I've been told that one more time I exclaim: 'Look at what the painter called Autumn did!', could cost me my life. In all fairness, it's hard not to get excited every two minutes at the vibrant color play of Czech Indian Summer. See, the last few visits to my homeland in between our travel & work gigs fell to spring and summer months and this was possibly the first chance to show David the magic of Czech autumn that I've been praising ever since we met in London three hundred years back. And boy, did it not disappoint!
We stayed about seven weeks this time around and embraced the slower, cozier pace of life. Mum worked hard on fattening us up for our upcoming seasonal job in French mountains by the means of her delicious home cooked meals, with one single caveat: lunch is served at 1pm sharp everyday and this is non-negotiable. Instead of endless days filled with activities such as cycling & roller skating, swimming (or rather drinking improvised wine spritz from a plastic bottle passed around in between our Blansko friends, as we roast on the side of a lake which is technically forbidden to visitors), outdoor music festivals or simply sitting on a warm asphalt outside our favorite pub, playing shag/marry/kill long into the night, we leaned into cozy movie evenings under a duvet, walks in nature and medicinal hot alcoholic beverages, card games & sausages roasted over a crackling fireplace.
Czech Indian Summer is extremely pleasant & warm, so there's a different reason for that whole slowing down & turning indoors business. A shadow of the dreaded cost of living crisis looms over all of our friends & family. Once again, there's not a single person NOT EFFECTED by the economical repercussions of the war in Ukraine. Our friends are losing jobs left & right, sometimes at the same day their rent or energy bills jump by up to 70%. Most of our friends also have kids. From Russia With Love.
My parents used to subject us to regular interventions in regards to settling down. Looking at their own cost of living growing in an opposite direction to their pension now, they flipped completely and beg us to stay in seasonal jobs, where the rent & energy bills get covered by our employers, as long as we can.
It's been said before that every generation gets their own global traumatic & paradigm-shaking event. A generational wound to process, adapt to or pass onto their offspring. We thought Covid was that for us millennials and beyond, but I guess life will always defy being broken down to predictable structures & equations. So, we not only got a global pandemic, but right at the heel of it a war in Europe, far from over and already rippling through the economies and political stability worldwide. As Emmanuel Macron said just a few days ago in his televised speech to the fellow Frenchmen: The times of plenty are over, buckle up, kids.
But if there are some positives to grant humanity at all, I'd say it's our resilience in face of hardship & austerity. And based on this month and a half of hibernation back in my homeland and in between both deeply traumatic & exhilarating, both character building & identity shattering summer work gig in Mykonos and the next winter season adventure in French Alps, I've got a few survival pointers to enduring The Long Night of upcoming winter months.
Somebody gives David his Czech passport and a honorary citizenship right now, because after partaking in the ancient tradition of mushroom picking with my parents today, I doubt he could ever get more Czech than this. The rest of the world tends to pull all kinds of disgusted & concerned faces when I tell them about our regular foraging trips to forests, that are in everyone's back yard here in South Moravia. Granted, every year we get a few cases of people nearly (or sometimes literally) passing away from an excruciating pain - a result of ill informed and poorly conducted art of mushroom picking, but if you stick to the few species you can unmistakably recognize, the reward in shape of a mushroom fry-up or a hearty soup that keeps you strong and healthy all throughout the winter, are well worth the painstaking scavenging, bend at the waist and lashed across the face by pine boughs.
We had a delicious mushroom soup for lunch the following day. Hilariously looking around the table to see who'd brave a first sip. Happy to report, we're all still around. With the amount of alcohol we drink every time we visit Czech, it would be quite an irony if soup ended up being the instrument of our undoing.
Walks in Nature
Along with Estonia, Czech is meant to be the most secular country in Europe. That however does not mean we're without faith. Our history is filled with myth and wonder and in times like this, we remind ourselves of legends like the one of The Knights of Blanik. There's an ancient prophecy (according to some sources it comes from as far back as Celtic times, some attribute it to 15th century manuscripts) that says when our land and its people will hit rock bottom, a group of knights will awaken from their slumber under the Blanik mountain and rush to our aid, striking a devastating and decisive blow to the enemies of Czech people.
The fact we've experience so many rock bottoms throughout the ages and came out at the other end without the assistance from the Knights of Blanik, probably means the worst is yet to come, a truly terrifying prospect.
In the thirties, to offset the growing pro-German sentiments within Czech society and support feelings of patriotism and national identity through our own history and mythology, a self-taught sculptor Stanislav Rolínek created an artificial cavern filled with sandstone sculptures of slumbering knights outside a village called Rudka near Kunštát. We visited the place with my parents and got a private tour. Impressive mushrooms mysteriously growing in the darkness of the cavern, bats hanging from the low ceilings like ripe plums. It's a fascinating piece of both a landscape art and history, I highly recommend visiting!
