Pálava Hills: Soil Primer and Specific Vineyards

Upon What Do We Stand?

palava geology

You are standing on something pretty complex.

That lava lamp picture above displays the majority of the Pálava Hills geology.  Mikulov is at the bottom center of the map, the ridge heads north and turns a little east towards Pavlov in the upper right corner.  Each color/pattern/number represents a different geologic combination.  So, for example, the yellow section bordering Březí near the bottom left is #9.  On a reference chart this refers to, “deluvial to deluvian/aeolian sediment.”

Don’t worry!  I’m not going to get that sciencetifical in the descriptions.  To do so would test you, dear reader, and make me sound like a fool.  I’ll keep it simpler: Sediment deposited by flooding and wind make up #9.  When did those natural forces do that?  When you weren’t looking.

As a summary of the grape geology of the region:  The blues on the map above correspond with the limestone or calcium-rich marlstone heights of the Pálava Hills.  Soils made of  these degraded stones appear below that, followed by sand, silt, and clay deposited by wind and rain.  Moving towards the green areas located at the base, one can find sediment left from the ancient sea and more recent glacial eras, as well as sedimentary rock from those eras.

The grapes grow on a mixture of limestone, loess, loam, clay, gravel, and sand soils – that’s the short answer.  And one must find the optimal grape for a given soil.  One grape grown on dry, limestone soils might have attractive aromatics and flavors, but that same grape on damp loess and loam might make a diffuse, bulky wine (I’m writing about you ryzlink rýnský!)  That said, one might list the general characteristics that a given soil type  contributes.

Limestone:  Limestone soils provide aromatic and gustatory complexity, elegance, and  medium to medium-high structure to many wines.  Generally, limestone in a vineyard is a positive, and many of the worlds great reds and whites have limestone to thank.

Sand: Good drainage is healthy for most vines varieties, but sandy vineyards tend to make lighter, more delicate wines.

Loess: A soft rock of very fine sediment deposited by wind and compressed, Loess often has a high amount of eroded, pulverized limestone in it.  It tends to provide fullness and plenitude in a wine at best – a Veltlínské zelené (Grüner Veltliner) grape thrives on this soil and creates great wines for instance – but bulky, unfocused, dull wines at worst.

Loam:  Loam is great for growing grains and other plants but its higher organic content demands a correct vine.  Vines generally produce better grapes (and therefore wine) when growing on poor soils; put an average vine in good soil and it concentrates on leaf growth instead of attractive fruit.  Loam can easily create bland wines.  Grapes that need higher nutrient content, like the Veltlínské zelené, might make more respectable wines.

Clay: Generally speaking, clay doesn’t provide structure in wines, but some complexity and a lot of, sometimes almost surly, power.  Drainage can be a problem with too much clay, as it doesn’t always pass on water easily.

Gravel and Stones:  What these two sediments will bring to a wine depend very much on their origin.  Is the gravel broken down limestone?  Are the stones in the vineyard quartz or basalt?  In any case, they help provide good drainage in large enough quantities and can reflect heat and light onto the fruit, depending on characteristics.   Generally gravel and stones are positives in a vineyard.

Specific Vineyards

Well over 50 titled vineyards exist in the Pálava Hills region, with names like, Kraví hora, Slunný vrch, or, U Boží muky.  The names give clues to the characteristics of the vineyard, or at least former characteristics.  In the past, one would expect to see cattle on Kraví hora (Cow Hill), and a crucifix or chapel at U Boží muky (At God’s Anguish).  On a clear morning, we should still be able to ascertain whether Slunný vrch is a sunny height or not.

While profiles will expand in number and detail with time, below are three quick ones to illustrate some of the top vineyards in the area, combined with any experience I’ve recorded tasting them.

Ořechová Hora

Pre and up to Mikulov 122

Glacially-rounded rocks in the soil there.


Near the bottom left of the previous map rests the village, Březí.  In the sea of green above it are two little islands of orange/red (Soil #23) – Ořechová Hora (Nut Hill).

