For five years I had been camping coordinator for several Girl Scout troops. One of my tasks was teaching girls and adult helpers how to make fires. Since my children were scouts, or helped with campouts, they are all expert fire builders too. If I ever say to you “I [or he/she] am keeping the home fires burning”, please realize that this is a literal statement of fact. Now there´s a woodshed; back then I hunted sticks in the park.
We had plenty of visitors, with varying agendas, for example “My grandfather did the tile stoves for your grandmother. Perhaps I can help you.” One Sunday we had 18 visitors, five arriving before we were dressed! We lived here and there around the zamek, choosing rooms that had both their inside and outside windows and/or woodstoves.
When one of my daughters heard about all the work her sisters had done, she began claiming that we hitched Tibbs the cat to a little cart to clear rocks from the fields. This is not true. Tibbs had his own extremely important work to do: catching mice. Tibbs also loved it that many doors didn´t work and he could run in and out at will.
With my interest in words, I soon learned to say a phrase which beautifully alliterates in Czech, although not in English: Bydlím ve starým, strasným, spinavím, studenýn zámku – I live in an old, terrible, dirty, cold castle. Daughter Caroline stayed with Aunt Hana in Prague when she worked on The Prague Post. One morning, Hana was making tea and laughing. “Why are you laughing, Hana?” asked Caroline. “Well, you know what your mother says. but a castle should be old.”
Written by Barbara Homolka
Originally printed in IWAP magazine “The Bridge”
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