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BIBLIOGRIND

Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

Day 9: Cesky BBQ

Robert and Iveta pulled the kitchen table outside in the yard and set it for a picnic barbecue. Their good friend, Varis, had come in from outside of Prague to spend the weekend. He is a big, rugby-size guy (a bit long in the tooth, these days), and very happy and talkative. Varis (VAR-ish) was tonight’s cook. They teased me that we were having “crazy cow” which got me to laugh, but then I looked at the meat in the deep dish, as thought I’d be able to spot a problem. Varis had marinated beef steaks in a spicy liquid, sprinkled with pepper and rough salt. Beside the beef sat ham that I can only describe as steaks cut from a big shoulder or butt roast. On the table sat appetizers and side dishes in colorful bowls: black olives, diced ham & brie cheese, small tomato wedges and julienned red pepper, and grated horesradish. Bottles of Moravian red wine stood in the middle of the table, like church spires.

The party was not big. Jakob strolled into the yard a few minutes after the meat hit with a sizzle on the hot grill. Silva and her husband (I forgot his name), and their two kids, came as some of the meat came off the grill. Birtík and the neighbor girl, and the two new kids, ran around like Berserkers, complete with play swords, battle axes, and shields. Meanwhile, we BBQers sat for dinner.

I obviously don’t speak Czech, so the conversation wound around me like smoke from the grill. The subtitles came from Robert and Jakob. Jakob speaks fluent English. He’s a spindly guy with a light beard and quick smile. He and Robert work together at the bank. Sometimes I could “sort-of-follow” the conversation (once given a short subtext), but that mostly came from watching facial expressions and hand gestures. Every once in a while I picked out a word I knew, or name I’ve heard before. For example, Robert and Jakob talked about “studeny,” which brought Varish into the conversation. They lifted eyebrows, laughed and gave knowing smiles. As it turns out, Robert had at one time, several years ago, had 12 female students living in the house. The coeds were from the agricultural university that’s across the street from the house. Evidently, this happened when Robert and Iveta were dating (or perhaps they were even married). You can imagine, then, what the snickering was about.

I was included in some conversations, of course. That’s the benefit of being new to the group, a foreigner come to work in their home city. Silva, a thirty-something good looking blond woman whose husband sat close (a tall, thin, handsome man whose quiet voice came seldom during the night), wanted to know where I was born, where I had lived. Silva could understand some English, but does not speak much. Half of what I said needed to be translated, otherwise she understood my carefully choses words and non-speedy speech. Everyone was interested why I came to live in Prague, and why I have lived in other countries, too. We also talked about America, where big cities like New York gets its drinking water. This became a big discussion on water recycling. Prague gets all its water from natural springs, apparently. “But that can’t last forever,” I said. In fact, there’s a water recycling facility just a mile or two from the house, used for non-drinking purposes, I guess.

The language barrier was not much of a barrier at all through the evening. If you get frustrated by not being able to understand the language that you don’t know, then being in a foreign country, at a party, will drive you nuts. I took a different approach, since I’m here now, and will be for a while. I let the language carry me along. In 4 hours, I heard or spoke English for maybe 20 minutes. The other time I tried to let my ears hear separate words spoken by the others, to hear repeated words that might give me a “key” to understanding a sentence (didn’t quite happen). I also used expressions, tone, and gestures to give me context (sometimes was successful). At the very least, I think I now have a better understading of what my “elementary” level students will feel as I talk at them and get them to talk, to pronounce funny-looking words, to put words together in a coherent sentence.

We drank a lot of wine tonight. I think I’ve mentioned in an ealier post that Moravia is Czech Republic’s wine region. They make a good red wine, with few tannins. Anyway, the corkscrew worked overtime, and I think we each drank at least one bottle. The church spires began to look like castle bailies, with me hanging onto the stone window-ledge. The beef had an unusual texture, very lean and dense, like game meat, which it was not. Perhaps that came from the cut, which looked like a flank cut, but its tastiness belied that suggestion. My favorite was the pork steak. It had a smokey flavor, and Varis had cooked it crispy on the outside, tender inside. It definitely had a smoked-butt flavor (my new friends had a laugh at that name, of course), but cooked on the grill gave the meat a new dimension to its flavor.

By ten o’clock, only myself, Robert, and Varis stood under the stars (side note: I was able to spot the north star, and now I now which direction my windows truly face). Varis had consumed a huge amount of meat and side dishes, plus half of a dessert pie (a caramel and chocolate tort bought from IKEA), and lots of wine. He was getting chumy with me, and Robert did a bit of translating as we congratulated each other on, 1) having met and become friends, 2) eating and drinking well, and 3) being “nice” American and Czech guys. And, actually, the Czech people are very friendly, hospitable, good natured, happy people. Life is good for them, a bit short of a full generation after 50 years of Communist rule, and they are enjoying economic growth, good jobs, happy families, kids, cars & shopping, weekend parties, and meeting new people. I think they have a better sense of freedom than do many (but not most) Americans, who take for granted so many things (which of course means that we do get the politicians and government that we deserve). Far be it from me to point out America’s ills, as I’ve left. So be it.

I didn’t bring my camera along, so no photos have captured the evening. But then, I didn’t want to be the unknown guy snapping pictures in people’s faces. There is one photo I just took. I call it “The Morning After” …

BBQ in Suchdol

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