Ancient flooding of the Quartenary period (2.6 million years ago to the present) deposited a medley of loamy clay, rounded stones, and gravel to create this hillside now covered in vines. Descending through the vines, one observes easily how quickly the size and distribution of rounded gravel change.  A fair dispersion of quail-egg-sized stones at the crown of the hill quickly turn into sparser pebbles about 30 meters away.  The base of the hill holds few if any stones; and instead of light brown soil like at the top, one finds a deep dark loam.

The wines that I’ve tried from this site, I like quite a bit.  While not holding the complexity or intensity of some of the vineyards on the Pálava limestone proper, I find the Ořechová Hora wines to have a certain confidence and pleasantly round body.  As a fairly rare geology for the  area, it provides an interesting contrast to the wines made from more calcareous soils closer to the Pálava Hills.


(This entry is currently being revised.)

Ryzlink vlašský  has some of its best expressions from this vineyard, probably the most revered in the Czech Republic.  Lying below the cliffs of the Obora Hill, the vineyard benefits from a limestone base covered with a complex mix of gravel, loam, loess, clays, and sand.

With a slope that creates natural drainage and with suitable exposition towards the sun, Železná pushes the best of the Hills into the Ryzlink vlašský grape, a variety quite married to this type of soil.  That’s not to say that the wines from Železná are immediately approachable.  They have so much material in them that they need a few years to harmonize the intense citrus and stone fruits, honey, and floral characteristics with a staunch and firm minerality.



I like this vineyard.  Years ago, it was one of the first names I could pronounce; it reminds me of Thor, and the wines are good.

Pre and up to Mikulov 129


Ryzlink vlašský expresses itself well here.  Lying below the Železná vineyard, it shares many of the same soil types: Loess, loam, clay, and a little less sand.  Where it differs might be in sheer number and size of broken limestone gravel and rocks (It has less) and in the depth of the soils before the roots reach the bedrock.  If weather patterns continue to heat up drastically as they are, vines in Goldhamer might find its deeper soils more advantageous than higher vineyards with drought-susceptible thinner top soil.  We shall see (and taste).

The Goldhamer wines hold just a little less steeliness and minerality than the Železná vineyards and are just a bit more round, but contain many of the same aromatic components, A common aromatic thread through the two vineyards for me has been a bracing pineapple/pineapple skin.

Volařik – A Great Product is Great Business


Saturday morning and dew still beads on the November grass. Petr Očenašek and I stand outside a façade of rectangular white stones, waiting briefly until Miroslav Volařik appears, opens the sliding glass doors and we ascend to the main office.

His eponymous winery, Volařik, has garnered many awards and the facility is cluttered with success; trophies, documents, bottles, plus equipment that has just finished processing a very healthy 2015 harvest – they all crowd our path and personal space. A good problem to have, so Volařik is building a larger winery.

Pre and up to Mikulov 071

Miroslav Volařik and Petr Očenašek: Some bottles, some awards, some small talk.


He, Očenašek, and I stand for the interview, circled around a bar table crowded with bottles. His movements and demeanor are natural, easy; as he begins to speak of wine he takes a step back, his hands remain in front of his torso but glide to the left and right to punctuate a sentence; he steps forward again. His voice is easy and pleasant, and for my sake he switches to admirable English. Volařik made his money in printing, but I don’t think he speaks with the same pleasure about toner.

“It is the dream of each village boy from here [Mikulov] to make wine; but then it depends on the conditions, it depends on your power, if you are lucky, if you have money…” So Volařik started his current winery in 2007. The accolades came swiftly, and with them a growing reflection on the winery’s product.

In some cases, this has led to Volařik breaking with standard Czech practices. Case in point, the owner has many ideas of what should be grown on the Pálava Hills.

“Of course it’s [about] quality. The style in Moravia is to have 20-25 varieties. In the future we have to be focused on 4-5 varieties and maybe some smaller amount of others. In the future we want to have only Welschriesling, [Rhine] Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, Pálava, and then some others.”

Volařik started with a similar model of at least 20 varieties, making over 40 types of wine. However, such a philosophy makes caring for the vines, fruit, and wines more complicated and laborious. By reducing the number of varieties, Volařik can concentrate on the quality of each grape’s unique aspects.

