In this week's Arts, Dita Asiedu tells you where Czechs can go for cutting-edge interior design services and introduces you to "Extraordinary Encounters", a new Czech book of interviews with renowned personalities who have shaped the cultural and political scene of Communist Czechoslovakia:
Christmas is just a few weeks away and Czech shops and stores are going through weeks of bliss as people shop 'till they drop like never before. From electronic equipment to cars to jewellery - with the growing popularity of credit cards, the sky is the limit as far as prices are concerned. So why not refurnish your home too? Some eighty companies and studios from all over the Czech Republic are currently exhibiting the latest trends in home design and interior decoration at Prague's Veletrzni Palac. Until Sunday, visitors will have the opportunity to see and buy some of the most modern furniture, interior decoration, lighting, glass work, porcelain, ceramics, textiles, but also antiques that go well with a modern home.
Moving on to what could be a more modest Christmas present - a rather unusual book that hit Czech bookshelves last week. "Nevsedni Setkani "or "Extraordinary Encounters" is not a science fiction novel about encounters with aliens, but a simple book of interviews with important personalities that have made a mark on Czech history and culture during the Communist era. The author, Rostislav Sarvas, graduated in screenwriting from Prague's renowned FAMU film academy in 1959 and recorded the interviews during his career as a journalist for both Reflex and Koktejl magazine, just after the fall of the Iron Curtain:
"What I think is unique about the book of interviews is the fact that they were made during a special period in our history. It was a time, 1991-1995, when people were extremely open. We had experienced several decades that took us to a place we didn't want to be. We had to be passive and couldn't express ourselves and in the moment when it all exploded, people started to open up and felt it was their duty to open up. I was at the right place at the right time and feel I was extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to talk to these personalities then."
"Man is the only mammal which has the intelligence to be destructive. But in his essence, he is here to do good." Words from the Dalai Lama that inspired author Rostislav Sarvas during an interview with the Tibetan spiritual leader in Prague. And in "Extraordinary Encounters", he goes on a journey to explore what kind of energy man has left behind at the turn of the Millennium. Eighteen Czech personalities such as screenwriter, art director, and costume designer Ester Krumbachova, renowned priest and professor of theology Tomas Halik, philosopher Vaclav Belohradsky, and illustrator Adolf Born spend hours philosophising about life and man's role in it with words that leave the reader deep in thought but with a smile on his face:
"I managed to get them to open up because I approached the people I interviewed as if they were patients. I wasn't pretending to be their doctor but rather their fellow patient. I didn't want to come too strong and offend or even hurt them. The investigative journalism that was popular at the time was just too invasive and I was tired of attacking people, I wanted to get a diagnosis instead!"
Czech society has developed a liking for programmes in which leading figures of Czech intellectual life come together in a relaxed atmosphere and tell stories and reminisce about funny experiences from the past and give their philosophical views of life. Rostislav Sarvas says, his book allows Czechs get away from the realities of the materialistic and globalised world that they are surrounded by today.
"I think people today think differently. When you read the papers, it's interesting to see that the spirituality has been lost and people are mainly interested in how much celebrities make, who is dating who, and how someone has become successful. Nobody is interested in the troubles these people have, what they feel and think, how they think, their opinions on the more serious issues, as well as the dimensions they think in. All of these deeper thoughts are no longer covered in the papers and it appears that it shouldn't even be covered in today's society."
As I said earlier, Christmas is just a few weeks away and one event that marks the beginning of the holiday feeling is St. Nicholas Day, known here as Svaty Mikulas. On the night of December 5th, teenagers dress up in costumes to represent St. Nicholas, the angel or the devil and visit children in their homes to deliver sweets and presents to those who have been good and potatoes or coal to those who have been bad. On this special day, we leave you with a Czech St. Nicholas Poem, written by Jiri Wolker and recently translated into English by Susan Reynolds:
This is St. Nicholas's day,
And I'm going home on the express train,
From the earth, as from milky porridge, my eyes are scooping slices away
Sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar sweet.
I am forgetting the newspapers, the tram and the street
In the grey carriage
With people departing and arriving at the stations
Of their own hearts.
This holy night
Changed our train to a sock behind the window.
Good Master Nicholas, come this way also,
To visit these fidgety children on their pilgrimages.
They are wanting to embrace the earth with their voyages
And heaven with their thoughts and schemes.
Speak to them words of comfort and faith, and put,
If you will be so kindly, rosy apples and golden nuts
In this train going from Prague to Bohumin,
And into the trains of all the world.
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