Today I was honoured to take part in a Masopust – a carnival that tries, literally, to mask the fact there is a 40-day Lent coming until Easter that, I guess, people here used to observe before Socialism turned Czech Republic into one of the countries with the least religious population in the world once and for all. In short, the idea behind the Masopust is for people to eat, drink and dance as much as they can, compensating this way the following 40 days of suffering until Easter (exactly what all food experts advise us NOT to do but food experts are just some new age people who didn’t even exist in the time when Masopust was really “mas0-pust” (note: something like “meat-leave”), that is, when people really “let go of the meat” at the end of this day and substituted it with lentils.)
Anyway, if holidays had been really connected to the official religion of the countries they’re celebrated in, we wouldn’t have got presents for Christmas, nor would we have tied martenitsas to one another or celebrate St. Valentine’s Day (for those who actually do). We Bulgarians, especially, are really good at celebrating for the sake of celebration and it seems that Czechs aren’t much different.
That’s why despite the central gas heating, the rise of the living standard and the possibility for work during the whole year, Czechs, just like us, have more celebrations and occasions for merry-making during the winter when it’s their ball season, too (proms included) as well as, of course, as I found out recently, their spring holiday. Today I decided to take part in the happy event and traveled to the little town of Úštěk where, similarly to many other places across Czech Republic, there was going to be a Masopust.
Úštěk is a little town with a population twice smaller than the one of my village but is beautiful and has a very well-preserved centre. A typical Bohemian postcard-town. I had passed this town before during a hitch-hiking trip and had had a sweet thing in its sweet shop but today I had the chance to spend a few hours there and to look at it from every possible angle (except from above and below) and, of course, to join the Masopust.
Imagine a Kukeri karnaval and you’ll get a quite good picture of what Masopust is. Of course, that’s Czech Republic and everything here is one level above that sentimentally-vulgar way we do carnivals in Bulgaria. Ours smell like kebapcheta and sound like obnoxious small barking dog-toys. In Czech Republic they smell of better quality meat and svařák (mulled wine); there are no barking dogs and among the goods displayed on the many stalls there is almost none that’s made in China. On the contrary, Czechs, who, I think, are quite nationalistic, really love their country’s products and, as a whole, everything that carries the “Czech” label is a symbol of quality especially in combination with “old”. Indeed, today I saw at one of the stalls something called “old Czech gyros”. I didn’t examine it well because, having expected slaughtered pigs everywhere, I had prudently made myself a sandwich, but I’m sure the same stall also sold “old Czech guacamole” and “old Czech hummus”.
The only Kukeri carnival I’ve attended – during that real winter several years ago in the town of Pernik (note: in Bulgaria) – had really impressed me with the costumes of the performers and here I’d say Czechs perform equally well. Theirs, of course, are completely different. The Masopust performers aren’t as scary as the Kukeri although here and there I could see a Čert (“old”Czech devil-like persona who apparently isn’t the Christian devil because it’s more naughty than evil and, besides, there are many of them). Most of them were dressed like medieval folk and, indeed, in combination with the old Czech (okay, I’ll stop it) atmosphere of the town, they almost made me believe I had traveled several centuries back in time.
I thought that the whole day no one would utter a word to me and that I would be the only witness of my presence at the carnival but no – one of the performers even grabbed me with the words: “C’mon, lass, enjoy the Masopust, don’t just watch it on your monitor later,” pointing at my camera. I told him I was shooting film – “Wow, you still shoot cine film?” – but, nevertheless, I agreed and even danced with him for a while. It was then when I realised people could see me. 🙂 My realisation was confirmed when, sitting on a wooden bench and tearing at my sandwich, I was asked by some person if he could take a picture of me. I was surprised but said, “If you want” and he, of course, wanted, otherwise why would he had asked me in the first place?
It was quite nice, but cold, too, and because I had more than enough time until my bus I alternated between hanging about the noisy stalls and taking walks down the outer streets where there were no people, only frozen lakes with ducks in them and houses with smoking chimneys. I managed to be on time for the Masopust finale when by the emblematic sausage-decorated tree a man took out a knife and dramatically thrust it into a disemboweled pig hanging upside down. After that, another pig (artificial, fortunately) was slid along a zip-line above the heads of the visitors who in the end had to reach out and grab one of the things hanging from it (I thought they were some kind of “meat balls” in a bag but, honestly, neither do I know what exactly a meat ball is (not a meatball!), nor do I want to think too much about the only association that comes to my mind). That reminded me of our halva custom during Sirni Zagovezni* although no one here lost a tooth filling. Or at least none that I knew of.
(*Sirni Zagovezni is a holiday of pagan origin celebrated in Bulgaria. There are many customs related to it but in one of them, the whole family sits around the table with their hands on their backs. One member of the family is standing up and swinging a piece of halva tied at the end of a strong thread. The rest of the people try to catch the halva as it swings past them with their mouth only, without using their hands. Whoever catches it will be lucky (but very often one looses a tooth filling in the process).)
Despite the fact that, contrary to my expectations, I had communicated with local people, however, somehow I didn’t feel I was part of the Masopust. After all, I’m a vegetarian! And one who never observes the Lents, too. However you look at me (apart from below because you’ll see only soles and soles aren’t really an indication of anything), I don’t fit into such an environment.
But… everyone has their own meat, even vegetarians and no, I’m not talking about cannibalism but about love for things that people should “let go” of from time to time at least for 40 days. In my case these aren’t sausages or ribs but… dresses. Yes, you read that correctly. The Masopust is a day of plenty and of indulging in material things and when I saw a shop on the main street named „Outlet – totalní výprodej!“ and below „šaty – 150kc“, I realized I was going to be part of it, after all! (note: šaty means “dress”). The problem isn’t that I entered the shop. It isn’t that I bought the most beautiful tender and filmy dress in the world plus another one and plus a skirt. The problem isn’t even that I paid 350 crowns for them because that’s nothing. The problem is that when I went back home I opened the wardrobe and I saw I had too many dresses. And yet, every time I enter a shop, no matter which season it is, I look at the dresses first. But even that’s not the problem. The problem is I don’t wear them anywhere! And I’m not even a materialistic person! I buy them completely unconsciously. And that’s scary!
Lukash might have influenced me in this case because he has three times more clothes than I do and last year he was overcome by the mania to buy formal shirts and trousers justifying the purchase with the words: “You never know when I’m going to need this for a ball!” I used to find this absurd but back then I didn’t know yet that Czechs, indeed, went to balls quite often. But anyway. Today, when I opened my wardrobe, I told myself I needed a Lent!
So, my dear readers, I promise you I won’t buy even a single dress in the next 40 days!
… with the exception of 22 March when it’s Prague’s spring flea market…:) Located at a place double-meaningfully named Meet Factory and bearing that logo.
P.S. I took just a few photos and I’ll upload them…soon. I work with “cine film”, after all.
Well, it turned out my camera is broken. There are just a few photos survived on the film two of which you already saw above. The Universe has been hinting at me for a long time to replace the plastic with metal and I guess I’ll listen to Her this time.