The winery doesn’t make red wines anymore, another break with standing philosophy; most makers tend to dabble in one of the regional specialties like Frankovka (Blaufrankish) or an international variety like Pinot Noir.  In a telling statement: “We produced red wine in 2008 2009, but decided we wanted only high-quality wine.” At the Volařik winery, that means white. (At other wineries that doesn’t have to be the case) People advised him not to give up on red wines; they told him that he would never survive. Two Czech Winemaker of the Year Awards later (2011, 2014), his decision seems justified, even if success has brought its own problems.

Good problems: “After 2 or 3 months we are out of one wine.” To the casual wine-drinker, 7000 bottles of one wine might sound like a lot, but they very quickly disappear.   Even with a production between 220,000 to 250,000 bottles, one of the largest quality wine productions in the country, the company has trouble keeping up with demand.

In the difficult 2014 vintage, the winery used 100 hectares to get 220,000 bottles; this year they used 82 hectares, which should have a higher production. Ideally, at optimal production, in 40 years Volařik aims for 300,000 bottles all from his own 70hectares.

Our conversation proceeds leisurely. Statistics and numbers might be boring, dribbling from some speakers’ mouths, but Miroslav Volařik handles them clearly; logistics become entertaining. He clearly interests himself in all aspects of the winery – he can elucidate on oak barrels’ benefits to Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay, and detriments to Welschriesling and Riesling – but those logistics keep creeping back into his speech. A discussion on the top terroirs of Pálava Hills isn’t poetry but a summary of attributes that quickly turns into the details of protecting against grape theft and metamorphoses into a discussion of illegal wine entering from Hungary and Romania.

In the end though, his ability to handle logistics and build a proper team is his contribution to the winery (along with his money): “It was important to find good people. My education is not in this field [winemaking]; my education was in water technology. But the [employees] already have experience in that field. If you are the position to have so many hectares, you have to create a team. The goal, of how to do it [to make good wine] I have to give it to these people; but they are producing this good quality of wine, not me; they are responsible for this production. I have only name, that’s all.”

Those bottles with his name on it, the ones he and his employees have made so successful, how do they taste?


Volařik wines are always correct, without errors or awkward flaws, reflecting the characteristics of the grape variety as well as the region or vineyard. They are exemplary representatives of the Pálava Hills. If I had to critique the wines, I could say that they lack “mystery;” that is, they lack a romance and profundity that more renowned regions’ wines seem to have. But that is hardly valid; like criticizing a well-made, hand-designed, hand-crafted, well-furnished house because it is not hobbit-home or a crystal palace.   As Volařik winery gains more experience, as their vines’ roots wend down farther through the soil, one might begin to speak of the mystery of their Pálava vineyards.

[If interested, please click on the links in the tasting notes to hear what the wines, “sound like.”]

2014 Ryzlink Vlašský (Welschriesling) from the village Klentnice: A good effort and wine from a very difficult year, this flows gently through the mouth. A kind wine, it tickles my cheeks with the acidity, but does leave a little bitterness in the back of the throat, a sure sign of the unripe character of the vintage. It tastes like this.

2014 Železná vineyard – Ryzlink Vlašský (Welschriesling): Železná is considered by many to be the top vineyard of the region, benefiting from a blend of loess, clay, and sandy soils over the white Pálava limestone. This wine has hazelnut on the nose, a little toast or yeasty note. In the mouth it’s both floral and mineral. A bit bitter – that’s the vintage – but also a bit hard. That’s Železná . (The wine tastes like the introduction to this song) Volařik tells me 2 or 3 years will soften it up. I expected that this wine saw some time in oak – it didn’t! – but it did see 6 months of resting on the lees (the dead yeast) that continues to add body, and probably those toasty/yeasty notes to the wine.

2014 Kotelná vineyard – Ryzlink Vlašský (Welschriesling): Another top vineyard near the Železná vineyard, with a similar soil but less prone to water deficits, Kotelná provides a different expression of Welschriesling. In the glass, the wine is more gold than its counterpart. Aromas passing from white chocolate to stone, in the mouth it feels richer. Isn’t this the better wine, then? It’s certainly more accessible and charming now, and a better “restaurant wine,” as Volařik explains, one that provides a good level of elegance and flavors for diners without needing to age and take up precious storage space in a restaurant. A pleasure, but without the intensity of the previous wine.