Czech autumn is its own Instagram filter and no matter how much alcohol you consumed the night before (and this is Czech, so the chances are it was a substantial amount!), it feels criminal to not honor these last few sunny days and weeks by walking in autumn forests, along the rivers and around the lakes and dams, breathing in the crisp fresh air that nips at your cheeks and keeping warm with the help of vodka and strawberry juice.
Weekend Visits to Medieval Castles
Every region in Czech has several castles, chateaus and royal palaces (around 5.000 in total) from different time periods, meticulously preserved by our National Heritage Institute.
The mandatory weekend explorations of our cultural and historical heritage is one of those things I absolutely loved doing with my parents up until around 1996 when PC games got really good. They say that no matter where life takes you, one always circles back to stuff that you loved as a kid. So, now regretting trading my time with mum and dad for time with Diablo in front of a screen, I waste no opportunity to use my friends kids as an excuse to come back to mandatory weekend castle visits.
There's a little shed, we call it affectionately 'kůlnička', at the back of my parent's house. Throughout the years, it went through several iterations and functions - a chicken and rabbit coop, dog kennel, garden shed and finally the world's most epic man cave. My dad's passion for wood work and collecting and repairing antique furniture and trinkets had to be eventually channeled to its own assigned space as mum could not deal with any more STUFF in the house. You'll find all kinds of memorabilia here: dad's old boy scouts journals, big beat and rock vinyl records he had to buy on black market in times when all the western music's been banned in Czech, ancient family portraits and a wast collection of various knick-knacks, antlers, swords and daggers and second world war relics.
Having to repair the little stove was an easy trade for the coziness it provided and yes, we absolutely used it to roast some delicious špekáčky - a short sausage that's as much a national identity phenomenon as it is a potential cancer & blocked arteries hazard.
Grog is of course an autumn/winter must in Czech. Even though we tend to think of it as a medicinal necessity, the fact it provides more comfort than healing means you definitely don't limit its consumption to when you catch flu. There's different ways how to prepare this hot beverage, but what they all share is an unreasonable amount of rum, honey and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Hey, vitamin C is important immunity booster!
Hangouts in the little shed have become our tradition during visits to Czech. This year, we started another one. A few cups of grog in, we all wrote letters to our future selves and left them hidden in the shed for the next time we get to all meet here. Let's just hope my dad won't find them first.
A budget red wine from 2l plastic bottle, Exploding Kittens, scary movies and baby seal skin-like soft and snuggly blankets. That's what we did in various constellations with our evenings. When I was alone with Dáša, we'd dig into cheese and crackers, pour wine or Becherovka and put on the Czech version of Farmer Wants A Wife reality show, our favorite trash TV that we turned into a drinking game. A sip for every particularly bizarre fashion choice, awkward kiss or instances of casual misogyny...not even fifteen minutes in and I already know I'll have to order taxi tonight!
Dáša's son Samik is going to be 10 soon, a rare moment in time before puberty hits hard and all the grownups become lame and every physical contact toxic. Right now, he actually WANTS to spend time and create moments and memories with us and even works on improving his English to communicate better with David. Considering how fast kids grow up these days, it might be the last visit we get to hang out like this. My favorite moment was all of us creating a cuddle puddle whilst watching the latest addition to the Ghost Busters movie universe, only for Samik to ask his mum half-way through the film if she could check his hair for lice. I don't think I ever jumped out of bed this fast.
There's been so much more. Some important family re-connections, a few sessions of Bikram yoga in Brno, a bit shameful in the face of looming global austerity & coffee with Marianka after. We shared six crazy months in the same house in South London's Crystal Palace, so much has happened since (she's pregnant!) and so little has changed. Our annual Feast for the Dead on the Halloween eve - a tradition we started in London with our big little sister Carol years ago, and which we continue now annually via Zoom. At the same year Netflix released their adaptation of Midnight Club - based on a series of books me and my hometown friends Veronika & Irena revered as kids, we finally got a sequel to another of our childhood obsessions and a cult favorite - Hocus Pocus. Even though worlds apart and no longer as close as we used to be, we have watched it together remotely on Halloween.
A giant middle finger to all our peers who used to think us too weird for this world. Now our childhood fascinations make someone else millions of dollars. Look at us - from hopeless nerds to trend-setters.
Sometimes I think settling down could not be such a bad idea. It's been three years since we are nomading the world in search of our own version of Stars Hollow, a place that feels like home, a community that feels like family, a point on a map that feels like forever home.
But that excitement that always hits a few days prior embarking on the next leg of our journey can’t be denied - a clear indicator it’s not the time for dropping an anchor just yet.
For now, our plan is to traverse Germany, visit our friend Patrick in Switzerland, our family in Florence and France, before starting our two weeks training in the Alps at the end of November. After about six weeks of hibernating in Czech, I feel ready for the road with all the good and not so good it brings. Petrol station snacks, other people's sofa beds, stiff back, unforeseen car emergencies and new discoveries. Time to get uprooted again!