2014 Ryzlink Rynzký (Rhine Riesling) from Klentnice: I don’t have many notes on this one, just, “Needs 1-2 years.” No commentary on my audio recording either; we had started talking politics.  So it tastes like.

Disclousure: Miroslav Volařik gave me two bottles of wine as a gift following the interview.

Mikulov, the Pálava Hills Region, and Their Wines.

Wine.  Wine, wine, wine.

Wine.  I like…


Wine grapes from which wine is made.


What’s the big deal?

One could ask that about anything really.  What makes wine different than “Hello Kitty” products or fine jewels or Oreos or beer or football or American football, or fashion?  Any fanatic can certainly list their compelling reasons, a list that will ultimately confine the person to a small cadre of con-celebrants and concerned friends.

But wine is different.  Why?  Because wine.


If I MUST explain a bit more, wine is a combination of nourishment,  an addictive compound, geology, meteorology, economics, anthropology, occasional skulduggery, advertising, philosophy, chemistry, lyricism, religion, history, anthropology, microbiology, dendrology, environmentalism, geography and occasional heroism…

…Mixed with art.

Wine, like a picture, reflects its source and creator.  A bulk wine, like Australia’s famous Yellow Tail, reflects as much about the goals of its producer as the painting, “Gazebo of Prayer” tells a person about the goals of artist Thomas Kinkade.


Thomas Kinkade’s”Gazebo of Prayer”, second in popularity only to his ” Contemplative Garden-Yurt,” painting.

Well, maybe Yellow Tail isn’t that bad.

On the other hand, tasting a Château Margaux corresponds to something a bit more refined…


Botticelli’s Berliner Venus

Most wines rest somewhere between these two extremes.  My favorites lean towards something like a good Bruegel…


Rustic, but done excellently.

The Pálava Hills in Southern Moravia make these wines.

What follows is a summary of this region and its main town Mikulov.  A brief historical section will summarize 150,000,000 years and highlight some of the events that give context to the Pálava Hills wine.  In interest of brevity, this introduction does not mention the vital Jewish history of Mikulov, nor its role in the Iron Curtain, nor its growing culinary and art scenes, nor much of its architecture, nor the Pálava Hills importance as an UNESCO-supported nature reserve. (If you are interested in visiting, though, contact the good people of Pathways).  Afterwards one can read about a few of the different producers and their libations.  As time goes by I will expand the information, but this initial posting should give you an inkling of an idea of a taste of this beautiful – wine – region.

Continue on to: Pálava Hills: A Bit of Geology and History

Continue on to: Pálava Hills: Where Are We?

Continue on to: Pálava Hills: Soil Primer and Specific Vineyards

Producer: Volařik – A Great Product is Great Business

[Thanks all who helped on this (expanding) project, particularly the Degustarium team of Vladimir & Kateřina Štekl and Petr Očenášek for their help and hospitality during research]

Leonard Cohen Visits a Moravian Village


The After Mass

Working on a small writing project here in the Czech Republic, a little introduction to wine in this beautiful country.  Nothing grandiose, but with a goal that it be helpful, interesting, and accessible.  This post, though, has little to do with that subject.

Doing research for the project this weekend, I stopped for Mass in a village this weekend.  I am Catholic, which has a lot of definitions to different people.  One might describe my faith as: Stumbling and tripping, hopefully towards God, even in the Communion line.

The Catholic Church in the Czech Republic seems to be a relatively small, but healthy organism.  Churches are by no means full, but the population consists of more than just canes and walkers.  (And respect to those people on canes and walkers, many of them practiced their faith throughout the anti-religious Communist years).

As you can see in the picture above, this church was  spacious, voluminous – a simple harmony of red, blue, and off-white.  On the periphery of the interior, parishioners had set up a display of all the vestments of the priests, from joyous blues and pinks to sobering black, and some  Latin prayer and choral books.  The collection of an ancient script and historic clothing, combined with the sun-lit space of this old structure, put me in an  bucolic, if imperial mood.  Finished in 1788, the church served winemakers and grain farmers, who then paid taxes to the Hapsburg Emperor residing in Vienna a day’s ride from here.  An image of imperfect harmony, but harmonious

The liturgy came simply, without flourish, concordant enough with the liturgy’s setting, guided by a younger priest with two teenage boys as altar servers.  I understood little, but at least I understood a little.  The prayers of Consecration were quick, devout, and as people lined up for Communion, the choir struck a familiar “Chord, that David played and pleased the Lord.”  Suddenly, from my already stilted attempts of  distracted contemplation and devotion, I could only think of kitchen chairs and haircuts.

It’s a tune I respect immensely; and by dint of its popularity, I distrust the “cult” around it.  I do hope the lyrics were changed for the service.

Some people might be aghast that such a tune ring out in a church.  Well, it ain’t the first time.  Lots of hallowed songs have rowdy, raucous, and romantic beginnings.  The music of the respectable Star-Spangled Banner comes from a drinking song, and I think some of the old Welsh tunes were appropriated to create some of the greatest hymns of Protestant Christendom.

Of course, some people might be aghast that such a tune ring out in a church.  Because religion is stolid and dry and restrictive and heavy-handed and evil and it’s appropriating something real and sensual and codifying it.  Religion also happens to supply much of the imagery in the lyrics of the aforementioned song.  There is a sensuality in faith, hidden at times, seemingly dry at other times, and sometimes dry, that can spring forth healing clear and clean.

What does the experience teach me?  I don’t respond well to Leonard Cohen’s hit song in church.  Also I can choose to be easily offended or easily amused.  I’ll try the latter.

A Post About Czech Buildings With Thick Walls (!)

[The following is educational, informational – hopefully fun to read.  It is also a shameless plug to get you interested in visiting the Czech Republic using the services of Pathways sr.o., a small, family-run tourism company that creates personalized tours for personable people.  But regardless of your… er, travelability or interest, read on and enjoy the article.]

All sorts of great photos! 010

Troja Chateau, Prague.  It faces some of the vineyards of Prague.

Words are fun.  Fun, I tell you! We can string them together to create and explain ideas; we can use their sounds and syllables to create a rhythm. Certain words bubble with imagery, others maybe not so much. (The word “beige” might link both ideas – a word pregnant with non-imagery)

Experience beige!


But three words that engage the imagination? “Fort,” “Castle,” and “Palace.”

We might accuse Czechs of lacking an imagination: They don’t have to pretend at all. Seemingly, there’s a fort on every hillside; from one you can spy a castle; the castle is abandoned because its owners moved into a nearby palace. But of course, the Czechs have their fantasy world, except they can conjure up the battles, princesses, hearth-cooked feasts, and courtly intrigue while standing where such events really happened!

If you are perusing this article, you’re probably not standing in a fortified Czech building (The thick wall aren’t good for Wi-Fi signals); hopefully the following words and pictures will give you a tiny idea of the country’s architectural riches.

Fort: Terezín


A fort (or fortification) is any military structure built for protection against attacks. Forts can be used as a base of warfare, or to “solidify rule” in times of peace (Wikipedia, 2015).

Given the convoluted and sad history of the Terezín fortress, that definition doesn’t quite stick. A fortress that became a town that became a concentration camp that became a town… I find it one of the oddest places in the country.

Covering nearly 4 square kilometers (2.49miles) of space, Terezín, or Theresienstadt as it was called at the time of construction in 1790, was designed for up to 11,000 soldiers during wartime (Wikipedie, 2015). Wartime for the fort’s purpose was Prussian aggression coming from the north and northwest. But those attacks never arrived: The Hlavní Pevnost (Main Fortress) garrison became a town  witha a small barrack for soldiers by the mid-19th century while the attached Malé Pevnost (Little Fortress) remained a military base and prison.

During the German occupation of World War II, Terezín became a concentration camp, the town’s inhabitants expelled in 1941 to make room for the flood of Jews. The population expanded well beyond the tolerable limits of the fortified town, bloating to approximately 40,000 at worst. But within these confines some struggled heroically, and their stories reveal the quiet victories of kindness and love. Meanwhile, the Male Pevnost became a political jail. Not only Jews were imprisoned here, but anyone deemed dangerous to the Nazi occupation… all to solidify rule in a time of “peace.”

Directly following the end of the war, the Male Pevnost was used as a prison to house Czech Germans before they were expelled from the country. But by 1950, the Velké Pevnost had over 3000 inhabitants, and who knows how many ghosts. Today, about 2000 people in Terezín live in a conundrum. Understandably, they make attempts to beautify the place in which they live, but each coat of paint and newly-paved road diffuses the impact of the events that occurred there. Those that forget the past are condemned to repeat it, but those that live in the past might hardly feel alive…

Visiting Terezín is nearly a “must-see” if one visits the Czech Republic. Not because of the impressive structures (Flood gates, brick tunnels, heavy walls and the like) or the gruesome details (One can watch a horror movie to be grossed out), but in remembrance to what people can do to each other. In this fortress one discovers not only the depths of human cruelty, but the strength of human charity.

Castle: Trosky


Ok. Trosky’s a ruin. I admit that. One could visit Karlštejn, or even just Hradčany in Prague to find immaculately restored structures oozing nobility. One will not be disappointed. But easily slipping out to a different realm, one can escape casual tourism and delve into Czech history and verdant nature at the same time.

Trosky isn’t just a ruin. It’s a ruin of a castle, “A large strong building, built in the past by a ruler or important person to protect the people inside from attack,” according to the Cambridge Dictionary (Cambridge Dictionaries Online). Usually, if not always, these were the homes of the local nobility or leader, and became prevalent with the disintegration of the Carolingian Empire in the 9th and 10th centuries (Wikipedia, 2015). Indeed that was Trosky’s role, a defensible home that displayed its owner, Čeněk z Vartemberka’s, power.

This narrow fortress stretches out between and upon two basalt columns, the remnants of prehistoric volcanic activity, elevated high above the surrounding sandstone hills. A system of cisterns and paths to underground pools supplying fresh water made this castle particularly defensible – in its long history, only time has successfully sieged Trosky’s walls. Not that Lord Čeněk got to enjoy that security. He most likely paced the keep’s floor, unable to enjoy the beautiful view as an aide announced his debts. Trosky was his ruination and z Vartemberka had to sell it and other properties to King Vaclav IV in 1394 (Historie Hradu Trosky, 2015).

What a beautiful view he missed. People call the region Český Raj (Czech Paradise) for good reason. Rolling, wooded hills, pure water, and sandstone pillars make this a tranquil environment for locals and visitors alike. Some of Europe’s most dramatic rock climbing is located in the cool valleys of Český Raj, and stories of medieval brigands and vodníky ( supernatural watermen) abound.

Palace: Český Krumlov

Croatia to Charles Bridge 003

Look to the right…

Croatia to Charles Bridge 002

Look to the left… It’s the Palace of Český Krumlov

This world-famous palace might look like a castle, it has been a castle, but don’t be fooled! What’s the difference?  A palace isn’t built for defense; it just announces the wealth and power of its inhabitant(s). Český Krumlov certainly announces the glory of its best years under the Family Rožmberk. The lord of that golden age, Wilhelm von Rožmberk, was an intelligent man influenced by Italian culture; he spent no small sum remodeling his family seat in a more southerly style. His colorful Renaissance tower looks out over the eponymous town and the courtyards blend Christian and Classical thought. These embellishments imply a realization that stone walls would not hold long against the cannons of the 16th century.   Wilhelm had turned the castle into a palace.

Further stately ossification occurred almost a century later, when the following rulers, the Eggenbergs, turned the wooden drawbridge into a permanent, covered corridor connecting the castle to the hillside and the delightful Baroque gardens upon it. Elaborate gardens and ornate bridges are not marks of a structure focused on defense.

Today, only tourists attack the castle, ogling the bears that have been a tradition since Wilhelm’s era. They hike up the tower (the tourists, not the bears); they take a one hour tour of the main rooms, they rarely explore the geometric hedges that slowly disorganize into a proper English garden. The castle deserves more time than just an hour, and the city more than just a half-day.


If you’ve read this far – congratulations. Wipe the sweat from your brow, and be proud that you did more than I usually do – simply skim an article. I do hope that by taking some minutes of your day, you’ve been able to learn some fun facts about the history of the Czech Republic. And if you’re interested in visiting, don’t hesitate – there are plenty of wonderful surprises in store.

That’s Better… Preparing for Change

The heat has broken, thank God, the brightness of summer turning to the milky white light of early fall.  School has started, this ritual that thus far in my adult life I have observed from afar.

My apartment faces bridges two worlds.  Often, the morning traffic, starting about 5:30 is what wakes me.  The first time.  I am trying to rise at 6:30, at this point the cars and buses and trams create a din if my window is open.  Often I can withstand the noise until 7:30, at which point I often rise.

I categorically refuse to stay in bed past 1pm…

The view from my room, beyond the motorized vehicles, is gray and rectilinear from the panalak apartments similar to the one in which I live.  A dull, supermarket building with a BRIGHT yellow name provides convenience if I need milk for coffee.

Coffee leads to the other view.  My broad kitchen windows open up onto the woods and the fantastic nature reserve 5 minutes from my back door.  The view right now is mostly green, flush from current rains, though a premature hue of autumn has appeared from this summer’s drought.  All the same, beautiful.

And the sounds!  Wind in the leaves, birdsong; as the day progresses the shrill, happy cries of children playing at school.

So two sides, two views to see, a rich existence even before I leave the apartment.

The heat has broken, which seemed to annoy many Czechs as much as I did.  And so we will gain some normalcy, some patience.  I think for a brief time.  The press of Syrian and Afghani refugees in Hungary will eventually move this way.  The Czech government hasn’t exactly been welcoming, and the Czech culture itself is cloistered (in a secular sense) by the ranges of low mountains that surround much of the country.

What will be the response?  It will be tough!  There will be some good and some bad.  It can be a chance for firsthand interactions with cultures often portrayed as violent and prepared for jihad.  It will be a chance to welcome some new traditions. It will be an interaction with tired, frightened, and ambitious people.  Czechs will meet many people who don’t drink beer!  (That could be very profound!)  It will be growing pains.  And hopefully for the better.

We shall see… but any weary traveler needs a glass of cool water and a welcome.  And if they want a beer, I expect it will be given.

Hot, Horridly Hot, Summer

Only one photo today, kids, mostly lines of symbols combined in various ways in an attempt to communicate!

“Oppressive” could describe the Czech Republic’s summer this year.  Let all political associations of the past century be forgotten, it is nature’s heat which weighs upon us even as it pulls more water from the land and rivers.  The ground is dry, dry to the point of dust clouds, and some rivers are low and hot, starting a dangerous growth of suffocating algae.  This unwelcome green contrasts with the tan, dead blades of grass that break away to expose even more earth.  While we  have not attained a record-high temperature (Apparently that was made last year)  we have had nearly a month of days hovering around 32C (90F) when an average Prague summer lounges at about 23C (73F).  And in this time, little rain has fallen in the fair city – she is showing more than a few wrinkles and cracks.

Tram and bus drivers brake more sharply, people dawdle under the drooping leaves of trees waiting for the relative cool of evening.  I doubt I’m the only one muttering curses.   Czechs go to Croatia for heat, for a self-basting in the Dalmatian sun.  And I moved from Provence, in part to escape its hot, celebrated glare… er, light.  I think the majority of us here in Prague look towards Saturday and Sunday when rain is finally supposed to fall.  At first gently, I hope, so the dusty ground does not roll and peel like burnt skin tearing away from itself.

And in my imagination, the soil justly humectified, a torrent then falls that final breeches the forest canopy and jostles wilted leaves back to health.   Outside the pubs and cafes,  round-bellied men and laughing women do not move as the drops descend, refilling their glasses with something much more refreshing.

One of the greenest pieces of ground right now.

One of the greenest pieces of ground right now.

An Article More to Do with African Bishops than the Czech Republic…

…  But the Bishop of Hradec Kralove and some Slovenian and Slovakian Bishops and Poles and Croatians and Eastern “Riters” are on board for the upcoming Synod on the Family in October.  So the Slavs will represent.

What is the Synod on the Family?  Casually stated, it’s a big face-to-face discussion of Catholic Church bishops and cardinals and experts on subjects such as contraception, same-sex unions, Holy Communion for the divorced and other issues.    One’s opinion of the current stances may liken the Church’s doctrine to a boat’s anchor, or an anchor tied around a swimmer’s neck.

Francis recently chose some surprising bishops, including Johann Jozef Bonny, the Bishop of Antwerp, who has openly supported same-sex unions.

Some people reading this might freak out, from pleasure or fear.  But Francis is doing something very brave: Encouraging discussion between people holding a wide range of viewpoints.  Francis may or may not agree with the Bishop Bonny, but he will let this representative be heard.  In doing so, he is trusting the Holy Spirit, who is God that descended into each baptized Christian, to work through the representatives.  So, I see the Pope as acting in great faith.

Bonny and some liberal German bishops might be getting a lot of press in the West, but this ignores, in my opinion, who will be the real influential group at this Synod – the African bishops.

While the German Cardinal Kasper stated to his later embarrassment that, “[The African bishops] should not tell us too much what we have to do,” some of these shepherds should have more experience in dealing with “extra-normative” marriages ( for the sake of this article defined as marriages differing from Catholic doctrine) than their European counterparts.  For some of these bishops, the issue probably hasn’t been same-sex marriage, but has been polygamy.   They’ve been dealing practically with that for a long time; and they’ve had to develop strategies of caring, forbearance, confrontation, and patience while maintaining and encouraging the one-to-one ratio of Catholic marriage.  They have had to deal openly and privately with the ingrained cultural traits of their parishioners that do not jive with Catholic marriage.  Some in the European and North America churches might be thinking that they are sailing a ship across uncharted, challenging waters,  the African bishops might tell them, “That sea looks similar to the pastoral swamp we’ve been walking through.”

Collectively, these bishops have also had to deal with disease epidemics like HIV and ebola, religious and tribal violence, and many different natural and man-made calamities.  While I am sure they are far from perfect, they need to be shown more respect up here in the north-westerly latitudes than what they currently receive.  Maybe after the Synod…

In Prague, the Triumph of Capitalism…

… is not the new Nike gym floating on the Vltava.  That’s just an encroaching megabrand.

The triumph of capitalism is here…

Stalin photos 022MBAs, please don’t be offended; this is what that pile used to look like.

A full article and this image from wikipedia can be found here.

From 1955 to 1962, a 150+ foot statue of the sociopathic Soviet leader Joseph Stalin dominated the views of Prague. At the time the largest statue in Europe – whose architect committed suicide the day before its unveiling – it was an embarrassment to the Czechoslovak government soon after its unveiling.  In 1956, Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, denounced Stalin’s tactics, and the Soviet Union tried to distance itself from one of its founding fathers. So that great oppressive symbol of “Papa Stalin,” the extremely interested patriarch of the U.S.S.R. and its satellites, loomed over Prague long after the Soviet Union had said, “Uh… eh, not so much.”

In 1962, the granite statue was blown up with 800kg (1760 pounds) of explosive, leaving only the concrete and stone base. In 1991, the city installed a large metronome on the crest of the pedestal; it slowly arcs back and forth to this day.  Skateboarders grind lines and practice tricks with one of the best views of the city as a backdrop: “Tailslide to 180 Kickflip to view of Our Lady of Tyn – nailed it.”

But the above picture, dear readers, reveals some of the rubble of that explosion piled underneath the pedestal – a big, big pile more eloquent than most history books.

But my statement, “The triumph of capitalism,” isn’t only a heap of dictator.  More importantly, it’s this:Stalin photos 035It’s a pub – no frills, no extreme commodification of real estate, just a simple place to grab a beer.  It’s run by a bar in Prague.  The prices are written on a piece of plywood.  Simple.  Stalin would hate it because he wouldn’t be controlling it.  Megabrand capitalism can hate it because it doesn’t sell a big beer for too much money.  It’s making cash for some people by being accessible to most people – a success.